UMass Boston alumna Lisa Duffy earns raves for first novel
Recently divorced mother of three young children, with a stack of unpublished stories hidden away in storage bins, goes back to school to realize her lifelong dream of becoming an author.
This may sound like the plot of a rather outlandish novel, but it’s nonfiction for Lisa Duffy, a two-time UMass Boston graduate whose first book The Salt House is now available from Touchstone.
“I always wanted to be a writer, and life sort of just happened and all the sudden you wake up and you’re in your early thirties and you think, ‘Wow, how do I get back to that?’” said Duffy, who previously worked in pharmaceutical software sales.
Duffy began pursuing her dream in earnest in 2006, when she enrolled in the women’s studies program at UMass Boston.
“I came back [to school] to be a writer, but I didn’t tell anyone that other than my husband and my mother,” she said.
Duffy wrote the first scenes of The Salt House in an undergraduate creative writing class, as part of an exercise on establishing place—an origin that helps explain the novel’s vivid midcoast Maine setting.
The Salt House is a thoughtful consideration of the various ways tragedy can impact different members of a family, alternating between four perspectives: husband Jack, wife Hope, and daughters Jess and Kat.
Though the novel has been roundly praised for its examination of personal and familial grief, Duffy says she didn’t have a specific theme or message in mind when she began writing.
“There are some writers that sit down to tell a story and some that sit down to find a story, and I’m definitely the latter,” Duffy said. “It’s not like there’s this bolt of lighting. You have to dig to find it.”
After completing her undergrad degree in 2009, Duffy transitioned to UMass Boston’s respected MFA program, where she continued working on the novel and also started ROAR, a literary magazine highlighting the work of women authors.
“It’s such a great community” at UMass Boston, Duffy said. “I just loved every second of my time being a student. I never felt like I was just sort of plodding along. I was excited to be in that position.”
By 2014, Duffy had a graduate degree and a manuscript that was ready for the tough appraisal of publishers. And three years later, she can walk into a bookstore and see her novel peeking out from the shelves.
Duffy says she’s excited for launch parties, readings, and the other perks of being a published author, but she remains focused on what lies ahead in her new career.
“I’m looking forward to it, but I’m also looking forward to my day-to-day, which is to sit at my computer and write.”
For more from Lisa Duffy, listen to her interview on WUMB’s Commonwealth Journal.