Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Bird in Hand’ Category

This is the official release date for the paperback of my new novel, Bird in Hand. To celebrate, I wrote about writing, life, and the pursuit of happiness for Gretchen Rubin’s wonderful blog, The Happiness Project.  One of my favorite questions she asked was, “What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?”  (Long-time readers of this blog can probably guess my answer.)

I’m also launching a redesign of my website today, and even of this blog, ditching my old WordPress URL and finally getting a grown-up domain name of my own.  You can still find me at this address, but it’s a little swankier over there.

I’m really happy that my paperback is out in the world.  (I always feel a little twinge about asking people to cough up money for a hardcover.)  I’m delighted with my website, which was designed by the extraordinarily patient and good-humored Steffen Rasile of sra design studios.  And I’m so pleased that my blog finally has a permanent home.

One of the best things I’ve learned from Gretchen is to “grab those moments of happiness as they wing by.” So here I am, grabbing the moment.  And doing a little happy dance.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Read Full Post »

When I’m working on a novel I become obsessed with its themes, and look for inspiration anywhere I can find it.  Paintings, photographs, films, poems, essays, novels – everything I take in is filtered through the lens of my current obsession. (I’ve written about some of the visual inspiration for my new novel, Bird in Hand, here and here.)

Recently I opened a file I kept while working on Bird in Hand. It’s filled with newspaper clippings, handwritten and typed pages, poems torn out of magazines, Post-it notes in soft yellow and acid green. One 2”x2” fragment – the bottom of a “To Do” list – has only this, in my handwriting: Don’t worry about starting. Just begin. No story is too large to tell. (Did I write these words, or was I quoting someone? Either way, I must have found them inspiring.)

Leafing through this file, I can trace the genesis of my ideas. The scrap of paper, for example, with phone numbers on one side and Four danger signs for a marriage: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, emotional withdrawal scrawled in black pen on the other. Below this I wrote, “Is [Bird in Hand] a love story or a tale of betrayal? Is it about finding your soul mate, or losing everything you hold sacred? How can the two stories be the same?”

Below are some passages I found in the file that shaped my novel-in-progress –- and why:

1) “I used to think if you fell from grace it was more likely than not the result of one stupendous error, or at least an unfortunate accident. I hadn’t learned that it can happen so gradually you don’t lose your stomach or hurt yourself in the landing. You don’t necessarily sense the motion. I’ve found it takes at least two and generally three things to alter the course of a life: You slip around the truth once, and then again, and one more time, and there you are, feeling, for a moment, that it was sudden, your arrival at the bottom of the heap.” Jane Hamilton, A Map of the World

This novel-– which, like Bird in Hand, is about the accidental death of a child that sets in motion a series of events that changes the lives of the main characters-– had a huge impact on me. My own opening paragraph, I later realized, echoes the beginning of Hamilton’s powerful book.

2) “Those of us who claim exclusivity in love do so with a liar’s courage: there are a hundred opportunities, thousands over the years, for a sense of falsehood to seep in, for all that we imagine as inevitable to become arbitrary, for our history together to reveal itself only as a matter of chance and happenstance, nothing irrepeatable, or irreplaceable, the circumstantial mingling of just one of the so many million with just one more.”Alice McDermott, Charming Billy

Bird in Hand is about four people, two of whom betray their spouses. I was interested in writing about moral ambiguity, which McDermott so brilliantly parses in this novel. If you truly believe that your spouse is not your soulmate, and that your own happiness is vitally important, what do you do?

3) “Close to the body of things, there can be heard a stir that makes us and destroys us.”D. H. Lawrence, Study of Thomas Hardy

That people’s deepest feelings cannot be constrained by social norms or boundaries is an idea I wanted to explore in this book (and an idea that preoccupied Lawrence). Though two of my characters disrupt – and arguably destroy – other lives in their quest to be together, they are oblivious to all but their own happiness.

4) “It is a queer and fantastic world. Why can’t people have what they want? The things were all there to content everybody; yet everybody has the wrong thing.” Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier

My four characters are constantly at odds. Their preoccupations, passions, and dreams are often in conflict. In developing this story, I wanted to give equal weight to each perspective. I was fascinated by the complexity of The Good Soldier, and at how skillfully Ford got to the core of his characters’ motivations.

5) In truth, I did not read Chekhov’s short story “The Lady with the Dog” until after Bird in Hand was published. But this quote (from the Norton edition) is uncanny in its precise application to my story – down to the reference to birds:

“It seemed to them that fate had intended them for one another, and they could not understand why she should have a husband, and he a wife. They were like two migrating birds, the male and the female, who had been caught and put in separate cages. They forgave one another all that they were ashamed of in the past and in the present, and felt that this love of theirs had changed them both.”

At the end of the story, as at the end of Bird in Hand, the characters are on a precipice. Chekhov writes:

“And it seemed to them that they were within an inch of arriving at a decision, and that then a new, beautiful life would begin. And they both realized that the end was still far, far away, and that the hardest, the most complicated part was only just beginning.”

***

This piece, in a slightly different form, originally appeared in Madame Mayo.

Read Full Post »

William Faulkner used to map his stories on his office wall.  If you visit his home in Oxford, Mississippi, you can still see the notes for his novel in his precise, small handwriting.  When Laura Schenone was writing her memoir, The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken, she kept photos of her Genovese great grandmother, Adalgisa, propped on her desk, and Adalgisa’s handmade rolling pin nearby.  Edwidge Dandicat has an evolving bulletin board in her workspace where she tacks up collages of photos of Haiti and images from magazines.

For many writers, visual and tactile stimulation is an important component of the creative process.  I, too, have a bulletin board covered with images that change with each book I write.  Recently I retired a tattered newspaper clipping that had been tacked to the wall in my office for eight years — except for the times I brought it with me to writers’ colonies or on family vacations (under the delusion that I might actually get work done on a beach).

BIH inspiration cropMore than a decade ago, leafing through The New York Times, I came across this image as I was beginning to work on a new novel.  I assume that it was part of an advertisement, but I cut it out carefully around the edges, so I don’t know for sure. I don’t even know when it appeared in the paper, though from what I’ve deduced from articles on the back side it seems to have been some time in the spring of 1998. (An ad for a wine store says “Prices effective through April 30, 1998.”)

The image floored me. I had begun writing about a young couple, Ben and Claire, both expatriates living in England, who befriend another American named Charlie … who falls in love with Claire. Who may or may not be falling in love with him. This picture in the newspaper, it seemed to me, perfectly encapsulated the complexity of my characters’ situation.

For many reasons, the story this photo tells is intriguing. A couple on a park bench sits close together, facing away from the viewer. The man has his arm around the woman’s back, his hand resting protectively on her shoulder. The woman’s arm is around his shoulder, as well … except that it isn’t. It extends along and behind the bench, and her open palm rests on the hand of a man on the other side, who kisses it tenderly. (A two-sided park bench? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in real life.)

All the markers of romantic Paris – the French restaurant awning, the folded newspaper (Le Monde), the European car in the background and baroquely detailed (if blurry) streetlight in the foreground, a smattering of fat pigeons, even the man’s black turtleneck and the woman’s plaid skirt and sensible heels – contribute to the illicit thrill of this image.

Does the man on the other side of the bench have any idea that his girlfriend/wife is being unfaithful? Did she and the man kissing her hand plan to meet at this place, or was it happenstance? For that matter, do they know each other, or is this a spontaneous moment of anonymous passion? Did the photographer happen on this scene, or was he, perhaps, hired by the man with his back to us on the bench?

The image is shocking in its seeming casualness, in the brazen, in-broad-daylight transgression taking place before our eyes. I was fascinated by the contradictions: the woman so clearly part of a couple, yet making herself available to the man behind her, her demure pose contrasting with her open, searching palm. The man’s body language, too, is contradictory; he sits casually reading the paper, one leg crossed over the other, but his eyes are closed in passion as he kisses the woman’s palm.

Instinctively I knew that this image would help me access the core motivations of my characters, who act in comparably indiscreet and scandalous ways. Claire loves her husband, but she feels something entirely different for Charlie – a passion she’s never felt. Charlie respects Ben, but is blinded by his love for Claire. And when Claire’s best friend from childhood, Alison, comes to visit and ends up engaged to Charlie, things spin even further out of control.

This novel, now in bookstores, is called Bird in Hand. When I sent the final manuscript to my publisher about six months ago I took the faded newspaper clipping down and put it in a cardboard box, along with my handwritten first draft of the novel. Now my bulletin board is covered with postcards from the New York tenement museum depicting the interior of an immigrant Irish family’s cramped apartment, a black and white photograph of a young couple at Coney Island in the 1920s, a map of the village of Kinvara, Ireland, and other inspiration for my new novel-in-progress.

This essay, in a slightly different form – and with a larger version of the newspaper clipping – originally appeared in In This Light.

Read Full Post »

madam mayoRecently I was invited to do a guest blog for Madam Mayo, using a simple format:  I had to provide five links that are in some way relevant to my new novel.  (Other writers have used this format in all kinds of ways – 5 Secrets of Mexico City, Top 5 Aviation Museums, 5 Magnetic Spaces – as you can see.)   Rooting around for ideas, I opened a file I kept while working on Bird in Hand. As I leafed through this file I could trace the genesis of my ideas.  So I chose some passages that shaped my novel-in-progress – and why.  That post is here.

Read Full Post »

WNBA-NY-October-2009From left to right: Rosalind Reisner (co-moderator), C.M. Mayo, Julie Metz, Eva Hoffman, Christina Baker Kline, Roxana Robinson, and Miriam Tuliao (co-moderator).

This month I was privileged to be on the Women’s National Book Association panel in celebration of National Reading Group Month.  On her lively blog, “A Reader’s Place,” Rosalind Reisner gives the full report.  She talks about my new novel, Bird in Hand, as well as recent works by Roxana Robinson (Cost), Eva Hoffman (Apassionata), Julie Metz (Perfection), and C.M. Mayo (The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire).   It was an honor to be in a room full of people who are passionate about books; as much as I enjoyed talking about my own novel, I was even happier to listen to the other writers talk about their work.

And here’s what Marian Schembari has to say about this extraordinary evening over at Marian Librarian.

Read Full Post »

bestoftimesWhen I lived in London last summer I was lucky enough to get to know the novelist Karen Essex.  (Her recent, internationally bestselling books are Leonardo’s Swans and Stealing Athena.)  Recently she moderated a conversation between Penny Vincenzi, the #1 bestselling British novelist, and me because our new novels — The Best of Times and Bird in Hand — both begin with car accidents that change the lives of the central characters.  Karen was interested in two things in particular:  Was the accident the inspiration for the novel, or merely a device, a catalyst for the story?  And – as long-married women, how strange, unsettling, or awkward was it to write about adultery and divorce?

To find out the answers to these and other provocative questions, click here.

Read Full Post »

BIH inspiration“The newspaper clipping is in tatters.  Folded, yellowed, curling at the edges and mended in places with clear tape, it was tacked to the bulletin board in my office for eight years….”  So begins a guest post I wrote this week for In This Light, a blog about the influence of images on writers and writing.   Instinctively I knew that this image would help me access the core motivations of my characters in Bird in Hand, who act in comparably indiscreet and scandalous ways …

You can read the rest here.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 49 other followers