A crowd of 40 students, professors and fans gathered inside the bookstore awaiting the arrival of acclaimed author and UC Irvine alum Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop. Winthrop took part in the exclusive UCI Bookstore Author Series in order to promote her new novel, “December.”
Various conversations continued to take place as the crowd waited patiently for Winthrop to be introduced. After much anticipation, Janice Obuchowski, a second-year Master of Fine Arts student, stepped up to the podium to introduce Winthrop. As she made her way, Winthrop was met with wide applause from the audience. Once the applause died down and the crowd became silent, Winthrop began reading the first chapter of “December.”
Winthrop’s second novel is about a troubled 11-year-old girl, Isabelle, and a family in crisis. When “December” begins, Isabelle has not spoken a single word in nearly a year. Her silence frustrates her parents, a number of psychiatrists and her Manhattan private school teachers, who by December are all beginning to lose patience with her. On the verge of expulsion from her school, Isabelle’s parents are forced to confront the possibility that her silence is perhaps a “lifelong transformation” from which their daughter might never emerge.
“December” illustrates an unforgettable picture of a family dealing with the crisis of their daughter “locked into an isolation of her own making and from which only she can decide to break free.”
After Winthrop finished reading parts from her new novel, the New University had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Winthrop about the real inspiration behind “December” and what it takes to become a great writer:
New University: What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop: I find it best to work every morning of every day. After a couple of hours of writing I like to walk away from what I have written and return to it some time in the afternoon. However, if I am not feeling inspired that day I never force myself to write something, because nine out of 10 times, I end up deleting material that seems forced.
New U: What inspired you to write this book?
Winthrop: The truth of the matter is that as children, we all put our parents through hell, and I wanted to see how the family deals with crisis when the child creates it.
New U: Was “December” harder to write than your first novel, “Fireworks?”
Winthrop: Actually, writing “December” was a lot easier than writing my first novel. A lot of the scenes in “December” take place in New York, which is where I grew up, so I was able to get back to my roots.
New U: What did you learn from the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Program at UCI?
Winthrop: The most important thing that I learned from the program is how to become a better reader. By becoming a better reader, I was able to give better feedback and criticism to fellow writers in my workshops. And after becoming a better reader, I was then able to look at my own work more critically, which allowed me to improve my writing.
New U: Do you have any advice for young writers?
Winthrop: The best advice I can give young writers is to never stop writing, because if you stop writing you will never learn how to become a better writer. The more you write, the more you learn, which allows you to gain more confidence about your writing.
The UCI Bookstore Author Series continues this Wednesday at 5 p.m., featuring poets Colette LaBouff Atkinson and Stephanie Brown.