You have traveled extensively, living and working in Paris, Greece and
Israel. What were you doing while you were living abroad?
I was divorced in 1972 after a four year marriage and since I had just finished
my M.A. in French and been to France on a fellowship, I decided to move to
Paris. I lived there for four years working at a variety of jobs-from sales to
tour guide to assistant to the CEO of an investment banking firm. In 1976, I
embarked on a journey to travel around the world (I never got farther than the
Middle East.) I saved up some money and I took off with a friend. Our first stop
was Athens, where I spent too much money, so I got a job at UPI and ended up
staying there for six months. Our next stop was Turkey and then on to Israel,
where I worked on a kibbutz for six months. By that time I had been gone for a
year and I felt as though I needed a focus. It was in Jerusalem that I got the
direction I was looking for-I ran into a professor from the University of
Kansas, where I had gotten my masters degree. He knew I was interested in film
and he encouraged me to return to graduate school. My next stop was Los Angeles,
where I attended film school and instantly knew that that was what I wanted to
do. I decided not to finish my degree and I moved back to Paris in 1981 to begin
my writing career while working as a nanny at the Australian Embassy in Paris. I
wrote a screenplay called "Until September" which I managed to sell to
MGM. The film got made and released in 1984. From 1981 to 1991 I lived between
Los Angeles and Paris writing screenplays.
Why did you decide to settle in Kansas?
My daughter, Gabrielle, was born in Los Angeles in 1987 and we stayed there for
four years and lived for a short time in Paris as well, but I wanted to raise my
daughter with my family. My parents, who are still very active, live in Kansas.
In fact, my father's family has lived in there for over 150 years, going back
five generations. In 1991, I settled down with my daughter with my daughter in
Wichita and began teaching French and English in public schools there.
Why did you choose to set Firebird in the Flint Hills of Kansas?
On summer weekends I would take my daughter for long drives through the Flint
Hills. You may have noticed that I have a strong inclination to explore and I'm
always looking for something to discover, so we would often go off-roading on
the cattle tracks-we did so much exploring one summer that I wore out a set of
tires in just a few months. On these trips with my daughter, I found a depth and
mystery to the region that I hadn't found anywhere else in Kansas, and I also
discovered the fascinating history of Cottonwood Falls.
Firebird is set in Kansas, but, as is evident from the number of sales
to foreign publishers, it has an international appeal. What do you feel that
I think part of the appeal is that there are no contemporary political or social
issues-Firebird goes beyond that. It is a novel that can be picked up in
50 years and have the same meaning. The language is not grounded in contemporary
or hip and trendy culture and it can appeal to people all over the country and
the world. With Firebird I was inspired by two longings. One, to resolve
the universal story of a love triangle in a way in which everyone's needs are
fulfilled. And the other stems from a fear I have of what would happen to my
daughter if I died. This is a fear many single parents have.
Did you draw on personal experiences to write Firebird?
I view creative writing as a kind of jigsaw puzzle. You take your life
experiences apart, shuffle them, then fit them back together. My stories are
inspired by my experiences and people I have met, but they really emerge from
the unconscious, and at some point the story goes beyond that and disassociates
itself, and takes on a life of its own.
1997 must have been a very exciting year for you, how has the sale of Firebird
and your next two novels changed your life?
Basically, it has afforded me the very precious and rare gift of working as a
novelist full time. It has given me peace of mind and it has relieved a lot of
financial stress. Otherwise, I still live in the same apartment and I don't own
anything bigger than the couch I am sitting on. One bonus is that now I can
afford to buy my daughter hot lunches at school, freeing up some of my time in
Would you like to write a screenplay for Firebird?
Actually, I initially wrote Firebird as a screenplay, but when it was
done, I realized that there was so much more there. I used the screenplay as a
blueprint to write the novel, which worked out well since I already knew how the
story would end. If Firebird is made into a film, I would go back and
make changes to the screenplay, but right now my attachment is to the book and
to writing my next novel.
What books are on your night table right now?
I always have so many different books going on at once. I'm looking at my
nightstand right now and I see the following: Selected Works by Rilke, Portrait
of a Lady by Henry James, Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra, Justine
by Lawrence Durell, A Day in the Life of Israel, and I am always reading PrairyErth
by William Least Heat-Moon.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher.
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