The poet and novelist Lori A. May interviewed me for her blog — Musings, Reviews, News — this week. In the interview Lori pushed me to reveal what Bird in Hand is really about, why I’m not a hermit, why I think achieving balance is an impossible goal, and the fluky way I got started as a writer. You can read all about it here.
Baristanet, a “hyperlocal” citizen-journalism blog in northern New Jersey run by veteran journalists Debbie Galant and Liz George, featured a piece this week on the original inspiration for Bird in Hand, which used to be called Four Way Stop.
Here’s the story — part of it, anyway — of the title change:
When my husband and I moved to Montclair after years of living on the Upper West Side, one of our first purchases was a minivan. I hadn’t driven in years, much less an unwieldy, seven-seat bus, and I was filled with anxiety. Traffic can be fast and unforgiving; caught in the maze of unfamiliar roads, I was constantly losing my bearings. My children’s lives were in my hands – my white-knuckled hands, that is, gripping the steering wheel.
This quiet terror propelled me into writing my new novel, which was called, until recently, Four Way Stop. Four-way stops had always struck me as quaint, something you might find out in farm country, but I began to see them all over the place in New Jersey. (In fact, Montclair recently installed them near many schools.) As traffic situations go, they strike me as oddly ambiguous: they require not only manners and mutual respect to work as they must, but a basic knowledge of the rules. What happens when someone doesn’t understand – or follow – the rules?
In my novel the central character, Alison, gets into an accident at a four-way stop in which a child dies. This accident changes the (interconnected) lives of four people. Somewhere along the way I realized that I was writing this book as a way of exploring my deepest fears around this subject – and that those fears were too close. I put the manuscript in a drawer and only came back to it after several years, when my children were older and my worries had subsided. (For one thing, I’d become a fairly competent driver.) And I broadened the scope of the novel: the accident became a catalyst for the larger story rather than the story itself. As the book took shape, I replaced the title with one that better fit the emerging story: Bird in Hand. I’d come to terms with the four-way stop. It was time to move on.
As someone who loves to read other people’s personal essays but has a hard time being so candid herself, I am kind of proud of myself for writing an honest piece for SHE WRITES, a new social networking site for writers, on the long journey to publication for Bird in Hand. SHE WRITES is a place where, as founding editor Kamy Wicoff explains, “women writers working in every genre — in every part of the world and of all ages and backgrounds — can come together in a space of mutual support.”
Publication Day, I’ve learned over the years, is an elusive concept. You imagine that something momentous will happen — after all, the date has been printed in catalogs and announced on amazon.com; it seems significant. You think of other important events in your life: college graduation, your wedding day, the birth of your first child. Things actually happened on those days. You were awarded an official degree in front of several thousand people, you suddenly found yourself yoked for life to another person, you loosed a new human on the earth.
So what do you expect for pub day? Oh, not much. Maybe just some triumphal music, mortarboards tossed in the air, a parade with marching bands, a few fireworks.
A novel appears in hardcover about a month before the pub date. It sits in boxes in your publicist’s office before making its way, with a pitch letter tucked under its flap like a schoolboy with a note in his pocket, to reviewers and others who will, you hope, help it on its way. So pub date is kind of irrelevant. Except in the ways that it isn’t. For example, glossy monthly magazines will review books in September if the pub date is after August 10th. Amazon calls any book bought before pub date a “pre-order,” and it’s not immediately available. Bookstores usually put it on shelves (or, if you’re lucky, on tables) on the official day.
But none of that has much to do with the author. I’ve come to understand that pub day is a rough marker, a general concept. And I’ve learned to view the day as a time to reflect on my own journey in publishing a book. It may not be a warm bundle in my arms, but the weight of my book in my hand, with its smooth pages and pulpy scent, makes me swoon all the same.
For years I’ve been a fan from afar of the novelist and book reviewer Caroline Leavitt. So it was an honor when she requested a review copy of Bird in Hand from my publisher, read it immediately, and asked me to do a pre-publication interview. She posted the interview today on her blog, CarolineLeavittville.