The Gravity of Birds: Debut Novel
Interview by Catharine Bramkamp
Tracy Guzeman’s new novel The Gravity of Birds was just released. We asked her about combining a love of birds and love of books because it’s such an interesting idea.
Tracy explained that her main character Alice was a particular sort of person, “very aware of her physical surroundings, with a questioning mind. I knew when I first started writing her, that she was going to have ambitions in that direction, that she’d want to study the natural environment: ornithology, zoology, astronomy, geology; all of those seemed like possible careers for her. Birds simply won out. As far as books, she’s a dreamy adolescent when the reader is introduced to her, spending as much of her time outdoors as she can. She’s at an age where she wants to understand everything, but doesn’t have the required context. Poetry is the portal for her; she’s sure if she can decipher what’s meant by a few lines in a poem, she’ll gain the keys to the kingdom and a whole other world—the adult world—will open up for her.”
Like so many of our novels, Tracy created The Gravity of Birds from other works. “I had two short stories I liked, but couldn’t seem to finish. One was about how the relationship between two sisters is altered when one is forced to assume the role of caregiver for the other. The second story concerned a young man, recently out of school, who unexpectedly finds his career on a downward trajectory, a situation he’d never prepared himself for. No matter how I tried, none of the endings I came up with seemed to fit, but I didn’t want to abandon those characters.
Around the same time I was in the process of moving, and packing up an old family portrait—my great, great, great grandmother and her two daughters. That was the way I’d always thought of them, as ‘the two daughters.’ For some reason, on that particular day, I realized they were sisters, as well. (For whatever reason, I hadn’t thought about their relationship to each other before, always defining them by their relationship with their mother.) The minute I thought of them as sisters, I wondered if they might be the sisters in my story. And since I was looking at this very old oil painting, I wondered if that might not be the thing the young man finds that has the potential to change his fortune. After I knew how the various pieces were related—sisters, painting, young man—the rest of the story came together fairly quickly.”
Tracy found the publishing journey “illuminating.” But she feels she’s been incredibly fortunate, “I’ve benefitted from the generosity of many other writers in the Bay Area who have been beyond gracious in offering advice and support, and in sharing their own experiences.”