Divining Venus

THE BOOK: Divining Venus: Stories.

PUBLISHED IN: November, 2013

THE AUTHOR: Mary Elizabeth Pope.

THE EDITOR: Philip Hoy.

THE PUBLISHER: The Waywiser Press. Waywiser is a small, independent literary press founded in 2001, with a special interest in modern poetry and fiction. They are keen to promote the work of new as well as established authors and would like to rescue still others from undeserved neglect. (That’s what they say about themselves, at least).

I say they’re the best press an author could hope to find. Working with Philip Hoy—Waywiser’s kind and diplomatic editor—was wonderful, from start to finish.

Mary Elizabeth PopeSUMMARY:  The stories in Divining Venus are thematically linked by characters who, from blind dates to back seats to a drinking game gone wrong, discern something true about love. In “Reunion” a divorced empty-nester faces up to the one who got away. In “Junior Lifesaving” a young woman conceals her competence to maintain a relationship with a man who is threatened by her strength, only to be faced with a terrible choice. In “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” a newly-minted college graduate must choose between adolescence and adulthood when she finds herself falling for her boyfriend’s father. And in the title story “Divining Venus” an eleven-year-old turns to a Ouija board with questions about love when her classmates, teachers and parents don’t have the answers.

THE BACK STORY:  I didn’t actually set out to write a story collection. What really happened was that I wrote the story “Junior Lifesaving.” Then I wrote another story called “Rebound.” The third story I wrote was the title story, “Divining Venus” and when the title for that story came to me, I realized it was also kind of an umbrella term for the first two stories. I also had a lot of other stories—from ideas scribbled in a notebook to full drafts that had failed—that all dealt with characters struggling with romantic relationships, so I was well into the book before I realized I actually had a collection underway.

At that point, I took those scribbled notes and abandoned drafts and kept working on them. The time away from them actually allowed me to see what was wrong with them. For example, my story “Marionette Theater” (featured in the link below) was twenty pages of manuscript when I abandoned it, because it wasn’t working. Two years later I came back to it and realized that if I cut 16 of the 20 pages, I had a story there.

WHY THIS TITLE?: Divining Venus refers to the Ouija board featured in the title story. I realized that though the protagonist in that story is only eleven years old, love is just as mysterious to those of us who are adults.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT?  I think my book might fill a gap in contemporary literature in that it deals primarily with romantic love but resides in the literary genre. Most of the stories in the book were published in literary magazines (Florida Review, Bellingham Review, Fugue, Passages North, to name a few) long before they were published as a collection.

In terms of niche audiences my book might reach, I originally thought Divining Venus would mostly appeal to young women, but the editors at my press were all men, and some of my most enthusiastic readers have been men. Just yesterday I ran into a retired history professor who bought Divining Venus at a reading I gave, and when he recognized me he came up and started talking about how much he loved specific stories. Of course, this is thrilling to hear, but it still surprises me that my early assumptions about the gender and age of those who might like the book were so off base.


“In Divining Venus, Mary Elizabeth Pope has crafted a collection with a graceful and plain-spoken unexpectedness, stories in which the small surprises and large heartbreaks are memorable. Like Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, and Manette Ansay, Pope works with worlds in which landscape and family and the world of girls and women are all inextricably intertwined.” — Susan Straight, author of Highwire Moon and A Million Nightingales

“Mary Elizabeth Pope’s collection of short stories Divining Venus is a page-turner. One wonderful story after the next unfolds in this perceptive, engaging collection of such observant tales that it feels as if Ms. Pope has followed you around your whole life and figured out everything about you: your puzzling missteps in high school, your first and often mistaken love, your missed opportunities and chance encounters, your youthful mistakes and stunning betrayals, everything secret and true that has haunted you and made you who you are. Assured and steady, Ms. Pope’s writing carries you deeper into yourself, where you will be happy to discover that you are not alone.” —Robin Oliveira, author of My Name is Mary Sutter and I Always Loved You

AUTHOR PROFILE: I could tell you here about my degrees (B.S. and M.A. from Central Michigan University, Ph.D. from University of Iowa) or about my job as a professor (Emmanuel College in Boston). What I think might be more interesting, though, is that as a kid I was a complete disaster in school. I got pathetic grades, didn’t follow directions, couldn’t remember to bring homework home. My teachers didn’t know what to do with me.

Then one day my third grade teacher announced a Young Writer’s Workshop was coming up but only the first five kids to return their signed forms to her could go. I clutched that form to my chest on the school bus home, made my mother sign it the minute I got off the bus, taped it to the back of the front door so I wouldn’t forget it in the morning, then stormed the teacher’s lounge before school the next day so I’d be first to get into that workshop. My mother and teacher were like, Whoa. And writing has been the organizing principle of my life ever since.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: “Despite such an early interest in writing, I’m no prodigy. I took me eight years to write Divining Venus. I love writing and sometimes I hate it, and I work really, really hard. I’ve received more rejections than I ever imagined I could possibly handle and not give up, and yet I haven’t. I’m still that eight-year-old on the bus, clutching that Young Author’s Day form to my chest, hoping somebody will let me be a writer, and I’m so grateful to all the editors out there who have help make that happen.”


This is the second story in Divining Venus but was originally published in Ascent. It’s also the one I edited from 20 pages to five:

The Marionette Theater ~ Mary Elizabeth Pope

LOCAL OUTLETS: You can order the book directly from Waywiser Press at the following link:

http://waywiser-press.com/order/wwp-order-online.html WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and most online booksellers PRICE: Ranges from $13-$15, depending upon the book seller. It is also available in Kindle format.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: I can be reached at popema@emmanuel.edu

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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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