It takes a lot for those of us who were English or Lit majors to brave buildings built for Chemistry or the hard sciences, but I was willing to do it to see some of my favorite authors of women's fiction. However, it's still a little intimidating to see signs on doors that say, "Chemistry students and staff only. High magnetic fields. Maintenance staff stay out. We'll empty our own trash." Would you want to go into those rooms?
Fortunately, the program "Women Searching (In Storytelling) with Meg Waite Clayton and Michelle Richmond wasn't held in one of those scary rooms in the Chemistry building. Meg Waite Clayton is the author of The Wednesday Sisters. I interviewed her in 2008, when the book originally came out, and I also reviewed it. But, I had never met her, or heard her talk about her writing.
Michelle Richmond is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Year of Fog. She was talking about that book, and her other novel, No One You Know.
Meg and Michelle were very comfortable together. They both live in the Bay area, and they tour, hike, and have dinner together. They also share the same editor. Meg talked about The Wednesday Sisters, the story of five women who first met over books. It's about the different way we remember things. The women formed a writing group. One woman, Linda, wants to write, and she wants all of her friends to write as well.
But, I was particularly interested in hearing about Meg's forthcoming book. The Four Ms. Bradwells is due out next January. It's the story of four women who went to law school together in 1979. They reunite when one is a nominee for the Supreme Court. Clayton said she wanted to make the nominee an immigrant, and her editor wouldn't let her, saying it wasn't going to happen. Then, one day, she called with just one phrase, Sonia Sotomayor. She was allowed to change her character back to an immigrant.
Michelle Richmond did mention the setting in a chemistry building before she started discussing her books. She said she'd always been terrorized by the periodic table, and now there she was, staring at one that took up half the wall.
Richmond's book, No One You Know, features Ellie, a woman based in San Francisco, who is a coffee buyer, and travels all over the world. Twenty years earlier, her sister, a math prodigy, was murdered. A friend of Ellie's wrote a true crime book about the murder. Ellie felt the storyteller took advantage of the friendship, and had the story wrong. She set out to find out what happened to her sister.
The Year of Fog is about the day a child went missing on Ocean Beach. Photographer Abby Mason was with her fiancé's daughter. Abby stopped to take a picture, and, by the time she looked up, Emma had disappeared. It's a story of guilt and memory. Richmond explored how we recreate memories to our own imagining.
Since many in the audience were interested in the writing process, a number of the questions had to do with how and when the authors wrote, and themes of the their books. It was an interesting program, and, before I moved on to the next program on women's fiction, I had the chance to introduce myself to Meg Waite Clayton. Thanks for the hug, Meg!
The last program of the day was called, "Food, Fiction and Friendship: Writing about Topics Near and Dear to Women's Hearts." Barbara Samuel O'Neal and Cassandra King didn't spend much time talking about food, but that was just as well at 4:00 in the afternoon.
Barbara O'Neal said by that time of day, she was as filled with books and ideas as we were, so she felt a little scattered. She said she wrote stories about women's lives at all stages. She said she writes about sisters more than friends. O'Neal is a big fan of cooking, and spent fifteen years working in restaurants. Her books include cooking and food, and recipes are part of her works. In fact, she said the recipes are a huge, popular part. O'Neal spent the whole winter baking bread in preparation for her next book, because she's writing about a bakery. She said she is doing her dream work, talking to women of all ages, and walks of life. Hopefully, her books offer a moment of hope to someone. Barbara Samuel O'Neal's books were some of my favorite women's fiction when she wrote under the name Barbara Samuel, and her two books under O'Neal were favorites of the last couple years. She's the author of The Lost Recipe for Happiness, and The Secret of Everything.
When Cassandra King was introduced, it was mentioned that she's married to Pat Conroy. She said they met when he wrote a blurb for one of her books. The topic for the afternoon led one man in the audience to challenge King, asking why a man would want to read her books. She said her novel, Making Waves, was told from a young man's perspective. She said she doesn't like the label men's fiction and women's fiction, since people face common struggles and conflicts. She tries to write strong male characters, and doesn't write for a particular audience. King said she wants to write something people will find interesting.
Barbara O'Neal and Cassandra King, like the authors in the previous program, spent time answering questions about writing. Questions involved learning to write fiction, books into movies, what it's like to see a new book on a shelf, even about reading reviews. I appreciated the question about what they were reading. King said she doesn't have as much time to read now. She finds herself sneaking in time to read just as she used to sneak time to write. But, she recently read The Time Traveler's Wife, and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. O'Neal said she's a voracious reader. She's been reading YA books, since they're different from hers. And, like other authors that same day, she mentioned Ray Bradbury as an influence on her. She also mentioned one of my favorite books, Anya Seton's Green Darkness.
And, Barbara Samuel O'Neal had two comments that ended the day perfectly for me. When asked what they thought of a blog being turned into the movie, Julie & Julia, O'Neal said she loved that blog, and thought some of the best writing being done today is being done on blogs. And, she concluded the program, following a question about research, by saying no matter what career you choose, writing or any other, you need to find the one you can be passionate about, and dig into it.
Saturday at the Tucson Festival of Books was perfect. It left a feeling of great anticipation for Sunday at the Festival.