Thursday, July 19, 2007

Guest in Progress: Katharine Davis

I’m back from Chicago, still trying to settle in. It was one of those trips where though I was only away for four days, it felt like four weeks: that kind of intensity. This was my favorite steak, this was my favorite boat ride, this was my favorite National League team that actually won to sweep the Astros, and this was my favorite new neighborhood bar.

I’m pleased to present this lovely piece by Katharine (Kitty) Davis, a novelist in my writing group. Kitty and I met through the Washington chapter of WNBA, the Women’s National Book Association, a networking group, and speaking for myself, upon meeting her, I had one of those instant, powerful feelings that here was someone I really liked. At the time, she had just finished her first novel and was looking around for an agent. It seems that the next time I ran into her, she had found the agent, and that then the next time after that our paths crossed, the agent had sold the book…but perhaps the truth wasn’t as tidy as all that.

In any event, the happy ending is that Capturing Paris came out in 2006. About a woman in the midst of many dramatic changes in her life, the novel is also the story of Paris—in all its magical glory. From the first paragraph:

“Annie Reed walked along the rue de Rennes wondering if her husband still loved her. Paris was colder than usual that fall. She loved this time of day, la crepuscule, the nebulous period that floats between day and night….Gone were the golden dry October days, like those you saw in movies, where couples strolled along the Seine, pausing to look at old prints and books in open carts. The damp November air had already settled into her bones.”

If you can’t hop a plane, grab the book and turn off the phone…you’ll get your Paris fix.

Kitty’s work in progress is a novel set in Maine. Every time we read chapters in the writing group, I’m ready to jump in my car and head up 95, not stopping until I get to that foggy shoreline she describes so beautifully. Kitty is such a visual, evocative writer, that it’s no wonder she found inspiration in this artist’s talk:

Letter from Maine

July 10, 2007

Dear Leslie,

I am just home from a gallery talk at the Ogunquit Museum of Art, a small museum close to me in southern Maine. The speaker was the artist, Connie Hayes, one of the best painters now working in Maine. Her show, “Oils and Pastels from France," will be at the Ogunquit Museum from July 1- August 21. Connie Hayes’s paintings have been exhibited all over the state, including the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine.

Connie is well known for her series of “borrowed views” which she began in 1990. Connie has traveled all over Maine, around the United States, to Italy and France at the invitation of homeowners who ask her to stay in their homes when they are away. While in residence (she calls this her own personal “artist-in-residence” program) she paints the interiors and surrounding landscapes of many extraordinary places.

I’m sure you are wondering what this has to do with writing. Connie is a most articulate speaker. Tonight, as she spoke about her work as a painter I kept thinking, Wait this applies to writing fiction. She spoke of the importance of making mistakes, getting the mistakes out the way (draft after draft), being totally present in the work, and looking and studying the work of the masters hanging in museums. “Look at the paintings of the artists that astound you. Ask yourself, how do they do it? How do they solve the problems that you are trying to solve?” We writers turn to our own masters--Henry James, Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and others for help.

Finally, and most important, there were three qualities she wanted to achieve in a finished work. Connie explained that a good painting doesn’t need to be accurate, but convincing; not real, but believable; not predictable, but inevitable. Connie was speaking of her paintings, but the very same principles would apply for good fiction.

It was a real pleasure to spend an evening enjoying the visual arts and to come home with a strong message that applies to the literary arts as well. Here is more information about Connie Hayes.

All the best from southern Maine--Kitty

About: Katharine Davis began writing fiction in 1999. Capturing Paris (St. Martin’s Press, May 2006) is her first novel. Recommended in Real Simple Spring Travel 2007, the novel was also included in The New York Times' (8-8-06) suggestions for fiction set in Paris. She is an Associate Editor at The Potomac Review. Katharine is completing a second novel that takes place on the coast of Maine. She can be reached through her web site.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.