Sunday, September 27, 2009


My forthcoming novel True Confections is not only about chocolate and a crazy family. There is also a part of the story that takes place in Madagascar over several generations. Although I mentioned orb weaver spiders, and Merina people, I did not know about the history of Madagascar spider silk-weaving, nor about the woven object now on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Producing the spider silk to make this piece—apparently a unique enterprise in the world—required 70 people who were employed collecting spiders daily (using long poles) from their legendary webs strung across telephone wires, during the rainy season, which is when they produce silk. A dozen people would then draw out the silk from the immobilized female spiders, who were then turned loose. (Somebody has to determine the gender of these spiders! What do you call these jobs on your resume? Spider sexing? Spider milking? Spider silking?) An Orb Weaver spider's silk gland can produces some 80 feet of this amazing golden silk filament at a time.

The woven piece on display in New York is based on a weaving tradition known as lamba Akotifahana from the highlands of Madagascar, an ornamental art created for the royal and upper classes of the Merina people. I dearly wish I had woven some spider silk into my novel.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Other Three Sisters

**************************************** My third novel, The Little Women, has a Balthus painting, The Three Sisters, on the cover. This is an essential image for the novel, because the final scene invokes the painting (also true in my first novel, Objects, in which the final scene invokes The Arnolfini Wedding). I was able to persuade the art director for the FSG hardcover, the brilliant Susan Mitchell, that the cover really needed this particular image, and she agreed. But then the first jacket design proof came through, and to my surprise, while there was a Balthus painting of The Three Sisters, alright -- it was the wrong painting. Balthus revisited a number of subjects and scenarios in his lifetime, and these three sisters were represented several times over the decades. The painting I needed for the jacket was a different, earlier one. This painting on the proof did not match the final scene in the novel at all. Finally, an image of the Balthus painting I had in mind was located. It was a relief, too, when Picador agreed to use the painting on the paperback edition a year later.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Vermeer Moves the Earth

Every time I pass a construction site and see one of Vermeer's diggers or chippers at work, I regret that I didn't make a reference in The Music Lesson (which features a stolen Vermeer portrait) to the curious coincidence that the uncommon name of one of the greatest painters who ever lived on earth is shared by a company manufacturing construction equipment.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Corner of Winter and Summer

The middle section of my first novel, Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear, takes place in a New York suburban neighborhood very much inspired by my childhood surroundings, Forest Hills Gardens. The narrative in this section takes the form of a series of linked third person stories about Harriet in her childhood (in narrative strategy contrast to the epistolary first person of grown-up Harriet in Part One or the straightforward third person of Part Three that returns to the present of the Part One notebook of Harriet's letters).
As Harriet bicycles through those "Oxbridge Gardens" streets, it would have been just right for her to observe the uncanniness of a certain Forest Hills Gardens street corner a block from my childhood home: the intersection of Winter and Summer.