My Third Novel's Conclusion, My Heartbreak

My heart begins to break when I think about completing this particular book -- because this narrative has sustained me like no other story I've known. It's both more personal and more universal than my other works. But beyond memory and archetype, it's a cri-de-coeur about needing to become the person one is destined to be. And in the writing, I have met my own life's work, my own fated journey -- having the sense all the while that the pages are suffused with a resonance, an energy, an electrified field that defies explanation. Writers hope and pray to be overtaken by a work in this way -- to be conscripted into passionate service of a profound story. To experience it even once in a lifetime seems a great privilege. I still have several months before this novel is complete, and this constitutes my reprieve. Because I'm not ready for the beauty to end.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Art That Conspires

What elevates a book cover to the ranks of the truly memorable?  A sense of beauty, mystery, contrast, revelation?  I find myself drawn toward covers that convey a palpable harmony with the narrative itself, as if the visual and the fictional have joined hands in artistic collusion, somewhere in the bookstore dark.

What is it about cover art that compels you to pick up the book?  Or allows you to pass it by?  I'd be more than intrigued to hear your comments.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Singing the Past

The wonderful American composer, Samuel Barber, created the music for Knoxville: Summer of 1915 as a tribute to the opening pages of novelist James Agee's A Death in the Family.  If you haven't yet experienced them together, they're a revelation.  The music serves as exquisite echo to the book's sensitive and idyllic narrative.  Cherished and melancholy, it sings a full-hearted portrayal of a beloved American childhood.  How is it possible to blur the lines between symphony and literature so thoroughly?  How can music convey the resplendent arc of a sprinkler on the lawn of one's childhood home, now lost to time?  It's a mystery.  A resonant one.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Art Inspires Art

The Unfastened Heart began with a work of art I bought at an out-of-the-way auction.  I spent more than I could afford on a lithograph of Marc Chagall's "Bella," which is a thoroughly magical depiction of Chagall's wife as a bride -- angels and birds and candles and flowers all surrounding a beautiful, gentle-eyed woman.  I got the sense of goodness and abundance emanating from Bella, rising up from her very skin, and my character, Mariela, is in her own way based on her portrait.

What struck me about the painting more than anything else was that Marc Chagall loved his wife with a love that was transcendent of an earthly view.  To him, she was clearly holy, the central blessing of his life.  And I wanted my work to capture the remarkable reverence that a man can have for the woman he loves.

I didn't realize until I was nearly halfway through the novel that, when looked at in a certain way, Bella could be seen to be holding an infant in her arms -- an astonishing revelation to me since I was expecting a baby at the time, and so, too, was the young woman I was writing about.  It was one of those very rare instances in which art becomes life and life becomes art.  My work took on the same quality of abundance and wonder that surrounded Bella in all her silent splendor.  When I sat down to write, the words poured themselves onto the page.  Chagall was somehow whispering in my ear.

I hope The Unfastened Heart will inspire other artists in turn.  I've heard from several of you that you're in the process of reading the novel, turning to your oil paints, pastels, photography, etc.  It's lovely to imagine the art as a river that travels through us and on to the next artist, who has his or her own unique vision to convey in response to the work that came before.  Art inspires art.  And artists inspire community.  Thanks to you for being part of this one.