Author Ann Hood ‘Graces’ Library with Visit
Sharing the personal story of losing her daughter, her journey back to writing and adopted a daughter from China, Hood wrapped the mystical “red thread” of healing, hope and humor around her fans.
"In China there is a belief that people who are destined to be together are connected by an invisible, silken, red thread of destiny. It is said that this magical cord may tangle or stretch but never break. When a child is born, that invisible red thread connects the child's soul to all the people—past, present, and future—who will play a part in that child's life. Over time, that thread shortens and tightens, bringing closer those people who are fated to be together. Who is at the end of your red thread?" —from Ann Hood's book The Red Thread
If you asked best-selling Ann Hood as a little girl the proverbial question "what do you want to be when you grow up?" she'd have answered without hesitation: a writer.
"I knew at age four, when I opened my older brother's reading book, seeing the words 'Look! Look!" she said to the roomful of grateful readers at the Melrose Public Library on Wednesday night.
"Immediately, I knew that this was the world I wanted to grow up in, the world of books."
Books became her world, reading the transportation around it, and writing her way of understanding the world in which she lived. After a layoff from TWA where she worked as a flight attendant, she fell into her dream job, writing: novels, a memoir, a book on the craft of writing, a collection of short stories, in addition to numerous essays and short stories.
But when Grace, her beautiful, blond-haired daughter, died tragically at age five from a virulent form of strep, writing—even reading—became impossible. It wasn't even a question, because Hood had no answers. Instead, she entered for two years what she dubbed "the fog of grief." Nothing mattered.
She told the rapt audience of how her amazing community of friends, family and neighbors fed her, walked her, cared for her and her family, but eventually had to go home to their own families. Six months after Grace died, Hood was still in the same situation with no solace. No daughter.
"Learn to knit," friends advised.
Desperate, she did. Though the idea was preposterous. An 'A' student all her life, the author admitted she had not achieved an 'A' in only one subject: Home Economics.
But after attending her first class, she realized it was the first time she hadn't cried, or gone out of her mind, in two hours. Unlike in life, she learned that, "you can fix anything in knitting." She recounted with honesty and humor the first time how she watched in horror as her teacher pulled out all stitches to undo her beginner's mistakes, then told Hood she could begin again.
"After you lose someone," says Hood, "you drive yourself crazy with thoughts of 'what could have I done differently?"
A thread back to reading and writing
For six months, the author knit full-time. She knit scarves for everyone and anyone.
"People started hiding like those people you know who grow zucchinis."
Knitting brought her back to reading. Writing took longer. Her days were spent knitting two hours, writing two hours, then reading two hours. Like a knitting pattern, a story came to her about a woman who lost her child and takes up knitting.
"I didn't want to write my story. I wasn't ready," admitted Hood.
But after searching for books to help her with her grief, and realizing most were written by specialists, she promised herself that if she wrote again, she would tell a story of loss, desperation, and hope as honestly as she could. One with a large universal truth. Silently, she made a deal with herself to be vulnerable, but to seek and illuminate the different facets of grief.
"People would tell me 'take notes' after Grace died so I wouldn't forget." Hood paused, the pain still in her voice, "How would I forget?"
Instead, Hood used the fiction writer's tool of asking 'What if?' again and again to shape the story, posting questions and ideas that resulted on yellow sticky notes.
"I called my agent," she said. "'I have a book idea.' And told her. She said, 'a book about knitting? People who sit around and knit?'"
Her latest book, The Red Thread, came out of a decision to adopt a little girl from China.
"I knew I was going to write a book about adoption, but again, didn't want it to be my story, so once more used the 'what if's' strategy," she said. "I wanted the book to not only be about adoption and loss, but hope, too."
Three years after Grace died, Hood and her husband and son decided to adopt a little girl from China.
"We were told 'she's cute, healthy, and her birthday is April 18."
The same day Grace died.
Her husband's immediate reaction was positive. "It's a sign!"
Hood felt bowled over by the connection. "I will never bake cupcakes on that day."
They decided to go ahead, adopting from China, because of the women in China and the one-child law. Hood feels herself to be kindred spirits with these women whom she believes want to keep their daughters as much as she wanted to keep hers, but couldn't.
"We're walking around with a hole in our hearts, so I used that as the catalyst."
Annabelle came into their family and last year, when Annabelle turned five, her birthday fell on a Saturday. There was no excuse for not being able to bake the pink cupcakes Annabelle wanted.
Hood did. And, "I could see that red thread, connecting that woman to me, to her daughter."
Readers share their own stories
After sharing her story, Hood led a question and answer session. Because of the intimacy and honesty of the evening, audience members opened up to tell their stories. One woman told of losing her own young child and how Hood's story of pain and loss resonated within her deeply. Hood listened intently. The connection between the two women, the two mothers with holes in their souls, was palpable.
Another asked, "Does Annabelle know?"
"Annabelle knows everything!" Hood laughed. Then, turning serious, she added, "Just the other day, Annabelle said, 'You have 3 kids, right?'"
Before ending the night, with refreshments provided by local book group, "Wine and Books," together for seven years, one audience member asked what was writing in the works.
Hood announced news that Grey's Anatomy actress, Katherine Heigel, optioned The Knitting Circle in May "but that's all I know."
Hood's next book, titled The Obituary Writer, just sold. And a series about two 12-year olds who time-travel and meet famous Americans who have fallen somewhat off kids' radar screen—like Pearl S. Buck, Alexander Hamilton, and Houdini—is currently in the works. Even more ideas are in the making.
Writer's note: I interviewed Ann Hood by phone early Monday morning, Sept. 20, before heading out for a neighbor's funeral, oblivious, in my rush, to acknowledge that Friday, Sept. 24, the day this story would appear, would be Grace's 14th birthday.
Yesterday, while writing this, I checked Hood's blog. On September 20, she wrote: I can tell by how much time I spent knitting today that melancholy is setting in…so much work to do, but there are days when I have to just knit…Lots of events this week…Wednesday night at the Melrose Public Library…Friday would be Grace's 14th birthday. Think of her…in her wired rimmed glasses and sparkly shoes.
We do. Happy Birthday, Grace. And thanks, Ann Hood, for coming to Melrose.