Friday with Friends: A Writer Practices ‘Method Acting’ by Joyce Yarrow


I’ve often wondered why so many of us are obsessed by our unique spirals of DNA, to the point of spending endless hours searching through immigration and naturalization documents on

When I mailed my spit-in-a-tube to be analyzed, I told myself this venture was purely an exercise in “method-writing.” In the same way Marlon Brando inhabited Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar Named Desire, I would “become” Alienor Crespo, the protagonist of my latest novel, Zahara and the Lost Books of Light. Alienor goes to great lengths to research her family tree. As her creator I felt obligated to do the same.

On the evening my results arrived in my Inbox, I clicked the link with no premonition of what was in store.

I was not surprised by all the Eastern European yellow and green, with a small dash of blue for the Baltic’s and the UK. I was philosophical about finding 6 great aunts and uncles on my mother’s side who I had no idea existed. My detachment, however, turned to deep curiosity when I investigated my dad’s side of the tree and started the hunt for the orphanage where he’d told me he’d been raised. If I’d taken a selfie at that moment, more than a hint of fanatical purpose would have shone in my eyes. I didn’t leave my dinner to burn on the stove but I would have if given half the chance.

The next day, over morning coffee, I got on the phone with the nun in New Jersey who maintained the archives of what was once the Nazareth Trade School. While we spoke I was looking at an online record of ‘students’ in residence, my nine year old father’s name written in surprisingly neat cursive, ten lines down from the top of the page.

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“He was with us until he was seventeen, except for some time in an orthopedic hospital,” the Sister told me.

That made sense. My dad used to say that being in the hospital after he came down with polio was the best year of his childhood. The Children’s Ward was where he learned to play chess and was introduced to Shakespeare’s plays. We didn’t have many books in our house but without fail Dad read his copy of Hamlet once a year. Now that I’m older, I can appreciate the significance this held for him.

Grandma Anna had been unable to support three children on her own during the Great Depression. She had placed my father at the orphanage/trade school when he was nine years old. She failed to visit him for eight long years and when she came to pick him up she was using a different last name than his, recently married, and ready to reunite her family.

No wonder Dad was a quintessential outsider who, when he met my mother, told her that his own mother was dead. Not true and after I was born there was a family reunion of sorts. But I was never close with my grandmother. The trauma endured by my father had marked him for life and as a child I was not the more forgiving person I’ve become.

So there he was, or at least the ghost of him, behind the walls of the orphanage in the photograph. For the first time I tried to see the world through his eyes. Somehow this allowed me to love him in spite of his deserting me the way his own mother deserted him. Maybe that’s why, when I wrote Alienor Crespo’s story, I decided to give her the gift of seeing through her ancestor’s eyes. In the end she too finds meaning in the painful discoveries she makes while recreating her family tree.

Follow this link to read Joyce’s previous interview …

Meet the Author: Zahara by Joyce Yarrow


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Meet the Author: Zahara by Joyce Yarrow

Today we travel to Seattle to chat with Joyce Yarrow about how a nomadic lifestyle, Spain, the Staten Island Ferry, mass transit, Ireland, an invisible horse, and Russia come together as part of Joyce’s writing life.

Where do you live?

I live in Seattle and write suspense fiction that Library Journal says “appeal to readers who enjoy unusual stories with an international setting.”

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?

I wrote my first short story in my pre-teen years and although a copy did not survive the chaos of my nomadic lifestyle, one scene remains in my mind: A group of children riding on the Staten Island Ferry in a futile attempt to escape the gang-ridden Bronx. They were led by a little girl with a short haircut and the title of the story was The Children’s Friar. Since there were no religious overtones and I had recently read the original Robin Hood, Friar Tuck and his cohorts were the most obvious source of inspiration. It’s strange that I chose him over Maid Marian –perhaps I was precocious enough to choose healing powers over beauty and charm in my struggle to survive.

A year later I wrote The Subway Poems, an ode to my mass transit adventures that turned out to be my first published work. I learned I could play with words and not take them so seriously, that they had music inside them if only you listened.

What would you choose as your mascot, spirit animal, or avatar and why?

Ah, where to begin.

I’ll start with the imaginary stallion who followed me through the old neighborhood and gave me confidence I could survive. I didn’t need words to confide in him. He knew exactly how I felt when we approached a hazard and I can still feel his warm breath on my neck telling me to slow down and walk slow. I’d become as invisible as he was and that’s how I’d make it to the safe side of the street. I’ve occasionally wondered why this horse, so well-remembered, has no name (this was way before the song came out). Perhaps he was a projection of the stronger side of myself? Let’s go with that.

How many published books do you have?

So far I have written five novels, four of which are published by different small presses, with a fifth book being brought to market by my agent. Throughout the writing process, my invisible horse has trotted beside me, gradually changing from an untamed Pinto ridden only by me into a domesticated mare with a pen instead of a bit in her mouth. After settling down in Seattle, I created a savvy New York City detective named Jo Epstein and through her was able to safely relive and embellish on the seamier side of life containing my roots. I traveled all the way to Russia to find the solution to one of Jo’s cases and co-authored a thriller/family saga with an Indian journalist exploring the detrimental effects of the caste system.

What are you currently working on?

Most recently, I set a novel –Zahara and the Lost Books of Light—in medieval and modern-day Spain. The protagonist, Alienor Crespo, ventures into the fray to discover her roots while extracting the truth about neo-fascism. I am not nearly so brave as Alienor Crespo but as my new imaginary friend she tackles my demons and has saved my sanity during these perilous and contentious times.

I’m currently working on Book II of the Zahara Trilogy.

What are you currently reading?

I love Adrian McKinty’s novels set during the troubles in Ireland.

Thanks so much for hosting me today, Camilla!

It was great learning more about you Joyce, and a pleasure having you on MTA. Wishing you much success! – Camilla

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To support this website and the author’s interviewed, visit Support MTA for suggestions. Thank you! – Camilla, Founder and Host