Unwrapped: How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly

Intimate Conversations with author Connie May Fowler

New York Times bestselling writer Connie May Fowler is an essayist, screenwriter, and novelist. She is the author of five novels, most recently The Problem with Murmur Lee, and a memoir, When Katie Wakes. In 1996, she published  Before Women Had Wings, which became a paperback bestseller and was made into a successful Oprah Winfrey Presents movie. She founded the Connie May Fowler Women With Wings Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to aiding women and children in need. Connie lives in Florida.


BPM: Take us inside How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly.
The book tracks a day in the life of Clarissa Burden, a woman who wakes on the Summer Solstice with the knowledge that her life must change because she is wracked with spousal death scenarios and writer’s block. Concurrent with her story is that of Olga Villada. Villada and her family are ghosts, their souls unable to move on from the place where they were brutally murdered. Their stories converge, resulting in a startling and life-changing chain of events.

BPM: What specific revelation prompted you to write your book?

I was reading up on pre-Civil war Florida history and discovered that when Florida was a Spanish territory, women could be property owners and slavery was outlawed. But Spain and the United States signed an agreement that would change all of that. The Florida Purchase Treaty of 1819 guaranteed that the United States would lay claim to Florida in 1821. With a stroke of a pen and strike of a clock, suddenly all women and blacks would have their rights stripped away. That haunted me and I walked around with that kernel in my head for a few years before I sat down to write the novel, which takes place in 2006 but is populated with ghosts.


BPM: Who do you want to reach with your book and the message within?
I think this book will have a broad appeal. The book, at its core, is about freedom—individual and universal—and it’s wrapped up in a story that is both comedic and dramatic. I think readers of many ages and races will identify with the struggles of Clarissa Burden and Olga Villada.

BPM: How will reading your book shape the readers lives?
One, I hope it will make readers laugh even amid a few tears. But if there is one message I want readers to gain, it’s that how easy it is for the course of history—the course of one person’s individual day—to go suddenly very, very wrong. There are bad people in this world—sometimes bad people have all the trappings of kindness—and they are capable of terrible things. So we have to be vigilant for ourselves and for one another. Casual prejudices and ordinary meanness can, in the blink of an eye, become lethal. So we have to learn to be pro-actively kind and relentless protective of our rights.

BPM: What are some of their specific issues, needs or problems addressed in this book?
Women’s issues, race, personal empowerment, marital relations, and Florida history.

BPM: What was the most powerful chapter in the book, How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly?
I think that once Clarissa decides—in a fit of rage—to kill her husband, this book takes a major turn and all the chapters that follow are highly entertaining, shocking, and ultimately satisfying.

BPM: Share with us your latest news, awards or upcoming book releases.
I recently wrote a story for Slate’s online women’s site DoubleX about how the Haitian earthquake has severely impacted their women’s movement. How Clarissa Burden Learns to Fly was released to stores April 2, 2010.

BPM: How can our readers reach you online? Share with us your online contact info.
My website is http://www.conniemayfowler.com/.  I blog at http://blog.conniemayfowler.com/.   Readers can also follow me on Twitter and friend me on Facebook, where I’m very active. There is also a Facebook fan page for How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly.  In honor of Clarissa and those pesky spousal death scenarios that haunt her, I launched the Clarissa Burden Postcard Project  in which I will be asking readers to anonymously send me one secret they cannot tell their spouse or partner. The secrets can be silly or serious, and will be posted on my website.


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