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A Novel

Written by Carol GoodmanAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Carol Goodman


List Price: $11.99


On Sale: January 31, 2006
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-345-49090-2
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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In her enthralling novels of literary suspense, Carol Goodman writes stories that resonate with emotion set in lush landscapes that entice the senses. Now, with The Ghost Orchid, a narrative that seamlessly weaves together the past and the present, Goodman creates her most lyrical and haunting work to date.

For more than one hundred years, creative souls have traveled to Upstate New York to work under the captivating spell of the Bosco estate. Cradled in silence, inspired by the rough beauty of overgrown gardens and crumbling statuary, these chosen few fashion masterworks–and have cemented Bosco’s reputation as a premier artists’ colony. This season, five talented artists-in-residence find themselves drawn to the history of Bosco, from the extensive network of fountains that were once its centerpiece but have long since run dry to the story of its enigmatic founder, Aurora Latham, and the series of tragic events that occurred more than a century ago.

Ellis Brooks, a first-time novelist, has come to Bosco to write a book based on Aurora and the infamous summer of 1893, when wealthy, powerful Milo Latham brought the notorious medium Corinth Blackwell to the estate to help his wife contact three of the couple’s children, lost the winter before in a diphtheria epidemic. But when a séance turned deadly, Corinth and her alleged accomplice, Tom Quinn, disappeared, taking with them the Lathams’ only surviving child.

The more time she spends at Bosco, the more Ellis becomes convinced that there is an even darker, more sinister end to the story. And she’s not alone: biographer Bethesda Graham uncovers stunning revelations about Milo and Corinth; landscape architect David Fox discovers a series of hidden tunnels underneath the gardens; poet Zalman Bronsky hears the long-dry fountain’s waters beckoning him; and novelist Nat Loomis feels something lingering just out of reach.

After a bizarre series of accidents befalls them, the group cannot deny the connections between the long ago and now, the living and the dead . . . as Ellis realizes that the tangled truth may ensnare them all in its cool embrace.

From the Hardcover edition.


Chapter One

I came to Bosco for the quiet.

That’s what it’s famous for.

The silence reigns each day between the hours of nine and five by order of a hundred-year-old decree made by a woman who lies dead beneath the rosebushes—a silence guarded by four hundred acres of wind sifting through white pines with a sound like a mother saying hush. The silence stretches into the still, warm afternoon until it melts into the darkest part of the garden where spiders spin their tunnel-shaped webs in the box-hedge maze. Just before dusk the wind, released from the pines, blows into the dry pipes of the marble fountain, swirls into the grotto, and creeps up the hill, into the gap- ing mouths of the satyrs, caressing the breasts of the sphinxes, snaking up the central fountain allée, and onto the terrace, where it exhales its resin- and copper-tinged breath onto the glasses and crystal decanters laid out on the balustrade.

Even when we come down to drinks on the terrace there’s always a moment, while the ice settles in the silver bowls and we brush the yellow pine needles off the rattan chairs, when it seems the silence will never be broken. When it seems that the silence might continue to accumulate—like the golden pine needles that pad the paths through the box-hedge maze and the crumbling marble steps and choke the mouths of the satyrs and fill the pipes of the fountain— and finally be too deep to disturb.

Then someone laughs and clinks his glass against another’s, and says . . .

“Cheers. Here’s to Aurora Latham and Bosco.”

“Here, here,” we all chime into the evening, sending the echoes of our voices rolling down the terraced lawn like brightly colored croquet balls from some long-ago lawn party.

“God, I’ve never gotten so much work done,” Bethesda Graham says, as if testing the air’s capacity to hold a longer sentence or two.

We all look at her with envy. Or maybe it’s only me, not only because I didn’t get any work done today, but because everything about Bethesda bespeaks confidence, from her slim elegant biographies and barbed critical reviews to her sleek cap of shiny black hair with bangs that just graze her perfectly arched eyebrows—which are arched now at Nat Loomis, as if the two of them were sharing some secret, unspoken joke—and set off her milk-white skin and delicate bone structure. Even Bethesda’s size—she can’t be more than four nine—is intimidating, as if everything superfluous had been refined down to its essential core. Or maybe it’s just that at five nine I loom over her and my hair, unmanageable at the best of times, has been steadily swelling in the moist Bosco air and acquired red highlights from the copper pipes. I feel like an angry Valkyrie next to her.

“Magic,” says Zalman Bronsky, the poet, sipping his Campari and soda. “A dream. Perfection.” He releases his words as if they were birds he’s been cupping in his hands throughout the day.

“I got shit-all done,” complains Nat Loomis, the novelist. The famous novelist. I’d had to stop myself from gasping aloud when I recognized him on my first day at Bosco—and who wouldn’t recognize that profile, the jawline only slightly weaker than his jacket photos suggest, the trademark square glasses, the hazel eyes that morph from blue to green depending (he once said in an interview) on his mood, the tousled hair and sardonic grin. Along with the rest of the world (or at least the world of MFA writing programs and bookish Manhattan), I had read his first novel ten years ago and fallen in love—with it, with its young, tough, but vulnerable protagonist, and with the author himself. And along with the rest of that little world I’d been immersed in these last ten years, I couldn’t help wondering where his second novel was. Surely, though, the fact that he’s here is a favorable sign that it’s only a matter of time before the long-awaited second novel is born out of the incubator of silence that is Bosco.

“It’s too quiet,” Nat says, now taking a sip of the single-malt scotch that the director, Diana Tate, sets out each night in a cut-glass decanter.

David Fox, a landscape architect who I’ve heard is writing a report on the gardens for the Garden Conservancy, holds up a Waterford tumbler of the stuff, the gold liquor catching a last ray of light as the sun impales itself on the tips of the pines at the western edge of the estate, and proposes a toast, “To Aurora Latham’s Sacro Bosco—a sacred wood indeed.”

“Is that what the name means?” asks one of the painters who’ve just joined us on the terrace. “I thought it was a funny name for an artists’ colony—isn’t it some kind of chocolate milk housewives made in the fifties?”

The other artists, who are just now straggling in from their out- lying studios and cabins like laborers returning from the fields, laugh at their cohort’s joke and grouse that the writers, as usual, have taken all the good chairs, leaving them the cold stone balustrade. One can’t help but notice that there’s a class system here at Bosco. The writers, who stay in the mansion, play the role of landed gentry. Nat Loomis and Bethesda Graham somehow manage to make their identical outfits of black jeans and white T-shirts look like some kind of arcane English hunting wardrobe. Even unassuming Zalman Bronsky, in his rumpled linen trousers and yellowed, uncuffed, and untucked dress shirt, looks like the eccentric uncle in a Chekhov play.

“She named it after the Sacro Bosco garden in Bomarzo—near Rome,” I say, my first spoken words of the day. I’m surprised my vocal cords still work, but, after all, my book—my first novel—is set here at Bosco, which is why I know that the estate isn’t named for a bed- time beverage. I address my remarks to David Fox, though, because the other writers, especially Bethesda Graham and Nat Loomis, still scare me.

Just remember, the director told me on the first day, never call Nat Nathaniel, or Bethesda Beth. I smiled at that evidence of vanity on their parts, but then I remembered that I’d been quick enough to modify my own name to Ellis when I published my first story. After all, who would take seriously a writer called Ellie?

“She saw it on one of the trips she and Milo Latham took to Italy,” I add, “and was inspired to create her own version of an Italian Renaissance garden here on the banks of the Hudson.”

We all look south toward where the Hudson should be, but the towering pines obscure the view. Instead we are looking down on crumbling marble terraces and broken statuary—statues of the Muses, whose shoulders are mantled with the gold dust of decaying pine needles and whose faces (at least on the statues who still have their heads) are cloaked in shadow and green moss. The hedges and shrubbery—once clipped and ordered—have overgrown their neat geometry and now sprawl in an untidy thicket across the hill. The fountain allée, with its satyrs and sphinxes who once spouted water from their mouths and breasts, leads to a statue of a horse poised on the edge of the hill as if it were about to leap into the dark, overgrown boxwood maze—Aurora Latham’s giardino segreto—at the bottom of the hill. Somewhere at the center of the maze is a fountain, but the hedges have grown too high to see it now.

“Actually, the garden’s closer in design to the Villa d’Este at Tivoli,” Bethesda Graham murmurs, sipping her mineral water. “The idea of all these fountains and the springs running down the hill into a grotto and then out to the main fountain and from there to the river and finally to the sea . . . Aurora wrote in her Italian journal that she wanted to create a garden that was the wellspring of a fountain like the sacred spring on Mount Parnassus.” Bethesda pronounces Aurora’s name as if she were a contemporary who’d only moments ago quit the terrace. Of course, I remember, she’s writing a biography of Aurora Latham. Bethesda’s the expert here.

“The whole hill is a fountain,” David Fox says. “One might even say the entire estate. Pumps draw the water up from the spring at the bottom of the hill and then pipes funnel the water down the hill though a hundred channels. On a night like this we would have heard the water cascading down the terraces like a thousand voices.”

Zalman Bronsky murmurs something. I lean forward to ask him to repeat himself, but then the words, half heard and still lingering in Bosco’s perfect silence, sound clearly in my head.

“ ‘The eloquence of water fills this hill,’ ” I repeat. “How lovely. It’s iambic pentameter, isn’t it?”

The poet looks startled, but then he smiles and takes out of his jacket a piece of paper that has been folded in quarters and begins to write down the line. When he sees it’s too dark to, he gets up to go inside. The artists have already gone inside for dinner, their manual labors having given them keener appetites.

“What happened to the fountains?” I ask David Fox, but it’s Bethesda who answers.

“The spring dried up,” she says, taking another careful sip from her glass.

“Not a particularly good omen for those who’ve come to drink at the wellspring of the Muses,” Nat says, downing the last of his scotch. “We might as well go inside for dinner.” He looks into his empty glass as if its dryness stood for the dried-up pipes of the fountain. Bethesda takes the glass from him as he gets up and follows him through the French doors into the dining room.

David Fox and I are left alone on the terrace looking down on the overgrown garden.

“So when you finish researching the garden, will it be restored?” I ask.

“If we get funding from the Garden Conservancy,” he says, draining the last drop of scotch from his glass. I get up and he reaches a hand out to take my wineglass. As his hand brushes mine, I feel a tremor—as if the pipes of the old fountain below us had come to life and were about to send forth jets of water, into the last lingering glow of the sunset. The garden wavers and quakes like a reflection in a pool of water, and I see a slim white figure swimming at its center. I force my eyes shut and, ignoring the sweet, spicy smell that has swept over the terrace, count to ten. When I open them, the garden has gone still and I can see that the slim white figure is only a statue standing below the western edge of the terrace and the scent of vanilla has faded from the air.

“You’re right,” I say, “it is prettier as a ruin.”

He laughs. “I agree, but I never said anything of the kind. The Garden Conservancy would have me fired if I did.”

At dinner I sit between Zalman Bronsky and Diana Tate. I’m glad I’m not next to David Fox, because I’m still embarrassed at what happened on the terrace. Of course he hadn’t said that the garden was prettier in ruins. It was only my imagination. Sometimes after a day of writing, after listening to the voices of my characters in my head, I begin to imagine that I can actually hear their voices.

From the Hardcover edition.
Carol Goodman|Author Q&A

About Carol Goodman

Carol Goodman - The Ghost Orchid

Photo © (c) Brian Velenchenko

Carol Goodman is the author of The Lake of Dead Languages, The Seduction of Water, The Drowning Tree, The Ghost Orchid, The Sonnet Lover, and The Night Villa. The Seduction of Water won the Hammett Prize, and others of her novels have been nominated for the Dublin/IMPAC Award and the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her fiction has been translated into eight languages. She lives in New York State with her family.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Carol Goodman

Alex Schemmer is a writer based in Los Angeles.

Alex Schemmer: How did the idea for The Ghost Orchid come to you? Was it a specific character, a place, an image?

Carol Goodman: The character of Corinth came to me first. I was reading about the Fox sisters who were responsible for setting off the whole spiritualist craze in upstate New York during the nineteenth century and I came across a letter from Kate Fox written while she was staying in the household of Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, and his wife, Mary, who had lost their young son. In it Kate wrote that she hated Mary Greeley and wanted desperately to go back home. I thought it was such an interesting situation and, while the Foxes later admitted to being frauds, I wondered what it would be like for someone who really could communicate with the dead.

AS: The titles of your previous novels–The Drowning Tree, The Se­duction of Water, and The Lake of Dead Languages–all relate to water. And the book-within-the-book in The Ghost Orchid is Muse of Water. What is it about water?

CG: I suppose the water thing started with my first novel, The Lake of Dead Languages. When I decided to set the novel on a lake, I found I could use water images to convey narrator Jane Hudson’s emotional states: she dreams about a frozen lake because she’s been emotionally frozen since the deaths of her childhood friends, the circulation of water before the lake freezes becomes a metaphor for the stirring up of past memories that occur when she returns to the scene of that tragedy, and the thawing of the ice coincides with her finally breaking free of the past. I didn’t consciously plan to return to water images in my next book (and I made sure that there wouldn’t be any ice by setting the book in spring and fall) but I was drawn to the Celtic story of the Selkie as a parable for the narrator’s mother’s life and from there . . . well, you get the drift, so to speak. I suppose, like many people, I’m drawn to bodies of water: rivers, lakes, oceans . . . I even like rain and puddles. I’m an Aquarius . . . and I love to swim. With The Ghost Orchid I thought I’d subvert (literally) the whole water thing by putting the water underground–a device that was also suited to the Saratoga, New York, setting which is famous for its un­derground springs. Then I decided to further play with the idea by having all the water dry up in the present section of the book. There will probably always be some water in my books, but I’m also fond of the imagery of birds, trees, flowers, rocks . . . all the elements!

AS: How did you decide on The Ghost Orchid as a title?

CG: I wanted something that tied the past and present stories to­gether. Ellis and her mother search for the orchid because it’s sup­posed to be a love charm. When they don’t find it, Ellis believes that she’s inherited some kind of malady that prevents the women in her family from finding love. When Corinth finds the orchid in the bog behind the cabin in the Sacandaga Valley, she doesn’t pick it because she associates it with the stories her mother told her about girls killing themselves over doomed love affairs. But later, when she returns to the cabin, Alice gives her an orchid which Corinth drops and Ellis, in the present, finds. It functions, then, as a symbol of love.

AS: Any honorable-mention titles that didn’t make the cut?

CG: My working title was Blackwell, which is Corinth’s last name. I also thought it was a sly water title.

AS: Can you tell us how you created Bosco and about any personal experience you’ve had at writers’ residence programs?

CG: While Bosco is its own place, I was definitely inspired by the physical setting of the artist’s colony Yaddo in Saratoga, New York. In my twenties I worked briefly (about eight months) as a secretary there and was profoundly affected by the atmosphere–by the acres of deeply shadowed pine forests, the old mansion, and the rose garden where I often went to eat my bag lunch (one of the perks of working there was to get the same packed lunch that the writers got). I used a general sense of the place when I began creating Bosco, but I wanted a much more elaborate garden, so I read up on, and took a class in Italian Renaissance Gardens, so the gardens of Bosco are more like the Villa D’Este in Italy than the gardens at Yaddo. I’ve never applied to stay at a writers’ residence program because with a young child it’s hard to go away for any extended time. The closest I’ve come is the MFA program I did at The New School, which I enjoyed very much. From that I have an idea of what writers are like in groups, but I had to imagine how those dynamics might be intensified in the hothouse atmosphere of a colony. As for the people at Bosco–they’re strictly fictional. The only Yaddo experience I put into the book is my own: the calls that Daria gets from people wish­ing to tell their stories to the writers are very similar to calls I got when I was answering the phone at Yaddo.

AS: You’ve said that you usually have an elaborate rationale behind a character’s name. How did you name Corinth? Ellis/Elmira? Tom Quinn? Any favorite derivations?

CG: Corinth is named for the town she was born in–Corinth, New York–which also happens to be the town in which The Lake of Dead Languages is set. I like to add little cross-references between my novels, also, I wanted to use as many New York State place names in this book as a celebration of the region and because I knew I’d be using a non-New York setting for my next book. So we’ve also got Milo, Aurora, and Elmira–all towns in upstate New York that are named for Classical figures. Tom Quinn, I’m embarrassed to admit, comes from a favorite TV character on the British show, MI-5.

AS: Are any of your characters based on real people, modern or historical?

CG: I don’t so much base my characters on real people as am in­spired by real people as models. For the historical characters I read about people who lived at that time and had similar occupations or societal roles, so that I’d have an idea of what such a person would be like. I read about nineteenth-century psychics to form my picture of Corinth and nineteenth-century magicians to build the character, Tom Quinn. My modern characters aren’t generally that close to living models, but Zalman Bronsky is an exception to that rule. He’s an homage to my husband, Lee Slonimsky.

AS: A neophyte novelist, Ellis has trouble falling into a routine. Vet­eran writer Bethesda, on the other hand, works consistently within her rigid regimen. Where are you on this spectrum? Do you have a set “process”? Has it become easier with each new novel?

CG: Yes, I have a process. Here’s my routine: After I’ve gotten my daughter off to school I take the dog for a two mile walk, sometimes thinking about the day’s writing but sometimes replaying what hap­pened on Battlestar Galactica last night or planning what to buy for dinner later. Then I come back to my house, make a second cup of tea, and sit down at my desk which is on an enclosed front porch with a window well shielded by a Rose of Sharon bush that gets lots of birdlife. I work there anywhere from two to five hours–closer to two when I’m in the beginning of the novel, more like five or six in the later stages. I write a chapter out in longhand in a black-and-white marbled notebook and then type it into the computer. I try to have a handwritten chapter done by the end of the week, so that on Monday I start off typing–a less intimidating way to start the week. I don’t write after my daughter gets home from school or on the weekends, although I will sometimes work on a revision or do research, or an­swer questions like these, when she’s home. Oh, yes, and I take a nap most days which I’m always reluctant to admit to because it seems to provoke so much envy in people who are in offices all day. Anyway, that’s the routine I try to stick to, but it often gets thrown off by life in the form of forgotten homework that needs to be dropped off, doctors’ appointments, food shopping, broken appli­ances with their attendant chatty repairmen, or an elderly neighbor who needs a bag of groceries brought in. In other words, I don’t work in a sealed room; I work on the front porch. Sometimes I’ll get frus­trated when I’m interrupted, but then I remind myself that the writ­ing comes from life. Life’s not the enemy.
As for getting easier . . . the answer is no. Every book is a new challenge. In that way, I think that most writers combine veteran Bethesda’s ease with neophyte Ellis’s distractability. My ideal is to feel like a neophyte when I start the book and a veteran when I’ve finished it.

AS: Ellis is at different points inspired, intimidated, and aided by her fellow artists. To what extent and with whom do you collaborate/share your works-in-progress? How lonely a pursuit is writing for you?

CG: Well, as the previous answer suggests, sometimes not lonely enough! Seriously, though, it can feel pretty lonely, but I’m very lucky to be married to a writer. When I type up a new chapter I give it to Lee right away and a day or two later he’ll go over it with me–touch­ing up grammar, questioning the logic and rationale for characters’ be­haviors, criticizing awkward bits and praising a turn of a phrase here and there. He’s really good at catching unlikely scenarios and gram­mar slips, but I mostly value having someone who’s sharing the story so I can talk about what’s going on in it. In The Ghost Orchid he be­came even more involved by writing the poems composed by Zalman Bronsky. When I needed a poem from Zalman, I’d describe the poem in brackets and ask “Zalman” to write it for me. We had so much fun that in the next book, The Sonnet Lover, I commissioned Lee to write a series of love sonnets by a fictitious sixteenth-century woman. When I’m finished with the first draft I give it my editor, the ines­timable Linda Marrow. She guides me through the revision process with a gentle, but firm, hand and has even been known to offer dessert after a particularly thorny revision note.

AS: Spirits and ghosts pervade this book. Do you consider yourself a spiritual person? Do you think the living and dead co-exist?

CG: That’s a hard question. While I wasn’t raised religious, I was raised to believe in God and an afterlife and such questions interest me and seem vital. The spirits in The Ghost Orchid do have a figura­tive element: I wanted to talk about the inspiration behind writing as a kind of possession, the way hearing your characters’ voices in your head was a little like speaking with the dead. But as I wrote it I real­ized that I couldn’t bring it off without really confronting the idea that some piece of us does go on after death.

AS: You braid your past and present narratives together, as if they were in dialogue with one another. Why did you structure the book this way?

CG: I’ve just always been interested in how the past impinges on the present, how it shapes who we are. I started out, in The Lake of Dead Languages, exploring how events in Jane Hudson’s youth haunted her present life and then in The Seduction of Water I was interested in how Iris’s life was affected by her mother’s history. In The Drowning Tree I wanted to see if I could reach a little farther back into the past–and in The Ghost Orchid I went even farther back. I love the nineteenth century, especially the whole spiritualist movement in up­state New York, and I was intrigued by the idea of writing a novel in which the past not only influenced the present, but seems to be occurring at the same time as the present. I’ve always loved what Faulkner said about the past: “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

AS: Corinth grew up in the midst of the nineteenth-century spiritualist craze, performed in vaudeville, and rubbed elbows with the in­dustrial nouveau riche. How did you create such a textured depiction of late 1800s America? What drew you to these distinct sub-worlds?

CG: I’ve always loved nineteenth-century novels (Dickens, the Bront‘s, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy) and been drawn to that era. I find the spiritualist craze particularly fascinating because it combines the Victorian fascination with death and mourning with new technology–such as photography, which was used to create “spirit pictures.” It made sense to me, too, that in a culture where women so often lost young children they could be desperate to make contact with the af­terlife. As I mentioned before, it was reading about the Fox sisters that led me to explore the relationship between a bereaved mother and captive psychic. Then, reading about the performances of the psychics, I kept coming across references to vaudeville and magi­cians. Houdini, after all, was famously skeptical of seances and broke off his friendship with Arthur Conan Doyle when he thought he’d been deceived by the writer. I even came across a magician who was known as “The Great Bosco” which I took as a good omen of sorts for the novel. Vaudeville has always interested me and I’d like someday to do more with that material. My great-aunt was a vaudeville dancer and my mother appeared on the stage when she was an infant.

AS: While Ellis delves into Corinth’s past, she shies away from her own, embarrassed by her mother and her inherited psychic abilities. Are we invariably products of our heredity? Are we often ashamed of what makes us special?

CG: It seems to me that we spend a lot of our lives reacting to, and against, what our mothers taught us to be, or dealing with the legacy of your mother’s life. My mother lost her own mother when she was quite young and I’ve always felt that she was shaped by that loss and that I, in turn, was shaped by who it made her. By definition “special” means out of the mainstream, so yes, I think there’s some degree of uncomfortableness–if not shame–that goes with something that makes us stand out. Certainly, something as odd as a psychic ability would be an uncomfortable trait to live with, but even an overactive imagination, the kind a writer might be blessed/ cursed with, has its attendant stigma. For instance, I’m always the mother who’s vividly imagining the worst case scenario in every situation and I learned a long time ago that while it’s okay to admit to other mothers that you’re worried about tainted spinach or child abductors, it’s probably best not to confess that you’re picturing your kid drown­ing in the canal next to their summer camp. So you learn to channel such bizarre imaginings into something constructive . . . such as novel writing.

AS: You studied Latin at Vassar. To what extent have the classics in­fluenced your world view and by extension your writing?

CG: When I majored in Latin, I thought I was taking a break from writing, but I’ve since realized that it was hugely important to my development as a writer. Studying Latin taught me both the discipline that is required to write a novel, and the joy of toiling with language that makes writing a novel a labor of love. Reading classical literature–the Greek plays, Homer, Virgil, and Ovid–gave me a feel for the structure of archetypal stories and the conviction that what makes us human is essentially the same despite the vagaries of time and place.

AS: Your book has elements of romance, mystery, historical thriller, ghost story . . . Do you consider genre when assembling your story? Are you as horrified by the stigma of genre as your Bosco writers? Or, in David’s words, “Isn’t everything a form of some sort?”

CG: The writing I like best often combines and transcends genre. My ideal, and favorite book of all time, is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bront‘. It’s got romance, mystery, and a touch of the supernatural. So, no, I’m not at all horrified by the stigma of genre. I like good writing wherever it shows up.

AS: You often reveal parts of Corinth’s story before Ellis writes them. How much of this history does Ellis create and how much does she “channel?” Do you share the classical conception of artist as “medium” for the muses?

CG: As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to create in this book a sense that the past and present were happening at the same time. The past narrative is not, strictly speaking, the book Ellis is writing, but parts of that story are being fed into Ellis’s narrative, and ultimately, Ellis affects what happens in that past story. In other words, the story changes in its telling.
I think the classical conception of the muse is a way of putting flesh to the mysterious process of inspiration, and that it’s fun to play with the figure of the muse in order to talk about inspiration.

AS: Your worlds are steeped in classical and Native American mythology. Moreover, many of your characters seem to create personal mythologies for themselves to explain (or erase) their pasts. What draws us to myth and what power does it hold for you?

CG: I think we recognize our own stories in myths and fairy tales while at the same time those myths suggest to us that there’s something larger than ourselves going on around us. I’ve used Greek mythology and fairy tales in my novels to create a sense of an alternate world to what’s going on in the realistic narrative. Because of this novel’s setting, I thought it would be great if I could integrate Native American mythology into the story. I wanted to suggest with it the long history of the place, a history that predated its European settlers.

AS: When you’re not writing, whom do you read? Any favorite films, artists, or musical influences?

CG: My influences are a combination of nineteenth-century novels (Bront‘, Dickens, Hardy) mixed with 1930s noir (Hammett, Chandler, and noir films), magic realism (Alice Hoffman, Louise Erdrich) and a dash of gothic horror (from Le Fanu to Stephen King) and fantasy (Tolkien, LeGuin, Frank Herbert). I’m a pretty eclectic reader. Some of my favorite contemporary authors are Sue Miller, Margaret Atwood, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Val McDermid. I took a great art history class in college and love going to museums and reading about artists’ lives. When I was writing The Drowning Tree I found much of my inspiration in the Pre-Raphaelites and in the Arts & Crafts Movement. I envy visual artists because their work surrounds them with beautiful things while writers end up with stacks of paper and dusty bookshelves.

AS: Their enjoyment aside, what do you want your readers to take from this book?

CG: I’ll settle for enjoyment.

AS: What are you working on next?

CG: I’m working on a novel called The Sonnet Lover. It’s about a Renaissance sonnet scholar, Rose Asher, who discovers a series of love sonnets by a Italian woman poet of the sixteenth century who may, or may not, have been writing her poems to William Shakespeare. It starts in Manhattan, at a fictitious college called Hudson College, and then moves to a villa outside of Florence, where . . . [drum roll, please] the past threatens to impinge upon the present! The poems are all written by my favorite sonneteer, Zalman Bronsky, aka Lee Slonimsky.



Praise for Carol Goodman

The Lake of Dead Languages

“A wonderfully eerie sense of place . . . deeply atmospheric.”
–Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Like Donna Tartt’s A Secret History or a good film noir . . . [This book will] keep readers hooked.”
–People (Page-turner of the week)

The Seduction of Water

“Truly a seductive reading experience . . . grabs the reader on the first page and holds on for the entire journey.”
–The Denver Post

“Like the best mysteries, The Seduction of Water offers puzzles and twists galore but still tells a human story.”
–The Boston Globe

The Drowning Tree

“Deftly plotted and certainly intriguing . . . infused with the sinister aura of its setting . . . The Drowning Tree has its twists and shudders.”
–New York Daily News

“[A] captivating literary mystery of secrets old and new.”
–Publishers Weekly

From the Hardcover edition.
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Mythology and classical allusions abound in The Ghost Orchid. What is their effect? How do these references highlight the dra­matic action of the story?

2. Deterioration is a key trope in the novel. How does it operate? Who or what deteriorates?

3. How did Alice’s treatment at Bosco compare to that of the other Latham children? Exactly what might Aurora have suspected about Alice’s parentage?

4. Why does Bethesda take an immediate dislike to Ellis? What similarities do you see between their relationship and that of Au­rora and Corinth?

5. Water is another central theme throughout this novel, especially as represented by the fountains. Why do you think Goodman chose this element?

6. How convincing is the metafiction, or fiction-within-the-fiction, of The Ghost Orchid? Whose project evokes the strongest response in you? We know how Ellis ends her book, but do you wish you could see the end results of all of the characters’ projects?

7. What parallels exist between Violet Ramsdale’s relationship with Tom Quinn and Bethesda’s relationship with Nat? What do you think Violet and Bethesda’s intentions are with these men?

8. Each character in this book has his or her own agenda, but who is the most selfish? The most selfless?

9. Aurora admits she was not the best mother, yet she does not try to be a better mother to the one child she has left. Why?

10. Do you believe in extradimensional contact? How would you use such power? Is faking this ability necessarily immoral, or simply opportunistic?

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