Hunger Mountain - Vermont College Journal of the arts
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My Mother, the Writer

by Anne Mazer

My mother was a writer to her core. It was who she was; it was all she wanted to be. Early family pictures show six year old Norma Fox scribbling in a notepad or hidden behind a book. By the age of twelve, she had made up her mind. Her dream was to become a writer. Although she dropped out of Antioch College at age eighteen to marry my father, Harry Mazer, she never let go of it. After her marriage, Norma took writing courses at night and considered becoming a journalist. But her writing apprenticeship began for real when she was twenty-seven years old. She was already the mother of three young children under the age of five.

I was the five-year-old, and I remember the day she began to write. The decision was life changing, not only for her, but for all of us children, as well. Suddenly there was a new, all-important focus in my mother’s life.  She began to regularly retreat to the solitude of her room to commune with blank sheets of paper. Writing was the well from which she drank and refreshed herself. Her commitment to it veered on the religious. The daily rites consisted of early morning pounding of typewriter keys by Norma and Harry in their tiny bedroom office cell, typed manuscripts cut with scissors and stapled back together (cut and paste in those days was literal), and secret lined notebooks which were repositories of private thoughts and conversations…

From the beginning, it was clear that my mother was the engine who drove this particular team of writers. Both parents were imaginative, creative, and gifted storytellers, but my mother was the one with self-discipline, tenacity, and drive. She never wandered off, got distracted, or flinched from the goals she set herself. Once she had made her decision, she followed through with a fierce will and a deep sense of purpose. Her first published work was a humorous article called “Pigs are Not Pigs.” I proudly brought it to school.  No one else I knew had a mother who was a published writer. No one else even knew any writers.

Living with writers wasn’t all fun and games, though. Endless conversations about plot, character, motivation, and description swirled tediously around my head.  My mother also instituted a dreaded daily ritual called “The Hour of Fresh Air,” whereby she kicked my brother and me out of the house (ostensibly for our health), so that she could have writing time. And as a teenager, I discovered that the best—and sometimes only— way to get her attention was with book talk. No matter how distracted or tired she was, if I made a few literary observations, her eyes would snap into focus.

By the time I was in middle school, my mother and father were writing pulp fiction for a living. My mother always said that writing confession stories taught her about plot, character, pacing and the discipline of writing every day for a living.  Not to mention that she and Harry were now able to support their growing family of four children on a writing income. My friends, though, were shocked when they heard my parents wrote confession stories. One girl shrieked in the middle of a crowded bookstore, “You mean they prostitute their art?” When my mother published her first young adult novel, I, Trissy, I breathed a sigh of relief.

After leaving school, I went to live in Europe for three years. When I came home, a transformation had taken place. I had grown up with struggling writers who just managed to make ends meet, but both parents were now very successful in the field of young adult literature. Hearing one of their names, librarians would clutch at my sleeve and hyperventilate. It was hard to wrap my mind around it all.

Later on, I realized how much I had learned from my mother. Her tenacity, determination, and commitment to her work made a lifelong impression on me. My mother gave me a model of how to achieve what I wanted in life: by applying steady, unrelenting effort, with intelligence and love. For that, I will always be grateful.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda Fox January 27, 2010 at 3:13 pm

A wonderful (Norma would perhaps have said ‘wondrous’) straight to the heart piece about my sister. Thanks, Anne. You definitely are your mother’s daughter.
Love,
Fox

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Ann Lieberman January 27, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Dear Anne:
Norma and I wrote to each other when we were in elementary school and junior high. My parents had moved to California. My mom was Jean’s sister (Tiba). Norma wrote even then, I believe for the school newspaper. It was literally a relationship through letters. I lost track of her as she became a writer and I became a professor (who also writes).
But I knew of her work from mutual friends (Betty Miles who knew Norma well was a friend. I worked with her husband Matt Miles). Betty knew Norma as she is a young children’s writer who you may know.
It was lovely reading about your reflections on Norma as a young child. She was a wonderful writer. I buy her books for presents as often as I can. Keep writing! And regards to all your siblings from a cousin across the country.
Love,
Ann

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Ellen Yeomans January 27, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Beautiful, Anne. Thanks for another moment with Norma.

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Jeff Grabelsky January 28, 2010 at 11:44 am

Anne,
Thank you so much for this beautiful piece. Like so many others, we loved Norma and were inspired by her.
Jeff

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Adele Machia January 28, 2010 at 12:29 pm

A loving and honest portrait. You really conveyed the essence of your mother and my sister.

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Andrea January 28, 2010 at 12:37 pm

It is wonderful that you not only loved, but admired, your Mom. Thanks for giving me a little glimpse into such an inspiring woman.

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Bethany January 28, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Anne,

Thank you again for opening your heart to Hunger Mountain and letting us read your words about your mother. I am grateful.

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David Weber January 28, 2010 at 9:20 pm

My wife, Marilyn, and I will always fondly recall our summer or holiday visits to the Fox/Mazer household on Bear St. in Syracuse with our three daughters in the middle sixties. Harry and Norma were just beginning to publish in magazines. Harry still had to keep his welding job so the writing was relegated to after work, a very stressful schedule for both Norma and Harry. We were most impressed with their determination to fulfill the demands of the confession market and the discipline they exercised to adhere to the form. The prestige issue was a concern but we said that whatever the praxis, it would lead to something more heartfelt. And so it did most emphatically.
Love,
David and Marilyn Weber

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Alyson January 29, 2010 at 12:40 am

Anne – Thank you for sharing about your mom and how she influenced you with her own writing practice. Wonderful piece.

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Naomi Colb January 29, 2010 at 6:05 am

Dear Anne, I appreciated your letting in on your experience of Norma as a mom. I love her books and often recommend her work to young mothers.

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Trissy Fox January 10, 2011 at 2:05 am

I lost my mother from lung cancer 15 years ago . I miss her . No matter what I’m doing each day , I always compare to what she would have said or done. I thought it was just unique my name being Terisa “Trissy” Fox, my mom’s name was Betty,”the same as your mother’s friend and my mother in law’s name is Norma. I was born in 1970 , she and my sister was taken away from me in the mid nineties I had a nervous breakdown . Lost everything , even gave my two daughters to their father . When I came to I thought it had only been two years . Not knowing it had been eight , I was on the porch of a church , barefooted it was raining so hard lighting was striking bright I started asking God what to do? I looked down between my feet and a big shiny bullet laid there all I could do is sit down and I just busted out laughing . Knowing God , knew I would never do that . I just thought even God knows a good laugh, never hurt anyone. I apologize for all of this I just started writing and I couldn’t stop ,weird huh? I ‘m just missing my mom right now. I was told in 2004 there was a mass behind my right eye, causing my seziures . I have never been scanned again fraid of what else they will find . My head is starting to hurt alot more now days , knots are showing up on the back of my head. I just wish I could talk to my momma, I guess I should have found somewhere else to write this down at and I am very sorry I’ll go now. Goodnight , momma , Love Trissy

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