Twenty Questions for Novelist Diane Meier of Kent, CT
Diane Meier’s debut novel, The Season of Second Chances (Henry Holt and Company), is about Joy Harkness, a 48-year-old tenured professor of literature at Columbia University, who is gifted as a teacher and scholar but hapless and hopeless in her personal life. New York City has not been kind or generous to her, and when she gets a too-good-to-be-true offer from Amherst College, Joy gets what many middle-aged people secretly hope for: a do-over. She impulsively buys a rundown Victorian house, discovers the pleasures of renovation and decoration, makes friends unlike any she’s had before, and, well . . . let’s just say this is a feel-good book. If the plot sounds romantic, optimistic, and cinematic (you can imagine Laura Linney playing Joy in the movie), the book is also sharp and smart as a book about a gifted scholar must be to be credible.
The Season of Second Chances is generating the type of buzz that could make it a must read among intelligent women and the big-hearted men who love them. It’s been named to the IndieBound Next List, and Kirkus Reviews said it “breezily mixes the influence of French aestheticism on Henry James with lighter humor and romance.” Meier—who runs a marketing company in New York City and spends weekends in Kent, CT, with her husband, the writer Frank Delaney—will be reading and signing books at the Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, CT, on Saturday, April 3 at 2 p.m, and at Hammertown Barn in Rhinebeck, NY, on Sunday, April 11, at 2 p.m. Joan Osofsky, who owns Hammertown Barn (where Meier and her editor, Marjorie Braman, are loyal customers), was moved and inspired by the book. “I love the concept of a second chance at a time in your life when you don’t think second chances are possible,” says Osofsky. “I love that it’s a story about an intelligent woman finding new possibilities that she never thought possible.”
1. How did you pick Kent for your weekend house?
For a number of years I went to a family house on the Cape (about 6.5 hours of driving- nearly every weekend). Then I became involved with a man who had a house in Manchester, Vermont and we drove up there every weekend (4 hours). When I was truly on my own, I wanted to drive no more than half that distance to a house of my own. Friends of my family had a place in Morris, and they sent me a copy of the Litchfield Country Times in which I found my wonderful house lickety split! I bought the house by myself in 1998, and when I married Frank Delaney in 2002, we added the barns (left.) The big barn houses his archives, and it’s where he writes and entertains ‘professionally’. The smaller barn is for storage on the bottom and performance on the top. We launched it with a marvelous talk on Robert Frost for the Oliver Wolcott Library a few weeks ago.
2. What’s your favorite way to spend a Friday night?
Nesting down in front of the big TV screen, watching one of the great movies from 1939.
3. What’s your favorite way to spend a Sunday morning?
4. Where’s your favorite spot for bargain hunting?
Johnson’s (right) on Route 22 in Millerton often has furniture that seems to be waiting for a coat of paint and some love. Shandell’s in Millerton creates extraordinary, unique, very point-of-view lamps that are certainly not inexpensive, but will be seen as bargains when you appreciate how much chic you are actually getting for your money!
5. Where do you go for a self indulgent splurge?
Lyme Regis in Kent for aesthetic movement china, French porcelain nursery pieces, and a whole assortment of quirky, wonderful things—from paper ornaments and stationery to Victorian jewelry, and blankets from Scotland. Hammertown Barn, where Joan has managed to blend furniture, rugs, jam and just the right big-linked bracelet! Amazing. And Michael Trapp’s Antiques in West Cornwall—everything we’ve bought there sings with originality. And that’s real luxury to me.
6. Where’s your favorite place for breakfast?
At the huge island counter (left) in our barn, eating the oatmeal Frank makes better than anyone on earth.
7. What’s your favorite historical site?
The Civil War monument in the center of Kent—and even closer to home, our 1830’s American Empire farmhouse.
8. What three things do you always do with house guests?
Let them just rest, read, or float in the pool like a cork; take them to the farm up the road, where we get our raw milk and to see, pet (and sometimes feed) the newborn calves; drive to Kent Falls, which is very beautiful, wild, and remarkable at this time of year.
9. What’s your favorite bookstore?
The Hickory Stick in Washington Depot. It’s everything a book shop should be—warm, smart, inviting, and full of possibility.
10. What’s your favorite hardware store or garden center?
Washington Supply Company has a great, classic feel. Northwest Lumber in Cornwall Bridge has a terrific paint department, and it’s our lumberyard, and our local Kent True Value is full of cooperative, helpful folks. As for garden centers— Nora’s Garden Center at the corner of Routes 4 and 7, had the most seductive pale green pick up truck parked out front for years. Who cared whether or not she actually had any plants!
11. How do you indulge your sweet tooth?
Everyone in Kent loves Belgique. They made our 15 wedding cakes! (Chocolate and orange mousse, by the way) Pierre from Belgique believed that huge cakes compromised quality, and so he lent us a cake stand that held a dozen cakes and he made his perfected recipe and 150 people ate with no compromises.
12. Who do you trust to recommend wines?
Bill Fore at County Wine and Spirits and Jo Kimball at Goshen Wine & Spirits.
13. Who are your local heroes?
Megan Haney at Marble Valley Farm not only because she produces ‘produce’ that looks as though it came out of a fashion spread and tastes like it came from a farm in France; but also because she writes about it all—from the lettuce to her life on the farm—like a poet. Brilliant! And Diane von Furstenburg (left) for her work on the Housatonic Valley Association, because she could have gotten away doing so much less, but instead she did so much more. Brava!
14. What newspapers or blogs do you read every day?
Far, far too many to list, but I never miss Manhattan Users Guide (MUG) and—now—its country counterpoint, Rural Intelligence.
15. Where and when do you write?
I steal time waiting for magazines, printers or clients to call me back, or when everyone has gone home from work. The fact that there is a file I can pull down with simplicity, and be able to spend anywhere from ten minutes to ten hours pouring over its contents, has made it all possible. If I’d had to put a new sheet of paper in a typewriter, or go find a physical file, or write this story by hand – we’d have no book. We might have another doodle in the corner of my calendar . . . but no book.
16. Where’s your favorite place for live performance?
Frank presented four wonderful lectures on stage at UConn Torrington last fall: Beckett, Joyce, Yeats and a marvelous piece on the movement of oral storytelling to written literature. The whole experience was polished and unexpected up in our tiny corner of the world. And now we’ve created a smaller barn that houses performance space for him. The acoustics are bright but warm, and the look of the place is fresh and comfortable. And if I’m all alone, the big barn at night—just me and my piano.
17.Who are your favorite authors?
My favorite author is definitely Frank (right), but I also love Frances Kiernan‘s work. Her biography of Mary McCarthy is smart and original and immediate - like a mini documentary. We see all the contradictions in the voices of all who knew McCarthy. Brilliant work.
18. When you are traveling from the city to Kent, when or where do you feel like you’ve arrived in the country?
In the daylight, we take a circuitous route, around the reservoir you’ll find just after you get off of 684. It’s my first real glimpse of the country—and then my last look at nature on the way back, before we hit the highway.
19. What’s your favorite small-town tradition in Kent?
The Fireman’s Parade. I love that everyone comes down to town to celebrate and cheer these townsfolk who so generously give of their time, their skill, their courage and their compassion, in the care of their neighbors and their town. Visiting local fire companies send their men and their trucks for display and parade, as if to promise that they would show up if an emergency were large enough to require their presence—and the sight of them all moves me to tears. We clap and cheer and wave, and hope they know how much we appreciate them.
20. What are you most looking forward to doing this summer?
Writing another novel—and NOT getting out of the pool. If I can figure out a way to do those two things simultaneously, we’re really in business!