Backstory

Authors tell you what inspired their work

Gayle Brandeis, Author of "Delta Girls"

Delta Girls is a book born from rejection. When Ballantine Books bought my novel Self Storage, they offered me a two-book deal, which of course was thrilling and affirming to me as a writer. I wrote a novel with a 12-year-old narrator, My Life with the Lincolns, and turned it in, thinking I had fulfilled my contract and would have a new book in the world soon.

My beloved editor, however, turned the novel down, saying it wasn't right for her list—it was a book for young readers, she told me. The rejection smarted, but eventually I realized I had a chance to reach an important new audience and started to get excited about that opportunity (the novel was released by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers this March). My editor gave me a year to come up with a new novel, and I had no idea what to write.

Then I started to think about my good friend Stephan, who grew up on a pear farm in the Sacramento Delta; I hadn't even known that there was a Delta in California until he started to share his stories with me. I found the world he described so evocative, so rich with history and sensory detail (I'm a sucker for fruit—my book Fruitflesh uses fruit as its central metaphor—so all the pear information was especially intoxicating to me). When I began to read news stories about the two humpback whales who took a wrong turn and swam up the Sacramento River, a story started to form in my head of a mother and daughter, Izzy and Quinn, who also unintentionally find themselves at a pear farm in the Sacramento Delta around the same time as the whales, all of them searching for the place where they truly belong.

The figure skating aspect of the book came along because I had been dreaming about skating every night. At first, I thought this meant that I needed to return to skating (I skated competitively between the ages of 5 and 13). I started taking lessons after two and a half decades off the ice, which was wonderful, but the spins made me dizzy, and eventually I realized that I wanted to write about skating more than I actually wanted to skate. When I first began to explore her character, Karen skated as a solo competitor, but at some point I realized that since I was writing about pears, maybe I should also write about pairs skating, and play with the pears/pairs echo. An explosive story about Karen and her partner Nathan emerged from there, and their connection to Izzy's story became clear (until then, I wasn't sure how the two threads of the story intersected).

I had so much fun writing this book about mothers and daughters and secrets, and I never would have written it if it hadn't been for rejection. A good reminder to me that what at first can seem like a setback can end up bearing fruit. Sometimes even pears!

Gayle Brandeis is also the author of The Book of Dead Birds, which won Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change, Self Storage, My Life with the Lincolns, and Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write. You can find her at www.gaylebrandeis.com.


Backstories, where authors share the secrets, the truths, or just the illogical moments that sparked their fiction, come to us courtesy of author M.J. Rose and the Open Letters Monthly blog Like Fire.


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Comments from our users:

Thursday February 10th 2011, 12:41 PM
Comment by: valerie C. (wimberley, TX)
Thanks for posting this. Inspiring. :)
Thursday February 10th 2011, 12:47 PM
Comment by: Tom B. (Primm Springs,, TN)
Ah... "The Goodness of Rejection"... in so many forms, in all our lives! An inspiring aricle for all the dejected to read!
Thursday February 10th 2011, 9:13 PM
Comment by: Kimberly S. (Santa Cruz, CA)
I will post this article in our community college campus writing center as it is so filled with fascinating information about the writing process and the powerful creative uses of rejection.

Thanks for sharing it!

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