Books

THE BIRTH OF A DEBUT NOVEL

I was an elementary schoolteacher for twenty memorable and rewarding years. Twenty seemed like a nice round number on which to tuck away a first career much as you would the layette of a grown child. I held up each year for inspection as you would a tiny, rose-sprigged gown or pair of corduroy overalls, and gently folded them into a trunk of memories.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I found myself at the crossroads of too young to retire and too old for the increasingly young workplace. My husband and I were empty nesters and new to the Charlottesville area. There was too much exploring to do. Too many festivals, charming markets. Too many spectacular vineyards and Virginia wines to taste. Peach orchards and blackberry patches from which to pick.

I’d dreamed of writing a novel of women’s fiction, a story told with heart, with charm and poignancy. One with elements women love. Love both romantic and familial, between lifelong friends. With passages that make us say Awww with misty-eyed satisfaction. Passages we are compelled to read twice, three times. We want richly evocative and detailed settings: beautiful interiors and descriptions of the natural world. Of luscious meals and fine wines, fashion. We want to be transported to exotic places apart from our experiences.

I would embark on a writing career from home. My debut novel to be a love story. But a snob of the bodice-ripper subgenre, I wanted more for my tale. It had to have a tightly woven plot, full of tension and surprise, and fully developed relationships beyond the essential “boy meets girl” at the epicenter. I also wanted to write a two-generational story, one that embraced all of the joy and sorrow that being a daughter, a son, a mother, a father brings.

And above all, I wanted to create a relatable main character.

The idea began with a documentary about my favorite band, The Eagles. (R.I.P. Glenn Frey, 1948-2016.) The first time I watched The History of The Eagles on Showtime, I was riveted by concert footage from 1977, from the Hotel California tour in DC. A girl in the front row with Farrah Fawcett waves and wide-legged jeans was perched on her boyfriend’s shoulders, her face particularly luminous and arresting. She could have been me in the late seventies. I thought: Who is this woman today? What if she (now my age) is watching and unexpectedly sees herself immortalized on film at twenty-one? I began to daydream about her and what her story might have been. And ROBIN HAMILTON came to life. I wrote IN ROBIN’S NEST over the course of eight months.