A New Chapter
August 5, 2021
Greetings, friends --
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, "it means just what I choose it to mean." By Humpty's logic, this is a newsletter, because it says so at the top of the page. It used to be a blog. Before that, it was occasional thoughts, bits of news, and sharing of recommendations. Now it's a newsletter, so here is the news:
Foreign Climes is coming out! My second collection of stories, winner of the 2020 Brighthorse Book Award in Short Fiction, will be out from Brighthorse Books early this fall. As soon as I have preorder information, I'll announce it on my home page. The cover of the book, from this photo I shot in June, means to convey both senses of "foreign climes" – other places and also other states of mind, most likely those states where we feel out of our element, about to enter upon unknown terrain, states of mind where the world is perhaps a bit tilty. And so the publisher and I chose an image of water in a grotto, with a distant portal to the bright world, through which a small person in a boat – can you see them? – is about to pass. (If the image hasn't come through on your email, you can see it here.)
I took the photo while we were on the isle of Capri, between a week doing research in France and several days on the Amalfi Coast. The research, much delayed by the pandemic, was into 12th-century monasteries. My current big project, a novel titled Stone of Heaven, features a nun who, by pathways we still don't understand, managed to become an illustrious illuminator of manuscripts. It's both an historical mystery and a fraught coming-of-age story. Spending time in Provins, Fontenay, and the Bibliothèque Mazarine was hugely helpful in bringing the story to life.
The Amalfi Coast, by contrast, was pure vacation. Almost no non-European tourists were to be seen, and we were able to hike among the lemon trees and idle our way through the streets of Ravello without being jostled. Hearing my accent, both the French and the Italians guessed we were from Sweden or perhaps the Netherlands; when they heard we were from the States, their eyes widened and they asked how we'd managed it, as if we had parachuted down from Mars. I told them we were the advance guard – but with Covid creeping back, I fear we may have slipped through a window for international travel that could close again.
I've been making my way through several dozen books submitted for the Connecticut Book Award in Fiction, which will be announced this fall. In other reading, though, I have loved two books I read in French that are now available in English – Édouard Louis' The End of Eddy and Annie Ernaux's Shame. Both are "autofiction," a term I've come to associate less with strictly autobiographical material and more with a narrative that moves in unexpected ways, much like life. I would love to hear from any of you whether you've been turned on or off by this recent trend in fiction.
The political work continues. How can it not, in a summer where half the world seems to burn while the other half drowns? Where a few can rocket out of Earth's atmosphere just for fun while billions struggle to survive? I hope you have all stayed well through this extreme summer and are finding ways to make your voices heard.
Please explore this new website – and let me know what you like or don't like! Like everything, it is a work in progress.
Very best wishes,