Inspirations Part Two

It’s often been said that all first novels are autobiographical and it’s true that some aspects of LOST SKY were influenced by my personal experiences and observations. Although my mother is alive and about to embark on a trip to Istanbul, some years ago a great uncle, about whom I had no knowledge, unexpectedly crossed my path. We visited together on a few occasions during the ensuing months and then somehow I lost track of him again. I’ve tried to stay in touch via the the telephone, but since he doesn’t have an answering machine and rarely picks up the phone, remaining in contact has proved difficult.

I gained much of my knowledge of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden during my freshman year at Bennington College. That winter I spent my first Non Resident Term working behind the scenes at the garden. My job involved creating a coloring book based on the tropical plant collection and I spent many hours sketching in the Victorian glass house that contained a miniature  jungle. A couple years after graduating from college I returned to Brooklyn and shared an apartment with a roommate on Flatbush Avenue. He was straight, but actually Jason’s character was loosely based on a more casual acquaintance.

When not writing, I work as a landscape designer (visit me on the web at My house, which has been photographed for several national horticultural magazines, is a small antique cape. Over the years I have surrounded it with gardens that I regularly feature in my blog, A Year In My Garden ( Undoubtedly the design and care of these gardens influenced the writing of LOST SKY. In fact it was while working in my Blue & White garden that I first began to formulate the novel’s plot. As I compose this post I am gazing out the window at an enormous three-trunked oak tree that grows near a small river that winds through the wildlife sanctuary that abuts my property.

The look of Salal’s gardens, however, was inspired by the work of the French Landscape Architect, Andre Le Notre, who designed the grounds of Versailles and Vaux-Le-Vicomte in the 17th century,both of which I visited during a trip to Paris some years ago.

For the mosaic work that figures prominently in my descriptions of Salal’s home, I drew on my memories of the Taj Mahal, which I toured while in India almost two decades ago. The interior walls of the building are inlaid with jeweled mosaics many of which have botanical themes. Each of the leaves and petals, often smaller than a fingernail, are composed of several tiny chips of colored stone. I recall that the effect seemed to magically recreate the play of light and shadow that one observes in nature.   

Inspirations Part One

It occurred to me after I started working on LOST SKY that the plot had been influenced in part by two books that I had read as a child. The first was The Dodo, The Auk and The Oryx, Vanished and Vanishing Species by Robert Silverberg, a treatise on the plight of creatures that had recently disappeared from the earth or seemed destined to do so. I remember re-reading the book many times all the while fantasizing about discovering a living Dodo or Auk. Although I had never been much interested in prehistoric fauna, Silverberg’s chapters ignited what would become a melancholy fascination with extinction. Unlike dinosaurs, which seemed the stuff of nightmarish fairy tales, the plight of animals that had become extinct during modern times struck a chord with me. It was I think the first time that I stopped to think about people’s heedless actions and this new awareness kindled in me a complex mixture of sadness and pessimism.

At around the same time I read Peter S. Beagle’s, The Last Unicorn, which tells the tale of a lone unicorn searching for another of her own kind. When she leaves the safety of her forest home she is confronted by a changed world that she doesn’t recognize. I recall as a child being deeply affected by the fact that almost no one whom the unicorn encounters perceives her for what she is.

It wasn’t until I was editing the first draft of LOST SKY that I remembered those two books and suddenly realized how much they had influenced my thinking. I wonder now if I would have written LOST SKY if I hadn’t found them in my school library all those years ago.