It is my great pleasure to welcome Michelle Richmond to the blog today. It's a treat to connect with another literary Girlfriend.
Michelle grew up in Alabama and currently lives in San Francisco, where she publishes the online literary journal Fiction Attic. Her story collection, The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress, won the 2000 Associated Writing Programs Award for Short Fiction, and her novel, Dream of the Blue Room, was a finalist for the Northern California Book Award. She is the recipient of the 2006 Mississippi Review Fiction Prize. Her stories have appeared in Playboy, Glimmer Train, Other Voices, and many other magazines and anthologies. Her new novel, Ocean Beach, will be published next year by Bantam.
About Dream of the Blue Room:
On a warm night in July, 32-year-old Jenny finds herself sitting on the deck of a Chinese cruise ship next to a charming but secretive stranger. In Jenny's lap is a tin containing the ashes of her best friend, Amanda Ruth, mysteriously murdered fourteen years earlier in a small Alabama town.
In this foreign landscape, filled with ancient cities that will soon be inundated by the rising waters of the Yangtze River, Jenny must confront her haunted past and decide the direction of her future. As the ship moves slowly upriver, from one abandoned village to another, Jenny journeys deeper into her own guilt and eroticism.
Dream of the Blue Room explores the nature of friendship and the intimacy that exists between young girls as they struggle toward adulthood. Set alternately against the impressive landscape of the Yangtze and in a small river town in Alabama, this stunning novel reflects on the human desire to control and tame what is ultimately untamable.
Praise for Dream of the Blue Room:
"A dreamy, haunting work with a deeply personal feel. Any time a work of fiction raises our sights to higher truths, as this one does, the writer has done her job." Florida Sun-Sentinel
"Some childhood relationships are so fulfilling they shape our lives and leave us wondering why they didn't last longer. Richmond captures, explores, and intertwines these bonds so elegantly, you might even think the relationships are your own." USA Today
"With the slow build-up of a mystery, the exquisite pain of a coming-of-age novel, the masterful images of a travel writer, and a darkness that is true to the Southern Gothic, Dream of a Blue Room is a work of wonderfully chimeric form. " Joanna Pearson, Small Spiral Notebook
"Intelligent, original, complex." The San Francisco Chronicle
"A complex and nimbly fashioned first novel." Kirkus Reviews
"The book is finely crafted and compelling, and its emotions resonate true and clear ." Booklist
You can read an excerpt from Dream of the Blue Room in USA Today, and the story behind the novel at Backstory.
I had the chance to ask Michelle a few questions...
--Between your own work and Fiction Attic, you are obviously deeply committed to the craft of fiction. How did fiction first enter your life?
When I was a child, my mother read to me a lot. As far as writing fiction, my conscious beginnings were in my high school creative writing class, where I had a wonderful teacher named Ms. Inge. In college, I concentrated on poetry for the first year, but after taking my first college fiction workshop as a sophomore with Lynn Pruett (author of Ruby River), I was hooked.
--You write both novels and short stories. How does your process differ between the two forms?
I like to think of stories as a sprint, novels as a long-distance marathon. With a story, I almost always begin with language--with a sentence that strikes my ear--or if not language, with an image. The story "The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress" began with the image of a girl dancing on a walkway above Market Street in San Francisco. In a story, I just write from that first sentence or first image, and let the story take me where it will. I love that process. With a novel, though, because it requires such a huge committment of time--3 years, for each of the two novels I've written--I begin with a larger framework. I have a pretty strong idea at the starting line of who the characters are and where the story will lead.
--Any advice for aspiring writers or a favorite exercise you'd like to share?
I have lots of exercises on my website. Here's one I like:
Write a sentence that briefly describes/identifies a risky behvior. Follow it with another sentence in which this behavior leads to something terrible. From here, write a story that is neither tragic nor moralizing. EXAMPLE: from Stephen Dixon's story "Flying" : "She was fooling around with the plane's door handle...Suddenly the door disappeared and she flew out and I yelled 'Judith' and saw her looking terrified at me as she was being carried away.
--What are you working on now?
I'm in the editing phase of a novel, Ocean Beach, which will be released by Bantam next year, and am in the early stages of a brand new novel. I'm also always at work on a story collection. One of the stories from the collection-in-progress, "An Exciting New Career in Medicine," just appeared in Playboy (Feb). Another just received the Mississippi Review Prize and will appear in the April issue of MR. Another is forthcoming from Glimmer Train. I'm very happy to be writing stories again, because I took a long break from it while writing Dream of the Blue Room and Ocean Beach, and really, short stories are my first love.
--Since I always have to ask a question about fruit...If Dream of the Blue Room morphed from a book into a fruit, what fruit would it be and why?
Maybe a pomegranate. It's a pretty sexy book. I also attempted to make it into a very textured book, with layers of detail and meaning. Pomegranate sort of embodies those things, I think.
--Thank you so much, Michelle! I am eager to read more of your work. Enjoy the rest of your tour!