Tonight my 12-year-old (LW12) and I drove up to the Barnes & Noble in Peabody for an event with Brunonia Barry, author of The Lace Reader. In case you’ve missed it, I’m absolutely smitten with this book; it has an intricate plot with well-developed characters and it highlights the wonderful city of Salem. You can read my review, or follow along our family’s Lace Reader travelog of Salem. This novel is an excellent pick for a book group; if you haven’t read it, get your hands on a copy today! Now, on to our evening …
A Barnes and Noble bookseller greeted us as we entered the store and directed us to the cafe area for complimentary lace readings by three women from Artemisia Botanicals on Pickering Wharf in Salem. If you’ve read any background to the novel, you know that there is no historical documentation of lace reading previous to the novel, and that it is probable that Ms. Barry has helped create a new industry! The reader I sat with, Teri, explained that lace reading is a form of divination. She suggested I “quiet” or “center” myself, then ask a question about what I need (as opposed to what I want). I’ll admit that I was a bit uneasy about opening myself up this way, but I asked a heartfelt question and was given an honest and helpful response – thanks, Teri, for making me comfortable with this process and helping me be receptive to the answer you gave! (Even Ms. Barry commented that Teri could be her sister, with the similar hair color; there are indeed two distinct women in these photos with me!)
The area for the event was filling up, so I headed back to my seat and chatted with the couple next to me (hello to Laura and Mike from Peabody, I hope your son enjoys the book as much as you did!); clearly I inherited my mother’s strike-up-a-conversation-with-a-stranger-gene!
Ms. Barry was introduced and started her presentation by sharing the great news that The Lace Reader will be in the seventh position on the New York Times Bestseller List on Sunday! She then read the first chapter of the novel, and explained the context of the chapter headings, out-takes of The Lace Reader’s Guide, which is a series of lace-making instructions excerpted from the (fictional) diary of Eva Whitney.
Barry shared some interesting background information and opened up the floor to questions:
- The Lace Reader began as a short story, with the central character of May Whitney bringing her children to the mainland for haircuts. The story grew and grew, evolving into the novel in which Towner is the main character
- She envisioned the book as “The Hero’s Journey” (a la Joseph Campbell) for women
- Her given name is Sandra Brunonia; her grandfather gave her the middle name Brunonia because he attended Brown University and was a “rabid alumnus” (isn’t that a great term?!). She chose to use her middle name as her professional name because of the strength it conveyed; her husband points out that there are several “Sandy Barry”s returned on a Google search, but only one “Brunonia Barry”!
- Barry’s pre-publication editor, Tom Jenks helped her with the varied character perspectives (shifting it from her original focus solely from Towner’s point of view), and suggested she allow Rafferty much of the discovery of the story
- Barry is about 200 pages into the first draft of a second novel, which is also set in the present day. It covers the history of the shipping trade in Salem, and features the Friendship.
- Regarding her writing habits, Barry told us that she rises whenever her muse strikes, sometimes before the sun is up! She goes directly to her office and writes for about four hours before she allows herself a cup of coffee! She edits in the afternoons. Her office sounds lovely – it has a large fireplace and the walls are still papered with National Geographic maps that the previous owners hung. Byzantium, their yellow lab likes to hang out while she writes
- One audience member asked “Do you read, and if so, what do you read?” I think we all assumed she meant READ, as in divination! No, she was asking about books! Barry told us that she’s been reading for pleasure while touring and promoting the novel, and that Snowflower and the Secret Fan (Lisa See), Last Night at the Lobster (Stewart O’Nan) and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (David Wroblewski) have been recent favorites.
After the Q&A we were able to meet Ms. Barry and have our books inscribed. She is very pleasant; it was a delight to listen to her read from her novel and to see the way she enjoyed engaging in conversation with her audience. I’m looking forward to seeing what she has in store for us with her next book!