How Author Janet Fitch Inspires Me

Updated on February 15, 2019
Donetta Sifford profile image

Donetta is a writer and has had her poems published in Ink & Voices, The Mystic Blue Review, The Reverie, and Spillwords.

White Oleander - Spolier Alerts

Janet Fitch's debut novel "White Oleander" is an amazing story, and her poetic sentences have been a huge inspiration to me.

"The Santa Anas blew in hot from the desert, shriveling the last of the spring grass into whiskers of pale straw."

The first sentence grabbed my attention, and I did not put the novel down until I had read through to the end. You can read the first few astonishing paragraphs at Live It Out Loud. The link is provided at the end of this post.

Ingrid, a brilliant poet, and her daughter, Astrid, share a world of art, mystery, and rituals. Astrid worships her beautiful mother, who teaches Astrid to be a strong woman, independent of a man. Ingrid has her own rules about lovers, such as never letting a man stay the night.

Astrid watches as Ingrid begins to break her rules for a man, Barry, that is below Ingrid's high standards. When Barry cheats on Ingrid, she is furious and becomes obsessed with making his life hell. Astrid watches the change in her artistic mother but is powerless to stop it.

After Ingrid poisons Barry, and she is sent to prison for murder. Astrid is sent to a foster home and begins her tragic journey without her mother. Astrid tries to hold on to the bond she shared with her mother while events occur that cause her to start to resent Ingrid.

Ingrid feels justified in the murder and her letters to Astrid are very controlling. Astrid meanwhile has an affair with her foster mother's boyfriend, leading the ex-alcoholic to try to kill Astrid. Astrid goes through several foster homes and is learning how to survive on her own while her mother becomes more demanding.

This story is riveting and I found myself entranced with Ingrid's letters and poetry while developing a distaste for her mothering skills. At times, I didn't like Astrid's disdain for her birth mother. I believe this is what's so compelling about the novel. Fitch creates characters I become invested in because they have believable emotions. Ingrid and Astrid's relationship is a tight of war between mother and daughter.

"White Oleander" was chosen for Oprah's book club in 1999 and a film adaption hit the theaters in 2002, starring Michelle Pfeiffer as Ingrid and Alison Lohman as Astrid


Paint It Black

*Spoiler Alert*

Published September 2006, "Paint It Black" became another pick for the Oprah Book Club. Janet Fitch once again wrote a novel dealing with tragedy, strong women, love and loss.

Set in 1980's Los Angeles, Josie Tyrell is a model, actress, and carefree punk rocker girl. She meets the talented and rich Michael Faraday who sees something in Josie that she never saw in herself.

Then Michael decides he needs a break from her to work on his paintings which is breaking her heart but not as much as the phone call she receives from an officer telling her Michael had committed suicide.

Michael's world renowned piano player mother, Meredith, had not liked Josie from the start. She blamed Josie for Michael quitting college and moving out. Now she blames Josie for his death.

Meredith and Josie both loved Michael and with him dead, they at first hate one another. Unexpectedly, the two women forge a strange bond. Josie moves in to Meredith's huge home to learn everything she could about Michael and to be closer to him somehow.

Meredith, wants to know Josie and be closer to the life Michael had kept her from. The two women seem to find comfort in each other but at what cost? Josie soon discovers she didn't really know Michael at all. He had lied to her about playing sports, events in his life, and even about being a virgin.

On accident, Josie discovers photo albums that hold pictures of Meredith's life and the trips her and Michael went on. She finds a photo of Micheal and Meredith that looks questionable causing her to rethink her entire relationship with Michael.

Josie is offered the opportunity to travel with Meredith as Meredith performed all over the world. Josie turns down the chance of a lifetime to stay in Los Angeles and finally she decides to visit the place where Michael killed himself. It's the closure she was looking for. She even meets a young girl working at the hotel that checked him in on that tragic day. This girl has a journal she found in the room and didn't give to the police. She gives it to Josie and the two leave the hotel together. The ending is complex, but leaves Josie feeling as if she can have a life without Michael.

What Janet Fitch Taught Me

Janet Fitch's writing style is amazing and draws her readers in. Each sentence seems to be well thought out and it seems she focuses on the readers experience. There is nothing less than an extraordinary sentence in "Paint It Black." The same can also be said about "White Oleander."

Reading Janet Fitch's novels inspires me to become a better writer. I try to remember to capture beauty in each sentence I write, although i fall short a lot. I write poetry and have spent a great deal of time thinking about writing a novel. The goals I have set for myself as far as writing a novel, is to create characters like the ones Fitch has created in her novels.

Her character, Josie Tyrell, inspired me to write a poem titled "Dear Josie." In the poem, I am touching on a real life death of a loved one and asking the character, Josie, how she held herself together when Michael committed suicide. "Dear Josie" was published in The Mystic Blue Review last year.

Just while writing this article, I learned that "Paint It Black" was adopted into a movie in 2006 which starred Alia Shawkat as Josie and Janet McTeer as Meredith. I'm definitely adding that to my list of must see movies.

Janet Fitch also has written and published another novel, "The Revolution of Marina M." You can visit her website to read excerpts of this novel as well as the synopsis. I have been following it's progress and it is on my reading list. I don't think any other fiction writer of this century has inspired me more. I recommend her novels to anyone who craves remarkable characters and epic plots.

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