Gail Godwin's most recent novel centers on a young woman named Emma Gant, a budding reporter who moves to Miami shortly after her graduation from college. Fearless in her determination to make a go of her career in what's traditionally a field dominated by men, Emma works her way up through the journalistic ranks, dutifully tackling her first assignment: writing obituaries.
However, like all truly determined souls it doesn't take Emma long to see an opportunity and reach for it with both hands. While at a hospital interviewing victims of a recent tornado, Emma gets a glimpse of a notorious local figure, Ginevra Brown, known as the "Queen of the Underworld," a madam who's connected to some of the most powerful people in Miami. Taking her chances, Emma approaches the woman and talks with her more briefly than she'd have liked, but just the chance to meet this notorious woman thrills the young reporter to the core. Even if she didn't exactly get a scoop from Ginevra, what she did get was a taste for what it would be like to really get the big story. And this is one taste Emma likes very much.
From here Emma meets an interesting cast of characters in southern Florida, some who prove to be mentors and others who are less than inspiring. Throughout the story of Emma's steady climb up through the ranks we see the sultry, evocative world that is Miami.
This atmospheric novel explores a theme that's somewhat autobiographical for Godwin, involving a young woman's determination to succeed in a journalistic career. Readers will find themselves rooting her main character along, and more than a few may finish the book hoping there's a sequel planned at some point. Even if that isn't what Godwin has in mind, she's created a very strong and memorable character in Emma Gant, and fans of the author will be grateful for this brief peek into Godwin's early career.
An Interview with Gail Godwin:
LG: Which of your novels is your personal favorite?
GG: My favorites change, but right now my favorite is The Good Husband, because of its four major protagonists, who are quite different but also parts of myself, and because of the "quest" for me in writing that novel: the big question being: how do you prepare for your Final Exam, i.e. your own death. I also think it is one of my slyest and funniest novels, and when I re-read it recently I was amazed at how much it was able to teach me—not only about life but about writing.
LG: How long does it typically take you to write novel? How do you know when a novel is "finished"?
GG: A novel takes me anywhere from two to three years, and when I’m finished I know it. Of course, there are revisions, but I have solved whatever it was that lured me on. Long before I finish, I have a glimpse of what I want to do next, but, so far, I haven’t been able to work on two novels at the same time.
LG: How many revisions does your typical novel go through?
GG: I try to perfect each page as I go. So my "drafts" are more like shavings (abandoned pages from the printer) that lie in the weekly wastebasket as I sculpt away toward my alluring glimpse.
LG: Who were your major influences in your decision to become a writer?
GG: The first writer who made me want to be a writer was my mother, a newspaperwoman and a published writer of love stories. I learned to type on her typewriter before I learned cursive writing. Big influences have been Henry James(his complex characters, but not his style), George Eliot, Jane Austen, Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence. I continue to learn from contemporary writers: Ian McEwan’s Atonement, especially, and Elmore Leonard(for the "less is more" and listening-to-dialogue skills) and, very recently Haruki Murakami(The Wind-up Bird Chronicle) for his chance-taking with the concepts of time, history, and the relatedness of multiple consciousnesses.
LG: Do you talk to other writers? When you do, do you talk about writing?
GG: There are no other writers I talk to locally (Woodstock, N.Y.) but I correspond with some and visit with some. We talk a great deal about writing, particularly about what we are writing at the moment. In some cases, we exchange parts of what we are working on.
LG: How autobiographical is your work?
GG: By autobiographical, if you mean derived from instances in my own history or from personal histories related by friends, I would say my most autobiographical novels are A Southern Family, Evenings at Five, A Mother and Two Daughters, and The Perfectionists. The ones most "made up" are Violet Clay, The Finishing School, Father Melancholy’s Daughter and its sequel Evensong, and The Good Husband. However, I can’t stress often enough that all my characters, when I am done with them, are imagined fully as themselves. Even when I am sticking close to personal history, I soon find myself "making up," and changing the story from the literal to the fully imagined.
LG: Do you keep a strict writing schedule?
GG: I spend about three morning hours a day, including entire weekends sometimes, in front of my computer, with the notepad to the side. But I live daily, and nightly, with the novel I am writing, and I frequently write "takes" for the next day’s work in a journal. I also draw pictures of scenes and people in the novel under construction.
LG: As a public library employee myself I have to ask, how have libraries influenced your love of books and writing?
GG: From my childhood on, librarians have anticipated my reading pleasures, learned what my passions were, suggested what to read next, and guided me when I needed a book on a certain subject but hadn’t the foggiest notion of who might have written it or what it would be called. A few weeks ago, I wanted a personal, if possible readable, account of someone who had suffered from dyslexia back in the 1940's when nobody knew much about it. My librarian ordered Eileen Simpson’s blow-by-blow account, and I had it via inter-library loan within days. I could have googled myself sick without finding that perfect book. I have also found wonderful serendipities on public library shelves.