To: The Women's National Book Association/LA Chapter
and the Judy Lopez Memorial Foundation
How deeply thrilled, how filled with champagne and fireflies I feel to be the author of a Judy Lopez Memorial Books Award Honor Book. How dashed to the depths of stony remorse I feel not to be able to be there with you today. Okay, frankly, come to think of it, to be filled with champagne is charming, but to be filled with fireflies is somewhat unsettling. In fact, I'm confused about what I feel. This is to say, in other words, that I feel like an honorary Russian, joy and desolation my twin chargers galloping along in front of this vehicle, the extremely Russian droshky known as the Judy Lopez Memorial Book Awards.
Seriously, I really am thrilled, and really am sorry not to be with you today. I'd like to tell you about how the book came to be.
I am of an age when, as a child, receiving a gift subscription of JACK & JILL magazine was practice for becoming a lifetime reader of the New Yorker magazine. When I was seven, the JACK & JILL magazines regularly featured, once a year, a serialized story about Baba Yaga the Witch, famous from Russian folklore. In the magazine illustrations, she was tall and angular, cross and yet not ultimately scary. I believe these stories paved the way for my curiosity about apparently dangerous creatures who aren't ultimately treacherous or really menacing, just look like it. The difference between seeming and being... I think this childhood reading helped seed the interest that would result, 20 years ago, in my adult novel WICKED, and also resulted in this year's exercise in high fantasy, EGG & SPOON.
The novel takes place in Tsarist Russia in the first decade of the 20th century -- think of the novel as a canvas set in a time in which, on the one side, Dr. Zhivago is meeting Julie Christie in a snowy dacha, and on the other, the romping dandelion Cossacks and lily maidens from Fantasia are dancing up a Tchaikovskian storm. Imagine my Baba Yaga as played by Maggie Smith on crystal meth. The story can be summarized in the high-concept fashion used in Hollywood as: "It's THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, except with girls, meets FROZEN, except the world is melting, not freezing." There is, in fact, a Hollywood option on the tale.
The novel is about very current concerns: polar ice melting, global warming, shifts in food production, growing income inequities, and the need for a new system of sharing. My peasant child, Elena, trying to save her starving mother, accidentally changes places on a private train with a well-heeled Russian girl being schooled in England, who has been on her way to a party at the Winter Palace, to give to the Tsar a fabulous Faberge egg. The impoverished girl discovers in herself a taste for luxury. The rich girl discovers in the woods a character from rural folklore, Baba Yaga, in whom she has never believed. T his is the first half of the book, roughly, and this is the believable part. What I mean to say is, I aim to focus attention on immediately important political and social concerns, but to do so without hectoring, without even answers at hand—and while being entertaining and literate, in every way I know how.
I hope the attendees enjoy EGG & SPOON. I am nothing short of ecstatic that it has been so honored by the awards committee. Please accept my heartiest thanks.