Writing is my way
of grasping the sky.
JoAnn Bren Guernsey
My range of publications is a bit unusual: from children’s books to women’s erotica; I also wrote debate-style and "as-told-to" nonfiction books for young readers. In addition to my novel and fiction chapbook below, I had the privilege of collaborating with nature photographer and environmentalist, Jim Brandenburg, on his books for young readers.
A novel I worked on for many years, Glass Asylum is a novel about the creative process, motherhood, and the seductive power of each pursuit. At its center is a 41-year-old fledgling writer named Madelyn whose own story builds chapter by chapter, but imbedded within this novel are a handful of fictional stories she writes (or at least starts). The reader witnesses the evolution of each piece and also sees how it fits into Madelyn’s “real” life. As the novel begins, she is having trouble dealing with recent events. She has witnessed (and failed to prevent) the accidental death of a neighbor’s child, a trauma that revives her pain at losing her own child ten years earlier. Also, a long-term love affair is unraveling. Her response is to withdraw, quit her job, accept freelance catalogue work describing decorative items about which she knows nothing, and to flee into the land of language and story. At the same time, she becomes obsessed with the mother and baby who reside across the street because she convinces herself that this child, finally, she will be able to rescue.
Maddie tries to write only about others, stealing their secrets for material, but she can never shed the feeling that there is something, or rather someone from her childhood to whom this new work is inexorably drawing her. After “giving birth” to each story, a recurring and expanding nightmare is the price she has to pay. Writing, child-watching, and the need to escape reality threaten to turn her into a recluse, until she is forced out into the world by a strange act of heroism and by acceptance into a writing workshop that further reconfigures her life.
Tangled Strings is a chapbook weaving together three very different stories about the joys, sorrows and surprises inherent in mother-daughter relationships. “Secrets” is the first and longest story. It takes place in Krakow, Poland, as a middle-aged American woman contemplates staying after her tour group heads home. Her desire is to live out a scenario set up by a secret her dying mother revealed. In “Promises” an older woman welcomes her favorite grandchild into her home for an indefinite stay. Their shared enjoyment seems boundless, until the grandmother is confronted with her own careless remark that so disillusions the child, only their combined vivid imaginations can repair the damage. The middle story is aptly entitled “Lies.” A woman is forced to recognize her role in a girl’s horrific childhood when the troubled daughter writes a best-selling memoir. The epigraph that appears on the back cover of the chapbook is a quote from this fictional memoirist, and it represents all three of the complex relationships in my stories:
I know with mother-love there are always strings—some attached, some cut. But how did mine get so tangled?
My Young Adult Novels
(all published by Clarion Books in the 1980's)
The Brandenburg Books
Officially the Editor of these books, my work involved listening to his stories, writing them down, finding an agent for them and working with the publisher.