Friday, October 29, 2010

Summer's Last Gifts

The Harvest

I’m grateful to Nature
for making the strawberries red.
They’re so much easier to find that way.

Same thing with the tomatoes:
Parting a thicket of fragrant leaves,
I spy them, slick with the rain that will be
their ruin if I don’t harvest today.

It’s like reaching into another dimension,
up to my shoulder, nose pressed against
the hairy stems. Fingers stretching
to cup the red and yellow globes
filled with seeds, as sweet
and acid as love.

                                    —Barbara Quick

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Grapes Are In!

This frog is following me!
Imagine harvesting grapes by moonlight, in the wee hours, with Jupiter shining as brightly as a beacon in the night sky (closer to Earth now than it’s been in over half a century).

Let’s pass over how you look: You’re jet-lagged, you haven’t had coffee or even washed your face, and it is, for godssake, 3:30 in the morning. Plus, you and Prince Charming are both wearing halogen head-lamps held on to your bed-heads with crisscrossing black elastic bands. (I doubt it’ll become a fashion trend any time soon.)

The idea is to harvest the grapes while they’re cold, when the sugar is just right, and before the spate of hot weather turns them to raisins.

There’s a four-hour window of time before the violist-vigneron has to leave for his rehearsal in San Francisco.

Nature is already playing its symphony: frogs, crickets, birds. The lonely sound of middle-of-the-night traffic on the Gravenstein Highway. Our two pairs of grape scissors snipping. (Try saying that 10 times in a row!) The satisfying plunk as the clusters pile up in the grape tray.

When the tray is full, you stumble with it, in the dark, down the rows, over the clods of earth, trampling weeds and peppermint. Trays weighed, weight of each one noted, and then back into the vineyard to start again.

After two hours in the damp and cold, your hands hurt. After three hours, you have a renewed sense of respect and admiration for Cesar Chavez. The closest you have ever come to this labor is Labor: that other middle-of-the night long haul with magical consequences.

It takes two consecutive days of waking in the dark and working until the sun has made the light on your head unnecessary. But, together, you gather all the fruit: 584 pounds of Pinot noir and Pinot gris.

It’ll make about 180 bottles of wine. Santé!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

My Daily Frog

Sorry, I've already found my prince!
All summer long I’ve been planting gardens and planning the remodel of our Wine Country kitchen.

The proliferation of one and the demolition of the other has meant that Wayne and I have been on what I like to think of as a very cushy camping trip for these past few weeks.

I don my rubber boots and (on cold nights) my sou’wester to do dishes on the patio, with a glazed ceramic planter serving as sink and the garden hose hooked up to the hot water tap on the outdoor shower we both prefer to use.

The hot water is a luxury—as is the fridge (relocated onto the same patio) and the ready supply of organic greens, berries, and vegetables from our gardens.

The simplest things (as they always do on a camping trip) involve more work and wandering around than they did before our kitchen was torn apart.

First thing each morning, I toddle out to the patio to retrieve our little stovetop espresso maker, the milk frother, and our coffee cups from the dish-drainer. Like a conjurer demonstrating a shell game, I carefully turn each cup or container over to see if it’s hiding anything.

Why? Because every morning, in the mist that comes in through the Petaluma Gap, I have found a tree-frog sheltering inside a cup or bowl or even (more than once) in my shower-cap, which hangs on a hook outside.

They are lovely little creatures, with iridescent green and sometimes pink markings. In my roses, they look like little ornaments that have been placed there by fairies in the night.

I am trying hard not to be surprised—not to jump or shriek or swear—when one stares at me from inside the terrycloth rim of the shower-cap I’ve come perilously close to putting on with frog intact. Or from the well of the espresso maker balanced in my hands with the other breakfast supplies as I struggle to get through the screen door without dropping anything.

I say the same thing—although perhaps to different frogs—every morning. “Sorry, but I’ve already found my prince!”

And, without ceremony but as gently as possible, I shake him out into one of the potted lemon trees.

I have often, in my life, felt like a princess in a fairytale. But never more so than now, in this glorious fifth decade of my existence, when my cup, quite literally, runneth over.
Wayne, dreaming of his new kitchen

Friday, June 4, 2010

Fireflies in Opelika

Chorus frogs calling like nanny-goats
in the Alabama darkness.
Crickets chirping, bull-frogs
lobbing their solos into the
warm night air.

Along the blind path
from the front door
to the edge of the woods,
fireflies call out
in silent bursts of light:
Follow me! Here! Here! No,

Sudden glimmers, like shooting stars,
above the shadowy pines.
Proof positive, from deep in the forest,
of fairies.

Semiphores flashing a message
that only dazzles me,
desperate to learn
the secret language
of darkness and frogs
and fireflies.

--Barbara Quick

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Person Behind the Face on the Cover of A GOLDEN WEB

Alessandra Lives!
The real girl behind the face on the cover of A GOLDEN WEB holds the novel close to her heart.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I found this message in my website mailbox:

Hello, my name is Anna Kobylianski and I am actually the model featured on the book cover of A Golden Web. I know this is quite a random email, but I just wanted to let you know how honored I am to represent a girl such as Alessandra, especially as I am actually studying Health Sciences at McMaster university in the hopes of becoming a medical doctor. I have read some of your interviews and am thrilled to be involved to some extent in the publication of a novel that stands as a source of inspiration for young women. As I am sure we would have never met otherwise, I would like to extend my gratitude over email: truly, thank you for providing me with this experience.

I wish you all the best, and hope that the book is a great success!


Anna Kobylianski
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Random email? I was enchanted! What were the chances that a pre-med student would be the cover model for my novel about a pre-med student in 14th century Bologna?

You see, I’d been given the somewhat unusual chance to approve photos of the model the production department at HarperCollins had in mind for my novel’s cover image. The lovely, Italian-looking girl in the photos looked remarkably like the Alessandra Giliani who sprang to life inside my own imagination. When I saw the photos, I emailed my editor and wrote, Yes! She’s perfect!

I was still working on the final edits of the novel--which gave me the opportunity to fine-tune my descriptions of Alessandra and make her look even more unmistakably like the girl in the photos. I already loved Alessandra like a daughter. (Giving literary birth is not all that different from the other kind, either in the daunting labor of the enterprise or the pride and delight one takes in the result!) It was as if my fictional creation had somehow become real.

Of course, I wrote back to Anna Kobylianski immediately. I was dying to know how the photographer managed to find a model who matched my Alessandra, both inside and out, so precisely.

Anna explained, “It was actually quite random that I ended up with the job. The book cover designer’s name is Juliana Kolesova. She was in search of a girl with brown curly hair for the cover of your novel. She is also family friends with a girl who went to my school, and the girl approached me in the halls one day to ask if I was interested in modeling for the cover. I sent Juliana some sample pictures, and after she had approval from the publisher [I was part of that!], we went ahead with it.”

Nineteen-year-old Anna was as amazed at the coincidence as I was, when she read A Golden Web. “At first, this felt a little strange,” she wrote, “as I was reading about a girl living in the Middle Ages, yet who had my features. As the story progressed, I noticed more and more similarities between Alessandra and myself. In essence, it felt as if my Self in its entirety was transported into a different time and slightly different situation.”

Like Alessandra, Anna is the eldest girl of four children who takes her responsibility as a role model and caretaker for her siblings very seriously. She is also, like Alessandra, a gifted artist who enjoys painting, drawing, and working with clay. “And what is even more striking,” Anna confided, “is that this careful work with a paintbrush and fingers easily translates to a desire to pursue the career of a surgeon for me as well.”

I hope I’m not giving away too much of the plot when I tell you that Alessandra Giliani tragically died at the age of 19. Perhaps she’s finally getting the chance, after waiting for 700 years, to live out the rest of the long and glorious life she deserved, courtesy of the brilliant, beautiful, and gracious pre-med student from Canada, Anna Kobylianski.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

How much information is too much information?

In the days before the Internet, I always faced biographies about my favorite authors with a certain amount of cringing. Bound to read the books assigned to me, I nonetheless hated reading about Rainer Maria Rilke’s philandering and Henry James’ obsession with his bowel movements.

Isn’t there something more edifying we’re hoping to learn when we read about great writers, beyond the smell of their socks?

Are we heartened when we learn that genius often—maybe always—blossoms in lives that are as flawed and fumbling as our own?

“Hey,” we say to ourselves in the uplifting tones of a cheerleader. “Never mind about the failed marriages, financial ruin, and siblings who haven’t spoken to us for the past two years. These greats of literature are even more messed up than I am!”

I can’t help thinking about these matters as I attempt to fill the voracious maw requiring more and more information on all the websites that every responsibly self-promoting author is obliged to feed these days. There’s my own website and the lovely micro-site that HarperCollins’ has made for me. There’s a neglected MySpace page for VIVALDI’S VIRGINS, and an as-yet-to-be built fan page on Facebook. There is, and there are all those friends I’ve never met on Goodreads.

Yes, I love anyone who reads my books, with a profligate, indiscriminate, all-embracing gratitude. Which is reason enough not to burden my readers and embarrass myself with Too Much Information.

What do you look for in authors’ web pages and blogs? What is it that you want to Ask the Writer?

You have a distinct advantage over the readers of yesteryear. Because chances are that you can ask your deepest, darkest, most personal questions, and get an honest answer, long before the writer becomes the property of biographers and worms.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Let your favorite writers hear from you!

Novelist Elizabeth Kostova recently said in an NPR interview, “writing fiction is a very benign form of insanity.”

Hearken, readers—it’s true, it’s true!

You spend your waking hours hanging out with people who don’t even exist outside the confines of your own imagination. Like some deranged street person, you smile, laugh, and cry in response to what these made-up people say to you.

I always read my dialog out loud while I’m writing, but in a sort of sped-up whisper that only I can hear. Ask anyone who’s caught me in the act: it looks and sounds very weird!

When I finished writing A GOLDEN WEB, and sent the manuscript off to my editor, I missed my imaginary friends who moved so magically through the world I made up for them. Real people, by contrast, seemed so—well, contrary! What they say and do is almost never what I would have had them saying and doing, if I were writing the script.

This period of loneliness and confusion is finally erased by the emotional satisfaction of communing with readers once a book is published.

It used to be that the only way to meet these readers was to have a Book Event at a bookstore or library. That was all well and good in one’s hometown, where friends and relatives can be counted on to show up—but a very uncertain proposition in places where one has no personal strings to pull.

The Internet (hooray for the Internet!) has changed the way of all things for writers who want and need to make contact with their readers.

Thanks to Google Alerts, I get a message in my email inbox letting me know what-reading-group-where is about to discuss my novel. I’m sent the links to blogs where my name or the names of my books have been mentioned. I can write to these readers and say, “Hello! I’m so glad that you liked my book!”

Because of the Internet, I’ve made many virtual visits—by phone, email, and webinar—to book groups and readers around the world I would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

Best of all, I’ve had the opportunity to thank the readers who have immersed themselves inside the worlds I’ve created, all alone and blithering to myself—to tell them, “Knowing that you laughed and cried, that you stayed up and read until sleep overtook you and then read some more first thing in the morning: this is what makes it all worthwhile.”

Barbara Quick, Vivaldi's Virgins Book Signing

Barbara Quick, Vivaldi's Virgins Book Signing
Barbara Quick

My Garden

My Garden
My flower and strawberry garden (bathtub view)