Behind the Book

A grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation allowed me to quit my desk job and start working on this novel; I shook all the way home from the post office the day it arrived. The Macdowell Colony first, then Sarah Carson later, gave me a room to myself to use however I saw fit, which changed everything, including how I believed. Louise Langheier never stopped looking for the next person who could be helpful. Susan Plum gave me the fellowship that didn’t exist—twice. Edwin Cohen’s support often meant the difference between having two jobs instead of three, or having time to write instead of having none. Anne Brandon, Bill Rehm and Joanne Ruby, Fairview House, and Zoe Friedman-Cohen made a home for me in a housing market that is increasingly hostile to artists. Sara Thierman's support virtually came with a front door key, and her parents, Mark and Ronnie, provided a residency in Venezuela. Charlie Hallowell gave me a permanent seat at the dinner table and an extended family. Matt Forkin packed lunches, taught me to chop wood when I was adrift, and otherwise made a landing for me. Molly Nakahara and Paul Glowaski of Dinner Bell Farm supported this book with respites from it, and a raucous farm dinner. By an accident of luck I met Lisa Bayle, who provided translation assistance.

Novel-writing is marathon activity, about which the body has its own opinion. I am indebted to Dr. Myrto Ashe, who helped me recover after a scary period of not being able to use my brain to read or write. Michelle Field’s hands-on care allowed me to keep typing, and moved me away from treating my body as a machine.

Harriet Clark, Tawny Leopold, and Alice Miller read early drafts and provided the kind of visceral critical feedback that challenged the novel where it was weak and helped me see where it might be strong. Emily Jeanne Miller generously advised me on the path to publication. Amy Herzog supported the book in numerous ways, including through our never-ending correspondence. Terri Loewenthal’s artistry, enthusiasm, and skill were no match for my anxiety. Prudence Peiffer Fulford was this book’s emergency visual doctor. Danica Novgorodoff gave it a human face. The sense of belonging these artistic women have given me—through their example and friendship—has allowed for remarkable wholeness, enabling my creative life to be just my life.

My high school English teacher, Jennifer Selvin, tutored me at home when I was in a bodycast, and trained my ear to hear the formal music of language. Kate Walbert’s humility, insouciance, and curiosity have been a model for me for almost two decades. At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Lan Samantha Chang digested the intricate structure of novels and made them comprehensible; Ethan Canin helped me parse the underlying emotional grammar of the literature I loved; and Marilynne Robinson’s insistence on “a deeper self that our daylight self doesn’t acknowledge” challenges me still. A lecture that Jorie Graham gave in Iowa City remains the most inspiring talk about writing I have heard. Adam Haslett did virtually everything anyone mentioned above did. I am grateful for all of it, but especially for his uncanny sensitivity to the abysses a writer might stray into and never come out of again, which always seemed to spur him to reach out at exactly the right moment. I also wish to thank my teachers and fellow students at San Francisco Zen Center, masters of straying and returning whole-heartedly.   

My agent, Emily Forland, is the kind of luck you wish on every writer—her affable, hand-drawn New Year’s card is a semaphore for the love and attention she brings daily to her work. Marianne Merola came with Emily, but her kindness and fortitude have been all her own. The fifth floor of 1290 Avenue of the Americas is filled with literature lovers; I’m grateful that so many at Little, Brown directed their talents toward my book. Carrie Neill, Ashley Marudas, Cynthia Saad, and Pamela Marshall backed their voluminous enthusiasm with vision and deft attention to detail. Allan Fallow’s contributions proved that copyediting is as much art as skill.  My thanks especially go to my indefatigable editor, Ben George. Ben’s appetite for big questions, intolerance of falseness, ear for language, disturbing ability to forgo sleep, and uncynical belief in the power of stories stoked the effort that resulted in the novel’s ultimate form.

When I was a child, I thought the library was more or less equivalent to the grocery store, in that it was a place where my parents and I went every week to get what we needed. My immense gratitude goes to my parents, Ron Dion and Gina Rieger, who read to me, took me to libraries, and never once said that being a writer is a shoddy life plan, even though it is.