First-time author at Darien Library
Q: You were raised in Darien. How long did you live in town?
A: I lived on Christie Hill Road from birth until I went to college; my parents moved to Wilton the summer after my freshman year at Brown. My father had an art gallery, Acampora Fine Art, on the Post Road for several years, and then on Elm Street in New Canaan.
Q: Did you attend Darien schools? Any fond memories?
A: Yes, I attended Ox Ridge School, Middlesex Middle School and Darien High School, graduating in 1993. I was horse-crazy as a child, and at Ox Ridge, I loved to visit the horses in the adjoining paddock, petting their noses over the fence and feeding them grass. In middle school, I remember the sixth-grade Colebrook camping trip, the eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., and Mr. Griffin's history class. In high school, I happily read poems and stories as an editor of the Current literary magazine and played the violin in Mr. Princiotti's orchestra. I was tremendously influenced by my junior-year English teachers, Mrs. Gage and Ms. Sorensen, and astounded by Mr. Durand's predictions about genetic engineering in my AP Bio class (they've all come true). And I don't think I'll ever forget joining the Video Yearbook Club as a freshman, because all the cool kids hung out in the A/V room. I broke the camera tripod the first day.
Q: You've just had your first novel published, "The Wonder Garden," which Kirkus has described as "spooky and fabulous." Can you tell us a little about the plot?
A: "The Wonder Garden" is actually a collection of linked stories that are all set in the same affluent Connecticut town. The stories take the viewpoints of different characters, showing how the town's residents overlap, impact and frustrate one another. Plenty of anxieties, obsessions and strange ambitions rise to the surface. In one story, "The Umbrella Bird," a new wife watches helplessly as her husband receives a sudden, mystical calling to drop his career in advertising and become a kind of modern-day shaman. In the title story, an overachieving mom opens her home to a foreign-exchange student, unwittingly revealing the fissures within her own family. The middle-aged real estate agent in "Moon Roof" slides into a personal crisis while waiting at a stop sign, while the retired artist in "Swarm" is given the chance to execute a long-imagined project, with ramifications he couldn't have predicted.
Q: What was your writing process? Did you write each day? At home? Day? Night?
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A: I wrote a large part of the book on the mornings my daughter was in preschool. When she was 2, I wrote at the Ridgefield Library on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for an hour and a half. The next year, I had four mornings a week; then five. When the library closed for renovations, I decamped to the 02 Living Cafe in Cross River. It's an organic food and juice cafe that adjoins a yoga and wellness facility. The cafe was usually empty, except for the ladies coming in for kale juice after their yoga classes. I'd go broke if I ordered a $10 juice every day, myself, so I just sipped a cup of tea in the corner with my laptop. The staff was wonderfully accommodating. I became a sort of fixture there for two years, and I think the other customers started to wonder what my story was.
Q: Did you have any `aha' moments as you were writing? You know, walking through the grocery store and you say "Now I know what happens to so-and--so." Or did you have the arc of the story pretty much thought out when you started?
A: Oh, yes, those "aha" moments are wonderful! They usually come while I'm doing stretches on the rug in the morning. Because these are linked stories, I had to be pretty inventive about how the characters' lives would mesh, so I was always fishing around for ideas. It was great fun to have an epiphany, like: "Of course, the woman in `Moon Roof' should be the same woman from `The Umbrella Bird,' the real estate agent! Now I just have to turn her into a real estate agent." I didn't have the mechanics worked out at all when I started. Part of the reason for this is that the book stemmed from a failed novel. I managed to salvage just one story from the novel, then decided to give some of the ancillary characters their own stories. Then I took a couple of older stories and incorporated those characters into the project, and invented a few more later on.
Q: How long did it take?
A: That's a hard question to answer, but my best guess is that, after abandoning the novel and accounting for the time it took to write the pre-existing stories, the whole thing took about three years to put together.
Q: How did living in Darien and now, I believe, in Westchester County, N.Y., inform your writing?
A: Growing up in Darien not only gave me a privileged view into the behavior and psychology of upper-class suburbanites, but bathed me in it. What I've come to realize is that this part of the world truly is like no other, with a unique set of joys and conflicts. Beyond that, Darien's natural landscape keeps a strong hold on me; I spent so much time at Woodland Park, Cherry Lawn, Weed Beach, and the woods behind my house and my friends' houses, that those places are in my blood and wend their way into my writing all the time. Now I live in Katonah, in Westchester. I find this environment to be incredibly rich for fiction writing. I love driving past the beautifully renovated antique houses and horse farms and wondering what the people are like inside. And I love visiting people in their homes and piecing together what makes them tick. I'm almost always surprised. As for the fictional town in "The Wonder Garden," it isn't based on Darien per se, or on any one place, but is somewhat of an invented hybrid of towns in the area: Darien, Wilton, Ridgefield, Katonah, Bedford. It's located on the Long Island Sound like Darien, but with the Victorian houses of Katonah, the horse farms of Bedford, and Wilton and Ridgefield's high density of early Colonial homes.
Q: Any characters based on real people? ... No names of course. Just curious.
A: None of the characters are fully based on anyone. They're more like collages made up of tiny scraps of people that I've come across, or heard about, in my life -- and then exaggerated. However, the story "Swarm" was partially inspired by the well-publicized story of a couple in Southport whose avant-garde Anselm Kiefer installation on the front lawn instigated a lawsuit from the town. Stories like that -- of individuals breaking out of the expected norms, and the repercussions that follow -- fascinate me.
Q: Are you in the book at all?
A: Ha! I'm in every single character in the book. Part of what I love about fiction writing is the freedom to capture a rogue thought that flits through my head, then amplify it and inject it into a character -- then see what dramatic consequences ensue. I especially enjoy seizing those passing thoughts (especially the judgmental ones) and, rather than tamping them down and disowning them, tugging them out into the light and examining them. What hypocrisy is there? What ugly, partial truth?
Q: What's next for you?
A: I've just revised a novel, set in a very similar place. I've begun work on another novel, as well, which is a departure in theme and setting, a stretch for me. And I'm always taking notes for short stories and tucking away ideas for new ones. I've got a lineup of ideas for stories and novels waiting for their turn. ... I just hope I'll have time to get to all of them.