Rayme, tell us briefly what THE ANGEL’S SHARE is about.
It’s the story of Cinnamon Monday, a girl born into the 1970’s Northern California counterculture looking up the wrong end of the American Dream. A reversal of fortune has decimated her family’s fortunes. Cinnamon survives her neglectful bohemian parents through an imagination inspired by the nineteenth-century heroines she admires. As she grows older, and her make-believe worlds are not enough to protect her, she descends into drug addiction After nearly dying, Cinnamon finds work at a fledgling Sonoma County winery and transforms her life using literature as her higher power.
Talk to us about your life in writing. When did you start writing? What inspired you? What other writing have you done?
I have what would politely be called a very active imagination. I dream up a lot of characters and scenarios. Sometimes one just won’t leave me alone. I keep thinking about that character, turning their problems around in my head, coming up with new parts of their story. When that happens the only way I can “cure” myself is writing the story down.
I’ve been writing since I was young, but it wasn’t until my 30’s that I started sending stories out into the world. Last fall, my fourth published story, The Watertower, was nominated for both a Pushcart Prize and a Dzanc Best of the Web award.
And when did you conceive of THE ANGEL’S SHARE?
At first, this was a book about a family who had once owned a great San Francisco hotel. When I realized Cinnamon’s unstable upbringing had to have a consequence, the meth addiction became a part of the story, and then literature became her way out of the addiction and then the winery became her first toehold in a real life. Cinnamon’s family still owned a great hotel, but that is no longer the focus of the novel. The story started there but evolved into something else over 25+ re-writes.
It is an intriguing title. Tell us where it came from and why you chose it as the title.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of walking into a wine cave and getting that heady whiff of evaporated wine. For me, it is one of the small pleasures of living. When I was told the name came from the belief that angels looked after the wine as it matures, I knew I had a book title.
While I was reading the book, the description of Cinnamon’s descent into meth addiction was so convincing that I was sure you were writing about your own experiences. I was so wrong about that. How did you come to learn so much that you were able to bring that story to life so compellingly?
Before everyone started planting grapes, there were two cash crops in western Sonoma County: apples and marijuana. I grew up surrounded by drugs, mostly the “organics”, pot, mushrooms, etc. However, when I was in high school in the late 1980s, meth—speed is what we called it then—was suddenly everywhere. Cow-town kids never had cocaine money, but meth was so cheap and took the edge off rural boredom. Girls liked it because it made them skinny. I was more lucky than smart in avoiding serious drug problems, but I have several childhood friends who took a path more like Cinnamon’s. In a way, THE ANGELS’ SHARE is an homage to these friendships and writing it helped me understand why someone with so much promise could throw part of their life away.
What other elements of the story were taken from your own life?
I used to play the nuclear winter game in a creek near my house. I was terrified of the Soviets launching an attack because the threat was on the news every night and I was convinced I’d die before I grew up. My parents are not the models for Linda and Steve Monday—they both have advanced degrees and my mother taught Kindergarten for almost 30 years—but there are addiction issues in my family and that has informed my writing. Also, my mother did breed cats to supplement her teacher’s income and we always had litters of kittens and other animals around. Like many children who grew up in the country, I saw much unsanitized birth and death at a young age.
We get to hear about many classic novelists you admire in THE ANGEL’S SHARE. What contemporary novelists hold a fascination for you?
My favorite novel last year was Skippy Dies—Paul Murray is at once hilarious, heartbreaking and spot on about the world of fourteen-year-old boys. It’s a long novel, but I loved every page. I also loved Maile Meloy’s recent short story collection, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It. She makes the reader understand the world of the characters with a minimum of words because everything she writes matters. I strive to write with the rich economy of Meloy. Jennifer Egan and Caitlin Horrocks are also recent favorites.
~From an interview with Andy Ross