About the Author
I was a kid from Texas, but I had spent nearly two years living in Moscow, off and on, by the time I graduated Middlebury college, degree in hand in the spring of 2011. Between the snow in Moscow and the snow in Vermont, I was tired of frost, and I felt like I’d been studying and interning and learning and achieving without cease since middle school. I was at a crossroads.
I knew what I wanted in life, or at least I thought I did. I had a degree in French and Russian. I loved language and languages. I meant to become either an interpreter or a linguist. I did not even for a second imagine being a writer. I had always been a reader, and in high school, I wrote (and promptly shelved, vowing never to let anyone see) a book with dragons. But the one time I tried to take a collegiate creative writing class, the class was overbooked and I got dropped. I never tried again, never connected my private pleasure in reading and writing with something I’d ever do for public consumption. I simply did not think of writing as a way to make a living.
But when I got to the end of undergrad, I felt like my life was on a speeding train. Maybe many high-achieving students feel this way. High school, college, job come at you, one-two-three, and it never feels like you have enough time.
But I wanted to get off the train. Just for a bit, I told myself. Just for a summer. I wanted to do something unexpected, and I wanted time to ask myself the usual post-adolescent questions: Who am I? What do I want? What am I willing to do to get it? So, lacking better ideas, wanting only to surprise myself, I went off to go work on a farm in Hawaii. If you like sun, don’t mind tents, and hitchhiking, and living on papaya and coconut, there are worse ways to try and find yourself.
Initially, all I discovered was boredom. Picking coffee in sight of the sea might be very lovely, very zen, but it’s not that interesting. To entertain myself, I started writing a book. I set it in Russia because I had spent a lot of time there, and because there was Ukrainian family at the farm next to mine whose daughter was named Vasilisa. They called her Vasya. She had green eyes and she and I would chase chickens among the avocado trees. She became my heroine, and so my story started. I didn’t know how to write a book. I thought it would be a cool thing to do. I just kept on haphazardly stringing events together. I had so much fun. Early drafts were terrible. There’s a chapter posted in my extras. Don’t laugh.
But I kept plugging away. Boredom is a wonderful motivator. And there is magic in it. One of the great losses of the modern world is how difficult it has become to get truly bored. Anyway, at some point I said to myself, hey, I like this book writing thing. It’s better than picking coffee. And I had this story. I wanted to know how it ended. So I decided to make my summer in Hawaii into a year. To figure out how my story ended. I kept on living in a tent on a farm, and made smoothies in a roadside stand. My clothes got really moldy in the jungle, my feet were permanently sandy. I kept writing.
At some point I moved off the farm, to a one-room yurt that I shared with another girl. She got high a lot while I curled up onto my sandy mattress and wrote more. It’s amazing how my jungle home somehow spurred my imagination towards Vasya’s the northern forests. Perhaps it was the force of contrast. I still remember the smell of pot and fruit and the sea from those days, how entranced I was with my own words, how I wrote in the moment, with nothing to think about beyond the next paragraph. I’ve never had that feeling since, although I’ve come close a few times.
I kept writing. I moved into an old yoga studio with a surfer boyfriend. I got a job guiding horse tours. I applied on a whim to be a teaching assistant in France (via TAPIF, a great program if you have some French). Got accepted. Moved abruptly from Hawaii to the French Alps. The place was chosen for me randomly, but the choice was strange and serendipitous. I went from living in a swimsuit, permanent sand, shoes-and-shirt optional to a dorm in a boarding school in a French ski town. I taught. I hiked. I skied. I got drunk with expats. I made friends. I met a ski champion with blue eyes who (sweetly, beautifully, tenderly) broke my heart.
At the end of all this, I had a draft of a book. But nothing else. Precious little money, even less confidence that anyone would want to read this thing I’d made. I moved back to Maui after my year in France. This time, I was determined. No more messing around, no more making smoothies, no horse tours, and for God’s sake no coffee picking. I’d written my one book, gotten it all out of my system. I was an adult, a serious woman. I’d spent three years in tents and yurts and dorms, I wanted a real job. An apartment with walls. And I got a job. I became a marketing assistant in a real estate company. I even got a real estate license.
But I had put my book out in the world. An agent, Paul Lucas with Janklow and Nesbit, took a chance on me in the summer of 2014. He saw something in my words. And he was right. The book deal came in October of that year. So much for my serious job in real estate. I quit a month later.
The Bear and the Nightingale, after a variety of scheduling issues, ended up with a publication date of January 2017. So with a book contract in hand (yes, I could live on it, yes the joy of my twenty-six year old self was boundless) I decided to leave Hawaii and go traveling. I spent six months bouncing around the world, living out of a backpack and writing what became The Girl in the Tower, in parks, cafes and libraries.
After those six months I felt thoroughly traveled but also rootless. I’d had a lot of amazing days and a lot of lonely days, and at that moment the lonely days were outweighing the amazing ones. So when my college bestie asked me to come stay in my old college town in Vermont for a few weeks, I accepted.
I didn’t mean to put down roots. I was proud of being independent, of my backpacker lifestyle. But I went on a hike, a week after I arrived, and on the top of the mountain, I met a redhead. He was cranky because he’d forgotten to pack snacks. So I shared mine. That was six years ago. In the summer of 2023, I married him. We have a house, a dog. I grow flowers. And I still write books.