By Kelcie McKenney
Madison Tufte was looking to read new books that made her feel inspired, empowered, and vulnerable, with leading female characters who experienced growth—outside of relationships. But she couldn’t find them. So she decided to write her own.
Tufts’s debut novel, The Anchor House, under the pen name Margaret Spencer was born of that quest, and is the product of over two years of secret writing before Tufte self published earlier this year. It’s a tale about three women, Winnie, Fern, and Eleanor, each struggling to grow in their own way—each both strong and vulnerable. A remote island in Minnesota sets the stage for these women’s stories, inspired by the lakes from Tufte’s home town. It’s a heartwarming look at life’s difficulties, filled with inspirational women who live life on their own terms.
In June, The Anchor House won Next Generation Indie Book Awards’ for Inspirational Fiction. We spoke with Tufte about writing strong women, and being one, as she walks us through the journey to her first novel.
What initially inspired you to write The Anchor House?
I have been a bookworm since I learned to read. However, a while ago I started to become disappointed with the lack of fiction options available written by women, for women, that were empowering and optimistic without revolving around romantic love. I distinctly remember the day I left Barnes & Noble empty-handed, wondering if it was impossible to write an uplifting novel that was still impactful, so I decided I’d give it a try.
For your first novel, were there any books or authors that you drew inspiration from for The Anchor House?
Paulo Coelho is one of my favorite authors and likely my largest literary influence. I read The Alchemist when I was a teenager, and it opened my eyes to a style of writing that was lucid and inspiring while also weaving in an interesting storyline. Coelho also integrates philosophical thought seamlessly into fictional storytelling, which is something I attempted to add in The Anchor House. Using fiction to evoke spiritual or metaphysical introspection is something that isn’t common in the current market, and it’s something I wish more authors would incorporate.
As a reader, you wanted to read more books that showed growth and empowerment that didn’t have to do with romance. Where did that decision come from?
The books I’ve read that detail female growth and empowerment almost exclusively involve romantic love as either the reward for the growth or the supporting source of the growth. Women traditionally undergo favorable transformations in fiction for men, rather than for themselves. As a woman who has always been very independent, this frustrated me deeply. It’s not only short sighted, but it’s detrimental to the ideas of what female readers can come to expect of their heroines. Fiction is just that—a fictional story someone makes up to entertain, so why shouldn’t we make up worlds where women grow, heal, and become stronger for themselves?
What does your book say about female empowerment?
The main characters of this novel are three women, and they’re all struggling a bit in their own ways. I did this intentionally, to show that no matter where she is in her life, a woman can be struggling with who she is or what her past has included while also being a shining, driving force in her own and others’ lives. You don’t have to be the imaginary version of your perfect self to be worthy of love, and living a life you love. The expectation should not be that women with flaws dedicate their time and energy towards becoming flawless—because there is no such thing as flawless, and a woman’s proximity to it shouldn’t be an indicator of her worth.
You write really strong yet vulnerable women in your book, were you inspired by any women in your life in writing these characters?
I was inspired by many women in my life while creating the characters in the novel. I’m surrounded by so many women strong and vulnerable in their own ways, and I consider myself very lucky for the female friends and family I have. Each of them has their own powerful story and something they’ve overcome, or may still be battling. What insatiable fight I wasn’t born with my mother taught me from an early age, and I’m forever grateful for her invaluable lessons on how to treat myself and others.
You balance a fine line between science and religion in The Anchor House. What made you decide to tackle that in this book?
Throughout our lives, everyone has their own unique journey with religion, impacted by many different uncontrollable factors, whether positive or negative. I wanted to express themes of acceptance, while also promoting critical thinking, no matter an individual’s belief systems. I also wanted to convey that no opinion is superior to another, and that it’s all about finding the unique balance that makes sense to you. I myself have gone through ebbs and flows between the lines of science and religion, and think that it will be something that continues to transform as I age.
Did you learn anything about yourself in the process of writing this book?
I learned a lot about myself while writing the book! I have approached my entire life with a somewhat fearless attitude, and while I’ve always recognized it’s (predominantly) a strength, the writing process revealed to me the immense power of trying something new without either doubting myself or expecting greatness. I just tried my best at something I believed could be good, and was patient with myself and my efforts along the way. It was also a very cathartic experience, as I included many settings, people, and occurrences from my life in the novel, and putting them in a world of my own creation caused me to reflect on them deeper than I ever had before.
You spent two years working on this book, without telling anyone. How did it feel to finally show it to the world?
It was incredible. Delivering a book that contained so many of my deepest thoughts to my family and friends was certainly nerve wracking, but the response was so positive. I had started it somewhat on a whim to see what I could accomplish, and when I realized I would actually finish it, I wanted to introduce people to it by placing a physical book in their hands instead of just a thought in their minds. It was totally worth the wait and all the previously unmentioned work.
How was the process of self-publishing? Was it difficult?
Self-Publishing is great in the way it allows the author complete control over the book’s content, cover, marketing, and everything else. But that’s also part of the problem. It’s a completely self-serve process (other than things you likely want to hire help for, like editing), which means that each new step of the way requires more research and figuring it out for yourself. Luckily it’s such a popular method of publishing now that there are many online resources to help. Similar to the writing process, it required taking small steps forward with patience.
You recently won a Next Generation Indie Book award for The Anchor House. Congrats! How did it feel to receive that award?
Yes! It won the Next Generation Indie Book Award in the Inspirational Fiction category. Other than the obvious excitement, it also gave me a huge sense of validation. I have struggled a bit with imposter syndrome since publishing the book in the sense that I still feel weird calling myself as an author. I think it’s because I was never traditionally trained for fiction writing in terms of formal education, so I feel like I’m somehow less worthy of the title due the spontaneity of my efforts. I realize it’s silly because a writer is someone who writes in the same way a painter is someone who paints or a teacher someone who teaches, yet still the feeling lingers. So having a third party expert in the field credit the book as being quality has been huge in allowing me to see myself as an author.
Do you plan to write more books in the future? What are you working on now?
I would like to write another book, but as with the first, I am allowing myself to come about the ideas naturally. My best writing for The Anchor House came when I wasn’t pushing myself to think of new ideas; usually when I was driving, in the shower, or about to fall asleep, the times I let my mind roam. So I’m going to let myself relax for a bit, do my best to stay healthy during this pandemic, and let the ideas grow organically.https://bookshop.org/widgets.js
Kelcie McKenney is a writer, editor, and artist who is passionate about feminism. She currently works as Strategy Director at The Pitch , where she writes and edits for Kansas City’s alternative magazine. You can find Kelcie on Instagram with #kcdaddy, where she talks about her three-legged cat Luna, thrift finds, and ways to overthrow the patriarchy.
Justina Kellner is a Kansas City portrait and wedding photographer with a passion for creativity. You’ll find her hands in every possible medium of the arts including digital and film photography, painting, drawing, music, and even a touch of ballet. As a well grounded Capricorn, she also manages an online closet of upcycled trendy clothing, because everything should be recycled – change her mind.
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