Christina Schwarz

A relatively new novelist, Christina Schwarz is a former high school English teacher who always thought she would like to be a writer but was afraid she was not talented enough.

So, she started writing her novels between teaching duties, eventually producing "All is Vanity" and "Drowning Ruth," both of which were popular sellers.

She also enjoyed her teaching and thinks of those years as a fine opportunity "to increase her understanding of great literature" as well as her own writing.

Her new book, "So Long at the Fair," is about adultery. During a phone interview from her California home, she conceded that "maybe every novelist writes at least one book about adultery, partly because novels deal with domestic situations and one of the biggest of these is adultery."

Schwarz is a mother of two; her second child was born in the middle of the writing of "So Long at the Fair."

Schwarz wanted to write about many different kinds of love. She hoped to make her characters sympathetic enough that readers would find something to like about all of them, and she succeeds to a remarkable extent.

Jon, long happily married to Ginny, has developed a romantic relationship with Freddie, a younger woman with whom he has interacted in the workplace. At the same time, Jon's mistress is being pursued by an odd man named Ethan, who is obsessed with her.

Ginny, a landscaper by trade, has become very busy redesigning a large home belonging to a man from her husband's past. She keeps this a secret from her husband, because she thinks it will anger him.

Initially, the plot seems complex, but the characters easily draw interest from the reader and all the pieces pretty much fall into place. Schwarz writes well and shows her love of humanity in her narrative, even when things go badly for her characters.

Most difficult for the uninitiated is a back story dating back to 1963 involving Jon's own family members. Originally, Schwarz intended to integrate the back story into the main story but settled for dropping occasional pieces of it in italics at various strategic spots in the main story.

If the technique sounds overdone, it's not. It works nicely and is unobtrusive in relation to the troubled love story the author is telling. Moreover, the writing style is consistently light and clever.

In both stories, secrets and deceptions drive the plot and present difficult decisions around which the characters struggle. "I wanted the book to be about a man weighing his choices — to leave his mistress or abandon his marriage. I also wanted there to be a sense of urgency about the decision over the course of a single day," Schwarz said.

She added that "the weird part is the 1963 story. It was only halfway into the book that the concept came to me, and I almost decided to make it into another novel. But a good friend convinced me that my next book would probably not be about adultery. She thought the back story would make this book richer."

Schwarz thinks of her characters as "typical, and there is not something deeply wrong with their marriage. My first novel had a Gothic element to it, so I was aiming for realism this time. My struggle was to make it interesting without being trite."

Schwarz created Ethan, "the stalker," because she wanted to portray Freddie as an attractive young woman who did not have to fall in love with a married man. In a sense, this character increases her desirability. Eventually, Ethan and Jon have a major confrontation that is crucial to the development of the plot.

The reader is likely to be sympathetic with both Ginny and Freddie yet hopes Jon chooses to stay with his wife, who is portrayed as youthful, attractive and capable of renewing the magic endemic in their relationship.

Schwarz is a major rewriter who often rewrites a section of a novel almost as soon as she originates it. Then the next day she indulges in more rewriting in an effort to refine the manuscript.

For her next book, Schwarz plans to write about three families who live in an isolated part of the California coast during the 19th century. "I don't know yet what the story is about," she said. "Whereas other writers begin with specific characters dancing around in their heads, Schwarz has a tendency as a writer to start with a "sense of place."

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