Michael Malone's 'Four Corners' Flies High

Michael Malone is an award-winning writer who's written novels, plays, short stories and even soap operas. His new novel, the first in 10 years, is called Four Corners of the Sky, about a young girl whose father abandons her at age 7 and eventually becomes a Navy pilot. Malone speaks to host Liane Hansen about his book and his love for film.

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

Con man Jack Peregrine could charm the bark off a tree. But it's not easy being a grifter with a seven-year-old daughter in tow. So Jack leaves Annie with her sister at the old Peregrine estate and disappears. The abandoned child finds an old, single-engine airplane in the barn. But the discovery puts her on a course to become a Navy pilot and sends readers of the new novel, "The Four Corners of the Sky," on a page-turning journey.

The author Michael Malone is a prolific writer and during the '90s he was the Emmy Award-winning hit writer of the ABC TV soap opera "One Life to Live." He's fans have been waiting for a new novel for 10 years. And "The Four Corners of the Sky" is it. Michael Malone is in the studios of member station WUNC in Durham, North Carolina. Welcome to the program, Michael.

MICHAEL MALONE: Thank you. It's good to be here.

HANSEN: Oh man, trying to summarize the plot of this book, there are so many different plot lines that intersect. Can we talk about one? I sort of call it the caper. It involves Jack Peregrine, our con man, and a piece of missing treasure known as queen of the sea. Give us an outline.

MALONE: Well, it is a treasure hunt for this pakamama(ph), this statue of the Virgin Mary that's made out of Inca gold. And the search for this golden statue is a caper. It is an adventure story. And it also sends Annie, the heroine, on a quest that will be a different kind of journey for a discovery of who her mother is. So, then it is a statue like the Maltese Falcon, the stuff that dreams are made of, turns out to be meaningful in a great many ways. Is it a fake? Is it real? Is the criminal con artist's mother tricking her once more or is he helping her on this journey to discover what matters to her?

HANSEN: What matters to her is who her mother is. She looks at her birth certificate and under mother's name, the name is written Claudette Colbert. Of all the movie stars' names you could've used in this piece of fiction, why did you use Claudette Colbert?

MALONE: Well, I'm a great lover of her films. And Claudette Colbert struck me as if a little girl wanted to imagine some very distant but sophisticated and adventuresome and brave and witty woman. And Claudette Colbert and "It Happened One Night" and "Palm Beach Story" came to mind.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm. She's the madcap heiress who goes off on her own. She's the strong woman who, I mean, after all, you've made Annie a Navy pilot. That's a pretty ambitious goal.

MALONE: Yes, in the novel - the novel began and an image of our daughter at Annapolis at the Naval Academy on a college tour saying that she thought she might want to be a combat pilot. Well, you can imagine your progressive, liberal parents going, what? But Annie, indeed, unlike our daughter, does become a Navy pilot. And over the time of writing the book, 9/11 happened and Iraq happened and so the fact that she was a combat pilot had a significance it hadn't had when I began - always the surprise of fiction.

HANSEN: And the surprise of fiction, too, as this treasure hunt has political overtones because it can be traced back - because you always are invoking the Bay of Pigs and Cuba and the relationships between Cuba and the United States.

MALONE: Thank you for noticing that. I wanted in this novel this sort of drumbeat under its family romance and under its adventure caper. And under the page-turning, what's-going-to-happen-next to Annie, which is the heart of fiction, to have this American history of our military past - to be there. And that's why the novel takes Annie to Havana, Cuba. And there's a Cuban immigrant in the novel.

And like a novel of mine, "Handling Sin," explores our racial history in America. Or novel of mine, "Time's Witness" is about the death penalty. This is about what has America been in its military history? Where have we gone wrong? And what does it mean for this young woman, who is very proud to be a Navy pilot and very patriotic.

HANSEN: The novel just warps and wefts as you're reading it, as you said, page- turning and adventurous. And so many of the scenes are cinematic. There's a scene, for example, when it's Annie's 17th birthday and Jack hasn't seen Annie for 10 years, and he comes crashing out of the cornfield in a blue Corvette on her 17th birthday. Do you see these scenes, given that movies is such an (unintelligible)?

MALONE: I actually write by listening rather than seeing so much. I think it possibly has to do with the fact that my mother was deaf. And so I had learned to listen. And in the way, that's what Annie is being asked to do. She's going very fast. She's one of the, 1,800 miles an hour. And she needs to learn to slow down and look in the side view and see what's present in her life.

HANSEN: Your mother was a fourth grade teacher and she once defended you in school by saying: He's not a liar. He has a wonderful imagination. He's going to be a writer. Have you always been sort of weaving these fictions? It sounds like that's a great way to create a character like Jack.

MALONE: I do love to tell stories and always have loved to tell them. And she said you're not only, you know, southern and Irish, really, if you don't become a fiction teller you might end up in jail. And I suppose, in the way, Jack's being a con artist who creates the stories and has been in jail was an alternate possibility. But so much - I was writing plays when I was nine years old. And to this day, my siblings who live lived in North Carolina will flee the state if I say anything about putting on a play, because they know they're going to have to dress up as a bumblebee or something and be in it.

HANSEN: Michael Malone is the author of the new novel "The Four Corners of the Sky." And he joined us from member station WUNC in Durham, North Carolina. Thank you.

MALONE: Thank you. This was a pleasure to talk to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HANSEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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