I first fell in love with the story of Clara Schumann (and her lifelong friendship with Johannes Brahms) when I was majoring in piano performance at the Peabody conservatory—can it be twenty-five years ago? But it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I thought about writing something that involved Clara’s story. I’ve probably attempted to write this book for over a dozen years and in over a dozen ways. Initially, I co-wrote a screenplay about Clara’s life with novelist and screenwriter Stewart O’Nan; later on, when I asked if I could re-work some of our research as a historical novel about Clara and Brahms, he graciously agreed. But for a number of reasons, I kept getting distracted by other writing projects, and after that, several other novels about Clara’s life came out in English, so I let the piece sit for awhile, trying to figure out a new way to approach the material. I wanted to capture what I felt was most significant about the story: its contemporary relevance, the way the same story could be told of people living today. Perhaps that’s why I returned to the book as I was going through a divorce (my former husband and I were married for sixteen years; we remain friends) trying to figure out how to balance my new situation as a single mother with the demands of art and life.
Around that time, I went on a blind date with a German man who’d grown up in the area of Leipzig, Germany—Clara Schumann’s birthplace—and we ended up in lengthy discussion about the way I was interpreting what had happened between Brahms and Clara. At one point, he said, “There are things between men and women that do not change,” and for some reason, that impacted me deeply. What I’d been writing, until that time, was still a traditionally-conceived historical novel, but that night, when I got home, I wrote what would become the opening line of Good Things: “My first date in 19 years was nearly an hour late.” Immediately, a parallel story began to emerge, narrated by a contemporary woman researching the life of Clara Schumann, and though fact and fiction diverge sharply as the novel unfolds, there are more parallels between art and life in this book than in any fiction I’ve written recently. Over the past few years, Jeanette’s research has taken me twice to Germany and, mostly recently, to Gersau, Switzerland, the town where Clara and Brahms parted ways. Though I did not know the ending of the novel before I actually was writing it, I knew all along that the book would end in Gersau, and that, somehow, the two stories—present and past—would connect. I’ve also developed interests in gliding and flying—I have 18 hours of instruction in a Cessna 152—and these new interests will, no doubt, appear in a future book.