Mary Jumbelic is an author from Central New York, and former chief medical examiner of Onondaga County. Performing thousands of autopsies in her career, she elaborates a strong voice for the deceased. She explores through creative non-fiction the imprint the dead have made on her humanity. Published with Rutgers University Press, Vine Leaves, Jelly Bucket, Grapple Alley, and Unleash among others, her pieces have also ranked in the top ten in national writing contests and one has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She teaches at the Downtown Writer’s Center in Syracuse and is assistant editor at Stone Canoe. Her blog, Final Words, is available at www.maryjumbelic.com. Follow her on Instagram @MaryJumbelic.
----------Interview by Renee Roberson
Read Mary's essay here and then return to learn more about the author.
WOW: “The Trailer” is a heartbreaking essay, with so many vivid and sensory details and descriptions of the setting. Were there any parts of the piece that had to be left on the cutting room floor during the revision process?
Mary: When I originally wrote “The Trailer”, I was barely present in the story. Instead, I shone the spotlight on the boy’s pain and death. Ultimately, I realized the significance of my pain in reading his final note and had to reveal myself as a more defined character.
WOW: You are a retired medical examiner. When did you first begin to explore creative writing—was it during your career or something you focused on more after retirement?
Mary: I have always loved writing and journaling throughout my life: before, during and after my career as a medical examiner. In retirement, I found the time to take writing classes, join with other writers in groups, attend conferences, and hone my creative nonfiction work.
WOW: Could you tell us more about the themes you explore in your memoir? Did you begin with the process with an outline?
Mary: My memoir explores the juxtaposition of my life––death on a daily basis balanced with my own need for survival. Themes of acceptance of loss, appreciation of life, and facing the ghosts of all my cases feature strongly in my manuscript. I created a body of work that began to flesh itself out into a collection and then formed a chronologic arc of my life that organically began with the death of my father and ended with the current pandemic. The outline was born from this, and I wrote fresh stories for transition points.
WOW: I have no doubt your memoir is a riveting piece of work! You’ve won many impressive awards for your writing. What do you think is the key to creating an award-winning that will get noticed by contest judges?
Mary: The key to getting noticed is to write what you know and assiduously hone your writing. I adhere to Stephen King’s advice “If you want to be a writer…read a lot and write a lot.” My stories arise from my passion for forensic pathology and storytelling. Writing is hard. Some of my pieces have gone through twenty drafts. In the early days, I workshopped essays. It is helpful to learn what other writers and readers think of your work. Also, read your pieces out loud; hearing it reveals errors the eyes miss.
WOW: As a writing instructor, what types of courses do you teach and what do you enjoy most about helping others with their writing?
Mary: I have taught memoir, but my specialty is teaching forensics for mystery and crime writers. That combines my two loves. It is thrilling to watch writers develop their skills through exercises, homework, and critique. I learn from the students as well––new perspectives and styles.
WOW: That is a great specialty to focus on in teaching. Thank you so much for being here today and we look forward to reading more of your work.