Sunday, December 31, 2023

Top 10 Posts of 2023: #1

Ending our countdown of the top 10 most-viewed posts of 2023, here's #1, a Q&A with Joyce Maynard first posted on May 20, 2023.

Q&A with Joyce Maynard




Joyce Maynard is the author of the new novel The Bird Hotel. Her many other books include the novel Count the Ways. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and Vogue.


Q: What inspired you to write The Bird Hotel, and how did you create your character Irene?


A: For over 20 years, I’ve had a house on the shores of a very beautiful lake in Guatemala called Lake Atitlan, where I go to write and host workshops for women in the art and craft of telling one’s story.


I was there at my house on the lake in March of 2020 to lead my annual workshop. The airport closed down. My writing students managed to get back to the United States, eventually, but I stayed on in Guatemala, knowing there could be no better place to be in a pandemic.

I invited two young women who’d attended my writing workshop to stay on with me at the lake. In the beginning, I figured we’d be there for a few weeks at most, but in the end we stayed in that small Mayan village on the lake for nearly six months. We could have returned home…but we were having a beautiful, productive time there—and a healthy one.


Every day I worked on my novel, Count the Ways. Every night, under the stars, I read to the girls from whatever chapter I’d written that day. We were having a happy time.


When I finished that novel, the girls were very sad that our nightly readings were over. So there was nothing for it but to start a new novel. That was The Bird Hotel. I read the chapters out loud to the two young women like a nightly bedtime story. They were always eager to hear what happened next. That kept me working hard.


The country depicted in The Bird Hotel is a fictional one. But of course it was inspired by my place in Guatemala. I spent my days looking out at a lake and a volcano. Naturally, I had to put them in my book.

Q: How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: As with most of my novels, my research is my life. I’ve been spending time in Central America for most of my life, and–for the last 22 years–have spent a significant time in a small indigenous community very close to my heart. This novel–though a work of imagination—was inspired by my time there.


Q: In your acknowledgments, you write that “the mere fact of my having chosen to locate my story in a country not of my birth was deemed by many as unacceptable.” What types of feedback did you get about the novel’s location, and why did you choose that location?


A: There is a school of thought, in the world of publishing, that puts forward the view writers should not go beyond their own ethnic heritage and background in their writing.


To me, this is a dangerous trend that limits an essential aspect of the creative process, which is imagination, and the freedom not simply to express what is known and familiar to us, but to explore worlds beyond the one of our birth.


In this novel, I do not write from the point of view of an indigenous person, or a Latina person. I write from the point of view of a woman who—like me—experiences a Latin/indigenous culture as a foreigner. That’s an experience I know well.


Q: Did you know how the story would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I never know how my novels will end. I get up every morning exited to get to work so I can find out what my characters do next.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’ve just finished the sequel to my novel Count the Ways—titled How the Light Gets In. I’ll be revising this one over the summer. It should come out next spring. I can’t wait to share what happens next in that one.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Though this was not true at the time I wrote The Bird Hotel, like the central character of The Bird Hotel I actually DO now run a hotel/retreat center in Central America now. It’s called Casa Paloma Retreat.


We built it during the pandemic as a way of creating jobs when tourists disappeared from my village. (When I say “we” I am talking about a crew of over 30 men, and some women, who worked so hard to build the place.) You can see pictures here:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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