I cannot hear the opening harmonies of this song with being a kid again, in my parents’ living room, where those Swedish angels’ voices poured out of a pair of boxy Ohm speakers. The tiny thump of the needle on the vinyl gave me such a thrill, as did the album art.
I wanted so badly to be one of them: wearing sparkling white with sequins and maribou, with spotlit hair…
Of course, I also wanted to grow up and marry Barry Manilow. Clearly I had designs on a Vegas show…
I have always been a sucker for a series. The idea that as a reader, having fallen in love with characters and places, I don’t have to say goodbye just yet — that more stories are coming — is intoxicating. As a writer, I find it to be almost more so. I inhabit time and space with these fictional people. The protagonists have friends, family, histories. So many small backstories fan out from a single novel. How can I not write them all?
If I ever answer that question, I’ll let you know.
Those of you who’ve read From The Earth to the Moon have met Joss Fuller’s Great Aunt, his father Walt as an infant, and his older first-cousin-once-removed George Cartwright. (Spoiler, you’ll see George again soon, albeit briefly.) I have other stories spilling off the margins of the Thornton novel manuscripts, tucked away for rainy days.
One such backstory is that of Anneliese Thompson, a wedding planner and single-mother recently returned to her hometown. Anneliese, a cousin to the Fullers on the other side, has befriended Nan Grady, and her past is starting to catch up with her as she finds her feet again in Thornton.
Bannerwing Books’s Write Club — a subscription-based writer’s group — released Open Studio, a free ezine this past week, highlighting member responses to a writing prompt. My contribution was Foolish Things, the story of Anneliese’s senior prom date, and the catalyst for the events now playing out in the secondary plot lines of Damselfly Inn.
Check out Open Studio to read Foolish Things as well as the other offerings from Write Club’s membership!
I am a sucker for a neglected house, and my imagination saw it fully restored. I pictured myself an innkeeper there (which was why I put myself through culinary school after college, more on that — and how it ties into Damselfly Inn — down the road) in a far-distant future.
Those daydreams fleshed out over the years, and I began to dread the day the property would be snapped up. The house was in rough shape. A developer might just raze the poor old thing. Or worse, someone might beat me to the punch, renovate it, and open my inn!
Then, some six or seven years ago, I was back in Middlebury for a girls’ weekend with my mom, and we drove out that way to satisfy my curiosity.
The house had indeed been sold, and was being renovated, but the renovations had stalled, and the house was standing empty, gutted-clean, and ready for finish work. Oh, my heart.
My life had moved on from dreams of Vermont innkeeping, but not my daydreams, and in the years between seeing the house again, and taking this photograph, the early drafts of Damselfly Inn were written.
Now, fill the valley with pastures of Jersey cows, and stands of fir and birch trees. Root an ancient maple over on the other side of the house. Give the house a full third floor and beautiful perennial beds… And fall in love.
Okay, it’s not really real. But it’s closely based on a real town.
Write what you know.
I graduated from Middlebury College in 1999. For four incredible years, I lived in Middlebury, Vermont. I woke up to views like this:
I majored in music, but I studied writing and literature between course requirements. Fresh from co-editing my prep school’s literary review, I knew when I got to Middlebury that I wanted to write. I dove into playwriting, screenwriting, fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. I studied Robert Frost where he wrote, read Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare, and the nineteenth century British classics. I worked with a group of students to create an opera libretto from Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Gimpel the Fool. I took an intro to French Romantic literature and poetry in French (Je ne parle pas bien le français.). I spent a month analyzing Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia for a course co-taught by a maths professor and a theatre professor, resulting in a rather desperate, lasting crush on Septimus Hodge.
I might have been trying to tell myself something.
There were ideas for stories and character sketches and vignettes scrawled on the backs of pages and in the margins of my course notes, files of started-and-stopped stories on 3.5″ floppy disks in my desk, folders on my laptop. My 700 project — like a thesis for artsy kids — was composing, and writing the libretto for, a chamber ensemble operetta. My 35 minute musical adaptation of A.L. Gurney’s Love Letters was my first major publishing project, I suppose.
I probably should have majored in Creative Writing. No more lucrative than music, but in retrospect not my truest passion. That tiny regret has a small cameo of sorts in the novel, too.
(Good lord, college is wasted on the young. Can I go back now?)
When Nan Grady, the innkeeper at the center of Damselfly Inn, first came to me, I thought she lived in Boston or nearby, but while I was developing the story line, I was also coming up on my tenth college reunion, and I was desperately homesick for that gorgeous college town I loved. It was a natural progression that led her to the Swift’s yellow Victorian on Valley Road in Thornton.
Thornton is not Middlebury, nor is it Weybridge or Cornwall or Salisbury. Not exactly. It is an amalgam of them all, adjusted to suit my vision and the needs of my story. Thornton and its college, for the most part, could be laid over a map of Middlebury, and the major landmarks would be instantly recognizable: the north-flowing Thorn River, which tumbles over a falls as it bisects the downtown, the bridge that spans the river over the falls, County Road that runs through the college and westward toward Lake Champlain at Chimney Point. The shops, the restaurants in the downtown area — Temple Bar, Sweet Pease, Mistle Thrush, Golden Prawn, and Fantastic Pizza — were all born from memories and experiences in real places. Catmint Gap, where Joss’s cabin is, might be found in the forests of Ripton, Vermont, and you would take the same curving state highway up the mountain, complete with switchbacks along a ravine, to get there from Thornton as you would to get to Ripton from Middlebury.
Thornton’s position in relation to Burlington, Port Henry, Rutland, Vergennes, Montreal, and Boston are all borrowed from Middlebury’s. It’s climate, mountains, and farmland echo that of Addison County. It’s both a very real, and a completely imaginary place, one that lives and breathes in my heart right next to the original, and I hope I’ve brought it to life for you in the pages of Damselfly Inn.
The story of the house itself — because it began with a real house — will have to wait for another day.
On Friday, I’ll be old enough to run for President. If you all write me in, I promise not to behave like a jackass while in office, to get some fantastic advisors, and to hire Aaron Sorkin to write my narrative arc. Continue reading →