Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How I Came to Sparkle Again.

Coming home early from work, Jill Anthony hears noises coming from her bedroom. It almost sounds to her like intruders having sex. She takes her cell phone out to call 911 but as she looks into the room she sees her husband in bed with another woman. Shocked, angry, betrayed she flees the scene but not before snapping a photo with the phone so that when disbelief or denial sets in she will have a record.

Distraught, she doesn’t quite know what to do but makes a snap decision to return to her teenage home – a place safe and comforting. The next stop is Sparkle, Colorado.

Kaya McLaren’s third novel, “How I Came to Sparkle Again”, chronicles the next year in Jill’s life, as well as that of her best friend Lisa Carlucci and a young girl, Cassie Jones, whom Jill befriends. All are trying to regain some love and stability in their lives. It also, humorously, chronicles the life and the adventures and misadventures of Jill and the denizens and ski bums of a ski town in ski season.

Jill takes a job with the Ski Patrol and moves in to ‘The Kennel’ – a ramshackle trailer house next door to Lisa. It is inhabited by fellow ski resort employees – all males, who become like a support group for her. it is called 'The Kennel' because the dog to human ratio is one to one.

She also takes a part-time job, looking after Cassie, a ten-year old who has recently lost her mother to cancer. This resonates with Jill because in addition to the pain she suffered from her husband's infidelity, she had only few weeks earlier had a miscarriage and lost her baby. Their shared sorrow creates a bond between them.

Kaya McLaren will be signing books at the Tattered Cover Book Store in Highland’s Ranch on Wednesday. I spoke with her recently by phone.

She said she wanted to write a story about a person like Jill but that she wanted to write about her in a way that did not involve a conventional family situation – thus, ‘The Kennel’.

She said that she herself is single and lives a very happy life so the idea of a single woman living happily without the benefit of marriage, etc. is one with which she is very comfortable.

“I wanted Jill to have a more unconventional family, it just seemed more interesting to me.” 'The Kennel' fits that.

McLaren, who is also an elementary school teacher, told me that despite never having been married, students and former students feel like her children and family.

“I’m single and like my life being single,” she said. “And I always felt like I had family and children. I am still in touch with former students,” she told me. “In fact, I recently went camping with a couple.”

She said that she had originally written a different, more unconventional ending but her editors didn’t think readers would accept that.

She accepted their advice and changed the ending.

Is the Jill character her? She said no, that actually Lisa is most like her.

“Lisa was always going to be there as a secondary character, and I found her easy to write because she is the most like me.”

Conventional or not the novel is about family - the conventional and the unconventional kind - relationships, healing and putting the pieces of a life back together.

McLaren is a quilter (among many other things) and the theme of the book is a lot like quilting.

”Quilting is a metaphor for what we do in life. We take our favorite pieces, the salvageable pieces of our favorite things, that have been stained and torn or ruined in some way and piece them together to make something beautiful and perfect and whole,” she said.

That is indeed what happens in the novel. Both women and Cassie find a way to piece their lives together into something beautiful and whole. Not happy with the current state of their lives: Jill and Cassie needing to move past the pain and suffering and Lisa realizing she doesn't like the life she is living - that there is something more - each are able to move beyond the past and grow into happier lives.

There is an interesting coincidence in the novel, given the current Presidential election: The Church of Latter Day Saints plays a role. Jill’s parents are Mormon and only communicate with her through proselytizing emails which Jill rejects. McLaren told me that she started writing the novel a couple of years ago; before this year’s presidential campaign and a focus on the LDS church.

“It is indeed a coincidence. I could have picked any religion but one of my best friends has parents that are Mormon and I sort of modeled Jill’s parents on them.”

What she focuses on with the parents is the certainty that they have all the answers and are always right and sure enough to judge others.

"I think the absolute worst thing you can say or think about another person is that you are going to hell," she said. "I think it is very inappropriate to think that you are in a position to judge the worthiness and integrity of another person."

Interestingly, while Jill is resistive to her parent’s religiosity, Lisa in the novel rediscovers her childhood faith.

Colorado readers will recognize ‘Sparkle, Colorado’. It is very like many ski towns here. It could be Aspen or Telluride or Crested Butte, though McLaren said she did not model it after any particular place. She said she saw it in places like Sun Valley, Idaho, or Breckenridge, Colorado. It is just like many ski towns that grew out of older western towns. There is this nice charm in the old part of town, the Victorians and other older buildings and then the new stuff that grows up.

“How I Came to Sparkle Again” from St. Martin’s Press went on sale October 2. Kaya McLaren will autograph copies at The Tattered Cover, Highlands Ranch, Wednesday, October 10 at 7:30 PM.

Kaya McLaren is a fascinating woman, I think you will enjoy hearing her speak, and ‘Sparkle’, sparkles with charm.

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