How did you get the idea for this first novel?
The first fictional writing I ever did surprised me completely; I just had the urge to write in a voice I could half-hear. It was the voice of someone who spoke about looking for angels in the Baptist Church of her childhood. Soon afterward, on a visit from my home in Connecticut to Peoria, Illinois, to see my grandmother, I started writing more fully in my hotel room; characters and voices started to come to me in a rush, and I just listened and wrote. I wrote about thirty pages of this early work, and then, after a few months, started again, with Hallie and Rose.
Why did you decide to shift point of view?
I loved the idea of each chapter as a window into one figure’s consciousness; each window could offer an architecture and a small but significant glimpse into the character in the present moment. I liked working with the sense of knowledge’s limits; Hallie, Rose, and Virginia know each other well, in certain ways, and yet each one protects herself, holds onto secrets.
Is this an autobiographical book?
Well, if you go to Granville, Ohio, my childhood town (where my dad still lives), people who know this book call it “your book about Granville”! I have to say, I know what they mean, because I definitely brought into this first fictional work all sorts of details about the place; on this level, the novel is a tribute to this landscape and town. Yet the characters are purely fictional; the story is fictional; and, insofar as I changed an enormous amount about the place itself, the place is essentially fictional too. I would add, though, that, as with many first novels, the emotional truth of this book is palpable.
Do the ideas and images in this book come into your later fiction?
I’m sure many do. I love colors, for instance, and this is a book filled with colors’ significance and richness. It’s filled with images of art too; Hallie is an abstract painter, whereas Mary Cassatt, in my second novel, is a representational painter, yet for both artists, the painting becomes a way of interpreting and shaping the world. Other images I resist but often succumb to: deserts, flight, inland landscapes vs. seashore, sea birds, rocks, trees on city streets, landscape as seen from a car. I’m a quite visual writer, and a lot of my imagination appears to be tied up in the essence of landscape: earth, water, sky.
How did you come up with the chapter titles?”
The titles came to me quite simply. Often I named chapters as I might name a poem. I liked playing with the notion of one-word titles; I loved the spareness and suggestiveness of this. I am a minimalist!