A. Manette Ansay Melds History, Life Experience to Create Compelling Tale

December 29, 2009
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A. Manette Ansay
Good Things I Wish You
A. Manette Ansay

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An exclusive Authorlink interview with A. Manette Ansay
author of GOOD THINGS I WISH YOU

By Ellen Birkett Morris

January 2010

In her sixth novel, GOOD THINGS I WISH YOU, author A. Manette Ansay presents parallel stories of romance and the power of art, one taking place over a hundred years ago and the other set in modern times.

The book explores the long-term relationship between Clara Schumann, a celebrated pianist and the wife of composer Robert Schumann, and her husband's protégé, composer Johannes Brahms and the modern romance of a novelist named Jeanette and Hart, a mysterious man, who is a native of Clara's birthplace, Leipzig, Germany.

“Years of playing the piano left me disciplined in my habits . . .”
—
ANSAY

The stories, illustrated by a series of evocative collages, combine to explore questions about the nature of love and the healing power of creative endeavors.

It was a book that Ansay was born to write. Trained as a piano performance major, Ansay had a deep knowledge of and fascination with Clara Schumann’s work and had developed habits that would aid her as a novelist.

“Years of playing the piano left me disciplined in my habits and used to working alone,” Ansay observed.

“I also grew up in a religious Catholic household where everything involved metaphor. If you dropped your soup it was because it had botulism. As a fiction writer it is important to have reasons for why things happen.”

Her career in piano was derailed by an illness that mimicked multiple sclerosis, a misdiagnosis Ansay received which prompted her to begin writing. She started writing poems and took her then-husband’s advice that writing novels would be more lucrative.

 

She entered the Master of Fine Arts program at Cornell and attended writing workshops while working on her first novel VINEGAR HILL.

“I just worked my head off. I would get up and, if I wasn’t teaching or in class, I would write straight through. You have to have a fire in your belly and long to write, the possibility of publishing aside. It is like that saying, hard works beats talent when talent won’t work hard,” said Ansay.

VINEGAR HILL was an Oprah Book Club pick. Her book, MIDNIGHT CHAMPAGNE, was a National Book Critics Circle finalist.

Her success helped Ansay have the money to travel to research her book BLUE WATER, set in the Bahamas, and GOOD THINGS I WISH YOU, which takes place in part in Germany and Switzerland. She also spent money on healthcare to address her illness, which only occasionally flares up these days.

“I thought it would be interesting to collage the past and present . . .”
—ANSAY

 

 

Ansay says her first five books are close to her Midwest roots, while the premise of GOOD THINGS came from a screenplay she worked on with writer Stewart O’Nan in the early 1990s. She started writing an historical novel on Clara Schumann and got stymied at the point where Robert Schumann dies and Clara and Brahms travel together and have a mysterious falling out. She put the project on the backburner until 2006. After going on a blind date and having a conversation about the ability of men and women to be “just friends” she decided to approach the novel another way.

“I thought it would be interesting to collage the past and present, alternating scenes with contemporary characters and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms,” said Ansay.

The illustrative collages reflect the narrative, melding past and present, images and text.

Both stories reflect on the power of art to heal and sustain people in challenging times. “This theme is the key to understanding Clara’s character and beliefs. Anything that causes us to live beyond ourselves in a generous way, prayer, sports, art, is a powerful tool to live successfully despite challenges,” said Ansay.

She worked on the book on and off for ten years and considered “the amount of time between starting and finishing the book” her greatest challenge in writing it. Ansay also struggled to balance teaching, writing and being a mother to her six-year-old daughter. She writes around 15 hours a week, often while commuting between home and the University of Miami where Ansay teaches.

She worked with longtime editor Clare Wachtel of HarperCollins to put the finishing touches on the story. “Every book is different. Clare leaves me to do my own thing. Then she goes through the manuscript and points out any problems or things to think about,” said Ansay.

“Our best teachers are books. They show us how to begin. . .”
—ANSAY

 

 

She suggests that writers go to author readings and ask questions and attend writer’s groups to build a community of writers.

“Our best teachers are books. They show us how to begin and offer examples of point of view and plot,” said Ansay. She cautions that writers should be driven by their desire to write and not dreams of publication.

“No one will ever beg you to write. You need to want to write, not to want to have written. You need to feel good enough about your work that no matter what happens in terms of external success you will be okay,” said Ansay.

She noted that going through academic channels like an MFA program or summer conferences can help writers hone their work and possibly find someone who could recommend their work.

“It is a slow process. Keep your heart in tact by remembering why it is you do what you do,” advised Ansay.

 

About A. Manette Ansay A. Manette Ansay is the author of six novels and is at work on her seventh, tentatively titled WALKING ON EARTH. She lives with her daughter in Florida, where she has earned 18 hours toward her private pilot’s license and teaches in the MFA program at the University of Miami.
About Regular Contributor
Ellen Birkett Morris

Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national print and online publications including The New York Times. She also writes for a number of literary, regional, trade, and business publications, and she has contributed to six published nonfiction books in the trade press. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to interview various New York Times bestselling authors and first-time novelists. 

 

 

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This post was written by Ellen Birkett Morris