San Diego author Marilyn Woods loves being out of her comfort zone with second book, ‘After Goya’

Lisa Deaderick

There was a point during the pandemic shutdown when author Marilyn Woods noticed feeling emotionally transported back to a time when she was young and excited about boys.

“For six or eight months, Maddie and Carly (two of my five granddaughters) and I would hang out six feet apart during the pandemic, sharing boxed lunches, and talking about our boyfriends!” she says. “In my experience, so much of the emotion is the same, young or old.”

And it’s that feeling she found again, inspiring her second book, “After Goya: A Mature-ish Fairy Tale,” which was released earlier this week. Her first book, “The Orange Woods: Seasons in the Country Artfully Lived,” was a memoir published in 2020. It detailed the life she and her husband, Jack, built in retirement in Pauma Valley with an orange grove, lavender field, and a boutique winery — and the path she suddenly had to take without him after Jack’s sudden passing in 2015. This time, she tells a later-in-life love story prompted by one of Francisco Goya’s paintings, a “worldly prince” smitten with “an aging princess” in the midst of the pandemic, and a little magic.

Woods, 84, is retired from journalism and radio (she and Jack owned radio stations, and he was “Charlie” of the long-running “Charlie & Harrigan” radio show), lives in Bankers Hill, and is the “matriarch of a family of 15.” She took some time to talk about her latest book, experiencing romantic love again, and finding more opportunities to get out of her comfort zone and follow new dreams.

Q: Without giving away too much, can you tell us a bit of what “After Goya” is about? What was the painting you were gifted? Who is the “charming guy” who gave it to you? And how did this become a more mature fairy tale, for you?

A: The charming “prince” in disguise happens to be my partner now, Robert Boltax. He’s a retired vascular surgeon from New Haven, Conn., who moved to San Diego five years ago and, not long after, became a docent at the Salk Institute and applied to the San Diego Museum of Art’s two-year docent training program. I happened to be the training chair, and I thought him to be quite an elitist-type in the beginning and assigned the Goya painting (with the subject also somewhat elitist appearing, to me) to him to research. Surprisingly, he did a great job and followed up with an abstracted painting of the painting, which he titled, “After Goya.” Almost a year later — with no interaction in between — he texted and asked if I’d like the painting and that he’d like to give it to me. Not sure why I continued to keep what turned into an affair a secret and couldn’t write about it in first-person, but my solution was to write in third-person. It was delightful embellishing the story! Two defining incidents: her final goodbye to her prior life in the country and the “Screwball Peanut Butter Whiskey” scene are fiction.

Q: As someone who’s read more romance novels than I can count, it’s been harder to find stories that feature women who are older. Can you talk about some of the similarities to what we find in love stories with younger characters, that we might see in this book? And, the differences you’ve found in writing characters with the benefit of more lived experiences?

A: I think the most surprising thing about the writing of this book, and the living through the actual romance, is how incredibly nervous and giddy and indecisive and flirtatious and frightened I was. Not much different from how I behaved back in middle school when Bob Green, the center of the North Dallas Bulldog football team, gave me his letter jacket! So much of the time I found myself excited and twitterpated and so damn unsure of myself, just like my granddaughters have behaved around certain young men!

A big difference in writing about the princess and how I would write about my granddaughters, is that the princess’s aging body is a huge part of her resistance. Plus, she (and I) are so aware of the time limitations imposed by his and her ages (being 80-somethings). When I was the girls’ ages, I knew life went on forever. One more thing I’m just learning about is what my editor included in a press release, stating that “senior” romance is a fast-growing genre that “After Goya” fits right in the middle of. I’m finding readers — both young and old — enjoy the book because they’re drawn to stories with characters who are more like themselves, or those they are close to, people who have more life experience and are facing problems and challenges they can relate to, including aging bodies!

What I love about Bankers Hill…

I can walk everywhere: to friends’ homes, the museum, Landmark Theater, Petco Park, Market on Fifth for a Beyond Burger, the Seven Bridges Walk (First Street Bridge in my backyard), Little Italy, and Jimmy Carter’s, which my family and I have been going to for 27 years now and I wrote a little bit about in “After Goya.”

Q: In the process of writing this second book, you’ve also talked about how you resisted completing it because of a fear of judgment about your work, and feeling that our confidence wanes as we age. How did you go about getting past that fear of judgment?

A: Actually, a great deal of my fear and hesitation, and even threat of judgment, happened as I wrote because while it’s not the workplace, the two of us both are very involved in the docent program at the museum. So, all those years of being in a workplace and “no affairs allowed between co-workers” was part of my holding back. But, little by little, as it worked its way through the grapevine, everybody was so happy for us. We both have families — big families — who are really quite happy we’ve found one another. I think my kids did a collective jump up and click their heels knowing they didn’t have to be responsible for every moment of my life. Also, a big observation is that, mostly long-married friends, are so happy for us to have found one another, and a bit envious of how kind, considerate, and loving we are to one another. There’s no taking one another for granted, as can happen. Again, the time limitation is a big factor, but also the fact that we both had incredibly happy and devoted long marriages. In the foreword, I quote the writer, Roger Rosenblatt, in his book “Cataract Blues”: “We love because we’ve loved before.” And I dedicated the book to Marcelle and Jack, our spouses. Again, this is one huge difference between young love and late-in-life love — the vantage point is so different!

Q: Fairytales typically have happy endings; do you think about your own happy ending and what it would ideally look like?

A: I am living a happy ending, which I left up in the air in the book on purpose. I think it’s good for the reader to be left to ponder what might be. We are typical, I think, of others in late-in-life love affairs. We desperately want to be together, and we desperately want our alone time. Often, it’s a struggle, but we have a semblance of a routine where we’re together more than apart, definitely. Now that this book is completed, I’m thinking of going back to my art or something entirely new. Getting out of my head and my routine always seems to bring me inspiration for my writing.

Q: You previously talked about how stepping out of one’s comfort zone is what keeps people full of energy and excitement, and that following one’s dream is possibly the most perfect thing someone can do. How are you stepping outside of your comfort zone now? What are some new dreams you’ve developed and started following?

A: Since this whole publishing project was extremely stressful for me, I find myself kind of all over the place these days. There’s so much I want to do (my husband used to refer to this as my “popcorn brain” with non-stop ideas and thoughts). Another book, art lessons, a month in southern Spain, the Santa Fe Opera this summer, dance lessons, maybe a return to fabric arts, turn the garden room into a small winery, hike and hike and hike, Padre mini-season tickets, write a biography about an interesting person.

Q: What has this work taught you about yourself?

A: I’ve got a lot of life left to live, I’m not such a prude, I love being out of my comfort zone, and everybody loves a fairy tale romance!

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: Jack Woods, early on in our relationship, said rather emphatically to me, “You need to tell me what’s in your mind and what’s in your heart, always.” He believed in open lines of communication. We raised our kids that way and those are the kinds of friendships I covet—open, honest, one-to-one sharing.

Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A: I’m basically introverted.

Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.

A: A hike, happy hour and a sunset from my balcony, a healthy dinner, and a good movie on television.

Lisa Deaderick

2024-01-06 14:00:41 , Oceanside

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