I am working on a short story set on an American oil compound in Saudi Arabia. My desk is covered with articles about beheadings, terrorist attacks, and life in Riyadh. Those American ladies on the compounds are wild. They make their own gin and throw pool parties. But a woman can’t drive outside the compound walls. In Saudi, an American woman can drive her SUV around wearing a bikini inside the compound, but as soon as she leaves, she’d better be in a veil in the backseat.
Other items on my desk: index cards with questions for my new novel (Can they get dead body back to U.S.?); plastic cup from my wedding that says “I’M THE BRIDE TO BE… PARTY WITH ME”; a list of cities where I would be happy and the number of hours from those cities to the small town in Colorado where my husband would be happy (San Francisco: 18; Portland: 18; Austin: 19; Denver: 6); Filson Catalog-5 pens and one pencil; datebook; phone book open to listing for “Sitters in a Pinch”; current CV for job I meant to apply for; notepad from Hotel San Jose in Austin; package from my British publisher with the British cover of my new book. It’s a girl in a field with pumpkins. I love it—her expression is sad and creepy—but I’m not sure what’s up with the pumpkins. Coffee mug (full); CD of Avocet, a Chicago band; invitation for a wedding I can’t attend; phone, wish it would ring.
Amanda Eyre Ward
I am working on my second novel, Dreaming in Titanic City. Like my first novel, this book is set in modern-day Afghanistan. Unlike The Kite Runner, which revolved around the lives of three male characters, this book’s central characters are female. Also unlike The Kite Runner, which was set both in Afghanistan and the United States, Dreaming in Titanic City is set entirely in Afghanistan. Through parallel narratives, this new book depicts the lives of two Afghan women, their struggles and hardships, their hopes and burgeoning friendship in the setting of conflict, civil war, and oppression. I hope to have a first draft done by February 2005. Though this goal appeared unrealistic to me a few months ago, I have since taken a one-year sabbatical from my day job, medicine, to write this novel.
I just got back from my first book tour—a five week, ten-city, shoestring junket. As a result, my desk is largely covered with small scraps of paper bearing email addresses of people I met along the way. So many nice people! So many small scraps of paper! I could fill up a shoebox and make a good home for a gerbil. Or I could just screw a water bottle to the wall.
In terms of inspiration, I also have a photo on my desk of the two teenaged girls who used to work in the kitchen at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. They were about seventeen years old and totally dangerous together: beautiful, affectionate, laughing in that head-thrown-back young-girl way that made it perfectly clear they had no secrets from each other. In the photo, both girls are chin-up and smoking cigarettes— such grade-A juvenile defiance! The adolescent Bad Attitude is nearly laughable, except that their intimacy is so apparent and so nakedly in peril. You can feel the devastating break-up looming. If intimacy is a small space full of hydrogen gas, just add resentment, desire— just add boy—and there’s combustion.
I’ve been working on a novel called Any Minute Now, which is about two sisters at that very point in their friendship. I don’t have a sister, but I think the most grueling heartbreak I have yet to experience is in those girl friendships that are so intense they implode. A photographer named Carla Shapiro took the picture and the second I saw it, it made the whole idea of the novel seem doable and worthwhile. It’s the only piece of art I’ve ever bought.
As soon as I dig myself out of the Here Beneath Low-Flying Planes ten-city-tour e-hole, I’d like to get back to work on that novel.