is a former journalist who was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She now writes fiction and teaches writing at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Her stories have appeared in many venues, including Prairie Schooner
, New Letters
, and The Greensboro Review
, as well as in several anthologies. She lives in Washington, D.C.
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Describe your latest project.
My first book of fiction, a collection of twelve stories titled You Won't Remember This, was published in June by Southern Methodist University Press.
Why do you write?
Almost all my stories emerge from something I see, or hear, or remember, that makes me ask: How can that be? How can they do that? Then I start groping in the dark for a story that answers the question. I suppose, more generally, I write to build worlds out of memory.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
I've made several. The first was to Jane Austen's childhood home, south of London, where she and Cassandra muddied their skirts walking over the fields to church, and then to the brick cottage, now an Austen museum, where she lived as an adult and read her novels in nightly installments to her mother and sister, who reportedly howled with unladylike laughter.
I also visited the hospital in Rouen where Flaubert lived as a boy (his father directed the hospital), saw the house on the river he shared with his mother while writing Madame Bovary, and finally, lost in the flat Normandy countryside, the village of Rhy, where a doctor's wife killed herself after conducting an adulterous affair. It's all there ? the house with the narrow garden running down to a little stream, the apothecary shop next door, the church.
The pilgrimage that touched me most was to the town where Willa Cather grew up, Red Cloud, Nebraska, where the only restaurant was full of characters I'd met in her books, heartily eating dinner, calm, robust women, quiet children, men wearing their hats, and all around, fields and farmland just as she described them in O Pioneers! and My Antonia.
What is your vision of the ideal life?
A house beside water, a skiff to row in the early morning, a desk by a window, a husband growing tomatoes in the garden, a story growing in my mind.
Share a favorite sentence from another writer.
"The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." ? Marcel Proust
Who are your favorite characters in history and have they influenced your writing?
I've always been attracted by queens, especially Marguerite de Valois, Anne Bolyn, and Catherine the Great. When you read about their lives, these queens seem not much different from the unknown, invisible women I write about: They had problems with men; they were self-indulgent and subject to fantasy; they worried about clothes and their looks (Marguerite and Catherine had unconquerable weight problems); and they were just as bound by rules of character and plot as my characters. What delicious irony.
What is your idea of absolute happiness?
A moment of being: the senses alert, the mind empty of thought.
What fictional character would you like to date, and why?
My mother, who was not a whimsical woman, used to say she wished she had a son so that she could name him Sydney Carton. I was impressed. When I was a teenager and read A Tale of Two Cities, I, too, developed a crush on Sydney. I sometimes imagined him, lean and passionate, in place of the boy whose arms were around me in a smelly car. But I was no Lucie and could not envision anyone transforming his character through love for me (I'm sure my mother could), so I gave him up. Still, if Sydney came along today, I wouldn't mind strolling with him along the Seine, arm in arm, talking in low voices of the film we just saw or the state of the world or the weather.
Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
I've never forgotten the shock of pleasure these five books gave me when I first came upon them. For sheer originality of language and unique vision they occupy a category of their own among fiction I've read.
Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse
Willa Cather, The Professor's House
Penelope Fitzgerald, The Blue Flower
Mavis Gallant, Varieties of Exile (stories)
Christina Stead, The Man Who Loved Children