Today we are joined by author Camille Marchetta, who wrote the book “The River, By Moonlight.” I enjoyed the book and am glad to bring you this interview.
Camille, thank you for joining us. Your book is set right at the start of World War I. What interested you in writing a book about this era?
It’s always been a period that interested me, because of Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” I suppose, and Ford Maddox Ford’s “Parade’s End” Trilogy, and Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” books I read at an impressionable age. But, more to the point, “The River, By Moonlight” is based very loosely on a young woman who lived at that time. I did consider changing the date as I changed so much else (the location, the characters, just about everything), but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that 1917 provided the perfect setting for the book. The turmoil of the times — a country on the verge of war; a continuing revolution in the art world; a society moving into the modern age — it seemed a good backdrop for the characters, and for the ideas, I wanted to explore.
Our main character, Lily, is an artist. You go into some detail as to the methodology of painting and how to use the brushes and the colors. Do you yourself paint?
No, I don’t paint. I wish I did. But I have no talent at all for it. I look at paintings whenever I can, though. I enjoy it as much as reading. And of course I did an enormous amount of research for the book, and relied heavily on friends who are painters for advice.
I found the book intriguing in how we see everything through the eyes
of those who knew Lily before we see the story through her own eyes. How did you come up with that concept for the book?
My first impulse was to use a straight linear structure, because usually it makes the most sense to move neatly from A to B to C etc. But the book simply didn’t want to be written that way. (In any case, that’s what it felt like to me.) I couldn’t begin. And then, finally, I have no idea how or why (let’s call it inspiration), it occurred to me that if I used the other characters to tell Lily’s story, I could accomplish several things at once: I could after all move the narrative forward in a more or less straightforward way; by devoting a chapter to each of the characters, I could give them a depth they might not otherwise have; and by allowing Lily the last word, I could maintain a sort of psychological mystery until the end. Or perhaps that’s all hindsight. Perhaps I really didn’t know any of that, or at least not in any conscious way. I started writing, as always, without any outline, and let the book take me where it wanted to go.
It worked for me as a reader, it really did.
We’ll continue our talk with Camille Marchetta tomorrow. In the meantime, you can learn more about her here.