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  • Bird
  • Written by Rita Murphy
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780375891137
  • Our Price: $9.99
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Written by Rita MurphyAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Rita Murphy


List Price: $9.99


On Sale: October 14, 2008
Pages: 160 | ISBN: 978-0-375-89113-7
Published by : Delacorte Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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A GIRL EASILY carried off by the wind.

An elderly widow whose husband died under strange circumstances.

An isolated dwelling that breeds fear.

Miranda has no recollection of where she came from—only that years ago, a gust of wind deposited her outside Bourne Manor. The Manor’s sole inhabitant, Wysteria Barrows, took Miranda in and promptly outfitted her with special boots—boots weighted with steel bars to keep her anchored to the ground. But aside from shelter and clothing, Miranda receives little warmth from the aging widow. The Manor, too, is a cold place, full of drafts and locked doors. Full of menace. Full of secrets.

Then one day a boy named Farley appears. Farley helps Miranda embrace her destiny with the wind . . . and uncover the Manor’s hidden past.

From the Hardcover edition.


Wysteria did not care where I had come from or where I had been. Nor did she care that I was small and delicate in nature and easily carried off by the wind. She cared only that I stay with her in the great house she occupied on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain.

I came to Bourne Manor on a bright morning in the month of February just as the winter snows had settled in for good along the shore, taking up residence in the open fields and across the cliffs. In those days, I was often picked up by the wind and left in odd places because of it--blown into the tops of low trees or caught up in the scrubs or briars--though never before had I been taken so close to the turbulent waters of a lake.

Knocked hard by a gust, left tangled in the branches of one of the lone elms that skirted the bay, I remembered little of what had come before; only a series of faceless relatives and small drafty houses; only a hollow feeling of something that had once been but was no longer.

From that lonely elm, I was retrieved by two of Wysteria's Hounds. Pulled from the branches by their strong jaws. I was lost and Wysteria found me. Or perhaps the Manor itself found me, beckoning me to its gates on that February morning.
The home of Wysteria Barrows was a looming structure that had the appearance of having grown sideways out of the earth. Though firmly anchored, it listed dramatically to the left like an old tree turned by the wind, its foundation clinging to the red stone cliffs for support as a tern might cling in a storm.

The Manor was four stories in height with three turrets, two balconies and a widow's walk at its pinnacle. Its once-ivory paint had been stripped by rough weather, returning it to its natural gray clapboard, and Wysteria had left it so. There were twenty-two rooms in the Manor, five staircases, ten fireplaces and one slender tower on the west wing that held my room, a room with vaulted ceilings and windows that looked out over the harbor and across to the wild Adirondack Mountains. A grand place, my room. And indeed Bourne Manor itself was grand. No grander house could you find in the islands or on the mainland.

As grand as the Manor was, it was always a lonely place, destined from its beginning to be set apart from all other houses. Some said the Manor harbored an ill-gotten fortune within its walls, which carried a terrible and irreversible curse. Others believed that its foundation stones, having been laid crooked, forever doomed it to a perverse and tragic end. Whichever story was true, Bourne Manor knew little happiness within its walls. The four generations of grim ancestral portraits lining the main stairwell bore testimony to this, as did the vacant and lifeless rooms that towered over the cliffs.

The Manor's ballroom had never been used for dancing, as far as I knew, nor the parlors for entertaining guests, for no guests ever came there. To those on the outside, it was a strange and mournful dwelling that made for ghost stories, of which there were many and for good cause. For although no one ever perished unnaturally within its walls that I knew of, the Manor, set out on its own as it was, battered by the wind, invited the spirits of those long departed and of those who roamed the shores in search of a warm fire, as it had invited me. The lost and aimless: to these Bourne Manor gave its shelter.

I was adept from an early age at the art of spinning and making lace. Wysteria, seeing my natural ability to weave, instructed me in the crafting of nets. My slender fingers took easily to this trade, slipping freely through the tenuous holes and seams. Running shuttles and threading meshes came as naturally to me as breathing, and I caught on quickly to the work at hand.

Mending nets for the fishing fleet out of St. Albans was how Wysteria made her living, how she fueled the giant coal furnace in the depths of the Manor, how she kept food in the pantry. With my nimble fingers to weave for her, with my strong eyes to see and tie the knots, Wysteria was free to spend her time with the figures and sums, bargaining with the fleet owners over the best price for our work.

I became an invaluable asset to Wysteria, and I see now that she never would have let me go even if someone had come looking, and perhaps they had. Perhaps a tall man with eyes the same color as mine had come rapping on the front door early one morning, inquiring about a little girl who had been taken from him by the wind. Wysteria would have shaken her head, offered her condolences and sent him away. The Manor was everything to her, and as I could remember no other life, it became everything to me as well. I was warm and well fed, and when a person has known hunger, when she has spent a night in the brambles and awoken to a gray sky with no hope of heat or warmth, small but essential comforts bind her to her keeper.
Whether anyone came to the Manor in search of me, I will never know, but I did occasionally see others as Wysteria and I ventured, as a matter of necessity, to the nearby town of Georgia Plains, a small cluster of buildings and storefronts five miles' walk from the Manor. We were a most unusual couple: she tall and willowy, with a dramatic nest of white hair piled on top of her head, and I small, my gait slowed by the heavy steel-weighted boots she had made for me.

In those early years, when I was still allowed outside the Manor, Wysteria had fashioned, with the help of the local shoemaker, a pair of boots with a steel plate in each sole to keep me anchored to the ground. She insisted I wear them always, as she feared above all else that I would be carried off by another random gust and lost to her forever.

From the Hardcover edition.
Rita Murphy

About Rita Murphy

Rita Murphy - Bird

Photo © Emily Sloan

"Looking back, what stands out for me the most was my desire and passion to write. . . . I simply loved stories and read as many as I could find."--Rita Murphy

Rita Murphy
is the winner of the 1999 Delacorte Press Prize for a First Young Adult Novel and has been named Flying Start author by Publishers Weekly.


Q. Many of your readers are budding writers. The story of your writing career will inspire them. Tell us about it.
A. I first began writing when my son was a year old. I took a creative writing class at the University of Vermont. In that class, I learned to write the first thing that came to me, without thinking about it. It was amazing to me what memories and stories emerged when I wasn’t trying or thinking or worrying. After that class, I wrote every day for three years, even if it was just for ten minutes. Eventually those writing practices turned into poems and then short stories.

During those three years of writing practice, my family and I traveled quite a lot and I carried my notebook with me wherever we went. One of those travels took us to Monteverde–a remote community in the mountains of Costa Rica where my husband and I taught at a small school. I taught writing and reading and it was there, working with a class of fourth-grade girls, that I began to have the first inklings that I wanted to write a novel.

By the time we returned to Vermont, my desire to write a book had grown very strong. We moved to a little house in the country and one morning when I was sitting at my kitchen table writing, a line came out on the page. “The Hanson women have always flown at night, even in bad weather.” I had a feeling about that line and I wanted to know more. So I kept writing. I wrote until I had two pages of what I thought was the beginning of a short story. I brought it to a writers’ group that I was in and I read it out loud. One of the women in the group wrote books for children and she told me that I should turn those two pages into a young adult novel and send it to this contest that Random House puts on every year. It was mid-September and the deadline was December 31. I wrote quickly and the story emerged–just in time to make the deadline. That book was Night Flying, my first book, and it won the Delacorte Press Prize for a First Young Adult Novel. That began my official career as a writer.

Looking back, what stands out for me the most was my desire and passion to write. Beyond that one class in writing, I had no formal training in writing. I simply loved stories and read as many as I could find. I also was greatly helped by two books: Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life, by Natalie Goldberg, and The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron.

Q. How do you usually begin the writing process? Where did you get your ideas for Harmony?
The writing process begins for me long before I actually sit down and write. I don’t work out story lines or anything like that. The ideas come to me as a feeling–sometimes in a dream–and I sit with that feeling for a while–a day, a week, a month. Some stories have been inside me for a long time. I have a feeling of a place or a time or maybe a character. Perhaps I hear the first line of the story while I’m out running in the evening or making dinner. I feel it in my body, just above my belly and below my heart. It’s a feeling of great excitement and connection. Then there comes a day when I know I’ve held that feeling to myself long enough and it’s time for me to share it. I have to know when it’s ripe and time to be picked and brought into form. That’s the day I sit down and pick up my pen or turn on my computer and let the story come through me.

The story of Harmony came in this way: the feeling of the mountains, the trees, an older woman healer, and an eccentric scientist. I had been feeling very sad about the state of old-growth trees in the world–how easily they are cut down for paper and lumber–and I think some of the feelings I had coming into this book were feelings of grief over the loss of the trees and also a wish that I could do something–anything–to stop their being cut.

Q. You live in Vermont, yet you set the story in the mountains of Tennessee. Why?
I loved writing Night Flying because it was set in Vermont and I love Vermont. I’m not a native Vermonter, but I’ve lived here for twelve years and I know what the air smells like here when fall is changing to winter and I know about geese and the way people talk and chicken pie suppers and dirt roads. It is wonderful to write about what I know. But I also like to write about places I don’t know very well, because in the telling of the story, I can immerse myself in this unknown landscape and be in awe of it . . . and learn things I didn’t know.

takes place in Tennessee because that’s where the story takes place. I sometimes feel that I have very little to do with the setting of the story or the characters that emerge. I have been to the mountains in that area and I loved the feeling there. When the story came to me, I just knew that was where Nettie Mae and Harmony and Felix were to live.

Q. Harmony's sudden arrival in Felix and Nettie Mae's barn reminds us of Superman's appearance at the Kents' farm. Given Harmony's unusual gift, did you want your readers to make this connection?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t know very much about Superman and I didn’t realize that that was how he arrived. With regard to Harmony’s arrival, I just saw that old chicken coop in my mind and this baby lying beside it. I don’t know how Harmony arrived there. If she was really a star child, or a foundling left in that coop for Nettie Mae to find when she went to collect her eggs in the morning–it’s still a mystery to me.

Q. Harmony's encounter with the fortune-teller is an important moment in the novel. You leave this open to interpretation. What do you really think of
fortune-telling? In the same vein, what are your views on psychic powers such as telekinesis and ESP?
I grew up with a very Irish, very imaginative and very spiritual, storytelling grandfather. We called him Pa. Pa believed anything was possible. He truly did. He believed in ghosts and leprechauns and wee folk and faeries and banshees and pots of gold at the end of the rainbow and miracles. I do too.

I have had a few personal encounters with precognitive thoughts and dreams and one encounter with a spirit of sorts. I also know several gifted women who were born with or have developed their psychic abilities. But even if I hadn’t had these experiences or known these women, I’d still believe. I actually feel very fortunate to not need a lot of scientific data or other people’s opinions before I can let myself believe in something that feels very natural to me. I believe there is more than one way of knowing.

I think that doubt and a certain cynical view of the world have become commonplace and even expected these days, and that make me sad. I sometimes even think that people are afraid to believe in anything unless there are studies to prove it is true. Why is this? I wonder. Some of the greatest discoveries, insights, and theories came from a feeling, an intuition, a dream. I like to think that deep in their hearts most people believe in something without needing proof.

Q. While many might view Harmony and Felix's effort to foil the lumber company as noble, others might see it as illegal and unethical. Was that an issue for you? What do you hope young readers will learn from this story line?
Like a fable or fairy tale, a character endowed with special gifts is able to rise above the fear or paralysis that we might often feel in our lives in regard to bigger forces in the world and is able to right injustice. Whether Harmony’s act is ethical or not, I cannot say for the reader. I do not recommend that anyone destroy property or put lives at risk or break laws. I firmly believe in the resolution of conflict in a peaceful manner–under all circumstances. Harmony is a work of fiction. Harmony is a character with special gifts, and she uses them to help her family and the land.

That said, I do think that sometimes in life there comes a time to protect what we know to be good and beautiful–to protect the earth and our spiritual connection to it from those who cannot see clearly the harm they are doing. I do believe that the individual person, acting out of a deep knowing and love, must weigh the preservation of human, animal, and plant life against the laws and machines of the corporation and make the most peaceful and creative choice they can.

Q. You have woven a story that involves astronomy, parapsychology, and Cherokee culture and myths. What kind of research did you do?
I looked up any fact that needed verification in books on astronomy and psychic ability. I also contacted the Cherokee Heritage Center in Oklahoma, spoke with a man there of Cherokee descent, and used their online Cherokee dictionary.

Q. Have you thought about Harmony's future and the ways she uses her gift?
I think that for anyone with a very powerful gift, it takes time to know how to live with it and best use it. Harmony is young, and I think for a while she would need help in managing her energy and abilities. At the end of the book, she was going off to meet with the woman in Austria. I could see her studying with this woman and growing in confidence.

Whether she and Felix return to the mountain, I can’t say. Once the story ends, I think the characters continue to do as they please, as they’ve done all along. I think, though, that Harmony and Felix know what is important and how to be happy and have a desire to help in some way. I think they’ll be just fine.

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