The Bird Sisters: An Open Letter from the Author
It's hard for me not to love a book that begins like this: "My mother's name was Mercy Stone Goodwill. She was only thirty years old when she took sick, a boiling hot day, standing there in her back kitchen, making a Malvern pudding for her husband's supper." This is the kind of novel that grabs me time and again. I am a person who is drawn to all things old -- back kitchens, unusual names that at one time weren't so unusual, and things like Malvern pudding, which I've never eaten but have romanticized plenty. To tell the truth, I'm afraid to make it and ruin the opening image of one of my very favorite books, The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields.
This book is responsible for the existence of my novel The Bird Sisters. Carol Shields illuminated for me something essential: that the ordinary can be extraordinary. A kitchen, for instance, can be a place of great joy, great sadness, and great tension in a story. I don't happen to be a writer who looks for my plot in other worlds or with the help of murders or weapons or Hollywood; I look for it in things as seemingly benign as teacups and the women who drink from them each day. I look for it in dusty old photograph albums and wood recipe boxes. This is all thanks to Carol Shields, whose writing said to me, "Go ahead. Write about the slam of a screened door or honeysuckle twirling up a porch railing. Free yourself. Write about home."
And that's exactly where I started. The Bird Sisters is set in the town of Spring Green, Wisconsin, on a small farm that my father has owned since before I was born. When we were kids, my oldest brother and I would go back and forth between the farm and my mother's house, which was located in a small suburb of Chicago. For us, Wisconsin was enchanting. There we were able to swim in the river, cover ourselves in mud, and tromp through the woods. There we played with barn cats and snakes, lightning bugs and katydids. The farm was truly magical. It still is. I adore it.
For me, story begins with place. With history (and the stories my grandmother Kathryn and my great-aunt Virginia told me, in the case of The Bird Sisters). With good old-fashioned love. I hope you enjoy reading about my home as much as I enjoyed writing about it.
P.S. I'd love to hear what you think about the book and how it speaks to your idea of home. You can reach me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org or through my website at www.thebirdsisters.com. I look forward to hearing from you!
P.P.S. Have you ever tasted Malvern pudding?