RAPID CITY – Some of Marcie Blumberg Maxfield’s happiest childhood memories are her summers at girls’ camp in Rapid City, followed by spending time with her family in Charlevoix.
The Detroit native who now lives in Southern California weaved this aspect of her own life into her debut novel, “Em’s Awful Good Fortune.” It won a 2022 Independent Press Award, is a finalist for The Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards 2021, and shortlisted for the Chanticleer International Book Awards 2021. (Winners of the final two competitions will be announced in June ).
Now in her 60s, Maxfield describes the book as a biting comedy about one woman’s journey to reclaim her life.
It didn’t start like that.
“I originally planned to write a book about life in China during an extreme air pollution event,” says Maxfield, who like her main character has lived in various parts of the world, as she sometimes followed her husband when he had to live abroad for work. “But at some point I realized that I was not a scientist and that I was not going to do research because I was writing very personal works. I decided that I needed characters .
And so emerged its protagonist, Em. The environment remains a common thread in the story, but the larger themes concern women and marriage, compromises and the juggling of dual careers.
“This is a Tagalong woman – a woman whose career as a husband took off, and to keep her marriage together she had to sacrifice her own career,” Maxfield says, noting that while she could pull details from his own experiences having lived in places like Paris, Tokyo, Shanghai and Seoul, the story itself is 90% fictional.
“It’s based on an authentic experience,” she says. “I was married to a man who was traveling. I’m from Detroit.
“She sees all these fabulous places in the world, but in her heart she lives in the ‘D.’ Everyone thinks she’s so lucky to live in Paris, but she’s given up on all those things that are so important to her.The basic outline is true, but it’s very embellished.
Maxfield has always had a career in marketing and, unlike Em, doesn’t always leave the country when her husband does. In fact, while she was being interviewed for this article from her home in California, her husband was working in China and on the COVID lockdown.
Traverse City emerges when Em, living in China, decides to regain his identity by taking his children and returning to the United States while on vacation.
“She’s not going home to Los Angeles,” she says. “Her husband wants to go home to Maine, where his family is from. But she’s, ‘No, I’m going home to Traverse City. I will take care of myself. I go to a place that resonates with me.
“Traverse City is a very important moment in this book.”
Maxfield spent six summers attending the Chippewa Trail Camp for Girls on Elk Lake in Rapid City. She also stayed at Camp Tanuga in Kalkaska one summer.
She says that’s why Northern Michigan runs deep in her veins.
“I had two sisters and a cousin and we all went to this camp,” she says. “Then, my father arrived with the boat and we stayed the rest of the summer in Charlevoix.
After graduating from high school, Maxfield attended the University of Michigan and then Wayne State University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Maxfield met her husband in Boston, although they both eventually left. After a long-distance relationship, she joined him in California and he embarked on his international career. Like Em, she has two children. In total, she spent about 10 years abroad, always writing in her free time.
“I used to write poems or songs, but I started taking classes in Paris,” she says. “It’s actually in the book and it’s true.”
About seven years ago she wrote her first play – made up of monologues she had written. It won an award at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
“It was really exciting,” she says. “After that, I thought I was taking it seriously and turned to writing this book. It was released in August 2021.”
Getting it published was not easy.
“I’m a woman in my sixties, this is my first novel,” she says. “I tried to get an agent. I didn’t, but I was lucky enough to find a publishing house called She Writes Press that supports women writers.
She also feels lucky to have received several writers’ accolades, especially from an author she studied and emulated – Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz. She discovered one of his books, “Here’s How You Lose It”, while volunteering to teach writing lessons at youth detention centers and similar facilities.
“It blew me away,” she says. “I fell in love with him.”
She sent her book to Diaz, hoping he would have read it. He gave testimony that included, “Maxfield poured his heart into the writing and it shows: the pages crackle.”
“It’s a huge affirmation for someone embarking on a writing career in the third act of their life,” she says.
Over the years, Maxfield continued to return to the Traverse City area whenever she could.
“I grew up there in the summers, riding horses, swimming in the lake, canoeing, sailing, catching toads,” she says. “I don’t really resonate with winters – I used to ski up there, but I’m not a snow bunny.”
As an adult, she came to appreciate Traverse City for the things she says her “adult self” likes: the wineries, the shops, the restaurants.
She even took yoga classes here.
“It’s my house,” she said. “That’s where my childhood summers were always spent.”