Jane Delury, HEDGE: A Novel

Jane Delury, HEDGE: A Novel

Zibby Books author alert!!! Zibby interviews Jane Delury about Hedge, an emotionally charged, richly observed novel about a devoted mom and talented garden historian balancing the demands of motherhood and marriage with her own needs. Jane describes the period she lived in France (where she started writing and met her first husband), her twenty-year teaching career, and finding refuge in writing and gardening after her divorce. She also talks about finding love again (at a writer’s conference!) and what it has been like to have a writer husband (and wonderful “stepdude” for her daughters).


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jane. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Jane Delury: I am so happy to be here. I have my matching copy over here.

Zibby: I’m so obsessed with how this hardcover turned out. I was like, oh, my gosh. I was just stroking it. I know I said this in the bio that was prerecorded, but this is one of the Zibby Books titles. We got to see this from the first submission, the first version of the manuscript, all the way to completion and in this bound cover. It is so cool to watch a book go through this whole process. It does not get old.

Jane: Nor for me. It’s just amazing because it’s so much work. It’s so many years of work and thought. Here it is.

Zibby: Here it is. Oh, my gosh. Jane, can you please tell listeners what your book is about?

Jane: Hedge is about a struggle I think many of us have between pursuing our individual passions and taking care of the people we love. It’s about a garden historian who restores ancient gardens back to life. When the book opens, she’s in a really unhappy marriage. She and her husband have separated. She has moved from the Bay Area to the Hudson Valley for the summer to restore a garden at Montgomery Place, a nineteenth-century estate. She’s so happy. She’s finding her work again. She’s finding freedom again. She is developing a deep friendship that starts to turn romantic with an archaeologist who is also working at the site. Her thirteen-year-old daughter is struggling. Maud realizes this, but she has some deeper issues and secrets of her own that start to emerge over the course of that summer and eventually really blow up. Two years later, Maud is back in the Bay Area trying to reconcile what happened over the course of that summer, back in her marriage trying to make things work for her daughter, but some things don’t go away. They don’t for Maud. She ultimately has to figure it all out all over again back home.

Zibby: Wow. This has gone through lots of changes over time. Tell me how this whole project started. Actually, maybe back up and explain how you got into writing, The Balcony. Let’s go back a bit. How did you start being a writer? All of it.

Jane: Let’s do the archaeology.

Zibby: Let’s do the archaeology. Let’s do it.

Jane: I majored in literature in college at UC Santa Cruz. I’m originally from California. That’s the love of the Bay Area. I was born in San Francisco. I left for France for my year abroad where I fell in love with the man who ended up becoming my husband and the father of my first two kids. I moved back to France and did a graduate degree in literature as well. While I was there, I missed the English language. I was speaking French all the time. I think that’s what got me to write my first short story. I felt this strange distance and almost alienation when I went back to California. I was kind of becoming French, but of course, I wasn’t French. Those first stories were about reconnecting to the language and my culture and figuring out who I was in this new place vis-à-vis who I had been for the first twenty-three/four years of my life. I started writing these stories. I joined a writers’ group. I sent them to the US. This was back in the olden days when you mailed everything. We used to joke in my writing group that we had an edge because we had these beautiful French stamps on our envelopes. Maybe editors would give us extra attention. I don’t think that actually worked.

From France — I lived there for almost five years. Then I applied to graduate school in Baltimore at the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins. That brought me to Baltimore where I have been writing and teaching ever since, teaching fiction. My first job out of Hopkins was as an adjunct at the public university, University of Baltimore. I’ve been there for almost twenty years teaching graduate and undergraduate fiction. I just live and breathe fiction all the time. Those stories that I started writing in France that were about the US, things changed when I moved to the US. I started writing about my life in France and people I had known there, especially my now ex-husband’s family. The Balcony, which was my first book, was a novel in stories where I took about five or six of the stories that I had been writing that were based on this area of France that my ex-husband’s grandparents lived in. I created one property with two houses, a manor house and a servant’s cottage, and I told the story of the people who lived in those two houses over the course of the twentieth century. Each chapter is a standalone story, but taken together, they tell a bigger story as a novel. That was my first book.

I was still writing stories. Hedge kind of erupted. When we look back at our lives doing the archaeology, we can see phases — I’m sure you relate to this — or eras. Hedge really came out of another era of my life, which was, I got divorced. I had a seven-year-old and a thirteen-year-old. I wasn’t married at twenty-one, but I was in a committed, forever relationship at twenty-one, so I was very much new to being on my own and living on my own. Despite a lot of support from friends and family — I had to buy a house. I had to figure out how to be on my own financially. It was a whole new world that I think I didn’t realize how difficult — which sounds a little nutty looking back. I thought we were all going to be okay. I was going to make it okay. I knew it was my responsibility to make it okay for my girls. It was hard. Those were hard years of transition. I wrote the first draft of Hedge in my garden the first summer. I’d bought this house which I loved, but I couldn’t afford to fix anything. There were a lot of things that needed fixing. I wanted it to be beautiful for my girls. The one thing I could do was, I can make the garden beautiful, even though I wasn’t a very good gardener. Plants are actually not as expensive as remodeling a kitchen, it turns out. I missed the girls a lot when they were with their dad. I just found this refuge in my garden and in this manuscript of the story of a mother, who, much like me, was facing this conundrum and this struggle of pursuing her own happiness but not wanting it to be at the expense of her children’s happiness.

Zibby: In your own life, was there a deep friendship that brewed?

Jane: The deep friendship that brewed actually is at Trader Joe’s right now. I really am lucky in having an ex who is a great father and was a great coparent. Everything could’ve been a million times worse, of course. I declared to a writer friend about two months after I had moved out, “I am never going to be in a relationship again.” I saw myself, I was going to be on my own for the rest of my life. I was going to have my women friends. We were going to travel together. It was all going to be great. I don’t know if I should — oh, what the hell. I’m going to tell you, Zibby. It was Laura van den Berg, who’s a wonderful writer. We were driving down Charles Street in Baltimore. I said, “I would just love to make out with someone on a bench at AWP Seattle,” which is this writer conference. Laura said, “I know the perfect person for that.” Reader, I married him. That was my first date. Don lived in Philadelphia where he directed a creative writing program. He’s a writer and has six books. We started this epistolary correspondence. He didn’t know what he was getting into. He’s older than I am and had never lived with anyone. Here he had this neophyte who’s like, let’s email ninety-five times a day and talk on the phone every night. That’s a whole other novel. It all worked out. It all worked out really well. I realized recently, about Hedge, that that was also a lot of work for all of us, for my daughters, for Don, for me, to create this new unit. First, there was creating this unit with my two girls, the three of us. Then eventually, after about five years, Don moved in with us. That was a whole other reinvention. I think that’s actually in the book too, those years of making this new family.

Zibby: That’s so funny. My deep friendship is at Trader Joe’s. That’s one of my favorite lines from a podcast. Amazing. Was it always called Hedge?

Jane: It was called Hedge from the beginning. The original draft of this book, which was very different, took place at Monticello, which is a seat of landscape history and garden restoration in the United States. There aren’t that many of them. Most of this is in England. Maud actually trains in England and lives in England for years before she moves back to the Bay Area. The original draft was at Monticello. I ended up moving it because Thomas Jefferson casts too long of a shadow. The original draft of the book was much more about wrestling with these problems in restoring a place like Monticello, where, by the way, Thomas Jefferson, he contributed, but he wasn’t out there doing all of the actual work. That was the enslaved people who lived on the mountain. I spent a lot of time at Monticello learning about the gardens, the restoration of the gardens, the lives of the people who lived on the mountain who worked in the garden, the gardeners. Ultimately, the book is a novel with a pretty dramatic plot about a mother and daughters. It’s not about the history of race in America. That’s not a topic that can be treated lightly.

When I decided that I needed to cut those ninety-five pages out of the book, I needed a new setting, and I brought the hedge with me. That hedge actually was at Monticello. When I moved the book to the Hudson Valley and to Montgomery Place, I actually said to Amy Parrella, who is the head of grounds and gardens at Bard and was hugely helpful in this relocation — we walked around the grounds of the estate. I said, “I need a hedge. I can’t let go of the hedge. It’s important to me. It’s the title.” We walked around. She was like, “Let’s see. Where could you have a hedge? You could have one right over there.” We actually found the spot where this hedge could exist, which was a really fun day with her walking around. I basically just told her the novel. I was like, “And then I need a romantic scene by a body of water.” She was like, “The swimming lake.” It all translated really well. It always was the title. It was always important that it be — sometimes you attach to something in the drafting. Everything changed, but the title didn’t change.

Zibby: That’s so funny. How did you reconcile your teaching brain with your writing output? How did you take your own advice, so to speak? What were you aware of yourself doing that you teach other people or maybe teach people not to do?

Jane: I spend so much time critiquing manuscripts, talking about these issues. The truth is when you sit down to write, obviously — I get . I do get that right now. What else? I don’t start stories with an alarm clock going off, unless I’m doing it ironically. There are some things, yes, I have learned not to do.

Zibby: Wait, why are we not starting chapters with an alarm clock?

Jane: Oh, I don’t know. That’s just one of those teaching cliché rules. Most everybody wakes up with an alarm clock, so unless the alarm clock is set off by a dinosaur, it’s not that interesting to start your story that way. It’s just one of those teaching workshop clichés. All of these deeper issues of, “How the heck do you do this?” everything I know kind of goes out the window when I sit down and draft, in a good way. When you’re doing that first draft, you’re like, everything’s so wonderful. This is so fabulous escaping to this wonderful world. Then when you actually have to draft and you look at it and you start giving it to people, then you see all these things that you need to address. I’m a really avid reviser. I’m not afraid of revision. I love revision. I mean, I don’t always love it. Sometimes it’s painful and terrifying. I really went at the book. I think in terms of my teaching brain and my writing brain, I try to set aside the critical brain when I’m drafting, which is a lot easier in the summer. I will be frank. Working on novels during the school year is hard. I write a lot of stories. For me, with a novel, I need to just kind of go with it and live in that parallel world. Because in teaching that critical brain is so turned on all the time, it’s a lot harder to shut it up for my own work. That’s why summers are so important for me for longer projects.

Zibby: Interesting. What are you going to work on this summer?

Jane: I started something that I’m not calling a novel, but I did start a something. I went to Ireland last summer with my mother and my daughters. I was very close to my grandmother, who was from County Mayo. She was a very important figure in my life. We went to Dublin. We did one of those heritage investigation sessions. The historian put up all these documents that contradicted what we knew of my grandmother’s childhood growing up at the turn of the century in Mayo. Things were off and wrong. It was just a very interesting moment. I’m so interested in the stories people believe about themselves and believe about the other people they love. This was an example of that. My grandmother, who we thought had grown up with her mother and eight kids, it turned out actually was living with an aunt thirty miles away. My mother didn’t know about this. All of these interesting questions about her and my family history came up. I’m working on a something about someone who discovers something similar. Then I’m going back in time to figure out — sort of like being a time detective, but not literally. I don’t write sci-fi, so there’s no actual time travel or fantasy. Anyway, it’s a big mess right now, but it’s great. No one’s looked at it. I’m having fun with it.

Zibby: That’s awesome. It’s not even the summer right now, so you’re ahead of yourself.

Jane: True. You’re right.

Zibby: You can have the summer to really dive deep. That’s really exciting. Even though The Balcony came out, it was short stories. Now at this point, you’re a debut novelist, really. How does that feel?

Jane: It feels great. The Balcony was funny that way because it really isn’t — it works as a novel, but this is an actual novel. This is a novel. Even though probably for the rest of the world, this is not my debut novel, you and I both know, and maybe a couple other people, it really is. It feels great. It does feel like I ventured into a different form. Again, I really love short stories. I’m comfortable. Not that I don’t write duds and feel like I don’t know what I’m doing and question myself constantly because that’s just always there, but the novel form is quite different. I will say Hedge is a very compact novel with one point of view and a pretty clear through line chronology. One might say that it’s a very long short story, which maybe helped me write it. It’s not a seven-hundred-page tome with fifteen points of view. Who knows? Maybe that will be next.

Zibby: Who knows? I guess we’ll just find out after the summer. Tell me more about your daughters and how they reacted to this book, especially in light of all that your family had gone through.

Jane: My daughters, first of all, are wonderful. They’re both sort of coming into — well, one of them really is in adulthood, and the other one’s almost there. This is an interesting time of life for me. I started Hedge when they were younger. Margot, my eldest, was still at home. She’s in her junior year of college. Rose is in her junior year of high school. She said to me yesterday, “You timed this really well. You’re not going to have to pay for both of us for college at the same time.” She’s like, “Did you think about that when you had us?” I was like, “No, not really.” Margot has read the book. Rose hasn’t read it yet. I think this might be true for many writers. My kids — I’m Mom. I’m me. They are so supportive of my writing. They’re wonderful, but they kind of don’t — it’s almost like someone else wrote that, in a funny way. I definitely get a little bit of grief from my eldest about the eldest daughter, who is really not like her at all. They recognize things. Even though Maud is quite different from me and the daughters are quite different from my daughters, they recognize — you can’t help it. Stuff slips in. For example, Maud likes to tell stories on her daughter’s back. I used to do that all the time with Margot. I’d act out the whole story on her back. I wasn’t even consciously thinking about that when I wrote the book. She actually was like, “Stories on the back like you always did with me.” I was like, “Oh, right. That’s where that came from.” They recognize things. They don’t like when I write sex scenes. My youngest daughter — I don’t think she’d mind my saying. She opened one of my husband’s books. There was a description of a body part on page four or something. That was it for his books. She was like, “I’m never –” . She hadn’t read any of his stuff. I think they always take everything I write with a grain of salt. They recognize the reality. I’m also careful. I’m careful in all of my fiction to change things up so that nobody can be fully recognized.

Zibby: It’s so funny. My son who’s eight is doing a mystery unit at school. He was like, “Is Wednesdays at One a mystery?” I was like, “Kind of. A little. There is something mysterious.” He was like, “Can I bring it in to read it at school? But if there’s any curse words or anything inappropriate, I’m going to get expelled. You better make sure there’s –” I’m like, “You’re not going to get expelled.”

Jane: I love that.

Zibby: On the car ride to school this morning, I was reading through it. I was like, “Well, they do describe someone’s boobs here.” He was like, “Nope, forget it. Leave it at home.”

Jane: Leafing through it, you just need to put the black like the CIA with the Sharpie.

Zibby: Exactly. I know. I’m like, “It does say breasts.” He’s like, “Forget it.” It’s so awkward, this whole kid-parent, sex through writing. It’s bizarre because kids would never want to have — anyway, I don’t know.

Jane: I don’t write super steamy sex. I’m not good at it.

Zibby: You’re not good at writing about it.

Jane: Oh, right. Thank you, Zibby. I like the 1950s, the train going to the tunnel and the ship going out into the ocean. I don’t want to give anything away, but I have a very strategic chapter break, which I’m sure my daughters appreciate.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. How is it being married to someone else who has the same craft? What is that like?

Jane: It’s really great. I can see how it could be not great. For us, it works well. Don’s my first reader. I’m his first reader. I actually gave him a story on Saturday. I was like, “I need to start showing stuff.” He was so funny. He was like, “Thank god I liked it,” afterwards. We react. We’re very honest with each other. We have our reactions, but we don’t take it out on each other. We just mope a little privately. Then we come back and are like, okay, let’s talk about it now. Let’s talk about the edits. He’s been through the publishing process for so many years. That’s really great. He gives me so much perspective. Any good partner — I think you have one of these too, a good partner who just brings you back to yourself. I think whatever he did for a profession, he would do that, help me come down and put things in perspective. It’s worked. It’s been all good. That’s been all really, really good, having a partner who’s also a writer. He was an editor for twenty years too, so I get a lot of free editing. I actually told him yesterday — you know, there’s the book tour coming up. There’s just so much going on. I’m also trying to keep writing. I am working on stories and on this longer thing. Yesterday, I said to him — I think it was after he read the story. I said, “ put you on retainer? Should I ?” I’m always asking him, “There’s something weird with my website. Can you proof this letter?” or whatever. He’s a good partner in that way.

Zibby: That’s awesome. I feel like he and Kyle could trade notes on stepchildren as well. I know that’s been a transition. Kyle’s so great with the kids, but it’s its unique role.

Jane: It is. I think every unit has to kind of reinvent it. My kids call him stepdude. That was the term.

Zibby: That’s funny.

Jane: They have a father. They’re very close with their father. He’s awesome. My youngest coined that term early on because that was a comfortable — he’s figured out how to be stepdude. Everybody has to figure it out.

Zibby: Have you kept the thread of French and French language and all of that in your life at all? Do you go back often?

Jane: That was a really painful aspect of the divorce that I wasn’t expecting, was sort of losing that connection to this culture and this country. It was also a connection to my father, who died when I was sixteen, because he was the one who really encouraged me to speak French. There’s a whole history. We had family there. We spoke it, especially with my youngest. We spoke a lot of French when she was growing up. Then I couldn’t afford it, honestly. I couldn’t afford to go back. We used to go once or twice a year to France with the girls and stay with my husband’s family and do our own thing. I hadn’t gone back for six years, which, again, had been an annual, regular thing. I went back last fall. I think you know this because we had a Zibby retreat, and I changed my ticket.

Zibby: I remember very well.

Jane: Margot was in Paris on her semester abroad. Both of the girls, they’re dual citizens. Their French is amazing. Their accents are so much better than mine. I went back for the first time to see her. Rose and I went together. They’ve been going with their dad pretty regularly, but I hadn’t been back. It was amazing. First of all, it was amazing to be with my daughter in this huge city where she’s just so independent and navigating the metro. People thought she was French. Her accent’s so good. The minute I opened my mouth, they were like, oh, she has a clearly not-French mother. It was also amazing to rediscover that part of myself. It was strange. I told a friend of mine there was still this twenty-two-year-old version of me sitting on a park bench in the Jardin des Tuileries just still there. It was really great. I want to go back again. I think this summer is going to be hard with all the book tour. I want to go back with Don because he hasn’t been to France in years. Rose and I now speak it. We’re speaking it again. We’ve started speaking French at home more often, which is great. Don just, in his calm stepdude way, doesn’t care. He pretends he understands what we’re saying and says, “D’accord,” which means okay. He just says, “D’accord.” We’re like, “We’ll never talk about you. That will be a rule.” That’s another aspect of my life that I want to start integrating again because I do miss it. Margot’s going back this summer. She loved living in Paris. I don’t want her to move there. That’s way too far, but I wouldn’t mind if she spent periods of time there where I could go visit and stay longer.

Zibby: Maybe you could somehow start writing short stories in French, and then you’d have to do a French tour.

Jane: I will tell you that, yes, there is a bit of a French angle to this new project I’m working on. I think it’s good to set your fiction in places you want to visit. That’s the only writing advice I have. Then you get to go there. When I moved The Balcony, I was like, where am I going to move it where I can drive? I love the Hudson Valley. It’s so beautiful. I got to go to the Hudson Valley ten times or whatever — it wasn’t that many — to do the research. Those are these retreats on my own with my book. As women and mothers and busy people, we can’t always get away by ourselves, so I think it’s a good idea to choose locations you want to go to. That’s my tip.

Zibby: Very smart. That’s a great tip. That’s a really great tip.

Jane: You can write those trips off, by the way.

Zibby: Write the trips off. Then you’re going to want to talk to all those bookstore owners in the area. You’re going to do a whole marketing thing because it’s based there.

Jane: They’ve been so great with supporting the book, Bard. That’s been terrific. That was a really good move, literally.

Zibby: Jane, I’m so excited that Hedge is coming out. I’m excited that Leigh Newman already knew you so well and had so much respect for you and was so excited about this book when we started the whole company. I’ve got to watch. I’ve gotten to see it just bloom like a fast-growing hedge. It’s been really fun. You’re awesome. I’m very excited for what’s to come.

Jane: This was so great. Thanks, Zibby.

Zibby: Thanks, Jane. Bye.

Jane: Bye.

Jane Delury, HEDGE: A Novel

HEDGE: A Novel by Jane Delury

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