What’s your book about? How to answer?

I was invited to appear on a panel presentation on the topic of “Love and Loss” at the Southern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA) in Norfolk. Oh, yes, I thought when I got the news, my characters know a lot about both love and loss. Then I corrected myself: Most of us know a lot about loss, though I’m convinced love is the greater mystery.

I can remember when that wasn’t true for me. When I was five, my father’s mother died, and at her funeral one of my aunts was inconsolable. She cried and wailed and threw herself on the coffin. Some of the adults whispered behind her back about her “making a spectacle of herself,” especially since my grandmother was her mother-in-law, not blood kin. Yet how can any of us know what a loss means to others?

Until I suffered a heart-stopping loss myself some years ago, I might have been skeptical, if not dismissive. The experience wrung me inside out, made me a walking Zombie for months, kept me from eating or sleeping for days at a time. I did not think it was possible to feel more bereft, more hopeless, more completely stunned by regret. Fortunately, my young son needed me. He brought me back to life, though I am still always near tears when the topic is raised.

My character in Eve’s Garden, Maisie, has a similar experience: a loss so great, so horrible in manifestation, that she wants to simply disappear down a tunnel and never come back. But Maisie has a brother and sisters to raise, and she sets about caring for them, and, later, her own children, with efficiency and compassion, though she always seems to her daughter, the Eve of the title, just a little out of reach. Grief can do that, make connections hard.

Eve, too, will experience loss of a different kind, a childhood friend whose absence leaves Eve feeling rudderless for all of her teens and much of her twenties. The friend, you see, had been the divining point for Eve’s own self-image, the one who pulled her into life from her preoccupations with learning.

For Maisie’s mother and Eve’s grandmother, Evangeline, there is another kind of loss. She does lose her mother to death early on in the book, but it’s the loss of her family and their shared traditions that troubles her most. How to raise her children as good romnia (Romani women) without her extended family? She sets about to be, as Evie describes it, the family “crow,” or gardener, cultivating, planting seeds, tending the family as if they were a precious harvest. It is her legacy that will sustain them all through future losses.

And, oh, yes, there is love aplenty in this book. Between mother and daughter, father and daughter, between husband and wife, between sisters, among friends, and between Evie and the man who makes her––well, you’ll see. I loved writing about romantic love.

But after all this rumination. I realize that it’s the love amid loss, or in spite of it, that really saves us.Image

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