I’m not a person who has trouble distinguishing work time from family time. I work very, very hard, but when I’m with my loved ones, I try as much as I can to give them all of me. This does not mean, though, that I don’t occasionally allow myself to think, that could work in a story when I’m with them. This happened to the extreme during an overnight at a bed-and-breakfast with my wife.
We’d gone to the Deacon Timothy Pratt Inn in Old Saybrook, CT. We love Connecticut in the early fall because of how gorgeous the changing leaves are. We’re hardly alone in this; when we arrived at the inn, we shared coffee with a couple who’d come in from London the night before for the express purpose of “leaf-peeping.” As we settled into our room, I looked out the window on a beautiful New England street. Suddenly, the idea of writing a novel set in a small New England town about a family that owns an inn leapt into my head.
As my wife and I strolled the street that day, passing Colonial-era houses bearing placards with the names of the original seventeenth-century owners, the notion of creating a novel in this setting insinuated itself further. My extended family was going through some big changes at that point, and it dawned on me that close relationships can often be like the leaves in fall – they’re the most beautiful just before they die. That was it for me. At that moment, the entire basic story of my novel Leaves was in my mind. I would invent a small Connecticut town something like Old Saybrook. I find this area especially fascinating because it’s an unusual combination of small-town America and the urban sensibility that comes from proximity to both New York and Boston. I would then put a large family in that town, exploring their individual stories. And at the center of it, I would tell about a moment of transition in the life cycle of this family, symbolized by the changing and the falling of the leaves.
While I hate to let my wife know that my mind sometimes drifts to work when I’m alone with her, I had to tell her about this. She knew how unusual it was for an entire story to engage me at once. Fortunately, she forgave me. And she liked the idea for the novel as well, which was a relief.