10-15-2009 11:35 AM
Sarah's going to be posting some thoughts here but please continue to ask your questions in the "Questions for Sarah Blake" Thread. Thanks!
10-15-2009 02:01 PM
I have to say it's been really fascinating listening in on your conversation this last ten days or so, and because I've read all the posts on all the threads, but haven't answered each of them, I wanted somehow to write you all generally--musing aloud about a topic that springs up in many posts--so I thought I'd do that here. That said, I'll definitely answer specific questions on the Questions for Sarah Blake thread, so keep them coming! I love getting them.
Many many of you have commented on the transitions between characters--the jumping back and forth between people, sometimes between countries, often with a space to show the switch, but sometimes not, sometimes only on either side of a radio broadcast--and wondered aloud about the reason for this.
One morning in the spring of 2001, I opened the newspaper to the now iconic photograph of a Palestinian father and his son crouched behind a bunker, caught in the crossfire between Israeli and Palestinian fighters, the son burrowed into his father’s lap as the father tries to protect him from bullets. The photograph captures the moment just before the boy is, in fact, shot and killed. And the fact that I—sitting at breakfast in Chicago, my own son reading the comics beside me—could see the last second of this boy’s life was unbearable. I wanted to write about this somehow—this aspect of war and its terrifying accidents and how we come to terms with the fact that wars are being waged right now, even as I write (and you read) these words. How do we imagine that simultaneity?
The issue, for me, always with this book is--how do I represent the heartbreaking simulaneity of people in war and people in peace? How do I show this?
The first time I wrote the scene where Frankie broadcasts her story about the antiaircraft gunners, somehow I kept going right into Harry sitting next to his radio, turning around and looking at it. And I had such a thrill of discovery. I realized that one of the ways to try and create this doubleness--here in the US and here in London--was by going back and forth in time and distance through the shared radio broadcast. This led to pushing further, trying to move back and forth between places and people going through their days at the same time as each other.
I suppose in the end, I am interested--as is Frankie--in wondering aloud: how do you report a war when you start to realize there is no "story," it's just people living, all around you. There is, no protective veil between you and the war, as Frankie observes in Chapter 2.
Looking forward to hearing what you think,
10-19-2009 10:06 PM
I've been thinking a lot about the evolution of this book, especially as many of your questions have to do with how characters changed over the course of the drafts, how they surprised me, how they went off and led lives of their own.
You have reminded me that in most of the early drafts--for four years or so--there was a character named Addie Day who ran the guest cottages out at the edge of town, who is young and proud and fiery, a counterpoint to Beth, the grocer's daughter (who still remaines). There was a whole sub-plot about the homegrown girls and who they'll marry: and Beth somehow gets herself caught getting engaged to a boy who has been drafted, and she wishes the Postmistress weren't so rule-bound. She goes and asks for a letter back, even though she has mailed it, she just wants to get it out of the sack before it gets sent on its way, and Iris refuses.
Addie Day is enraptured by Frankie Bard (who is much older in that draft) and her innocence and fire, and passion makes Frankie feel even more lost, and war torn. Eventually, the more I wrote about the two of them, the more I realized that Addie Day was closer to who I imagined Frankie to be, and so Addie Day vanished into Frankie.
So I'm thinking tonight about all the ghosts that haunt this novel--the characters who fell away, the plots that were too distracting--and wanted to tell you about them, because often the ghosts nudged these characters more fully into being, or nudged me closer to some kind of clarity.
10-24-2009 10:57 AM
As promised, I wanted to post my thoughts about the idea of "story" in The Postmistress. I wrote in reply to Jane M. who first tracked the mention of story throughout the novel, (find this post on page 2 of the Later Chapters Thread) that this is one of the hardest, (because the most germane) part of the book to discuss. It raises the question of how we become readers and writers of our own lives, and what that means.
Jane wanted to understand why we as readers keep getting directed to pay attention to the story. Why, in effect, is "that's what the story knew," the last line of the book? And how does that make us re-think what we've just read?
Sunitcloud posted this thoughtful reply: as you read the book you realize, that "The Story Began to Tell Itself.", and Skiibunny1213 pushes this further: "In the end we are the storymakers, not just the storytellers....it is our mistakes that make our stories more interesting."
For me, the challenge I set myself in writing this book was to try and imagine myself into the lives of people who are in war zones, trying to grapple with the horrible, random nature of life in war. Always, the heartbreaking knowledge that that randomness-- the breakdown of a system, the accidents--carries people swiftly away and to their deaths. The wrong train, the wrong moment leaving the house, looking left when you should have been looking right--all these things happen and no one is watching to say, stop! don't go there. No one is Iris in reality, there is no overseeing eye, there is no plot as Frankie tells Max upon her return.
But Frankie's realization that this is the true nature of a story: that it is voices on a train, or that it is what she carries, or that it is the mistake that Theseus makes not changing his sails as he comes home--is what I think I have come to, myself, and what I was trying to do in writing the Postmistress: telling a story that leaps above or outside of the boundaries of a narrative: first this happens, then this happens, then that happens, then we end--I was trying to get us to pay attention to the fact that a story you hear is always only the parts that have been chosen, that around the borders of what you hear lurk all the other parts. It's what Will says to Frankie in the bomb shelter: "It gets you thinking about all the parts in a story we never see--the parts around the edges. YOu bring someone like that boy so alive before us and there he is set loose in our world so that we can't stop thinking of him. But then the report is over, the boy disappears. He was just a boy in a story and we never know the ending, we never get to close the book. It makes you wonder what happens to the people in them after the story stops--all the stories you've reported, for instance. Where are they all now?"
This is an intensely annoying question to Frankie at first, but becomes the question that haunts her throughout the rest of the book.
Let me know what you think!
10-30-2009 10:32 AM
I can't believe this is the last day of the book club! The past three weeks have been immensely rewarding--you have made me think, and think hard, about many aspects of The Postmistress that until now I haven't had to talk about in a coherent way. Rachel's questions have been so excellent, such a great mix of open-ended and directive, and Paul's brief reminders of context, so useful. No author could ask for more attentive, close readers, and I am tremendously grateful for the serious and insightful discussion the book elicited here.
I will miss logging on every day and reading all the posts, hovering--dare I say it?--like Iris over all your mail. The community you have woven here--spun by Barnes and Noble--is a tremendous gift to readers and writers alike.
Many of you have posted repeatedly and I feel I've come to know you by your comments and questions, and I do hope that when The Postmistress comes out in February, if I am reading somewhere nearby you, that you will come and introduce yourselves! And you can always find news of the book, or of events, on my website:
I thank you all for participating and for reading and for responding--I will take your voices with me as the book launches!