‘Maid’ author Alex Metcalf on creating a character who breaks history

Another famous filmmaker has broken a glass ceiling. Alex Metcalf made her name as a documentarian, documenting the fight for LGBTQ rights. She is now publishing her debut novel, “Maid,” a novel that follows the events of a 2017 church meeting that ends in extreme violence and murder.

It started with the e-mail. It wasn’t because of the subject line: “Author’s new book.”

“I read it [and] knew it was novel,” Ms. Metcalf said. “It sounded like something I hadn’t written.”

She quickly read the whole thing. She wrote a brief blurb. And then she took it back. Her editor figured the average reader wouldn’t think of the extraordinary: “It sounds like a Broadway play,” she said.

“But,” Ms. Metcalf said, “it’s true to the story.”

The power of fiction is that it can allow readers to see the world from a character’s point of view. A novel can be fast-paced, gritty, heartbreaking and funny.

“Maid” also has a voice. Take a scene set in New Orleans. Ms. Metcalf had been thinking about the environment and how all kinds of people live there. In the same way that film can create the multigenerational experience of an entire city, a novel can do the same, she said.

“Book-reading has become a metaphor for culture in the United States,” Ms. Metcalf said. “There’s this wonderful opportunity to spend lots of time with multiple books and soak up culture like never before. That’s a big part of my story. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

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