Barbara Kingsolver wrote her first novel at night - in a closet. She was pregnant, couldn't sleep and didn't want to keep her husband awake.
"I felt wildly energetic," Kingsolver says. "During the day I was working as a journalist to pay the bills. But I was thinking about the novel all the time. I couldn't wait for night to fall and everybody to go to bed so I could go into my closet."She finished "The Bean Trees" three days before her daughter was born. Kingsolver sent a copy to a New York agent with whom she worked on her non-fiction book ("Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983").
In "The Bean Trees," the agent saw an instant seller.
"All this happened at once," says Kingsolver. "We were getting calls from publishers the day I went into labor. It was sort of otherworldly. I became a mom and a novelist at the same time."
Novelist (and mom) Barbara Kingsolver comes to Salt Lake City next week to promote her second and latest novel, "Animal Dreams."
She'll read at the Waking Owl Bookstore, 208 S. 1300 East, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25. Kingsolver will visit A Woman's Place Bookstore in the Foothill Shopping Center at 10 a.m. Saturday.
The 35-year-old novelist grew up on a farm in eastern Kentucky. She says, "The single most important influence in my writing life is that we didn't have a TV." She read constantly.
Ever since she can remember, she's kept a diary. And told stories. "When I was little they called it lying."
As she grew up, she wrote short stories. "Here and there, one would be published. Once in awhile I'd win a contest. Nothing to scream about." She published a collection, "Homeland and Other Stories," last year.
Her characters come from her life, she says, though they are not about her life. Kingsolver's life has given her much to draw from.
Describing herself as resourceful, Kingsolver says she sought a practical education. She studied science at De-Pauw University in Greencastle, Ind. She tried many jobs as she worked her way through school and, afterwards, around Europe. "I translated medical documents, moved dirt on archaeological digs, was a model for art classes in the Sorbonne."
She moved from Paris to Tucson on a whim, she says, because her work visa was about to expire. There she went to graduate school. While studying evolutionary biology, she met Joe Hoffman.
That was 10 years ago. They married. He's still a chemist at the University of Arizona. Their daughter, Camille, is now 3.
It was in Arizona, Kingsolver says, that she started taking her writing seriously. She found herself spinning one short story after another about the same particular imaginary setting in Tucson. Kingsolver says, "That's one of the seven early warning signs that you are coming down with a novel."
So she took to her closet and wrote "The Bean Trees."
" `The Bean Trees' has been popular with local readers," says Sally Smith, owner of A Woman's Place Bookstore. Smith says `Animal Dreams' will sell well, too, because its environmental themes will appeal to Utahns.
And while some may find that Kingsolver's blatant pleas for the environment actually drag the story down, Utahns will probably love the characters in "Animal Dreams" even more than those in "The Bean Trees." For it is Kingsolver's skill at characterization - evident in her non-fiction and short stories, too - that makes her work graceful and light.
Kingsolver didn't have to write "Animal Dreams," in a closet, she says. With the money from her first novel, she got an office in which to write her second. "Animal Dreams" makes it clear that as her writing space expands, so does Kingsolver's writing.