A lot of people ask me what inspired the story of The Moment of Everything. The answer isn’t easy. It’s a lot of different things, but I think if I had to pinpoint one thing, it’d have to be my obsession with finding things in old books. And that’s kind of an embarrassing story.
I was visiting some friends in Montana with my mom, and we went to a used bookstore. I had not seen a lot of bookstores at that point in my life. I was fifteen years old, and I grew up in a small town in South Carolina. We didn’t have a bookstore. I got all my books from the library, the drugstore, and the Weekly Reader we’d get in school. So this store was fascinating to me. I spent a lot of time there trying to figure out what I was going to buy. I didn’t have a lot of money, so I was being quite selective.
One of the books I picked up was Selected Letters of Ernest Hemingway. I’m not even sure why I picked this up. I didn’t know much about Hemingway at that point in my life other than he was an important writer. But for some reason I picked it up. On the inside flap was a letter written in the book. It was from a father who was traveling in Africa to his son. And it blew my mind that someone would write a letter in a book because I’d been told my whole life that you don’t write inside of books.
I didn’t buy the book. I was fifteen and I didn’t have a lot of money and there were other things that I wanted. But for days this book haunted me. Finally I told my mom about it and she took me back to the store to get the book. But it was gone.
After that, I became fascinated by finding things in old books. So whenever I came across a used bookstore, I’d always go in and I’d look and look trying to find something that was left behind in an old book. To me that was the best thing in the whole world.
Now comes the embarrassing part. Fast forward to when I’m 32. I’m visiting Seattle, and I’m in this great used bookstore called Twice Sold Tales. And there I find Selected Letters of Ernest Hemingway. I thought about that book back in Montana, so I opened it up and there…is…a…letter. My knees went out from under me. I couldn’t believe I was looking at the same letter.
Only now, I a 32-year-old with an English degree who has read a lot of Hemingway. Looking at the letter, I realize I’ve made a huge mistake when I was 15. This is not a letter that someone wrote inside the book. It’s a reproduction of a letter Hemingway wrote his son that’s been printed on the inside flap as decoration. The date is 1937. If you’ll notice on the title of the book, it includes letters up to 1961. And i know a lot more about Hemingway’s life now. I know he traveled to Africa, and that he was called Papa. The letter is signed Papa. I put the book down, and went across the street to have a stiff drink.
But I’m grateful for that mistake because it started a fascination with things written and left behind in books. And that’s what led me to The Moment of Everything where everything gets turned upside down by love notes written in the margins of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
So there you have it, the embarrassing story that inspired my novel.
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