The Literary Road Trip is a project in which bloggers are volunteering to showcase local authors. This showcase can be anything you want to make of it – book reviews, author interviews, giveaways – as long as you’re working with an author local to you.
Glenda Burgess is the author of the memoir The Geography of Love, which I absolutely loved. I wasn’t the only one who loved it, it was “named one of The Ten Best Books of 2008 by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and a finalist for the 2008 Books for a Better Life Award.” When I realized that Ms. Burgess was a Spokane native, I knew that I had to feature her for a Literary Road Trip post.
The Geography of Love: There are magical moments in life that part time and change everything. That moment came for Glenda Burgess when she met a charming and enigmatic stranger. But with the undeniable spark came the discovery of a tragic and disturbing past. Despite this, she embarks on a passionate affair that becomes a second chance at happiness for both of them, until a cruel twist of fate turns their world upside down. The Geography of Love is a powerful and moving exploration of a woman’s life, of love tested by unthinkable circumstances, and of our ability to love and trust no matter what the odds. It is also a poignant love letter to a woman’s great love, a man who had lost so much yet taught her to see every twist and turn that life offers as an adventure and an opportunity. With echoes of Susan Duncan’s Salvation Creek and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, this tender and intimate memoir asks the age-old question of whether it is better to have loved and lost than have never loved at all – and answers with a resounding yes.
Loose Threads: Glenda Burgess’ novel Loose Threads explores the uncommon thread, the way not taken as we compose our lives. How we turn to and from opportunity as we brace our daily moments with choice. Engaging, fresh, and unforgettable, Loose Threads is about the journey to authenticity and the redemptive power of genuine passion. The novel opens in Washington DC and moves into American embassies around the world in the nineteen-eighties, a time when diplomacy bordered terrorism, and a young diplomat’s future was limited only by ambition. Loose Threads is the story of Ellen d’Ullay, one woman’s search for herself across three decades of life. Fast-paced and surprising, with a penchant for paradox and hidden truth, the hearts and minds of Burgess’ characters are as interesting as the landscapes we find them in. Burgess’ novel eloquently probes the human search for meaning, lasting love, and roots in an unpredictable world. “…Glenda Burgess takes readers on an armchair world tour with Ellen d’Ullay and the changing map of her inner world.”
For more information on her writing and an in-depth bio, visit Glenda Burgess’s web site.
After I reviewed The Geography of Love, I e-mailed Glenda and asked if I could interview her for a Literary Road Trip post. She graciously agreed, and then my failed attempt at NaNoWriMo and the holidays got in the way. Things have finally lined up for both of us, though, and I am pleased to share her answers with you.
As I read The Geography of Love, I was so impressed and moved with the amount of honesty you write with. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about writing memoir – how do you become brave enough to bare yourself for your readers?
Glenda: All writing is dependent on the elements of good craft, but memoir presents challenges unique from writing fiction, and in my opinion, most nonfiction as well. The reason memoir is often called narrative nonfiction is to acknowledge the weaving together of event and story in a way that presents and explores both the subjective and objective truth. Historical time and place anchor any form of memoir, but within that skeleton of fact arises the story – the “truth as I know it.” Our subjective understanding of what is true about our lives and experience is a form of storytelling that fascinates us I believe because this is how we live our own lives. It is always a surprise to discover that other people see the same moment and event differently, and, in my opinion, the best memoirs give us a glimpse behind that curtain of alternate perspective. I appreciate memoirs that deepen the complexity of story, that offer different points of view researched or uncovered by the author and woven into the story as “reflection points” that prompt the author, and reader, to ask questions of the story throughout.
Some stories burn out of your soul and so it was with mine. I was frozen in the aftermath of a “life accident” and could not find the thread forward. As one who writes to understand what I think, the process of removing the rubble from my crumbled world began on the page. I discovered I was unearthing a love story. Writing of falling in love and becoming a family, of coming together and staying together through crisis. I found myself confronting the roles of serendipity and chaos in life. How mystery and circumstance shape our lives, and yet there is a deep balance within us that continuously brings our choices into equal measure. I feel differently about the landscape of love than when I began my story.
Two of the main relationships in the book are with people who are no longer living – your mother and your husband. Would it have been different/harder to write if they were still here?
Glenda: This book most likely would not have been written were either still alive. The loss of that conversation between us, our relationship, was the catalyst for this story. My commitment was to maintain the integrity and truth of each individual – husband and mother. A challenge, as they were complex, deeply unique, with personal stories that had to be conveyed with a depth and veracity every bit as bold as they themselves were. This journey through the landscape of belonging and loss became for me the crucible of understanding what love is.
What do you think of the current run of memoirs that have turned out to be either partially fiction or completely made up? What drives an author to do that, do you think?
Glenda: Storytelling is the gift for entertaining with the ordinary. We love stories because they seep from the quotidian, straight from the hours of our lives. It is in the entertaining that writers perhaps overdress the details – facts stretch with hyperbole, fantasy and invention color the mundane, the stark and shocking hold our attention, grasp our imaginations.
Memoir, like poetry, invites the reader deeper into the experience of reflection. This is one of memoir’s appealing aspects. I personally feel “truth in telling,” however subjective the truth, is the cornerstone. A world that is real. The most difficult aspect of writing memoir is managing perspective – both as an observer of one’s own intimate experience, and in chronicling the larger canvas of the narrative. The subjective and the objective point of view frame and shadow each other constantly in memoir, and the author must know which is which at all times. While memory offers a relative truth of an experience, the facts of an event are the foundation, the anchor. It was important for me to present events as accurately as possible, relying on records, letters and journals. Then came the sieving of these experiences for the sinew and musculature of meaning. Interestingly, even when misremembered, the difference in what happened and how it is remembered exposes another nuance of understanding. It is the search for meaningful truth that makes memoir both special and daunting.
As someone who lives north of Spokane, I loved reading about the settings and weather in your book – so familiar to me! What’s your favorite thing about living in eastern Washington? Least favorite?
Glenda: Much of The Geography of Love reflects on the powerful pull of landscape – the geography of where we live, those we love, where we know to be home. I think each of us is formed in part by our personal landscape, those places given to our memories, the places that pull us back. Traveling the world brought me home. The wheat hills and the lakes and forests of eastern Washington are the root of my sense of place, formed over childhood summer and Christmas vacations. Here lived the homesteading pioneers who spoke the stories of my parents’ lives. The most profound and poetic aspect of this area is the timelessness of the landscape. The burnt gold hills of harvest, the northern light over the lakes at twilight – these are elements that seem immutable to change. The serenity of their steadfast presence is my sense of security in the world.
Perhaps my least favorite aspect is that forces of nature, not civil engineering, prevail. Blizzards, floods, drought and forest fires sweep our human structures aside. I feel my humble insignificance in these open lands of the west.
Are you currently writing anything you can tell us about?
Glenda:I am working on a novel about country western music and twin sisters who grew up in the same eccentric life in vastly opposite ways. The fun thing about this project is that it happens within just a handful of days. Very challenging.
Which writers have had the biggest impact on your life and your writing?
Glenda: The poets Anne Carson and Mary Oliver. Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband is the Mona Lisa to me – enigmatic and unearthly in its unique beauty. Carson and Oliver press new understandings from perfect, simple words and offer the world in ways that stay with you. I fell in love years ago with Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. Somehow the juxtaposition of the tension in the circumstances of the story with her characters and their view of the world moved me. I also found myself fascinated by A.S. Byatt and her novel Possession: A Romance, another example of limning the ordinary with the extraordinary. In nonfiction I appreciate the clean language of Jon Krakauer and the way his stories expose the unexpected and the heroic. There are so many talented writers.
What is the best book you’ve read this year so far?
Glenda: Home by Marilynne Robinson. This is the bookend novel to her prizewinning story Gilead. But Home felt to me like the perfect story: a novel that nests the heart’s idea of home within the weathered walls of one family’s Midwestern house and deeper still within the bonds of the family – all within one simple story told in language so clear and pure it feels like a drinking a cold glass of spring water.
If you could recommend one book that everyone should read, what would it be?
Glenda: A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. There is a gracious and witty thimble of life and wisdom in every chapter of adventure in The Hundred Acre Wood.
Thank you Carrie for the interview. I completely enjoyed the thoughtful questions.
Thank you so much to Glenda for the interview. You can see from her answers that she is a beautiful writer – I encourage you to pick up The Geography of Love: A Memoir.