A Letter From the Author: Tigers in Red Weather
The idea for my first novel, Tigers in Red Weather, wasn't an idea so much as an ongoing internal dialogue. I knew I wanted to write a novel -- I had studied creative writing in college and was earning my living as journalist -- but when I began to put the first lines on the page, the story wasn't fully formed. There was, however, as there must always be, a starting point: My grandmother, with whom I had been very close, had just died and I was consumed with thoughts of her life, with what it meant to be her. My grandmother was not the sweet old-lady type; she was conflict in the human form. She was tenderness, generosity, cruelty and contrariety, all rolled into one complicated, very human woman. If you've ever had one of these, you'll know just how confounding and compelling such a person can be. Her death, and the various reactions to it, got me thinking about what forms such a character. Is it internal, i.e. just in their nature, or is it external events working on a person?
This is how Nick Derringer, the anti-heroine of the novel, came into being. I started out with a young woman who would have been the same age as my own grandmother in the '40s, and set about constructing a narrative that could plausibly account for a person who was both lovable and hatable. As the novel progressed, and as other characters entered the picture, the alchemy changed, of course, and Nick became someone other than just a replica of the woman who'd served as her blueprint. Nick was a little more bored, a little more overtly glamorous, definitely more emotionally deprived in her marriage. Still, despite the differences, there are many innate similarities, and if there were any one "idea" behind Tigers, it was an effort to answer to the question-mark hanging over my grandmother. In a way, the book was an act of love.
What's been interesting to see, as the novel has gone out into the world, has been readers' response to the characters; some love them and some hate them. A common complaint is that they're unlikeable, and while I wish that wasn't a basis for enjoying a work of literature, that reaction makes me feel in some way that I've done my job. I never meant the book to be a feel-good tale. I didn't want to create clear-cut villains and heroes. I wanted to approximate the human experience of being imperfect, of being able to love someone imperfect, and being able, at times, to hate those we love. But I hope that what also comes through in the tale is the exquisite relief of forgiveness, both bestowing it and receiving it. And the black comedy inherent in being alive and living in close proximity to people we didn't choose.
I feel like I should also say something about slightly unusual structure of the novel, which is broken up into five parts, with each of the main characters giving their view on the unfolding events. In my mind, Tigers is essentially a book about family, and the story of any family is never a clear-cut, objective narrative. Instead, it is made up of each participant's subjective experience. One person might remember a family vacation as idyllic and sunny, while another may remember it as an unhappy holiday of discord, and I wanted the architecture of the book to reflect that. When I was laying out the structure, I thought of a stain-glass window, where all these different pieces of glass are wedged together to make a whole picture, yet remain, ultimately, fragmented.