Author's Thoughts


Author with designer, Barry Campion, 1989

Author with designer, Barry Campion, 1989

It started with a garden. My own garden, a garden composed of varied textures, subtle colors, and pungent smells. A drought-resistant garden, one that belonged in the dry terrain of Southern California. In the novel, Claire, the main character, flees to Los Angeles after her infant daughter dies and reinvents herself as a landscape gardener. Like children, plants need to be tended in order to thrive. Unlike children, plants – if they die – don't break your heart.

Frisky the cat

My own daughter didn't die. Now grown, she's the mother of two teen-age boys. When she was six, her cat Frisky died. In a picture she painted afterwards, there was a bright sun, there was a blue sky, and there, with a radiant smile and fully alive, was Frisky. (see chapter 17) At the time, the joyous picture seemed to belie a sad event. Later, I recognized her exuberant portrait was celebrating a beloved pet.

Author at tide pools

Author at tide pools
In the course of writing A Real Daughter, I always had fun "fact checking" the novel's various locales. While writing chapter 26, I spent a morning tide-pooling in Malibu.

Author at Tar Pits

Author at Tar Pits

For chapter 28, I visited the La BreaTar Pits, gooey black pools smack in the middle of Los Angeles that preserve millions of bones from the Ice Age.

"Burro cebra in Tijuana
Burro-cebra in Tijuana
And of course, to figure out Claire's logistics in chapters 4 and 33, I "had" to go to Tijuana, not once, but several times as my characters and story evolved and the town assumed increasing importance.

I never planted a garden. I never had a child that died. But in the course of growing this novel, I also grew myself. I learned about native plants, about inter-tidal zones, about a Mexican city just a couple of hours down the road from Los Angeles that seems thousands of miles away. And, over the years it took to write this novel, by imagining Claire, by inhabiting her fictional character, I became aware of powerful, often destructive forces that can accrue, converge, and eventually even possess a mother whose child dies unexpectedly.

The Spoken Story: A Particular Pleasure

Author Lynne McKelvey listening to the Audiobook
Author listening to audiobook of A Real Daughter

A Real Daughter might not exist if my real mother hadn’t read to me. Night after night – long after I’d learned to read by myself – she’d sit at the edge of my bed and read aloud, her voice rising and falling with the distinctive rhythms of Treasure Island, Alice in Wonderland, Huckleberry Finn. Since childhood, I’ve been ingesting books mainly with my eyes. But I never forgot the particular pleasure of hearing a story, especially if it’s well told. Hearing a book is different from reading one. People may claim to “speed read,” but nobody “speed listens.” Yet, the spoken words often have more flow. Whether I read or listen to a well-told novel, its characters, story, and of course its language weave a spell. But a skilled narrator who brings the words on a page into my ears can provide an extra thrill, transporting me back to my childhood and reminding me of my mother’s voice as it led me, night after night, into magical worlds.