Today’s guest author is my good friend Maud Carol Markson, whose lovely new novel, Looking After Pigeon, is just out from The Permanent Press. School Library Journal calls it “a neat tapestry of family flaws” narrated by five-year-old Pigeon over the summer when her parents have just separated and her 16-year-old sister becomes pregnant. Anyone in the bay area looking for a real treat, come hear Carol read at Books Inc. in Palo Alto, Wednesday, July 22 at 7:00. – Meg
From the time I was told I would never grow up to be an elephant, I decided instead to grow up to be a writer (of course, to the adults who knew me, both probably seemed equally implausible). I to be the person who wrote all those books I loved as a child, and all those books that kept my father engrossed every night so that when I talked to him he barely heard me. I wanted to be the writer of the books that filled my local library shelves. There I would walk once a week in the summer, and sit among the books, in the air-conditioned stacks, staring at their covers as if they could reveal the magic within. And then stacking up my favorite books to carry on the walk home, where they bumped against my side, reminding me with each step of what awaited me when I actually opened their covers and read their pages.
Books are still magical to me. I look at novels not as a means to escape from myself (although, happily, they often serve that purpose), but as a means to discover myself. As a young child, I discovered aspects of myself and my world in the characters of Harriet in Harriet the Spy and Julie in Up a Road Slowly, or Kit Tyler in The Witch of Blackbird Pond. As an adult, I cherished other favorites– Macon Leary in The Accidental Tourist or Tess of the D’Urbervilles or Garp. It is not that the authors of these books are writing about me, or even about someone like me. What they are doing is finding some truth in their characters and in the human experience.
That is what I aim to do with my own writing. I wrote my first novel When We Get Home (Bantam, 1989), when I was pregnant with my son and anxious about being a parent for the first time. It begins with the line: “In my family we are all disposable,” and it was that line that ran through my head over and over again until the character that speaks that line emerged. And then the rest of her family soon followed—the father with multiple divorces, the step-mother, the brother who flees from one relationship to another.
In my forthcoming novel, Looking After Pigeon (The Permanent Press, July 2009), it was another line that echoed: “My mother named her children after birds.” What kind of mother gives her children bird names? How does growing up with such a name make us who we are? In this novel, five year old Pigeon’s father disappears, leaving her to face a new and bewildering life in an uncle’s house on the Jersey shore. My father never left me as a child, and I don’t even have one uncle, much less one who owns a house at the beach. My older sister never got pregnant. These are characters I have imagined—right out of thin air, and also out of my own obsessions for people and language. These characters are not me, but their emotions are mine. The way they experience the world is mine. They all in some way reveal parts of who I am. And hopefully reveal parts of my readers as well. That is what good writing can do. – Maud Carol Markson