Daily Archives: November 11, 2009

TLC Book Tour Guest Post: Author Maud Carol Markson

maud-carol-markson LookingAfterPigeon

I was delighted to receive Maud Carol Markson’s newest novel Looking After Pigeon for a TLC Book Tour. There was something compelling to me about a five year old girl finding her way in the world after being abandoned by her father…and the book did not disappoint me (read my review). I was equally delighted when Markson agreed to write a guest post for my blog. Do you wonder where authors find inspiration for their books? I do. And so it was with great interest I read Markson’s words about how her writing seeks to find the truth in human experience and how that experience is a reflected in her characters.

A little bit about Maud Carol Markson:

Maud Carol Markson is the author of the novels When We Get Home, and Looking After Pigeon. She has taught writing at University of New Hampshire and Cabrini College and now lives in California with her husband and son, and her dog Molly, who is her constant writing companion. She can be reached at www.redroom.com and www.goodreads.com. Learn more about Markson and her work on her website: http://www.maudcarol.com.


Guest Post: Maud Carol Markson

Some writers find it very easy to write about themselves, but I am not one of those authors—I guess that is why I write fiction. And that is why I am submitting a somewhat modified version of the guest post that I did for Meg Waite Clayton’s 1st Books blog.

From the time I was told I would never grow up to be an elephant, I decided instead to grow up to be a writer (of course, to the adults who knew me, both probably seemed equally implausible). I wanted to be the person who wrote all those books I loved as a child, and all those books that kept my father engrossed every night so that when I talked to him he barely heard me. I wanted to be the writer of the books that filled my local library shelves. There I would walk once a week in the summer, and sit among the books, in the air-conditioned stacks, staring at their covers as if they could reveal the magic within. And then stacking up my selection of books to carry on the walk home, where they bumped against my side, reminding me with each step of what awaited me when I actually opened their covers and read their pages.

Books are still magical to me. I look at novels not as a means to escape from myself (although, happily, they often serve that purpose), but as a means to discover myself. As a young child, I discovered aspects of myself and my world in the characters of Harriet in Harriet the Spy and Julie in Up a Road Slowly, or Kit Tyler in The Witch of Blackbird Pond. As an adult, I cherished other favorites. It is not that the authors of these books are writing about me, or even about someone like me. What they are doing is finding some truth in their characters and in the human experience.

That is what I aim to do with my own writing. I wrote my first novel, When We Get Home (Bantam, 1989), when I was pregnant with my son and anxious about being a parent for the first time. It begins with the line: “In my family we are all disposable,” and it was that line that ran through my head over and over again until the character that speaks that line emerged. And then the rest of her family soon followed—the father with multiple divorces, the step-mother, the brother who flees from one relationship to another. Perhaps I felt that in writing about a family that disintegrates, I could keep my own family safe from a similar fate. And so far, it has worked.

In my novel, Looking After Pigeon (The Permanent Press, July 2009), it was another line that echoed: “My mother named her children after birds.” What kind of mother gives her children bird names? How does growing up with such a name make us who we are? In this novel, five year old Pigeon’s father disappears, leaving her to face a new life in an uncle’s house on the Jersey shore. My father never left me as a child, and I don’t even have an uncle, much less one who owns a house at the beach. My older sister never got pregnant. But like my character, Pigeon, I do find memory an “odd thing.” I call it selective memory: we remember what resonates most deeply for us. And of course, we all to some extent want someone to look after us. So although these characters are not me, the way they experience the world is me. They all in some way reveal parts of who I am. And hopefully reveal parts of my readers as well.


Looking After Pigeon – Book Review

LookingAfterPigeonMarriages break up, I wanted to shout. Fathers can abandon their children, children can be left alone. There is  nothing in the vow that is sacred. There is no security – we are each of us alone. – from Looking After Pigeon, page 180 –

Pigeon is five years old – the youngest of three children – when her beloved father abandons them to the care of their eccentric and cold mother, Joan. Joan has named all her children after birds – Dove, Robin and Pigeon.

Still I believe, as I am sure our mother did, that the names we are given as children have much to do with the people we later become. Perhaps we do not really fly. It is done these days only safely aboard commercial airlines, and none of us have migrated far from home. Yet I am certain something of what our mother tried to impart in us at our birth is with us still, and always will be. – from Looking After Pigeon, page 11 –

After Pigeon’s father leaves, Joan packs up her children…with very few of their belongings…and moves to her brother’s home on the New Jersey shore. It is the beginning of summer and a new life for all of them. Each character will deal with their losses and fears differently. Joan will join a cult-like church and find a new lover; Dove (the eldest child) will look for acceptance in the arms of older men; Robin (the eldest boy) will find hope in reading the future in tarot cards; and young Pigeon will look for her father in the kindness of her Uncle Edward, and in the generosity of her mother’s lover Cary. Pigeon longs for an intact family. She misses the love of her father…and she hopes that he will one day return to her. Her habit of constructing paper families from the pictures of catalogs is heartbreaking.

I studied their faces carefully for my game; you could not just choose a person willy-nilly without consideration for their looks and disposition. For I was creating families and I did not take the responsibility lightly. All sons and daughters needed to look like their parents. They required friends of nearly the same age. Grandparents had to be older, of course, though still sprightly, attractive. And they all needed to share similar coloring and size. I had ten families already, had made clothes for them out of construction paper, and even provided them with pets – dogs and cats clipped from a pet supply firm. And although they were only made of the shiny catalogue paper, their lives were as intricate and involved as any real family’s ever were. – from Looking After Pigeon, page 102 –

Looking After Pigeon is narrated by an adult Pigeon who is looking back on that fateful summer when all that she had known and trusted disappeared. She wishes to uncover the truths of her upbringing, to gain an understanding of what happened so that she can move forward in her life and perhaps develop the trust she needs to connect with her significant other.

Maud Carol Markson’s latest novel is a look beneath the surface of a broken family through the eyes of the youngest daughter. Written in honest, simple prose…the book examines the impact of our earliest experiences on the development of our self-esteem, trust and world view. It also looks at our deepest fear – that of being abandoned and left to take care of ourselves. Who among us does not wish to be protected, cared for, and loved unconditionally? For Pigeon, security is wrenched from her suddenly and without explanation. She is often left to her own devices, to wander through the streets or along the beach alone. The adults in Pigeon’s life are mostly absent – either physically or emotionally – and are unreliable. Even Uncle Edward, who obviously loves and cares about Pigeon, is not always available to her.

Looking After Pigeon is a difficult story to read. It is not a terribly positive look at marriage, parenting or the family. And yet it is a thoughtful and intriguing book which continued to spin around in my head after I finished it. Despite its slim size (less than 200 pages), this is a deep book which I read slowly. I grew to care about Pigeon and empathize with what was lacking in her life. I found myself feeling anger toward the adults in her life who had relinquished their responsibilities and left her feeling vulnerable and lonely. Sadly, stories like this are found not only in fiction. Children often find themselves, in real life, alone or abandoned and without adults who make them feel safe. I think it takes courage for an author to tackle subjects like these in fiction. Too often readers want “feel good” novels and shy away from books like Looking After Pigeon.

Markson is a talented writer and Looking After Pigeon is an engrossing literary novel. Despite its serious subject matter, the book ends with a glimmer of hope for Pigeon and leaves the reader with a positive message – that despite flaws in our childhoods, we can choose to move forward and find joy as adults.

Readers who appreciate well-written literary fiction will want to read this book.



Read a guest post by the author here on Caribousmom.

Read other reviews through TLC Book Tours.