The author of The Invention of Wings -- our spotlight pick for January and the latest choice of Oprah's Book Club 2.0 -- talks about the books she's missed, personal cloning and why February is the cruelest month.
What's the elevator pitch for your book?
Two daring 19th century women risk everything for freedom.
What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?
Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?
You realize how impossible that question is... I'm going to go by the kind of joy they gave me at the time I read them. I'm going to say Thirteen Stories by Eudora Welty. I've read that book more times than maybe any book I've ever read. Next: A Room of One's Own. I think I'm going to say To Kill a Mockingbird. I'd like to have six or seven slots in there...
Important book you never read?
My mind goes to all the classics I never read. I never read Anna Karenina. I don't know anyone who has read Ulysses. The one I'm probably most embarrassed about is the great American classic, Moby Dick. And I never read To the Lighthouse, which is terrible because I revere Virginia Woolf [see above: A Room of One's Own].
Book that changed your life?
What's your most memorable author moment?
What pops first in my mind... 12 years ago when The Secret Life of Bees came out, when it had been out a week or maybe two, I ran into a stranger in a bookstore who had just read it and she said: "I think it's the book of the year." And I said, thank you. She said, "But dear, it's only February." It gave me real perspective. "It's only February" has become a catchphrase in our family.
What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?
If I could just clone myself, I could get so much more done. I'm always in conflict about wanting to be doing nothing, having leisure in my life, and that other part of me that wants to be writing. If I had two of me, that would be great. I'd like to be able to clone myself so that I could do more of what I want to do.
What are you obsessed with now?
Staying healthy through book tour. All through December, I obsessed over Emergen-C and Purell.
What are you stressed about now?
One of my biggest fears is that I'll be stuck somewhere and not have a novel to read. I have always had a love affair with fiction, and I carry novels in my car, my purse, everywhere.
What's your most prized/treasured possession?
Photographs of my father in his WWII uniform, photos of my mother and grandmother. My grandmother's glasses; I was named for her, and she was important to me. My grandfather's pipe. These small things that connect me to my family. Drawings by my grandchildren. After I wrote this book, I was able to find a book that was created for Angela Grimke when she died, by her husband. In my study I have a painting that's important to me, a very contemporary black Madonna painted by Sheila Keefe. If the fire alarm alarm goes off, we get the photographs, these other things and the painting.
What's the best piece of advice you ever got? The worst?
The best writing advice I ever got was to allow myself to write badly, because it always starts out that way. The worst advice I got at a writers conference when I presented to Secret Life of Bees; the teacher told me that it didn't have novel potential.
What's the last dream you remember?
Before the book tour started, I dreamed I was taking flying lessons. I think it meant: Get your act together because this is going to be interesting for you.
What do you collect?
I collect a certain shell. I used to collect a shark's eye or a moonshell, but now I also collect feathers, which began about three years when I was in the midst of writing The Invention of Wings. The writing went on for four years, during which I collected Osprey feathers,feathers of any sea birds, which is why one of the characters in the books collects feathers
Best piece of fan mail you ever got?
I have gotten an amazing amount of mail on Secret Life from young women, telling me of reading it with their mothers on their death beds. Also, young girls who were adopted who found such meaning. What really stands out: I got a batch of letters from a class of 17 year old girls who are orphans in Nairobi. They read The Secret Life of Bees as a class and they wrote me poems and letters about the experience of reading the novel. I have a picture of them holding the book, all of them.