Thursday, July 1, 2010
Gayle Brandeis's DELTA GIRLS and contest
Gayle Brandeis has a luscious way with words. Reading her books can be like having the juice of a ripe pear fill your mouth. Her newest release, DELTA GIRLS (Ballantine) is rooted in a pear orchard within the Sacramento Delta. While it's main story follows an unusual white migrant farm worker and her daughter, it alternates chapters to a very different world of a teen-age ice skater on the brink of Olympic-size fame. The two lives collide later in a shocking end.
Gayle, who won Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether prize for THE BOOK OF DEAD BIRDS, gives us a glimpse of her writing journey and what inspired this newest book in the interview below. I'll give away a copy of DELTA GIRLS by random drawing to anyone who mentions a favorite fruit in the comment section.
Here are a few snippets to show off Gayle's literary style:
Rows of pears stretched out as far as I could see, the trees shaggy vases, flaring open to the sky. The air was just on the edge of humid, the river lending a mossy tang. A few barn swallows dipped and swerved overhead, trilling.
If you leave a pear on the tree too long, he told me, it starts to rot from the inside out. It develops stone cells, little places of hardness that feel like grit in the mouth. It starts to get eaten by birds, by bugs. Better to pluck it when it's green, store it someplace cold, let it forget where it came from.
Q: What was the seed from which DELTA GIRLS grew--the initial character or situation that started your imagination going?
Gayle: My novel MY LIFE WITH THE LINCOLNS had just been rejected by my editor at Ballantine because she saw it as a YA novel and not right for her list. I suddenly had to write a new novel in the span of a year and had no idea what to write about, so panic was really the first seed! It was around that time, though, that I started to see news stories about a mother and baby whale that had taken a wrong turn and had started swimming up the Sacramento River. This sparked something in me, especially because I had already been intrigued by the region, thanks to my friend Stephan. He had grown up in the Sacramento Delta and I had always loved his stories about his family’s orchard (and have always adored pears). So I started to envision a mother and daughter taking their own wrong turn and ending up at a pear farm in the area.
It was also around that time that I started dreaming regularly about figure skating. I had been a serious figure skater when I was a girl, and this seemed like a message for me to get back on the ice. I took lessons for a while, which I loved, but it took a real physical toll, and I realized that maybe instead of skating, I needed to write about skating. The other thread of the novel emerged from there.
I am happy to say My Life with the Lincolns did end up getting published as a YA novel a couple of months ago, so that rejection led to two published novels!
Q: There is some awesome scene setting at an organic pear farm and in the California Delta. Did you spend time there? How did you go about the research?
Gayle: I didn’t even know California had a Delta until Stephan started telling me about his childhood. Since it was only a few hours drive away, I knew I had to go up and see it for myself (I love to do research with all my senses, not just my mind, so it’s helpful for me to be able to really feel and smell the places I’m writing about.) Just thinking about the Delta now makes me relax; there is a slowness, a peace, to the region—I think it’s from all that water steadily flowing along, not to mention all those fruitful trees.
Before my first trip, I found an article about an organic pear farmer, Tim Neuharth, who wanted to increase eco-tourism to the Delta. I contacted him, thinking he’d be a good person to talk to about pear farming, since he was already hoping to spread the word. He and his wife Laura proved to be invaluable. They spent a good portion of the day taking me around Steamboat Acres and answering all my questions about the running of an orchard. Vieira Pears, the farm in Delta Girls, wouldn’t be the same without their help.
During my second research trip, I attended the Pear Fair, a wonderful small town festival celebrating all things pear during the Bartlett harvest. I ended up writing a scene set at the fair, and am excited that I’ll be returning at the end of July to promote my book there.
Q: Delta Girls has a very Bad Boy. Did you know he would behave that badly or did he surprise you?
Gayle: Oh, Nathan, Nathan, Nathan. He was full of surprises from the very beginning, but he definitely went to a darker place than I expected him to. I don’t think I’ve ever written such a “bad” character before; there was something kind of liberating about that.
Q: Was it difficult to write a novel alternating between a first-person narrator and a third-person narrator?
Gayle: I had actually done this before with THE BOOK OF DEAD BIRDS, so I worried I might be repeating myself, but that’s how the story wanted to be written. I think it’s a bit easier for me to write first person narration, because the voice feels so immediate, but the third person scenes felt fairly natural to write as well (although I have to say it took a while for any of it to feel natural. Because I had an imposed deadline and I was still smarting from the Lincolns rejection, it took some time to find the book’s true rhythm. I really had to force myself into the story, but once I was fully immersed, the words began to flow.)
Q: By the story's end, you give redemption to the main character. Did you know there would be a theme of forgiveness, of being able to start fresh?
Gayle: I rarely know what themes are going to emerge when I start to write a story, and this was no exception. That said, I think it would be unusual for me to write a story in which there wasn’t some sort of redemption at the end. And I’m sure the theme of being able to start fresh was informed by my life—I made the incredibly difficult decision to leave my first marriage around that time, so starting fresh was definitely on my mind. I remember telling my friend and first reader Laraine Herring that I was surprised that I wasn’t writing more about the separation, and she told me “But you are” and pointed out the themes in the novel. It’s quite amazing how our lives, our issues, can seep into our fiction without our even realizing it. Our writing selves are so much smarter than our daily selves—at least that’s certainly the case with me!
If you'd like to meet Gayle, she will be signing books at Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena CA on (postscript: date change)Aug. 6; Borders Books, Riverside CA on July 18; Avid Reader Bookstore, Sacramento CA on July 24; the 38th annual Pear Fair in Courtland CA on July 25; the Lincoln Memorial Shrine, Redlands CA on July 31 and the Riverside Public Library on Aug. 5. The Pear Fair is about twenty minutes south of Sacramento and features music, wines, arts and crafts and pear-inspired food. For more information on books and events check Gayle's website.
Thanks for reading the interview, and please leave a comment with some fruit love so I can enter your name in the drawing. (Book provided by the publisher)
Postscript: Today is the Festival of the Trees, so you can bloghop from this pear-tree post to more tree love than you can imagine.