1. How did you come up with the title?
The book’s original title, the one I submitted it with, was the somewhat baroque: ‘open your life wide, and take me in forever’. It’s taken from one of the so-called ‘Master’ letters, love letters, written by Emily Dickinson that was found unsent after her death. It told me all I needed to know about her and became the sort of core for her character in my novel. When I sent the MS to the man I hoped would become my agent - and luckily he did - Ed Victor in London, he called me a month later after he’d finished it and said, ‘I’ve got two things to tell you; I love the manuscript and I hate the title.’ My original intention had been to go a bit against the current fashion of very short titles, to have an old fashion title that would cover a good portion of the book’s cover. But I was persuaded to change my mind and I’m quite glad I did. Ed said, how about something simple like: Herman & Emily? And then when Arcade took the book and agreed to publish it my editor, the divine Jeannette Seaver said, “I think it would be better ‘ladies first.” And voila.
2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I certainly had no message in mind as I wrote it. But by the time one finishes it I think a number of small messages are apparent. Perhaps the one most evident is that the minutia of reality is far more wondrous than magical, spiritual thinking.
3. How much of the book is realistic?
I believe the idea and the rendering of 20 year-old Emily Dickinson falling in love with 32 year-old Herman Melville in the autumn of 1851 is realistic, even if it’s not historically true. There’s a difference. I made a great point of surrounding them with details that are as realistic as possible. The book is well researched. Where they go, how they go, what they wear and eat, the hotels and the restaurants, the other characters in the story, all of that is based on fact.
4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
I would have created a role for Margaret Fuller.
5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
There is a wonderful quote of Stanley Kubrick about film: A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what's behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later. I feel the same way about literature, getting the rhythm right is always the great challenge.
6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Writing it was a great pleasure and gave me the opportunity to explore the lives of these extraordinary American artists and the rich history of New England and New York City.
7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
No, only that it started at a very early age. I still conserve a ‘novel’ I wrote when I was about nine years old, some six pages long, about the end of the world.
8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I have many favorite authors. Just to name a few: James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, Thomas Wolfe, Alice Munro, Marguerite Yourcenar, Ian McEwan, Philip Roth, Shirley Hazzard, Mo Yan. They are quite different from each other in many ways. But what most strikes me about the work of all of them is that, reading them; it feels as if the book in question has always been there. The difficulties they’ve traversed producing the finished works are not on the page.
9. Tell us your latest news.
I’m hoping someone talented will make a film from EMILY & HERMAN. It’s certainly one I’d like to see. And I’m hard at work on another work of fiction that has to do with Joyce, Amalia Popper, Ireland and my own family.
10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Try and buy EMILY & HERMAN at your local bookstore! Local bookstores are just the best. But if you can’t, order it on-line.
About the Book
A delightful romantic account of Emily Dickinson’s and Herman Melville’s relationship.
The manuscript of this novel was discovered by John J. Healey in a box left by his grandfather, Professor Vincent P. Healey, after his death. This engaging work of fiction is a romantic account in which four iconic figures of American Letters play a leading role.
In the summer of 1851 Herman Melville was finishing Moby Dick on his family farm in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. Surrounded by his mother, sisters and pregnant wife, it was a calm and productive season until his neighbor Nathaniel Hawthorne lured him to Amherst. There they met twenty-year-old Emily Dickinson and her brother Austin. On a whim the two distinguished authors invited the Dickinson siblings to accompany them on a trip to Boston and New York. In Manhattan they met journalist Walt Whitman and William Johnson, a runaway slave, and it was there, despite their efforts to control it, that Emily and Herman fell in love.
This, for the first time, is their story.
Prices/Formats: $21.95 hardcover
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Arcade Publishing
Release Date: April 1, 2013
Buy Links: Amazon
About the Author
John J. Healey has been published in the Harvard Review and has directed two documentary films, Federico Garcia Lorca and the award-winning The Practice of the Wild. He lives in the United States and Spain.
Links to Connect with John:
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