In her memoir, The Orchard, Theresa Weir recounts the burgeoning relationship of two very young people who, when they started out, hardly knew one another. She meets and marries the son of an apple farmer and soon realizes she is also inextricably entangled with his family and the land that claims them all. Theresa is an outsider moving into a life that can only be truly understood and embraced from birth—with “your whole life mapped out before you were born”—and a land that spans generations. She soon gains the understanding that prompts her to ask, “without the farm, would they exist?”
Through the generations-old apple trees, the memoir explores the ideas of roots, the very genetic bend of apples, grafting breeds of trees to force nature to human ends—the ways in which we can become “destructive architects of the land.” But also the ways we care for and connect with that same soil and field.
Apples scent this memoir, in all their revealed sweetness and bitterness. Theresa and her husband, Adrian, attempt to move away from the herbicides and pesticides that coat the fields, the food they grow and the farmers themselves and seek to create organically “an unblemished and beautiful apple”—the Sweet Melinda. And this lovely apple seems so from the outside, but when cut open, the invasive and destructive coddling moth is present—a metaphor that will soon reveal itself.
Poignant, but never maudlin, Weir captures something very real and essential to life in The Orchard. And the farm slowly reveals itself as a narrow-lens view of our culture as a symbolic whole.
Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo: Although The Orchard is a memoir, it reads like a novel in all the best and most compelling ways a novel should. How did you approach the task of documenting your life in this form and why did you decide to do it?
Theresa Weir: Since I come from a fiction-writing background, I decided to take what I’d learned throughout the years and apply it to writing The Orchard. I’m talking about style. I spent years developing my voice and my writing style, and I didn’t see any reason to change it when writing nonfiction. That made no sense to me. The big difference was starting with this massive amount of story and history, and chipping away at it to finally find a theme.
MCD: At one point, you refer to not telling secrets—that in doing so it will change how you are perceived. Giving away secrets is giving away power. How does this interpretation of self (real or perceived) affect memoir writing?
TW: I never really thought about the connection! Good question and observation. I was definitely very selective in the things I chose to reveal. People often say that memoir is just as much about what you leave out, and I think that’s true. So much is left out in order to structure the story in a way that’s readable and enjoyable. The one thing I struggled with was humor. I actually wrote some funny scenes, but they didn’t mesh with the overall tone of the book, so I deleted them. So readers are just seeing snapshots, a distilled version of this world. It’s real, but it’s real in the way a photo is real.
MCD: You speak of apple DNA and genetics and grafting to create new trees—a forcing of nature “not meant to be.” Were the apple trees a metaphor of the young union of Theresa and Adrian? A comparison?
TW: The grafting was a metaphor not of our union, but of the way children, especially farm children, are often forced into a life against their will. There is no talk of being whatever you want to be, doing whatever you want to do. This is how it will be, and this is the person you will be. You have no voice, and you have no choice.
MCD: Yes, farming life and generational farming are a main theme of The Orchard. You experienced difficulty understanding and grasping their way of perceiving time, land and the corresponding familial responsibility and entanglement as well as their full, unwavering acceptance of it. How did you grow into an understanding and how has time and distance affected that understanding?
TW: It’s been a very odd journey looking back on that period of my life. It’s definitely like looking at the life of another person, and so odd to realize that person was me. So I’ve kind of come full-circle. On the farm, I began to understand the ties that someone has to a place and to heritage. It sucks you in and it lifts you up, all at the same time. And even now, in answering this question, I revisit that feeling that’s unlike any other. This swelling of the heart that I can’t explain. It’s a connection to the past, and a connection to the future. But I’m not sure the people I knew on the farm really understood that, or experienced that emotion. Maybe they didn’t examine it in the way an artist examines life. For them, it was maybe something felt but not understood or vocalized.
MCD: You revisit the idea(s) of normal (especially in reference to family) throughout the book—how do you perceive such a notion at this point in your life and experience?
TW: Well, quite honestly I don’t know if normal families exist. So I think I used that term kind of recklessly, although back in those idealistic days I did think there were normal families out there.
MCD: There is the thread of pesticide and herbicide usage running through the book—the automated sprayer the soundtrack throughout. What do the pesticides and herbicides symbolize? And—in contrast—the Sweet Melindas?
TW: I had several layers of meaning in mind with the chemicals that are always in the background of the book. On one hand, I simply wanted people to know how pervasive they are. So the book can be taken in a very straight-forward way. But on a deeper level, the pesticides and herbicides were there as a reminder of how easily we accept things we shouldn’t accept. Serious issues become this drone that we no longer hear on a conscious level; the noise simply becomes wallpaper. The Sweet Melindas symbolize freedom of choice and a breaking away from tradition and the things that hold us back. In a word, they symbolize hope.
MCD: What do you think is the cultural and universal significance of the microcosm of the farm and orchard?
TW: The main thing I set out to do with The Orchard was to document and capture a farming era in an anthropological yet very personal way. That was my number one goal. I never really wanted this book to be about me, or about one family. I wanted it to feel like every farm, and every family. I wanted it to be a parable. Which is why I used my name only once in the book. (I wouldn’t have used it at all, but I didn’t want readers to think I was Lily.) I didn’t want to intrude upon a story that I didn’t feel was my story, but was rather everybody’s story.
Throughout the book, starting with the opening scene, there’s this real lack of consideration for the next generation, for our children and our children’s children. There’s the acceptance of things that shouldn’t be accepted. I wanted to drive home the fact that we are all responsible, and we are all important.
Theresa Weir (a.k.a. Anne Frasier) is a USA Today bestselling author of twenty-one books and numerous short stories that have spanned the genres of suspense, mystery, thriller, romantic suspense, paranormal, and memoir. Her titles have been printed in both hardcover and paperback and translated into twenty languages. Her memoir, The Orchard, was a 2011 Oprah Magazine Fall Pick, Number Two on the Indie Next list, a featured B+ review in Entertainment Weekly, and a Librarians’ Best Books of 2011. Going back to 1988, Weir’s debut title was the cult phenomenon AMAZON LILY, initially published by Pocket Books and later reissued by Bantam Books. Writing as Theresa Weir she won a RITA for romantic suspense (COOL SHADE), and a year later the Daphne du Maurier for paranormal romance (BAD KARMA). In her more recent Anne Frasier career, her thriller and suspense titles hit the USA Today list (HUSH, SLEEP TIGHT, PLAY DEAD) and were featured in Mystery Guild, Literary Guild, and Book of the Month Club. HUSH was both a RITA and Daphne du Maurier finalist. Well-known in the mystery community, she served as hardcover judge for the Thriller presented by International Thriller Writers, and was guest of honor at the Diversicon 16 mystery/science fiction conference held in Minneapolis in 2008. Frasier books have received high praise from print publications such as Publishers Weekly, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and Crimespree, as well as online praise from Spinetingler, Book Loons, Armchair Interviews, Sarah Weinman’s Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, and Ali Karim’s Shots Magazine. Her books have featured cover quotes from Lisa Gardner, Jane Ann Krentz, Linda Howard, Kay Hooper, and J.A. Konrath. Her short stories and poetry can be found in DISCOUNT NOIR, ONCE UPON A CRIME, and THE LINEUP, POEMS ON CRIME. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and International Thriller Writers.