Imagined Lives and Sudden Success

February 20, 2012

Paula McLain discusses writing with students. (Photo by David Noe)

“It’s humbling to be in a community that privileges writers and authors like me, especially because there are no vampires in my book,” said Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife. “My book is about writers, and the fact that there are so many people here to hear me read from it is encouraging to us all.”

McLain, whose second and widely hailed novel has been on the best seller list for 30 weeks, spoke with a capacity crowd of Rollins and Winter Park community members about the process of creating historical fiction. She was at Rollins as part of Winter With the Writers, Rollins’ acclaimed festival of the literary arts, on Thursday, February 16, when she led a master class, met with student writers for conversation, and read from her fiction.

In introducing the celebrated writer of prose and poet of note, Winter With the Writers Director Carol Frost added, “Great readings are a performance,” and indicated that the audience was in for an engaging presentation. McLain, upon taking her place at the podium, thanked Frost, calling her a dear friend and long-time colleague.

In addition to reading from The Paris Wife, McLain explained the story behind the novel’s conception. The decision to write about Ernest Hemingway’s rise to fame from the point of view of Hemingway’s first wife Hadley Richardson came suddenly to McLain upon reading a biography of Richardson. “You know the remarkable fluttering feeling when you open a book and immediately realize there’s a message for you,” said McLain.

Inspired by archived love letters between Richardson and Hemingway, McLain imagined the intimate inner lives and conversations of her historical subjects. She explained that her training as a poet helped her write from the point of view of both characters. “It was like writing in drag,” laughed McLain.

Even more encouraging was McLain’s influence on aspiring young writers. “After attending Paula’s master class, I know that I want to continue my pursuit of a writing career,” commented Winter With the Writers intern Mandy McRae ’15, who had one of her stories critiqued by McLain as part of the master class. “She read lines from one of my stories and gave me advice on how I can improve my setting. It made me feel like a writer.”

“It’s very exciting to have such a well-regarded and multifaceted writer on campus,” said Gail Sinclair, executive director of the Winter Park Institute, a program much like Winter with the Writers in that they are both descended from Rollins’ historic Animated Magazine. “Her residence garners a lot of interest within the Rollins community and beyond.”

The 2012 Winter With the Writers series concludes on Thursday, February 23, with award-winning Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie. For more information, visit the Winter With the Writers homepage.

By Justin Braun

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