The summer after high-school graduation, a year after her mother’s tragic death, Anna has no plans – beyond her need to put a lot of miles between herself and the past. With forever friend Kat, a battered copy of Kerouac’s DHARMA BUMS, and a car with a dodgy oil filter, the girls set out on an epic road trip across the USA. Maybe somewhere along the way they’ll prove or disprove the existence of God. Maybe they’ll even get laid . . .It’s a journey both outward and inward. Through the Badlands and encounters with predatory men and buffalo. A crazy bus ride to Mexico with a bunch of hymn-singing missionaries. Facing death, naked in the forest with an enraged grizzly bear . . . Gradually, Anna realizes that this is a voyage of discovery into her own self, her own silent pain – and into the tangled history that she and Kat share. What is love? What is sexual identity? And how do you find a way forward into a new future – a way to declare openly and without fear all that lies within you?
Coming Marshall Cavendish, Spring 2012
Sometimes I try to trace the path that brought my story from brain to book, this story of Anna and her best friend Kat—and the road trip that changes them both.
My biggest inspiration has been the road itself. There is almost nothing lifted directly from real life in the trip my characters take, and yet their journey follows at least part of the path of a summer-long ramble that my husband and I took ten years prior to writing Kiss the Morning Star. There were, in fact, several scenes I wanted to steal from life and put in the book, but it was funny. They didn’t work, as fiction. They were too weird, too random. Too completely unbelievable. Yes, we went backpacking in Glacier National Park, and yes, I even saw a grizzly bear on the trail. The memory of that shaggy head lifting above the vegetation still makes the breath catch in my throat, makes me recall the awe-struck poem I wrote about the experience. But no, I wasn’t naked at the time, and yes, my pack was always properly stored a safe distance above the ground, suspended between two trees in a well-researched and fastidiously knotted configuration. (I was not, however, the researcher or the clipboard-carrier as Anna is…that honor belongs to my fellow traveler.)
I’ve written a lot on my own blog about my interest in Kerouac, and it’s true that on our road trip, D. and I had almost every Kerouac book in the Duluoz legend in the trunk (which is saying a lot, since we had a strict book ration, despite the fact that my 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis had a pretty spankin’ huge trunk) and this gigantic copy of Some of the Dharma sat in our back window so long that the cover is all faded in stripes (though I confess I’ve only read bits and pieces of it). We almost wore out our Kicks, Joy, Darkness tribute CD, and we composed little Kerouac-style haiku and recited them for each other along the way. My notebooks from the time have inspired me throughout my writing process, both for remembering what it was like to journey westward and what it was like to fall deeply in love with my traveling companion.
Love is at the heart of Kiss the Morning Star, the way it can be so simple and so very complicated in a single moment—the way it can feel certain and forever at the same time it feels fragile and precarious. How it can hurt to lose someone you love, or to watch someone faltering whose strength and guidance has always been a pillar holding you up. Anna’s journey still breaks my heart to read, even after all the time I’ve spent with her, and writing the ending of this book took me so many tries—maybe because I can see so many possible directions for her love to lead her.
Looking for a way to end this post, I pulled my old journal off the shelf, and, as Anna and Kat do with their battered copy of Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, I flipped to a random page, jabbing my finger at the faded ink. “I guess all things worth writing hurt, in that deep way—between the waters of your heart and mind,” I wrote. I hope that readers of Kiss the Morning Star will enjoy Anna’s journey as much as I have enjoyed writing it.