News and Interviews

The Lucky Seven, with Carole Giangrande

Carole_ Giangrande

Valerie and her husband Gerard are opposites in many ways. He's a passionate broadcaster, whose lifelong pursuit of justice was awakened by the bombing death of his first lover, while Valerie is quiet and contemplative, with a special kinship for the plants she nurtures as a horticulturalist.

At the beginning of Carole Giangrande's All That is Solid Melts into Air (Inanna Publications), Valerie has arrived in at the French island of St. Pierre, taking some time to think about her marriage, specifically her suspicions that Gerard is cheating on her. Before any such contemplation can take place, however, she learns an airplane has collided with a skyscraper in New York, where both Gerard and their son Andre are. Unable to reach her family, Valerie plunges into a state of fractured reminisces, slowly revealing the history and nature of her relationship with Gerard, her own murky past, and much more. 

We're pleased to welcome Carole to Open Book today as part of our Lucky Seven interview series. She tells us about writing a novel compressed into 24 of the most charged hours of the twenty-first century, the difficult and essential process of cutting a character, and some good advice from bpNichol. 

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book and how it came to be. 

Carole Giangrande:

All That Is Solid Melts into Air is told from the point of view of Valerie, a woman who's come to the French islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon to hike and to get some distance from her failing marriage to Gerard, a journalist on assignment in New York City where their son lives. In the course of the novel's 24 hours, the attacks of 9/11 take place, upending everything, including with the shape of Valerie's life. At the time of the attacks, I felt stunned by the twisted use of imagination that drove planes into buildings, and I felt that as a writer (and expat New Yorker), I could only respond to an atrocity by a creative act of imagination, by life-giving words. As you might guess, it took me a few years to absorb the impact of these events and to begin to write the novel.

OB:

Is there a question that is central to your book, thematically? And if so, did you know the question when you started writing or did it emerge from the writing process?

CG:

Thematically, the novel reveals the interconnectedness of all life, and while that sounds rather vague, it was an idea that emerged on its own, as Valerie's memories of the past began to collide and blur into the unfolding disaster. I became fascinated by time itself, because Valerie both remembers and experiences life all at once, and so her sense of past and present vanishes, as it often does in the act of remembering.  All of this emerged in the writing, yet I did begin with the hope that the book would be life-affirming, and in fact, it is.

OB:

Did this project change significantly from when you first starting working on it to the final version? How long did the project take from start to finish?

CG:

The original novel had all the same characters, but it was longer and involved a subplot and an additional character. Removing that person involved a lot of rewriting - but it was worth it! It took me two years of steady writing to complete the first draft, but those additional revisions probably added another year.

OB:

What do you need in order to write – in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?

CG:

I like to be alone in the house! Phone turned off, computer turned on, water bottle at hand, office door shut. I have a few special photos and prints surrounding my desk, mostly birds and flowers. These are gentle reminders that life is good, even if the events unfolding in my imagination are anything but.

OB:

What do you do if you're feeling discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the difficult points in your projects? 

CG:

The late poet bpNichol told me once that if you get stuck, you should sit down and write about getting stuck. It's amazing, but it really works! I keep a notebook for each project, and when things aren't going well, I write about what's going wrong. As I'm doing this, a variety of solutions almost always come to mind, e.g. alternative choices that a character might make, deleting a scene that's going nowhere, etc. These are sometimes "aha!" moments. I also make sure to take a long walk every day. It seems to untie the knots in my mind and lets me feel refreshed when I get back to writing.

OB:

What defines a great book, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great books. 

CG:

For me, a great book involves vivid language that transports me into the world of the characters. Top of the list: Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse. Her word choice is so supple and beautiful that it creates a sense of what if feels like to be conscious and alive, and language seems to drive the story. I also appreciate books where events of the larger world haunt the background in subtle ways, as the First World War does in Woolf's novel. My second choice is nonfiction: Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk. She's a poet and naturalist who's written an exquisite hybrid - a memoir of the loss of her father, a work of literary criticism, a reflection on the art of falconry, and all of it focused on her journey (with her goshawk companion) from grief to rebirth. The writing and structure are both stunning.

OB:

What are you working on now?

CG:

I've recently finished another novel and two lyric essays. I'm working on poetry, and work it is! Let's just say I find it challenging. 

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Born and raised in the New York City area, Carole Giangrande is a Toronto-based novelist and author of nine books, including the award-winning novella A Gardener on the Moon, the novels An Ordinary Star and A Forest Burning, the short story collection Missing Persons, the novellas Here Comes The Dreamer, and Midsummer and her new novel, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air. She's worked as a broadcast journalist for CBC Radio and her fiction, poetry, articles and reviews have appeared in Canada’s major journals and newspapers (Her essay "Goshawk" was the 2016 Lyric Essay Award Winner in the Eastern Iowa Review). She's read her fiction at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre, at the Banff Centre for the Arts, the University of Toronto, on radio and at numerous public venues. She's recently completed another novel. Visit her website at www.carolegiangrande.com.

Related reading

All That is Solid Melts into Air

In the morning fog of the North Atlantic, Valerie hears the frenetic ticking of clocks. She’s come from Toronto to hike on the French island of St. Pierre and to ponder her marriage to Gerard Lefèvre, a Montrealer and a broadcast journalist whose passion for justice was ignited in his youth by the death of his lover in an airline bombing. He's a restless traveller (who she suspects is unfaithful) and she's the opposite: quiet, with an inner life she nurtures as a horticulturalist. Valerie's thinking about Gerard on assignment in her native New York City, where their son Andre works. In New York City, an airplane has plunged into a skyscraper, and in the short time before anyone understands the significance of this event, Valerie's mind begins to spiral in and out of the present moment, circling around her intense memories of her father's death, her youthful relationship with troubled Matthew, and her pregnancy with his child, the crisis that led to her marriage to Gerard, and her fears for the safety of her son Andre and his partner James. Unable to reach her loved ones, Valerie finds memory intruding on a surreal and dreamlike present until at last she connects with Gerard and the final horror of that day.