Q & A
Q: Where did the inspiration for this supernatural love story come from?
A: I lived in a small town, very much like Rockville. Each morning, from my writing desk I could see a misty field, mostly filled with cows and horses. One day, I began to imagine what was on the other side of the mist. And Henry came to life, a young man locked in an eternal summer. I didn’t write the novel for several years–until after I moved away from my small town. At that point in my life, I was recovering from heartbreak just like Amy, and I suddenly understood her and the journey she had to undertake. I guess, sometimes a story isn’t ready to be written when you first have the idea. Sometimes you have to let it come to you in its own time.
Q: The book deals with the very serious issue of domestic violence. What made you want to approach this topic in the novel?
A: Sadly, domestic violence is a part of so many teen and adult women’s lives. I wanted to explore how much of an impact emotional and physical abuse can have on one’s self-esteem and life in general. How the effects linger long after the abuse is over. I hoped to show in The Clearing that you can survive a relationship in which you feel powerless and used and remake yourself into a stronger person. I think many people can relate to that theme.
Q: What made you choose the 1940s as the era that Henry comes from? Was there something intrinsic to that time period that resonated with you?
A: I have always been fascinated by people of the “Greatest Generation.” My grandfather served in World War II and is still haunted by memories of being on a hospital ship in the Pacific. The sacrifice that he and so many other men and women made serving during the war is unfathomable. And what about the sacrifices of the people at home? Living in the small town before I wrote The Clearing, I saw remnants of that old-fashioned work ethic in my neighbors–people who shared what they had, who toiled hard for what they kept, whose dreams were very basic. It touched me. Henry’s family has much in common with those neighbors of mine.
Q: What is your favorite thing about being a writer?
A: I love so many things about writing. I love taking disparate ideas and finding the connection between them. I love going to my workspace and falling into the scene with the characters–sometimes, it’s almost like acting, I think. You play each part of the scene, trying out the dialogue, thinking the thoughts of each character. It’s emotional work.
Q: What was your favorite book as a child?
A: I have two: Bridge to Terebithia, because I love the idea of creating a secret kingdom and how it meshes with the coming-of-age story of Jess. How do you choose between childhood and moving on? From the Mixed-Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler because I love the idea of living in the museum. Three years ago, when I went to the Met in New York City for the first time, it was the completion of my childhood dream–I could almost imagine being in that book!
Q: What is the most important lesson that being a writer has taught you?
A: One of the big lessons I have learned from writing is to believe in myself and the process. It’s very hard to know during the day-to-day writing of a book that what you are doing is worth it. That’s where belief in yourself comes in. No one may ever read that page I wrote, but the writing of it is important. It enriched me in some way, made me think about something new, took me someplace I hadn’t known, elicited some kind of feeling I’d buried and forgotten. The time it took to create it wasn’t a waste, even if I cross it all out, delete it, or rewrite it completely. This belief allows me freedom to be imperfect, freedom to explore. It also keeps me writing. And you know what they say–a writer must write.