I am thrilled to be the first blogger of the Debutante Ball class of 2016! And before I get started, let me say thank you to all of the creative, bright, honest, funny and generous Debs of 2015. It’s an honor to be carrying on the tradition.
I carried around the two sparks that would inspire my first novel, THE CITY BAKER’S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING, for years, but it wasn’t until my elderly dog had his leg removed that I pieced them together.
The first spark was a question I had been wrestling with for years–could I live in the country? When I was twenty-three, one of my oldest and dearest friends moved to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, and invited me to visit. I had never spent time in the country before, and Vermont became a magical place for me–the green mountains, the grange hall dances, the long, nameless dirt roads that cut through farms and fields. I felt different in Vermont, more myself somehow, and I wondered if that feeling would last if I made the move up there. But I was used to being a city kid, never more than a walk away from a good cup of coffee, a subway stop away from a play or an indie movie or an excellent restaurant. Year after year, season after season I would go back to Vermont, only to return to Boston–once with a puppy–still asking myself the same question.
The second spark was an image I couldn’t shake. Partially inspired by my love of all things rural, I became obsessed with county fairs. Giant pumpkins! Dairy goats! Fried dough! Racing pigs! In 1999 I plunged in and entered the Topsfield Fair Apple Pie Contest. I dropped my pie off at the exhibition hall the afternoon of the judging and went to find some sheep to pet. I was told to return when the winners would be announced, around seven. I had no idea how competitive the pie contest was until I returned. The hall was filled with bakers, scores of them, all silently watching three judges eat pie in a glassed-in kitchen. It was a mesmerizing sight. There were so many pies that year that the judging went on late into the night. When the winners were finally announced, I was shocked to be among them.
During this time, in between pie baking and trips up north, I dreamt about being a writer. I was an early reader, and had been devouring stories since I was little. Novels were a refuge. I longed to be able to create a world for other people, but I didn’t know where to start, and lacked the confidence to try. I made excuses about not having enough time or money to take classes, and let the dream lie dormant.
The puppy I had brought from Vermont, Carver (yes, named after Raymond) grew up to be an extraordinary dog. He was my constant companion. When Carver was diagnosed with bone cancer at the age of twelve, I was told that with surgery, he would have three to four months left to live. Knowing that we didn’t have much time, I pared my life down as much as I could, cutting back my work hours and opting out of any social plans that couldn’t include him. Carver loved to be outside, so we would take long, slow walks. I am lucky to live in one of the greenest neighborhoods of Boston, and we spent many hours outside, sitting in parks. We were resting in the tall grass one afternoon when the character of Olivia emerged. What if she moved from the city to northern Vermont? And what if she were asked to enter a pie contest—one where there was more at stake than winning a blue ribbon?
Carver lived for fifteen months. It was through taking care of him I realized that if something meant a lot to me, I could make the time. We walked and we sat and I daydreamed about my novel. I made a vow that when he passed I would take the time and resources that I had devoted to him and put them towards writing,
Carver died in April of 2009. That August I entered my first creative writing workshop, where I wrote the first chapter of The CITY BAKER’S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING.