Thursday, February 7, 2008
Born in Brooklyn, Camille Marchetta received her BA in English Literature from the College of New Rochelle, in New Rochelle, New York, and later studied fiction with noted writer Anatole Broyard at The New School. Shortly afterward, on a visit to England, she fell in love with the country, decided to stay, and was fortunate enough to find work with Richard Hatton Limited, a theatrical and literary agency, in a few years becoming a literary director of the company.
The agency was small but powerful, its client list including well-known writers, directors, and actors such as Sean Connery, Malcolm McDowell, and Leo McKern. Among the writers with whom Ms. Marchetta worked were Robert Shaw, author of many award-winning novels and plays (though he is best known in the United States for his acting performances in To Russia With Love and Jaws); the playwright Richard Harris, whose Stepping Out appeared on Broadway; and Anthony Shaffer, who wrote Sleuth, a hit in the West End, on Broadway, and as a feature film.
Returning to the States, Ms. Marchetta went to Hollywood, found herself an agent, and eventually got an assignment on the Dallas mini-series. Asked to join the staff, she remained until the series soared to the top of the ratings. With that, her career in television was established. She wrote television movies, pilots for new series, produced Nurse, which won Michael Learned an Emmy, and Dynasty in the season it finally crept past Dallas in the ratings and reached number one.
In 1985, Ms. Marchetta took a sabbatical from television, returned to London, and, fulfilling a lifetime ambition, wrote her first novel, Lovers and Friends, which was published in the United States in 1989 and subsequently in England, Finland, Sweden, and Germany. Following its publication, Ms. Marchetta co-executive-produced Falcon Crest, co-authored two best-selling novels with Ivana Trump, and worked as a story consultant on the television series, Central Park West. St. Martin's Press published her second novel, The Wives of Frankie Ferraro, in 1998. The River By Moonlight is her most recent book.
Since all of her books are partially or totally set in New York City, I was curious to get Camille's thoughts on the Big Apple.
New York isn’t my favorite city. I don’t feel that special connection to it that most of my friends have. There are days, walking through its crowded streets, that I absolutely hate it - the noise, the litter, the press of people - and would rather be almost anywhere else on earth. At other times, though, in Central Park on a beautiful day, on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum, on the deck at the Top of the Rock, the city seems as beautiful to me as anyplace I've ever been. And coming out of a theatre or a restaurant on a winter's night, walking into a snowstorm - it's magical.
I may not always like it, but it's my city. I was born in Brooklyn, one of its five boroughs, and so grew up within a short subway ride of the fabled Manhattan. When I graduated from college, that's where I wanted to live. And I did for a while. And because (so far) I've been reluctant to write about anywhere I haven't actually been, it has a habit of turning up as a setting in my novels. Sections of both LOVERS AND FRIENDS and THE WIVES OF FRANKIE FERRARO, take place in modern New York. In my new book, THE RIVER, BY MOONLIGHT, it's the Hudson River Valley and the New York of 1917, a city in transition, where horse-drawn carriages and motorized cars fight it out on the cobbled streets. Set against the turmoil of a country about to enter the war in Europe, the novel deals with the death of a talented young artist, Lily Canning, and the effect of her loss on her family and friends.
In doing research for the novel, I consulted countless books, looked at photographs and paintings, even postcards from the period. By the time I started writing, I could see the city as it was then, in 1917. I could imagine myself walking its streets along with my characters. And I tried my best to make it as real an experience for readers as it was for me.
But just because the novel is set so early in the Twentieth Century doesn't mean that it's removed from the concerns of this early part of the Twenty-first. While I was writing the book, the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, 2001. It was a terrible time. Thousands were killed. All of us knew, or knew of, someone who perished. Bulletin boards with photos of the missing seemed to be everywhere. Outside fire houses and police stations were flowers and memorials for those who had died. It was almost impossible for me, for anyone, to walk down a street without seeing something to cry about. The city reeled in grief and fear and anger and, with its country, went to war.
Because I lived in Europe while the IRA was planting bombs in London, while the Baader-Meinhof Gang was wreaking havoc in Germany, and the Red Brigades in Italy; because I saw Harrods and Selfridge's, department stores I was in frequently, damaged in bomb blasts; because I'd been in Paris at a Metro station a few days before it, too, was bombed, I think probably, though I cried along with the best, I was in the short term less traumatized by the events of 9/11 than some friends, especially those who witnessed the attack. But the aftermath, what has happened since that day, has really shaken me. And a lot of my concerns about war, terrorism, jingoism, mob power, civil rights, without my planning it, crept into the book. Some of my grief about events, I'm sure, is reflected in Lily's depression.
But what also crept in without my noticing, is my deep and undying admiration of the city - its people, its buildings, its art, its vitality, its ability to come back from disaster, to remake itself over and over. That admiration is always there, underneath all my impatience on any given day.
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