Radio Personality Martha Woodroof Releases First Novel
Martha Woodroof, the woman Valley residents know for her popular WMRA show “The Spark,” isn’t afraid of an optimistic ending.
“There’s nothing wrong with having life work out,” she says, quickly clarifying that she certainly acknowledges difficulties; she’s no Pollyanna.
Yes, the 67-year-old Singers Glen resident expects life to be challenging, but “taking on those challenges is the fun of it,” she notes.
Since the 1980s, Woodroof’s accepted the challenge of churning out novels.
It started while driving her blue Ford Ranger pickup truck decades ago, when a line dawned on her.
“I never do stuff like this, but I actually pulled over and wrote it down and thought, ‘That’s the first sentence of a novel,’ ” she said.
Even in the face of rejection — “I’m nothing if not tenacious,” Woodroof explains — she continued to hone her craft, creating characters along the way.
That first book never sold, a fact for which she’s grateful now, but her fourth novel did.
On Aug. 12, St. Martin’s Press released her first published novel, “Small Blessings.” On Aug. 21, she will debut the title at the Harrisonburg branch of Massanutten Regional Library starting at 5:30 p.m. Local poet Angela Carter will be a guest, Bob Driver will provide music and Mashita and Susan Comfort will provide food.
The following evening at 6:30 p.m., she will sign copies at Barnes & Noble in the Harrisonburg Crossing shopping center.
The 320-page novel follows the story of Tom Putnam, an English professor at a Virginia college who has settled for a comfortable but unfulfilling life, browsing shelves at the campus bookstore and taking care of his mentally unstable wife, Marjory.
The couple meets Rose Callahan, the bookstore’s new hire, a smart, caring woman to whom people are drawn but who can’t seem to “commit emotionally to any place or any person,” as Woodroof puts it.
Changes are afoot when Tom Putnam receives a letter from a woman with whom he had a short affair a decade prior. He fathered her son, she informs him, and the boy is on his way to his home south of Charlottesville.
“The only aspect of the novel that’s truly sort of autobiographical from my life is not a person; it’s a place,” says Woodroof, explaining that a major setting in the novel — the campus bookstore — is meant as a tribute to the Sweet Briar College shop where she worked years ago.
Ultimately, though, the deeper story is about change and risk.
“I have watched people not be able to change, because change, even for the better, is uncomfortable,” Woodroof said. “I think Small Blessings is about people who are leading comfortable but less-than-satisfying lives, and they all, through each other, are given a chance to be much happier.”
Hilary Teeman, the editor who has shepherded the novel through the publishing process at St. Martin’s, believes it to be a refreshing change of pace from much current fiction.
“I just fell madly in love with it,” she said. “There’s so much in fiction today that is depressing and dark and that leaves you upset. This book, it was so deep, but also so charming and special, and you feel more optimistic about things when you finish it.”
Teeman often reads drafts without knowing anything about their respective authors, and she said she “had a wonderful time getting to know” Woodroof after first falling for her words.
“I feel like an author like her comes along once in a blue moon,” she added.
What A Character
Teeman emphasized how charming the characters are in Small Blessings, a fitting remark for an author who loves character interaction and setting above all.
Woodroof, a freelancer for NPR, was named “Best Radio Personality” in the Daily News-Record’s annual Best of the Valley awards this year, proving that she’s something of a charming character herself.
When she received the news that her book had sold after a two-day auction, she was at brunch with some friends.
She remembers announcing the news to the table.
In a rather anticlimactic moment, “they were really happy and then we finished brunch,” she recounted, letting out her signature laugh.
“This is a gas, but the things that I’m really grateful for after … this huge train wreck in the middle of my life is that I have a home that’s stable and lovely and gardens that I like to work on … and friends.”
The train wreck she’s referring to is a substance abuse addiction that prompted her first published book, “How to Stop Screwing Up: 12 Steps to a Real Life and a Pretty Good Time.”
“Life is long,” she likes to say. After all, she’s tried a great deal in her years, including co-owning restaurants in Charlottesville, acting, cooking, DJ’ing country music, teaching preschool and trying to sell cars unsuccessfully, according to her website.
A boarding school graduate, she dropped out of both undergraduate studies at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and graduate school at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
With an English professor mother and an executive, philosophy-loving father, both of whom taught her to think for herself, Woodroof, who has been married to her husband, Charlie, for more than 20 years, has always been an avid reader.
She’s two-thirds of the way through a second draft on her second novel, which involves two of the more minor characters from the first.
For more information on Woodroof, her novel or her upcoming events, visit marthawoodroof.com.
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or email@example.com