Joyce Hinnefeld


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"When in the course of human events . . ."

A few days ago I signed my name to Indie Bound’s wonderful declaration at, and it felt great. If you’re a lover of independent bookstores (and other independent things), I’d encourage you to do so too.

Earlier that day I'd seen a big copy of this declaration in the window of Bethlehem, PA’s own Moravian Book Shop. This store is the oldest continually operating bookstore in the world (check out, and I’ve loved it since I moved to this area eleven years ago. The Book Shop has joined with a bunch of other local businesses—like Clothesline Organics ( and The Yoga Loft (, to name a couple more Bethlehem favorites of mine—to promote local, independently owned businesses. I find this whole movement exciting on a number of levels, not least of which is an environmental one; buying and eating local food, for instance, is going to be crucial for global health, as people like Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver have told us.

I’m particularly excited about one aspect of this “buy local” movement, and that’s the resurgence of independent bookstores. I felt this way even before my novel was signed by an editor at a fantastic independent publisher (Fred Ramey at Unbridled), and even before Steven Wallace and his terrific crew at Unbridled started talking up In Hovering Flight in the independent bookseller community. Even before IHF was chosen as the September Indie Next book. I lived in New York City in the late eighties and early nineties, and some of my best memories are of the bookstores in the city then: Shakespeare and Company, Endicott Books, Coliseum Books, Three Lives. I’m delighted that Three Lives survived, but it broke my heart to watch so many of these other stores fall under the stomping feet of the big boxes.

But now local, independent stores are coming back. As are local organic farms and local markets. Small independent publishers. It’s pretty exciting to have my book connected with this whole movement. Let’s hear it for “Free Thinkers and Independent Souls”!

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Kind of Nostalgia Fueling Everything She Did, Part 2

“Maybe that was all it came down to, really, in the end,” Addie thinks near the end of In Hovering Flight:

A kind of nostalgia fueling everything she did. A longing for the past, for places where she’d been so young and full of yearning, a full and melancholy kind of yearning, that she’d forgotten about until these last months. A need to somehow freeze those places in time, to preserve them, to protect them, and thereby keep the lost world of her youth intact.

I’m like Addie in some ways, not at all like her in other ways. But I definitely share her nostalgia, her pining for the past. There I sat at that picnic table by the Delaware River and the Delaware Canal on that hot July day, longing for the days when I used to jog along the footpath behind me, or for the thrill of discovery when I was still figuring out who Addie and Scarlet were, the complicated love Tom felt for both of them, the durable friendships of Addie, Cora, and Lou.

Earlier in July I’d heard the Dalai Lama speak at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. All suffering is rooted in change, he told us.

On my way to the picnic table between the river and canal I’d driven by the old mill where we lived when Anna was born. We moved a month before her first birthday, and it’s a good thing we did; the first level of that mill house has filled with water twice since we moved. It’s empty now, and there’s a For Sale sign up in front. When I looked up at the big front window on the second floor—the one where I used to sit in a rocker, nursing Anna—I felt like crying.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Kind of Nostalgia Fueling Everything She Did, Part 1

On a morning in late July 2008, I returned to a picnic table between the Delaware River and the Delaware Canal, in southern Northampton County, Pennsylvania: the same picnic table where, nearly four years before, I’d sat down and drawn maps of In Hovering Flight’s fictional Burnham College and its surroundings, including Haupt Bridge Road and the convergence of Nisky and Kleine Creeks—where Addie, Tom, and Scarlet Kavanagh’s little house is located. I tried that morning to recall how I felt on a gray morning in the fall of 2004, as the world of Addie, Tom, and the young Scarlet came alive for me. But to be honest, I couldn’t remember.

By July of 2008 so much had changed, certainly since 2004, but especially since 2000-2001, when I lived in an old mill near that beautiful spot along the Delaware River. In the six years since I moved away the river had flooded its banks twice, causing serious damage to nearby homes and to Route 611, the scenic road that runs along the river in lower Northampton and upper Bucks Counties. By that summer morning in 2008 the canal had been drained, it appeared for a quite a while, and the footpath where I pictured Scarlet walking with her friend Peter Gleason, furtively smoking a clove cigarette, was really overgrown.

Trying to remember how I felt on that morning four years ago, in that park alongside the canal and the river, all those ideas swirling in my head, is kind of like trying to remember my daughter Anna, who’s now seven, when she was a baby. Well, of course I remember her; what I mean is it’s like trying to remember how that felt: holding her, smelling her, nursing her. Her first words, her first steps, repeatedly giving her my order when we played restaurant, over and over, when she was two.

I can remember observing all those things, but what I can’t quite reproduce is the particular intensity of the feeling I had at those times. Just as I can’t quite recall the particular sort of giddiness I felt when Addie, Tom, and Scarlet (and also Cora and Lou, Richard and Bobby), and their lives along those Pennsylvania creeks, then the Jersey shore and the streets of Manhattan, came to life in my mind and on the page.

I guess that’s why I didn’t know what to do with myself when I finished the first draft of In Hovering Flight. I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the time, on a sabbatical with my husband Jim and three-year-old Anna, and I felt such a strange mix of exhilaration and sadness that I just had to go out for a big breakfast and then head up into the mountains for a hike. It was on another hike in the mountains outside Santa Fe that I got the idea for the “life list” of smells that Addie compiles near the end of her life.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Walks with Butterflies

Recently I read or heard somewhere that you can gauge the health of your natural surroundings by noting the number of butterflies you see. I’ve noticed more this year than some years, I think, but it still seems to me that I see far fewer butterflies than I did when I was a kid.

I’m in Vermont now, with my husband and daughter, enjoying a week of walks and paddling around on beautiful ponds and just relaxing. Yesterday we picked wild raspberries in the woods and a little tiger swallowtail butterfly seemed to be flying along with us, bush to bush, for a while. This prompted a memory for me, of being a sullen teenager the summer before I was to leave for college (surprisingly sullen, considering how old I was, and that I was going to be leaving home soon), when my parents surprised me with the gift of a family weekend in a “chalet” in a nearby state park. “Family weekend” meant the three of us, as my older brothers were all off on their own by then, and while I would have loved the idea of a weekend in a wooden A-frame in the woods when I was younger, by that summer the very idea of spending a weekend anywhere with my parents just made me furious.

I went along, but as I recall, I was pretty surly the whole time. It’s easy to look back and laugh at teenage me now, but the truth is I still kind of remember how that felt—like my parents didn’t understand me and never would—and I can still recall, faintly, how painful that was.

My most vivid memory of that weekend in the woods is of a walk we took, Mom, Dad and I—and a butterfly that seemed to be following along, flying a bit and then alighting, leaf to leaf, as if (I thought) to keep me company. I was deep in the narcissistic whirlpool of late adolescence at the time, so of course I assumed the butterfly had somehow chosen me. It was ludicrous, and yet I do still remember what a comfort it was to think that.

My parents were, really, the anti-Tom and Addie Kavanagh (the central characters in In Hovering Flight). They were children of the Depression, conservative and religious, and all I wanted that summer was to break free. It was a matter of survival, I thought, and who knows, maybe I was right. Making Addie and Tom’s daughter Scarlet someone who needed to flee her parents’ home and lives came pretty naturally to me. Now, almost thirty years after that walk with a butterfly, as a mother myself, I can still understand my own need to flee. But I can also recognize the bewilderment of parents who only want their child to know she’s loved.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Learning to Love the Virus

I seem to have lost my first attempt at a blog entry, drafted earlier in the summer. It’s probably just as well. I used the title I’m using here, “Learning to Love the Virus,” enjoying my clever riff on Dr. Strangelove as I recalled a remark by my publicist at Unbridled Books, who said the goal, in promoting In Hovering Flight¸ was to “go viral.” It’s still hard for me to envision the viral spreading of anything as a good thing. And I’m a reluctant, even nervous, beginner in the world of blogging and electronic social networking. I don’t remember that much about my first attempt at this blog entry, but I know I made sarcastic remarks about signing up for MySpace—jokes about beer bongs and a touched-up photo that wouldn’t reveal my age.

It’s kind of instinctive for me, this tendency to mock the electronic revolution—“friend” as a verb, the sharing of way too much personal information, the rapid movement of my college students’ thumbs across cell phone key pads below their desks. And that, as I recall, is what I did in that first attempt at blogging: I mocked the very act of doing it.

Which is what people do, or at least what I do, when I’m afraid. And the truth is this terrifies me: the potential vastness of it, the anonymity of it. That’s kind of surprising, considering that I’m about to publish a novel, and of course I hope that novel’s readership will be vast. I also know that if that readership is as large as I’m hoping, most of those readers won’t know me, and I won’t know them. But it’s different somehow. The compulsion to write fiction feels deeply rooted in me by now; there are stories that appear in my head, and I need to write them down. I’m much less driven to explore my life, my ideas—the sorts of things that, as I understand it, are to fill this blog of mine.

When I write fiction, I don’t really envision an audience; the story just needs to be told, and told in a particular way that I stumble toward pretty blindly. But as I sit down at my computer to write this—my first blog entry, my account of my efforts to believe in the value of “going viral”—a large, faintly differentiated group of readers bobs up behind the screen: younger than I am, hipper than I am (modeled, no doubt, on the handful of people I know—mostly former or current students of mine—who read blogs).

Anyway, whoever you are out there, younger or hipper than I am, older or (unlikely) not as hip, mothers like I am or daughters like I am, sons and fathers: as you read this, please be patient while I find my way toward a real voice. One that, I hope, doesn’t resort to sarcasm out of deep insecurity about joining this brave new electronic world, one that reaches, instead, for clarity and openness.