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October 28, 2019

As a former bookseller, Von Zerneck knows the power of storytelling. And after writing a well-received memoir, she’s back with her first work of fiction, The Girl on the Moon, which is set in a dizzying array of places and time periods, connecting characters via a painting of a Parisian church.

Your previous book, Secret Storms, was a memoir. How was the writing process different for The Girl on the Moon?

Writing Secret Storms was an almost biologically driven process. It just poured out of me, with very little thought. The story of that book had waited so very long to be told that it was completely ripe by the time I sat down to tell it. Also, I was cowriting with my daughter Kathy Hatfield, with whom I had just been reunited after 40 years, so the process was also a way for us to develop a deep relationship.

The Girl on the Moon, however, was a truly artistic endeavor that required great patience, research, and honing of craft. It was like putting together an elegant and mysterious puzzle.

To what extent do you draw from real life, and what responsibility do you feel to reimagine or change characters based on real people?

Like all writers, I draw from real life to varying degrees, depending on the subject matter. In fact, to me, there is nothing more evocative and moving than that which is artfully hewn from reality. It is my sense of curiosity that leads me to change aspects of real people if I happen to be using them as models for characters. I love to observe the ripples and repercussions, in story and character, of making just one different choice, of arriving or departing just one minute before or after. I experience unmatched joy when characters I’ve fashioned from kernels of truth come alive on the page and manage to surprise even me.

The Girl on the Moon takes place in many different historical times and places. Can you describe the research that you did?

I have visited or lived in all of the places described in the book. But only during this lifetime, as far as I can remember. In The Girl on the Moon, we travel to Paris, for example, which is a city I adore, but we do so in the 1400s. We visit Calais and Bombay, but in the 1800s. The characters through which we experience these places informed, to a large degree, the direction of my research, which took the form of a lot of reading and a lot of imagining. So much of the book explores the notion of synchronicity, which is present in countless forms throughout the story and was present in its writing. For example, one source of research for what Paris was like in 1439 was a nonfiction book my father, Daniel P. Mannix IV, wrote called The Wolves of Paris, about a pack of wolves that took over the city for months. The character we follow in Paris happens to encounter these wolves, and the wolves, in turn, have an effect on all the lives explored subsequently.

What is the one thing you most want to tell readers, booksellers, publishers, or agents about you or your book?

For 26 years, my family and I owned and operated an independent bookstore. The most important thing I learned through that experience was that storytelling is a basic human need. It’s as important as anything else our species needs to survive and thrive. It’s how we can be reminded daily that we are all connected. Stories alone have the power to compel us to live more authentically, to love more, to keep opening our hearts to one another, to trust in the great mystery and wonder of it all.

Are you working on anything new?

I’m always working on something! Currently, I’m working on a series of interconnected stories. All the main characters have lives that intersect in one location, which happens to be Grand Central Station in New York City. You see, I’m committed to the theme that we need only look to find the threads that link us all to one another.