Question: How much of Midnight Champagne is true?
When people would ask the poet Anne Sexton how much of her poetry was true, she’d answer, “It was all true when I wrote it.” This is how I feel about all of my books. They are true; they simply aren’t factual. Ironically, I find that facts often get in the way of the truth. Facts are small, obstinate details which can often be misleading. Truth implies a larger picture. My novels and short stories employ fiction as a means of getting there.
Question: But is there really such a place as the Great Lakes Chapel and Hideaway Lodge? Are any of these characters people you know?
Yes and no. I grew up in the Midwest in a large extended Catholic family (I have over 60 cousins and over 200 second cousins.) As a child, I looked forward to family weddings, because after the ceremony, which was always held in a church, there would be a reception, dinner, and dance at the Belgium Community Center. The Community Center had a bowling alley, a game room, a cash bar and a large gymnasium-style room with a stage at the back. After the “sit-down” supper, the polka band arrived, and as band members warmed up and drank their first beers, the tables were cleared, collapsed and carted away. Like Stanley and Mickey, my cousins and brother and I ran wild while the adults danced and drank and generally ran wild themselves. We spied on people, stole cups of beer, begged quarters to play pinball and air hockey.
The actual structure of Midnight Champagne is meant to parallel a polka dance: it starts quietly, but then things pick up. The dancers whirl and sawdust flies. The point of view shifts more frequently; ghosts appear; everything falls into frenzy. I wanted to capture that feeling of abandon in Midnight Champagne, the sense of these very repressed people coming together and cutting loose. Though no character in this book is based on anybody I know in particular, any one of these characters might be my own sister or brother; father or mother; cousin, acquaintance or friend, because all were born of my imagination, which has its deepest roots in my personal experience and mythology.
Question: Is there any one theme in Midnight Champagne you consider particularly important?
I wanted to comment in a new way on an issue that, unfortunately, is anything but new, one that people tend to label “feminist” so that they can roll their eyes at it, dismiss it, look the other way. But the fact is this: the most dangerous place for an American woman today is still in her own home. If this issue has not yet affected you, chances are it will in your lifetime-either personally, or as the friend, relative or observer of someone either committing or enduring domestic violence. Here’s another statistic I find ironic: at a time when nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, we are spending more money on weddings than ever before. Ironic, too, is that despite the failure of marriage as an institution in general, the majority of us (myself included) continue to marry, continue struggling against our natures to make it work. Why? What is the role of religious, social and political pressure in our decision? What is the role of love?
Since these questions have many answers, I wanted to create a situation in which many couples, of varying marital experiences, would reveal their histories, hopes and expectations-to each other and, thus, to a reader. April and Caleb’s wedding seemed like an ideal format.
Question: Did you know when you first starting writing Midnight Champagne that it was a novel? Did it always begin where it does now?
I think that Midnight Champagne probably began as a poem called Polka Dance, which I wrote in 1996. I always think I know I’m writing novels-but sometimes I’m wrong. I throw a lot of work away. I threw away a book between Sister and River Angel-it was half-written, but then it just petered out. I wasn’t enchanted enough with the characters to stay with it.
Question: How long did it take you to write Midnight Champagne?