Mitchard: 'I'm trying to be cheerful about moving to Massachusetts.'
On Thursday, Jacquelyn Mitchard read with Mary Gordon and Diana Abu-Jaber at the Wisconsin Book Festival, but it was hard to focus on the other two. While they were dressed drably in black, our bestselling local author (The Deep End of the Ocean) was colorful in silver and purple. While they were low-key, Mitchard was funny, brazen and, at times, maybe a tad inappropriate.
She began by revealing something most authors wouldn't: her desperate financial situation. "We have less than nothing," she said, blaming it on a crooked finance man who "took all our money."
As a result, Mitchard confided, she's moving out of her big house here to a small house in Cape Cod. That made her festival appearance an emotional one: "my last as a Wisconsin resident," she said.
No one could say she failed to make the most of it, despite a modest crowd at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Mitchard read from Second Nature, a new novel with a typically hooky theme -- face transplants. Unlike her co-readers, she established herself as a performer with funny stories, vivid childhood memories and self-deprecating jokes.
Mitchard got a laugh by saying that she draws her characters from family members: "They're all relatives of mine. I just stick one relative onto another." She revealed that her record for an editor's input is "144 changes on one page." And she contrasted herself with fellow Wisconsin writer Jane Hamilton, who she claimed spends six years on a novel. "If I did anything for six years it would make me crazy," she said. At first, you couldn't tell whether that was a gentle dig at Hamilton or at herself. Her punchline suggested the latter: "That's why I have so many children."
"I'm trying to be cheerful about moving to Massachusetts," Mitchard said, hinting that she's really not. She ruefully described a garage sale she was preparing for the next day, since her clothes won't fit into the new home's small closet: "just an impression of a closet," as she described it.
Mitchard struck an elegiac note about leaving. "After I move to Massachusetts, all my books will be about how wonderful Madison is."