Monday, May 29, 2017

A Mother’s Secrets

Author Gail Cleare
by Gail Cleare, author of the USA Bestseller The Taste of Air

"One of the greatest riddles, it turns out, is a parent's real life, the one not shown to children.” —Kirkus Reviews

When I started writing my new women’s fiction novel The Taste of Air, I had recently lost my mother. My sister and I looked through the papers in her safe deposit box, found her birth certificate and were amazed to see that at some point, she had changed her name. Neither of us, or my brother, had known about this. It seemed very strange that she would hide such a thing.

The storyteller in me immediately spun this into a mysterious tale, where all kinds of wild things might have happened. Highly unlikely, knowing my mother, who was a model of decorum and self-control. Nonetheless, that night I had a powerful dream, and my writer’s imagination set the stage for the novel I was about to begin.

I dreamed I was walking through a house. It was familiar, but also strange. I had never been there before. It was sort of my mother’s house, decorated in her colors with things that were similar to hers, but not exactly the same. I knew it was her house, though, and that I was not supposed to be there. I had no fear of being caught, though, she was gone. But it was private, and I was intruding by seeing things of hers that were a secret.

The Taste of Air by Gail Cleare
Inevitably, when I next sat down to write, my mind wove this dream into a tale of two sisters and their elderly mother, whose secrets are much, much bigger than my mother’s were. The dream became the scene in the first chapter where Nell enters her mother’s cottage in Vermont for the first time and has the same uncanny feeling of familiar yet not, like walking in the world of the looking glass.

I braided three story lines together to show how the present is an echo of the past, connected and similar, yet also containing the potential for progress. We can learn from the past, transform ourselves and edit our life stories, as all three women do in my book, while remaining products of family history.

Destined by Gail Cleare
Mary Reilly chooses to lead two lives and keep her lakeside hideaway a secret, even from her closest family. Bridget chooses to leave behind her history of abusive relationships, and Nell decides to reach higher for what she wants. Each of them has to live with the possible consequences, good or bad.

All three women’s stories are a patchwork of snippets from my mental filing cabinet. While Mary’s began with a dream, her past days as an Army nurse in Vietnam were inspired by my former neighbor, who was a Lt. Col. in charge of the nurses at a field hospital near Saigon in the late 1960s. I supplemented her firsthand anecdotes with some wonderful research online, where you can here audio interviews with nurses who served there then, and see actual film shot for television news coverage. Bridget’s story is a mashup of two of my friends, with a splash of sheer fantasy. Nell is based on a lot of women I know, and went to school with. And what happens in the hospital at Mary’s bedside is largely real, based on some of my mother’s last moments. The way her daughters feel about it is real too, as I hope you will be able to tell. 

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