Inspiration for writers – where does it come from? For Lara Tupper, her second book “Off Island” was inspired by a Gaugin art exhibit she’d seen some 10 years ago, with the vibrant colors in his Tahitian paintings, and the story of the artist’s tumultuous and passion-driven personal life.
And then a story began to emerge in her mind with Monhegan Island the setting, centered around a modern-day couple whose lives some 100 years later paralleled the lives of Gaugin and his wife Mete in Paris with their children.
Tupper came across some letters Gaugin wrote his wife. The letters included his affairs with young Taihitian girls and spared no detail.
“I thought about the sacrifices a wife or partner makes enabling their spouse to pursue their art,” Tupper said. “I thought, what’s it like to sacrifice for art, for both parties.”
She imagined Gaugin sailing to Monhegan during his final years … and what he might have left behind.
“It’s historical fiction and a mystery … that was tricky to figure out. Did he leave a painting? An ancestor?
She did a lot of research for “Off Island.” That was one of her favorite parts of the project. Laughing, she said: “Part of the reason it took 10 years to finish is I got lost in the research ... I’d sit and gaze out the window thinking about the characters, the couple Molly and Pete, islands ...”
The story is really about the women, Molly and Mete, and the choices they made. Tupper explained, Pete is an artist with a lot of self doubt. He grew up in a home where he was not supported in his choices, had trouble in school and had addiction issues. There’s a parallel there with Gaugin who had as big a passion for absinthe as he did women. And both Molly and Mete are supportive and provide their artist-husbands with the freedom to pursue their art. They are also the glue that holds everything together in the relationships.
Every writer has their own style. Tupper thinks of scenes and writes them out and puts them away for a while. She described her style as fragmented, taking the scenes she writes and then fitting them together – or throwing some away and writing a scene differently.
“It took some time to figure out how to bring it all together. I had no idea how I was going to put the pieces together. It’s like a puzzle. My first book (“A Thousand And One Nights”) was very autobiographical about my years singing on cruise ships. This one … this one was a different.”
Tupper grew up in Boothbay and lives in the Berkshires with husband Bobby Sweet. Tupper said where she is is very beautiful, but she misses Maine – and her mom, Jill Tupper. Growing up, Tupper visited Monhegan and has always loved it. “I think people familiar with coastal Maine or Monhegan Island will appreciate being able to return there through the book,” Tupper said.
Curious about this new novel? Then Zoom in on Friday, June 19 at 7:30 p.m. for a conversation between Tupper and renowned author Christina Baker Kline, whose most recent novel, “A Piece of the World,” is inspired by Andrew Wyeth’s iconic painting, “Christina’s World.”
“I am so thrilled to be doing this with Christina. I love her writing. We will be talking about bringing art history to life through novels,” said Tupper.