It’s fate: getting the editorial letter from New Rivers in this same week that I am preparing for the spring semester at SMU. This is the letter that contains the recommended substantive changes from the editorial team at New Rivers, the things that they would like to see revised before the book heads into the printing process. Fated, in the way that it reminds me of what it’s like to for my students when they get my letters to them about their draft fiction.
For a while back in the mid 00s, it seemed as if you couldn’t turn on the news without another parent murdering her children. Her, because often enough it was the mothers committing the crimes, and my limited perspective also suggested that Texas seemed particularly affected by the epidemic. The stories devoted a lot of energy to analyzing the murderer’s motives and psychology: How could she do it? And then there was the thing that I most wanted to know: What about those left behind?
These questions intersected with another of my long-standing obsessions: parenting a difficult child. This fixation stems from my years as a middle school teacher, where the occasional student would leave me wondering, “Who the hell could live with that 24/7?” More than a fit of pique over the occasional bad afternoon with the occasional bad apple, every few years I would encounter a kid who left me baffled. It was never about naughtiness, and I retain genuine fondness for any number of truly disturbed children whose behavior created constant problems for me, for others and for themselves. No, the children who haunted me then and still are the ones whose general…unpleasantness made them difficult to be around.
Bored, in a writing studio at the VCCA, the meme merged with the obsession and the idea for a novel took root. The novel continues the exploration of a theme also at the heart of THE FULL MATILDA, the persistent presence of the past in our lives. My father lived into the first few years of his 100s, and he had his children relatively late in life, so for over forty years I was privileged to know a man with vivid memories of the first part of the 20th Century, a man who had known, when he was young, men and women who lived as slaves. It doesn’t matter to what extent we are aware of it, each of us carries forward in many ways the lived memories of those who precede us. Historical time is short.
In my novel, Daniel Davis receives a request from his mother, Keisha to come visit her in prison. Ten years earlier she had murdered his three siblings and their father and he now lives with his grandmother, Janet WIlliams, who is determined to protect him from the past. Janet’s best friend, Estelle Birnbaum, is eager to settle her father’s estate and share with Janet a lovely condo on the beach in Florida. Estelle, too, has default custody of a grandson–the angry and moody and impulsive Ari. A STAR IN THE FACE OF THE SKY is the story of the intertwined lives of these two families as they struggle to reconcile the varied demons of the past. There’s a lot of pain in the book and a lot of love, too; some of it’s sad and some of it’s awfully funny, I think. I hope it is as much fun to read as it was to write.