A Literary Guild� Main Selection
|Publisher:||Penguin Group (USA)|
|Product dimensions:||4.26(w) x 6.74(h) x 0.95(d)|
About the Author
What People are Saying About This
Janice Graham is a born storyteller.
Firebird is the debut of a major writer. A tender and beautifully written adult love story.
What a page turner! Not only believable and compelling, but well written enough to satisfy fans of the likes of Alice Hoffman and Barbard Kingsolver.
Reading Group Guide
Set in the majestic Flint Hills of Kansas, Janice Graham's extraordinarily accomplished first novel tells of a man caught between two women--one who shares his life and his dream of land and cattle; the other a stranger whose love threatens to destroy the dream he has built. Ethan Brown is a gentleman rancher, an Ivy-educated lawyer who is as comfortable amid his books as he is at ease in the company of cowboys. Engaged to the daughter of the wealthiest landowner in the county, he is within reach of the life he has worked so hard to achieve. Then Annette Zeldin enters Ethan's life, when she returns from Europe to settle her mother's estate. A concert violinist, she feels every inch the outsider in the closed ranching community of Cottonwood Falls and clings to her darling young daughter, her lifeline. The time Annette spends with Ethan in his office gives her moments of comfort and communion, and before long, both must acknowledge the passion growing between them.
Annette and Ethan begin a clandestine, transcendent affair that promises to change the landscape of their lives, but is too soon torn apart by tragedy. Yet their connection is soul-deep and everlasting, and their love transforms the lives of those around them in ways subtle and unknown long after its embers have died down. Graham skillfully infuses the novel with ethereal touches that transport the reader from the vast prairies of the Midwest to the intimate realm of the heart. Firebird richly articulates the enduring possibilities of love; it is a novel impossible to forget.
You have traveled extensively, living and working in Paris, Greece and Israel. What were you doing while you were living abroad?
I was divorced in 1972 after a four year marriage and since I had just finished my M.A. in French and been to France on a fellowship, I decided to move to Paris. I lived there for four years working at a variety of jobs-from sales to tour guide to assistant to the CEO of an investment banking firm. In 1976, I embarked on a journey to travel around the world (I never got farther than the Middle East.) I saved up some money and I took off with a friend. Our first stop was Athens, where I spent too much money, so I got a job at UPI and ended up staying there for six months. Our next stop was Turkey and then on to Israel, where I worked on a kibbutz for six months. By that time I had been gone for a year and I felt as though I needed a focus. It was in Jerusalem that I got the direction I was looking for-I ran into a professor from the University of Kansas, where I had gotten my masters degree. He knew I was interested in film and he encouraged me to return to graduate school. My next stop was Los Angeles, where I attended film school and instantly knew that that was what I wanted to do. I decided not to finish my degree and I moved back to Paris in 1981 to begin my writing career while working as a nanny at the Australian Embassy in Paris. I wrote a screenplay called "Until September" which I managed to sell to MGM. The film got made and released in 1984. From 1981 to 1991 I lived between Los Angeles and Paris writing screenplays.
Why did you decide to settle in Kansas?
My daughter, Gabrielle, was born in Los Angeles in 1987 and we stayed there for four years and lived for a short time in Paris as well, but I wanted to raise my daughter with my family. My parents, who are still very active, live in Kansas. In fact, my father's family has lived in there for over 150 years, going back five generations. In 1991, I settled down with my daughter with my daughter in Wichita and began teaching French and English in public schools there.
Why did you choose to set Firebird in the Flint Hills of Kansas?
On summer weekends I would take my daughter for long drives through the Flint Hills. You may have noticed that I have a strong inclination to explore and I'm always looking for something to discover, so we would often go off-roading on the cattle tracks-we did so much exploring one summer that I wore out a set of tires in just a few months. On these trips with my daughter, I found a depth and mystery to the region that I hadn't found anywhere else in Kansas, and I also discovered the fascinating history of Cottonwood Falls.
Firebird is set in Kansas, but, as is evident from the number of sales to foreign publishers, it has an international appeal. What do you feel that appeal is?
I think part of the appeal is that there are no contemporary political or social issues-Firebird goes beyond that. It is a novel that can be picked up in 50 years and have the same meaning. The language is not grounded in contemporary or hip and trendy culture and it can appeal to people all over the country and the world. With Firebird I was inspired by two longings. One, to resolve the universal story of a love triangle in a way in which everyone's needs are fulfilled. And the other stems from a fear I have of what would happen to my daughter if I died. This is a fear many single parents have.
Did you draw on personal experiences to write Firebird?
I view creative writing as a kind of jigsaw puzzle. You take your life experiences apart, shuffle them, then fit them back together. My stories are inspired by my experiences and people I have met, but they really emerge from the unconscious, and at some point the story goes beyond that and disassociates itself, and takes on a life of its own.
1997 must have been a very exciting year for you, how has the sale of Firebird and your next two novels changed your life?
Basically, it has afforded me the very precious and rare gift of working as a novelist full time. It has given me peace of mind and it has relieved a lot of financial stress. Otherwise, I still live in the same apartment and I don't own anything bigger than the couch I am sitting on. One bonus is that now I can afford to buy my daughter hot lunches at school, freeing up some of my time in the morning.
Would you like to write a screenplay for Firebird?
Actually, I initially wrote Firebird as a screenplay, but when it was done, I realized that there was so much more there. I used the screenplay as a blueprint to write the novel, which worked out well since I already knew how the story would end. If Firebird is made into a film, I would go back and make changes to the screenplay, but right now my attachment is to the book and to writing my next novel.
What books are on your night table right now?
I always have so many different books going on at once. I'm looking at my nightstand right now and I see the following: Selected Works by Rilke, Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra, Justine by Lawrence Durell, A Day in the Life of Israel, and I am always reading PrairyErth by William Least Heat-Moon.
Janice Graham lived in France, Greece, and Israel before moving to Los Angeles to study film at the University of Southern California. She has worked as a screenwriter and a teacher of French. She lives in Wichita, Kansas, with her daughter, Gabrielle.
1. The book's title evokes the legend of the phoenix, a mythological bird that burned to death on a pyre, only to be resurrected and reborn. How does Janice Graham adapt and adopt the story of the phoenix? How are the elements of sacrifice in the phoenix legend echoed in Firebird?
2. Like every responsible rancher, Ethan must burn his fields in order to clear the way for new life. What other characters destroy their old lives--or parts of their old lives--so that new ones may emerge? Are they always successful? How are the practices of farming and ranching appropriate metaphors for these characters' re-creations and rebirths?
3. The novel suggests the possibility of redemption in both sacred and everyday ways. At one point, Mrs. Winegarner tells Ethan how Annette's music renewed her son's interest in life. In what other ways do the characters receive some sort of redemption? Have you experienced a similar renewal?
4. The three main characters are forced, through tragedy, to broaden their perspectives. Who do you think undergoes the greatest transformation?
5. One of the novel's main themes is loss, and the ways in which we cope with it. After losing her first child, Annette has Eliana, whose name means "God has answered me." How are the other characters' losses "answered," or left unanswered?
6. Annette is an expatriate who makes a home for herself and her daughter in Paris; both her father and Ethan are shocked that she'd ever leave the land of her birth. At midlife, though, Annette thinks that she could move back to Kansas and live there happily. What do you think Graham is saying about our ties to our land? Do you think people can definitively leave behind their homelands, or will they always return? Is there a place you feel as strongly about as Ethan feels about the Flint Hills?
7. Each of the characters in this book is afraid of something. Even Ethan, who gives the impression of security and self-confidence, has his fears. What frightens him, and how does he address his worries? What are other characters in the book afraid of, and how do they overcome--or succumb to--their fears?
8. In her unsent letter, Annette accuses Ethan of not opening himself to profound or unsettling emotions. She also accuses him of cowardice and asks him how he can so love the poets he does, when "misery is so distasteful" to him. Is Annette correct in her assessment of Ethan? Is there a turning point for him?
9. By book's end, Katie Anne, Ethan, and Annette are inextricably bound to one another. One physical incarnation of their relationship is the volume of Yeats's poetry passed among them. What does Yeats mean by "But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you"? How do Katie Anne's and Annette's "pilgrim souls" differ, and what do they have in common?
"Firebird is the debut of a major writer. A tender and beautifully written adult love story."
--Mary Higgins Clark
"Janice Graham's dexterous storytelling pulls at the heartstrings, and her evocations of the wind and skies over the Kansas prairie give an extra dimension to a multifaceted love story that's sure to be a strong contender for the women's fiction hit of the season."
On Tuesday, July 28th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Janice Graham to discuss FIREBIRD.
Moderator: Welcome, Janice Graham! Thank for you joining us online tonight. How are you doing this evening?
Janice Graham: I am doing very well, thank you. Looking forward to this.
Jossie from Wichita, KS: Did you base the character of Ethan Brown on any person that you know? Is he a compilation of people you know? I think he is a fascinating character.
Janice Graham: I think Ethan and Annette polarize very conflicting emotions that I had when I first returned to Kansas seven years ago, after having lived in Paris for 13 years and L.A. for 6 years. I was born and raised here and was very attached to my family here, but I found it very difficult to assimilate when I first moved here. At the same time I loved the wide open spaces, I loved the sky, and I discovered this area called the Flint Hills. So the characters are really fictional, both of them. But both of them are parts of me.
Jess from Lexington, KY: How in the world did you get published? Is this a Cinderella story or what? Did you know somebody? I hope you realize how fortunate you are to have such a wonderful publisher behind your work...
Janice Graham: No, this is not a Cinderella story. Yes, I am very, very fortunate to have Putnam as the publisher. I have been writing for 20 years, and I first began as a screenwriter, having attended USC film school and having had a film made back in 1984. I was fortunate then to earn my living as a screenwriter for about five years, but my first love was always the novel form, and I wrote two novels before FIREBIRD, neither of which were published. All total, I have written probably 15 screenplays, 3 finished novels, and 2 unfinished novels. But I was very fortunate to have an agent who represented my second novel; I had made his acquaintance through my screenwriting agent back in L.A.
Louise Manerd from Tempe, AZ: Good evening, Ms. Graham. I have recently read FIREBIRD, and I loved it. Congratulations on the new book.
Janice Graham: Thank you so much for your enthusiasm. In February, I made a tour to meet with booksellers all around the country, and it was a profoundly rewarding experience because I got to meet and speak to people who had read FIREBIRD. And I found myself so very fortunate to be able to speak to them in person.
Maria from New York City: How do you react to those who compare your book with THE HORSE WHISPERER? Do you consider that flattery?
Janice Graham: By all means, yes. I read THE HORSE WHISPERER and enjoyed it thoroughly. And besides, THE HORSE WHISPERER was a very big success.
Nora from St. Louis, MO: I noticed in reading your biography that you have also spent time in Paris. If you had to say that you were either closer in character to Katie or Annette, whom would you pick? Why?
Janice Graham: I am much closer to Annette in character. Katie was a composite creature of my imagination, and I enjoyed writing her, and despite the fact that this is a book about cattle ranchers and people fond of the country/western lifestyle, this is really very far removed from my own personal taste. In that respect I am really much closer to Annette in taste and style. I do, however, find the country/western lifestyle fascinating as a study. I also went through a period when I was fascinated with Harley-Davidson bikers. Then I went through a period when I was fascinated by Cold War spies. So many of these elements come about through my curiosity and not because I have lived them.
Niki from Niki_palek@yahoo.com: Good evening, Ms. Graham. I truly enjoyed reading FIREBIRD. Please tell me what do you think it is about Kansas that distinguishes it from the rest of the Midwest? Thanks!
Janice Graham: I think one of the main things that distinguishes Kansas is its isolation. It is geographically in the center of the U.S., and it is so very hard to get anywhere from here without a long drive. Another distinguishing factor is its flatness, which gives incredible skyscapes. I have found ways of entertaining myself here that I would never do in the big city. One evening I watched a thunderstorm on three different horizons, and it was magnificent. I remember telling my daughter stories about Greek mythology because of this magical spectacle that I was observing. That kind of experience you just don't get in Paris or L.A.
Nora from St. Louis, MO: I also see that you did some work in Hollywood. What was that like?
Janice Graham: When I first moved to L.A., it was to attend film school at USC, and I had just spent a year in Greece and Israel, so needless to say it was a culture shock. It took me years to get adjusted to L.A., and the film business is not anything that I wish upon anyone. I was lucky to sell a script, but if I had any choice, I would have gone straight to novels. Writers have no control over their work unless they are one of a handful of extremely successful screenwriters. My one experience having a film made was devastating for me as a writer, even though the film was something I am proud of. The experience was a very traumatic one unless you are a 100 percent independent writer/director as well.
Theresse from Colorado Springs, CO: Does Chase County really exist?
Janice Graham: Yes, it does exist, and the cattle-ranching community is a strong one out there. I spent a lot of time out there because I found it fascinating. I confess it is not like Disneyland. It is a very mystical place. I find it is an easy place to mythologize. And much of this has to do with the actual terrain and the wind and all of these elements that exist in the story. The natural element is very much what it is like in real life.
Garrison from New Hope, PA: Where does the title come from?
Janice Graham: The name FIREBIRD suggests something phoenixlike, something that is destroyed by fire and reborn from its ashes. FIREBIRD is essentially about rebirth of a soul. And I think the theme of the story is that painful moments in our lives can serve as a catalyst for regeneration and transformation.
Caroline from Cari22@aol.com: I have read numerous times that you are the next LaVyrle Spencer? Are you OK with that comparison?
Janice Graham: I think it is very unfair to categorize writers, even though it sometime makes it easier for readers. And I think it is impossible for any one writer to replace another writer. LaVyrle Spencer has a tremendous following, and I have met several people who were devastated that she was retiring, and I told them that in spite of her saying that she was retiring, she will probably be back with another story at some point. But I know that she is happy enjoying time with her family without the pressures of delivering more books. I believe FIREBIRD will appeal to her readers as well as to the general public.
Laurie from Poughkeepsie, NY: There are some very spiritual moments in FIREBIRD -- one would call them encounters with another world. Are you a believer in the afterlife? How do you think it plays out in our life?
Janice Graham: Thanks so much for this question. Even though this is a major story element, frequently people don't talk about it. I think that is because I have left it open to interpretation, and I hope that people can give it a degree of credibility that corresponds to their own feelings. I am a person who denies nothing as far as the possibilities of material and spiritual life is concerned. I am fascinated with works like Fritjof Capra's THE TAO OF PHYSICS. I believe very strongly that the reader brings his own experience and imagination to a work, and I do not want to interpret my own work in a manner that denies to any reader his own personal interpretation.
Harvey from East Hampton, NY: I read FIREBIRD this weekend and found it to be a really compelling. I read it in one sitting, as a matter of fact. The story was quite original, I thought. Can you tell me what your inspiration was for the plot?
Janice Graham: When I returned to Kansas, my daughter was only three and a half, and as a single parent, I agonized over her well-being. One of the things that drove this story was my fear of what would happen to my daughter if I should die. Even though the love story is the story that most people respond to, the story was actually inspired by my love for my daughter.
Fan from USA: I recently read FIREBIRD, and I am very impressed and can't wait for your next one. I have a personal question.... Do you miss Paris? How is it going from France to Kansas? Tough transition?
Janice Graham: When I first moved back to Kansas, I missed Paris very much, but I was just over there this summer, and although it is as beautiful as it ever was, would you believe me if I said I missed Kansas?
Sharon from Morgan City, MI: Are there any plans to make this into a movie? Whom would you see as a good Ethan? I personally see Scott Bakula as a good Ethan. A bit of a cheesy actor, but I don't know, I just picture Ethan as looking like Scott Bakula...
Janice Graham: I love this question. Too bad we can't interact on this one. I would cast this with Liam Neeson or Daniel Day-Lewis as Ethan, Annette Benning as Annette, and Elizabeth Shue as Katie. What do you think? At this point, film rights have not been sold. I tremble at the thought of Hollywood getting their hands on it. Maybe we should just leave the story in our own heads.
Krista from Knordgren@aol.com: Whom would you consider some of your writing influences? Do you try to emulate any particular writing style?
Janice Graham: I have always loved to read, and when I first started writing, I did indeed emulate certain styles. As a matter of fact, I discovered that I was like sponge, and I could write like anyone I was reading at the moment. That is why now, whenever I am at work on a book, I must pay very close attention to what I read (and whom I spend any time with) and what movies I see, because I don't want material to work its way into my work unless it is in the same vein as my own style. Stylistically, I think I resemble Willa Cather and the Irish poet and short story writer George Moore, but my idols are writers like John Fowles, Lawrence Durrell, John Le Carré, and Graham Greene. But I have come to recognize that I have my own stories to tell, and after writing for 20 years I have found my own voice and my own style.
Moderator: Thank you very much for joining us online tonight. Best of luck with FIREBIRD. Do you have any closing comments for the online audience?
Janice Graham: Regardless of all the downsides of our high-tech world, being able to interact with readers in this manner is an incredible opportunity for an author. And I was delighted to do this interview with barnesandnoble.com.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I just finished Firebird by Janice Graham. Ethan Browne is a Kansas doctor who chooses Katie Anne to be his bride, even though he is in love with Annette who just returned to town for her mother's funeral. Ethan sets out to win Katie Anne because he believes that is what he needs to do.Ethan is also a rancher and Katie Anne has an aversion to the land he loves. She also is aware that he is in love with Annette, but is determined to hold on to him in spite of that fact.Janice Graham's style of writing is beautiful, but in my opinion, the plot twist at the end is a little strange. I give this book a B!
A godsend after just finishing Richard Ford's thick, plodding Independence Day. What reading should be -- fun, while making you think about life's quirks and human foibles. And for good measure, taking you on an emotional roller coaster. Women are obviously the target audience, but I'm a guy and still enjoyed it.
I absolutely LOVED this book. I made me cry and cry even after I was finished... the author's captivating style kept me up hours into the night because I just couldn't put it down. So heart-wrenching and tragic. I love this book and I highly recommend it if you like tragic romance stories. A+
This book made me cry for hours, even after I put it down. It was so romantic yet so trajic. I wanted to scream at the author for making me cry that hard. The book was morally sweet, although they both knew what would happen in the end. Elinia was such a mess that I could not imagine an author making a child go through so much pain, even if it was just a novel. This book was enough to haunt my dreams for the years to come. Much ado to her novel 'Sarah's Window' it was good yet bad. Not quite the ending I had hoped for. 'Sarah's Window' Would be her best novel yet.
This book descended from a run-of-the-mill romance into the depths of the ridiculous. The characters lacked substance and what little personality they were given was at odds with their behaviour. Ethan, the male protagonist, behaved totally unreasonably after being portrayed as a decent man. I was incredulous after tragedy struck the main character - sentimentality took over and left me laughing out loud at the pretentious, over-emotional descriptions. This book took itself far too seriously; I certainly couldn't.