As novelists tell you any chance we get, writing is a lonely profession. What we do for a living is sit alone in a room and tell ourselves stories. But how did this particular story, Any Place I Hang My Hat, come to be? A couple of months after I’d finished my last novel, I still hadn’t a clue about what to write next. All I sensed was that a woman on the verge of thirty was demanding I tell her story. Day after day I’d go to my computer and stare at the reflection of the Venetian blinds in the pale blankness of my monitor. Suddenly, I began typing as if possessed. Well, I was. Twenty-nine-year-old Amy Lincoln had opened the door and walked in. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. Throughout my career, my subconscious has always been my best and only collaborator. While I’m frittering away time staring into nothingness, it is diligent, doing half the work. With this book, it probably did around three-quarters because I was astounded at how much I knew.
The day that my fingers finally made contact with the keyboard, it was clear to me that Amy’s mother had taken a hike shortly before Amy’s first birthday, that her father was in prison more often than out, and that she’d been brought up in a low-income housing project in downtown Manhattan by her father’s mother, Grandma Lil-who worked as a substitute leg waxer at Beauté, a chichi uptown salon. A woman who valued the finer things, including setting a good table, Grandma Lil shoplifted what she felt entitled to. After a day’s work, for example, she’d come home with a plastic-wrapped filet mignon and an Idaho potato in her coat pockets.
As I began the outline that morning, I discovered that Amy had won a scholarship to a New England boarding school when she was fourteen. As a lifelong New Yorker, I knew long before I wrote my first sentence the true distance of Amy’s journey from the Lower East Side to the Upper East Side. It was far greater then four and a half miles.
So, now I had a handle on Amy Lincoln. All I needed now was the substance of the story.
I’d always been fascinated with how quickly Americans climb (and occasionally slide down) the social ladder. Amy might be smart and funny, but as any case worker might have noted, she was also disadvantaged. This was just a starting point for me because I had no desire to write a poor little poor girl novel. By any measure, except maybe her own, Amy Lincoln was a success. After attending the exclusive Ivey-Rush Academy, she further defined herself as a winner by going on to Harvard and the Columbia School of Journalism, her version of the American dream.
Part of that dream (besides the Four Freedoms articulated by FDR) has always been the freedom to be oneself. But what’s the price of our social mobility? When someone climbs so far, where does she truly belong? Yes, Amy fit in everywhere, from the visitors’ room at the Ossining Correctional Facility to a hip Manhattan bar to the offices of the highbrow weekly, In Depth, where she was an associate editor. But where could she finally hang her hat? Was her home any place she made it? Or was there no place at all for someone like her, except alone?
To find out, Amy needs some questions answered. She has to track down the mother who abandoned her when she was ten months old. How much of her mother is in her-and what possible reason was good enough to explain abandoning her baby? What role did the felonious and not-too-bright Lincolns play in her life? Why did her relationship with Mr. Right go so wrong? Oh, and should she pursue the big political scoop that In Depth is far too tasteful to touch.
Excellent: My subconscious and I were all over the outline. Now we just had to write the book.