Author, scholar and model Marianne Maili has come a long way from Key West, Iowa.
Maili had a 25-year career as an international model and received her Ph.D. from the University of Barcelona before recently returning to Iowa for academic appointments at the University of Dubuque and the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.
This January she published her first novel, “Lucy, go see,” a coming-of-age story that centers around the life of Lucy Pilgrim, a young woman who leaves her rural Iowa home to pursue a career as an international model.
While the novel is true to Maili’s own life both “in terms of journey” and in terms of the emotions she experienced along the way, the book is technically a work of fiction.
“I did work as a model and travel the world that way. Most of my career was outside of the United States, and it was a way for me to live in places that I wanted to visit and get to experience them.”
The blending of fact and fiction led to some inevitable questions from friends and colleagues when she began drafting the book. They would often ask: was her book a memoir? Fiction?
“I’d say, why does it matter? It’s a story.”
“In America people talk about books being poetry, fiction or non-fiction. But in Europe they just say poetry or prose.”
“I just use fiction as a way to give myself more freedom with the telling of story.”
The character Lucy explores a number of newfound freedoms in “Lucy, go see,” perhaps most notably her own sexual agency.
“It’s a very intimate thing,” Maili said. “That was the genesis of the novel: a sexual exploration I wanted to share as a story because I’d never heard about it before.”
Female sexual agency, Maili said, is not explored enough in current literature, and when it is, it’s usually done in terms of titillation.
One of her goals with the novel was to provide some “food for frank discussion” regarding how people use sex in their lives and talk about it, as well as why sex is often degraded.
“As Lucy dares to live more the life that she dreams for herself, she gets more and more turned on. And it also helps her to understand that her arousal comes from her and through her — it’s not something that’s done to her by someone else.”
With this exploration, then, comes “the realization of freedom.”
Maili continues to live a daring life of her own, moving back to her hometown after many years abroad — an experience she will draw upon in her next novel, a sequel to “Lucy, go see.” Sort of.
“Can a sequel be 25 years later?” she said, laughing.
This second novel, tentatively titled “Lucy, come home,” follows Lucy’s life when she returns to her roots and faces a number of unexpected situations. Set “in the now” the second novel is structurally more challenging for Maili, as it “moves from now to the past, to the future.”
But, like Lucy, she has found strength in the process.
“This one I started in July of 2016. I was also going through a difficult time, so it was a way for me to focus on creating something beautiful.”
She’s aware of how books, like good conversations, can help people connect.
Reading about different lives and experiences, she said, is “a way of traveling. We can’t always travel ourselves, and that’s one of the wonderful things about books. We can go into stories and travel that way and have new experiences.”