Women of a certain age are frequently treated like the best moments of their lives are over. But that is not the case for the protagonists in Frances Mayes’ novels, or Mayes herself. She was a professor and little-known poet until the release of “Under the Tuscan Sun” (Broadway Books/1997) which catapulted her career. Mayes was well into her 50s at the time, and still lit with her own personal fire and passion, she has continued to send her characters on a journey to find the success that eluded them in their youth.
In her new book “Women In Sunlight” (Crown/2018), she tells the story of three North Carolina women who consider downsizing and settling into a retirement community, but instead wind up in Italy. Mayes joins host Frank Stasio to talk about second chances, life after “Under The Tuscan Sun,” and two of her favorite places: Italy and North Carolina. Mayes will be hosting readings, signings and Q&A sessions throughout North Carolina including at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh tonight at 7 p.m. She will also be at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville on Monday, April 9;; the Orange County Public Library in Hillsborough on Wednesday, April 11; and The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines on Thursday, April 12.
On the transition to Italy:
It was a shock to the system. I rented a farmhouse in Tuscany – just kinda put my finger down on the map and said: This is a good location. And after two weeks in the place I knew that I really wanted to have that as part of my life.
On the inspiration behind “Women in Sunlight”:
It came out of a very specific thing. I walk into town every morning for coffee and often in the piazza I see a woman writing in her notebook or sketching, and I know why she’s there. She’s looking for something. She has a reason, and it’s very important to her personal life. I’ve met a lot of those women. I’ve been that woman, and so I really thought that that was a great inspiration. All these women that I’ve met who are on a quest to do something to deepen their experience.
On the women of the novel:
It’s about three North Carolina-based women who are getting the not so subtle message that it’s time to downsize, declutter, retire. They’re getting older, and they’re feeling that their options are kinda narrowing down … That first part of the novel takes place in North Carolina, and they do this bold and crazy thing and lease a house for a year in Tuscany, but at the end of the book – do they stay there or do they go home? … It’s about friendship. It’s about a time in your life when a lot of things are narrowing down and you’re seeing a lot of endings. Its about new beginnings. And that they are still possible even later in life.
On achieving success later in life: I never expected anything cause I was a poet, and that isn’t going to happen. Louise Bogan said: Being a successful poet is like being a successful mushroom … When I published “Under the Tuscan Sun” the publisher thought it would sell like my poetry – that is, not at all. And the book kind of strangely took off. The publisher called me and said: Frances, this book is really selling. We think it’s because of the cover.