Author Talk: September 2003
Q: What was your inspiration for STONE GARDEN?
MM: Since I was a teenager there were two stories in my life that remained untold. One was the disappearance of a classmate, a boy, my junior year. The other is a memory of someone telling me that a visiting prisoner (yes, we had those assemblies!) had killed her babysitter. Honestly, I might have dreamed this. Since I currently teach English to high school juniors and seniors, their voices are very close to me. Listening to them reminded me of my past and then these stories emerged.
Q: How do the students at Millstone Country Day School compare to the ones you teach?
MM: Well, I teach at a real public school that's very diverse. Roughly half the kids at Evanston Township High School are African-American. The students at ETHS are not as uniformly privileged as those at Millstone. They are probably less self-absorbed and more connected to reality. I think diversity changes people's behavior in a very fundamental way. You don't have the luxury of remaining close-minded.
Q: Your previous novel, published in 1990, also dealt with issues of loss and grief. How has your perspective on these topics evolved?
MM: Grief is universal and, in many ways, unalterable. It brings its own set of insights and revelations. When 9/11 happened I was close to finishing STONE GARDEN. My first reaction to returning to work on the novel was that it was useless. I felt like people wouldn't want to read about some kid disappearing and dying when so many people had died so horribly and suddenly, when people had spoken to their loved ones on the phone and had been told by them they were going to never see them again. I mean, how do you compare anything to that? Then the obituaries in the NYT were published and I read them and I thought about how each family, each set of friends, each community was affected by one death. I thought about my sister whose death had inspired my first novel and I decided that if I had been given this job to chronicle grief on a small scale, I'd better get back to work.
Q: Alice's voice sets a unique tone for STONE GARDEN. What led you to choose an adolescent's point of view for this novel?
MM: I love teenagers. They are difficult and humbling and frequently annoying. They are on the threshold of their lives and they remember their childhoods while they face the future. I was a huge fan of The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers. Frankie had the sort of conflicted passion I felt about my life and I was comforted by reading about all the mistakes she made. I think sex is a very important part of life and adolescents are all about sexuality whether we like it or not.
Q: What writing projects are you working on currently?
MM: I am writing a new novel set in Dallas, Texas about a marriage falling apart. I'm also developing a sit-com pilot set on a cul-de-sac in a town called Slinger, Wisconsin.