Thursday, March 02, 2006

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Michelle Richmond

First, a happy Texas Independence Day! Next, it's time for another visit to the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit. My guest this time around is Michelle Richmond, author of Dream of the Blue Room. First, a little about the book:

On a warm night in July, 32-year-old Jenny finds herself sitting on the deck of a Chinese cruise ship next to a charming but secretive stranger. In Jenny's lap is a tin containing the ashes of her best friend, Amanda Ruth, mysteriously murdered fourteen years earlier in a small Alabama town.

In this foreign landscape, filled with ancient cities that will soon be inundated by the rising waters of the Yangtze River, Jenny must confront her haunted past and decide the direction of her future. As the ship moves slowly upriver, from one abandoned village to another, Jenny journeys deeper into her own guilt and eroticism.

Now, the interview:

What inspired you to write this book?
A trip to China in 1998 inspired me to write Dream of the Blue Room. I've always been drawn to water, and this novel is set on two rivers--the Yangtze in China, and a small river town in Alabama (based on a town near where I grew up). Three Gorges Dam, which was under construction at the time and which resulted in the inundation of thousands of villages, was very much part of the inspiration for the book. I was also interested in the prejudices of the small town South. The girl who is murdered is Chinese American.

Describe your creative process.
When I'm writing a short story, I just let it flow from sentence to sentence. With novels, I allow myself plenty of room for exploration and discovery, but I do have a pretty strong idea of where the novel will end. For example, I knew before I started Dream of the Blue Room that the present action would all take place during a two-week cruise on the Yangtze, and that flashbacks would tell the story of the murder, twelve years before, of the narrator's best friend in Alabama.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
Caffeine! And it has to be coffee--preferably French roast, preferably made at home. I only write at home, never in cafes or anything like that. Morning is best, but since I had my son Oscar (he's fourteen months now), I've learned to fit my writing in during any free minute I can find.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
Jenny, the protagonist of Dream of the Blue Room, is 32 years old--the age I was when I was in the late stages of writing the novel. Like me, she is from Alabama's Gulf Coast. Like me, her childhood was marked by a kind of desperation to get out of Alabama and see the world. Like me, she's married. But the novel centers on two things--her friend's long-ago murder, and the current dissolution of her marriage. I've been lucky in the marriage department, whereas Jenny married a man with whom she ultimately has too little in common to sustain her marriage. However, one trait possessed by her husband, Dave, is taken straight from my husband, Kevin--Dave and Kevin both have a soft spot for women who have been traumatized in some way. In the novel, Dave is carrying on an intimacy (not an affair, but an intimacy), with a woman suffered severe burns to her face and neck during a car accident.

How did you do your location research for this book? Did you travel to China?
The book came out of a two-month stint I did in Beijing while working at a Chinese trading company. I spent a lot of time researching the Three Gorges Dam, its impact on the cities and villages along the Yangtze River. I also did considerable research into ALS, or Lou Gherig's disease, which afflicts one of the characters, Graham--an older Australian man with whom Jenny becomes intimate on the cruise.

Chocolate: dark or milk?
Gotta be dark, no question.

What are you working on now?
My new novel, Ocean Beach, will be released by Bantam in spring 2007. I'm editing that, as well as working on a short story collection.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
Many readers have talked to me about the sensual quality of the book--there is, after all, an affair going on through most of it (Jenny, the protagonist, becomes involved with an older Australian man on the cruise up the Yangtze.), so there's definitely a strong sexual component to the book. It's also very much immersed in landscape--that of China, this massive river in a moment of historical change, as well as the Gulf Coast landscape. The highest praise the book has received is the many readers who have told me that once they sat down with the book, they felt compelled to read the whole thing through. It's always so encouraging to know that your characters, and your story, are resonating with a reader.

For more info, visit Michelle's web site.

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