A Conversation With
THE OTHER LIFE
Carrie: After The Smart One and Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA, THE OTHER LIFE is a real departure for you. What inspired it?
Ellen: I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of escape. I guess that’s part of the job description for a fiction writer. I was thinking about that one day after my husband left for work and the children left for school. There I was, all by myself, waiting impatiently for my computer to boot up so I could lose myself in the world I had created, when I began to wonder what might happen if a wife and mother could use those magical hours alone to escape in a more literal sense. At once, I had the image of a portal right smack in the middle of the most domestic setting…an opening that would let the woman cross over to the life she would have had if she had chosen a very different path. The more I thought about this idea, the more excited I got. As details about my main character and her two lives emerged, a story began to form. But it wasn’t until it occurred to me that my protagonist’s mother was dead in one life and alive in the other that I knew I had a book.
Carrie: THE OTHER LIFE is about returning to the road not taken and exploring the life unlived. Have you ever longed to see what happened on the other road?
Ellen: Haven’t we all? I think that’s human nature, especially in times of extreme stress. We play the “if only” game, imagining what might have been. What if I hadn’t gotten married? What if we hadn’t bought this house? What if we never had a child? What if I had been there to prevent that accident/suicide/awful mistake? Of course, it’s easy to condemn this line of thinking as counterproductive, but I believe it’s a coping mechanism. There’s only so much grief and anxiety our minds can hold before we need a mental vacation.
Carrie: In this story Nan makes the ultimate sacrifice for a child, in this case her daughter, Quinn, and her grandchildren. Do you think that kind of love is instinctual or learned?
Ellen: I think we’re hardwired to make sacrifices for our children. It’s the basest human instinct, and it gets switched on like a spotlight when we have our first child. I guess scientists can explain the chemistry of it, but from a personal perspective, falling in love with my first child was the most dramatically transformative moment of my life. I was flooded with something that seemed to alter my DNA, restructuring every cell. I was no longer just Ellen, I was Max’s mom, and I knew from that moment on every decision I made in life would be informed by that simple fact.
Carrie: With Nan and Quinn, you brilliantly capture the mother-daughter relationship and the bond that hovers between boundless love and bruising tension. Did you draw from personal experience?
Ellen: Thanks for that compliment! I can honestly say that my own even-tempered mother is nothing like Nan, but I’ve always been fascinated by the wrenching emotional turmoil of family relationships. I’m not sure there’s anything more interesting—or more human—than the ways in which we are tested by love.
Carrie: As her daughter straddles parallel universes, Nan wonders whether having an escape route will help Quinn manage life’s difficulties with more grace, or instead taunt her with a decision no one should ever have to make. Is it a blessing or a curse…or something else?
Ellen: I love this question, because I think it gets to the heart of the book, and I hope readers will explore this issue themselves. What if their life included a portal to what might have been? Would they welcome the possibility to cross from one life to another? Or do they think they would be tortured by the endlessness of the choices they could make?
Carrie: In musing about her mother, Quinn observes: “Sometimes we don’t just simply grow and change. Sometimes life is so harsh and so dark, a part of us gets excised completely, leaving us permanently altered.” It happened to Nan, but what is it about Quinn that keeps her from the same fate?
Ellen: Quinn lives very much outside of herself. She’s introspective, sure, but she’s a giver and feels like her place in the world (or, in her case, worlds) is to take care of others. She’s so acutely aware of being needed that it’s very nearly impossible for her to make the kind of choice her mother did in her darkest hour. To Quinn, suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness.
Carrie: THE OTHER LIFE probes the choices we make in life. Do you think there’s a way to avoid the second-guessing that often accompanies them?
Ellen: No, and I don’t think we should. That constant reexamination of our motives and choices is how we learn and grow. It’s like what Socrates said about the unexamined life.
Carrie: Grief comes in many forms in this novel. Are there lessons here for those stuck in grief?
Ellen: Grief is such a bear and so very personal. So I don’t know if there are any lessons here, but perhaps some comfort in taking the journey with someone finding her way through it.
Carrie: THE OTHER LIFE has been called “the thinking woman’s beach read” (NY Times bestselling author Joshilyn Jackson), making it perfect for a book club selection. What feedback do you get from book clubs?
Ellen: From my experience, book clubs enjoy novels with fresh writing, complex characters and enough emotional resonance to leave readers with questions that feel very personal. Naturally, I hope THE OTHER LIFE is all those things … and I’m thrilled that the early feedback I’m getting from beta readers suggests that it is!
Carrie: What genres (or authors) do you like to read? Why?
Ellen: I don’t limit myself to any particular genre, but I’m definitely drawn to character-driven stories that take a hard look at human relationships. So a survey of my book shelf would probably reveal more literary and women’s fiction than anything else.
Carrie: Modern women yearn for balance between work and family. As a writer and mother of three, do you have any advice for them?
Ellen: For me, it’s a matter of priorities that boils down to a simple equation: Family = first; Work = second; Housework = dead last.
Click HERE to listen to Ellen’s NPR interview
To enter to win a free copy of THE OTHER LIFE:
Leave a Comment below about the “other life” you’ve always wondered about
U.S. & Canada residents only; No P.O. Boxes, please
Deadline: May 15th, 2011 ~ Midnight, EST
P.J. Parrish, New York Times bestselling author of South of Hell and A Thousand Bones, has returned to heat up February with a sizzling page-turner, THE LITTLE DEATH (Pocket Books; February 16th, 2010; $7.99), starring detective Louise Kincaid.
Most people would kill to live in glamorous Palm Beach, with its beautiful women, five-star resorts, and dazzling coast. But most people don’t know what really goes on in the bedrooms of the rich and famous…Mark Durand did—and now the handsome high-class “walker,” who escorted the wealthiest women to posh affairs, is dead, his beheaded corpse found in an abandoned cattle pen.
South Florida detective Louis Kincaid feels out of his element in Palm Beach, especially after receiving a ticket for driving an ugly car. But plunged into the gruesome homicide case, he’s agreed to help prime suspect Reggie Kent, an aging male walker who may or may not have been the victim’s lover. And as his investigation snakes through the privileged class, Kincaid uncovers shocking truths about a powerful lady senator whose husband collects dangerous weaponry…
Carrie’s Conversation with Seanan McGuire
Carrie: What inspired you to write ROSEMARY AND RUE?
Seanan: I’ve always loved folklore and the old fairy tales — the ones that were around before Grimm came along and “cleaned them up” to turn them into children’s stories. I was visiting the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park one day, and suddenly everything clicked together. I knew who Toby was, I knew what her problem was, and I really, really wanted to know how she was going to get out of it. Everything followed from there.
Carrie: In general, how does an idea for a book come to you? Does it perk slowly in your mind or does it come in a flash?
Seanan: It depends on the book, really. ROSEMARY AND RUE came slowly. The second book in the series, A LOCAL HABITATION, came to me all at once, and just had to be refined from there. It’s very situational for me.
Looking back, the knock on the door should have scared me. It should at least have come as a surprise. My house — the same one I grew up in — is set at the farthest curve of a culde- sac in Pleasant Ridge, Illinois, a Chicago suburb of fourteen thousand souls with quiet streets, neatly kept lawns, and well-regarded public schools. There are rarely pedestrians or passersby on Crescent Drive. Most weeks, the only signs of life after ten p.m. are the flash of headlights on my bedroom wall on the nights that my next-door neighbor Mrs. Bass has her Shakespeare Society meeting. I live alone, and I’m generally asleep by ten-thirty. But even so. When I heard the knock, my heartbeat didn’t quicken; my palms did not sweat. At some level underneath conscious thought, a place down in my cells where, the scientists tell us, memories reside, I’d been waiting years for that knock, waiting for the feel of my feet moving across the floor and my hand on the cool brass knob.
I pulled open the door and felt my eyes get big and my breath catch in my chest. There was my old best friend, Valerie Adler, whom I hadn’t spoken to since I was seventeen and hadn’t seen in person since high school ended, standing underneath the porch light; Valerie with her heart-shaped face and Cupid’s-bow lips and lashes heavy and dark as moth’s wings. She stood with her hands clasped at her waist, as if in prayer. There was something dark staining the sleeve of her belted trench coat.
For a minute, we stood in the cold, in the cone of light, staring at each other, and the thought that rose to my mind had the warmth of sunshine and the sweet density of honey. My friend, I thought as I looked at Val. My friend has come back to me.
Carrie and Ron Janson Chat about RED MONEY
Carrie: What inspired you to write Red Money?
Ron: I became inspired to write a mystery/thriller novel about a year or so after my book, Shareholder Value – A Business Experience, was published in the fall of 2001 under my birth name. Prior to this, I had written several corporate finance related articles that were published in business journals. The book, a nonfiction work on an important aspect of finance, is written as a story, with the learning taking place through a series of “experiences” that the various characters live and work through. I particularly enjoyed the character development and storytelling aspects of composing this book and wanted to pursue a new writing career in fiction, as I felt that I could develop a story that would captivate those who read mysteries and thrillers. For me, the next challenge was to write a fictional story with a compelling plot and cast of characters.
Carrie: Give us an idea about the plot without giving too much away.
Ron: The plot centers on a young married couple from Romania – deeply in love and traumatized by the murder of the husband’s older brother (a police officer) in their homeland shortly after they emigrate to the U.S. to escape a communist regime, under the guise of a student visa to study criminal justice at a college in New York City. The older brother’s homicide, preceded by the murder of his superior, the police precinct chief in their hometown, was the price paid for investigating the cover up and closing in on those responsible for an earlier mob-related killing of a greedy dock supervisor who was being shut off from narcotics shipment pay-offs. After graduating from college, the young male Romanian émigré becomes intertwined with The Red Mafia – first through drug raids via his job as a detective in New York City, and then through an accidental discovery after taking a position with the FBI in Miami. His investigative work in Miami links his brother’s slaying in Romania to a year-old killing of a female FBI employee in Washington, DC, who was romantically linked to a young American member of the mob and was “taken out” when she became a liability. The newly minted FBI agent pursues the mystery of these murders – driving him and his wife into a state of anxiety – to an exciting and deadly climax.
Carrie: What is the underlying theme of RED MONEY?
Ron: The story of RED MONEY is basically one of good versus evil, in which each side is portrayed for what it really is, and where the protagonists are a “good” family (two brothers who are law enforcement officers plus an innocent spouse) unlike many mob-related stories that focus on the mob family.
Carrie: What is your favorite scene in RED MONEY?
Ron: That would be the very last major action scene, in which retribution for much pain and suffering occurs.
Carrie: Why should readers buy RED MONEY?
Ron: Virtually all who have read it claim it’s a page turner with twists and turns and good action scenes. Through May 30, readers can get a 20% discount off the $14.95 retail price and be entered in a contest by ordering on my website.
Carrie: Who are your favorite authors?
Ron: My favorite authors for the past fifteen years or so have been Robert Ludlum and John Grisham, and they have had an influence on my writing.
Upon editing my chat with Josh, I realized this interview is as much for writers as it is readers. Josh, folds his life philosophies and his writing tips adeptly into MATRIMONY and our interview. He is an engaging conversationalist and a natural teacher, not to mention, of course, a gifted writer.
How would you summarize Matrimony?
Jonathan Franzen once said that the better a novel is, the more difficult it is to summarize. The protagonist in Martin Amis’s novel The Information says something similar. He’s a writer himself and he’s being interviewed about his novel and the interviewer keeps asking him what his novel is about. Amis’s protagonist, who, like many Amis protagonists, is a pretty difficult fellow, says something to the effect of, “It’s 150,000 words, and if I could have said it in any less I would have.” I sympathize. But if I had to describe Matrimony, I’d say it’s about the twenty-year history of a marriage (it’s about two marriages, actually–arguably three) and that it’s about love and friendship, and the pleasures and perils that attend to those things. More generally, the novel is about what it’s like to be in your twenties and thirties–even your forties in some cases–when you’re waiting for life to begin and you find to your surprise that it already has begun and that the decisions you make have consequences that you’re not even aware of yet. This is particularly pronounced in the case of my protagonists, Julian and Mia, since they get married at twenty-two, right out of college, and find themselves a year later living in Ann Arbor among friends for whom marriage is the last thing on their minds. College towns can perpetuate an eternal adolescence–I know; I’ve lived in a lot of them. And there’s a real divide between married people and single people, the way further down the line there’s an even bigger divide between people who have children and people who don’t. So Julian and Mia have done what seems like the supremely adult act–getting married–even as in other ways they are far from fully formed. This is certainly true professionally. Julian is struggling to finish his novel; Mia is slogging away on her psychology dissertation. In that sense, the book is about what happens when life calls even when you’re not ready for it to come calling. Read an Excerpt
Josh’s advice about writing that first draft:
“Write by hand…to move forward and not back” and “Write, write, write and read, read READ!”
Oops, one question from Mari I missed (Thank goodness Josh was willing to answer via email):
Mari: The dialog was so meaningful throughout the book, I would like to know if the author was able to reflect his life (did his parents share tidbits of wisdom or is this his creativity)? Here’s an example: Page 59 – “My father’s always saying that college is the great equalizer. Here, we’re all taking the same courses and eating the same meals. But then we graduate and gravitate toward our own kind.” What a strong statement/wisdom. I noted several phrases in the book that read like “ah-ha” moments to me.
Josh: That’s a great question. That actual line of dialogue, like all the dialogue I wrote–like everything in MATRIMONY, in fact–is made up. but a writer is always on the lookout, always thinking, always observing, and you absorb the things that people say to you. Certainly my parents shared tidbits of wisdom with me over the years. It’s hard to imagine a parent who doesn’t, and perhaps my parents especially–my father was a professor for 50 years, so teaching came naturally to him, and to my mother as well, even if in a different way. But neither of my parents ever said that line of dialogue. Almost everything I write comes to me only at the moment I write it, though of course there are years of having lived and thought about things stored away somewhere in the recesses of my brain. In general, I love writing dialogue. How people speak characterizes them so deeply. it’s interesting to me (and pleasing) that you chose the line of dialogue you did. It’s not a major moment in the novel, it would seem, but to me it is a major moment and one that I often bring up when I talk with book clubs. I’m more than twenty years out of college now, and I’m struck by how different many of my college friends are from what they were like in college, but how similar they are to what they were like before college, and to what their parents are like. I think college is a time of real experimentation for a lot of people. Economic concerns, while still present, may be less pressing than they are later, and so people are more on the same playing field. It’s the great equalizer, as Carter’s father says. And in some ways, though I didn’t realize it as I was writing the book, this idea, this tension, is the driving force behind everything that happens in MATRIMONY. You take a couple that meet in college, you take friends that meet in college, and you subject them to what life is like after college, and interesting things happen. What is it like to fall in love in college and to try to stay in love many years later? That, to me, is what MATRIMONY is about.”
Josh’s Suggested Reading:
- Empire Falls, Richard Russo
- Cost, Roxana Robinson
- Helen Garner
- Lorrie Moore
- Mystery Ride, Robert Boswell
- The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
Josh enjoys discussing MATRIMONY with book clubs, so be sure to check out his website for details.
To enter to win a free copy of MATRIMONY:
Subscribe to the Words To Mouth e-newsletter
Leave a Comment Below
Call 206-309-7318 and leave a voice mail message I can play on-air
U.S. & Canada residents only; No P.O. Boxes, please
Deadline: April 30th, 2009 ~ midnight, EST
Across Carrie’s Desk
Show No Fear, Perri O’Shaughnessy – A woman falls to her death from Bixby Creek Bridge at Big Sur. Is it an accident? A suicide? Nina’s suspicious, and launches her own painful investigation into the truth. For the first time, she meets homicide detective Paul van Wagoner and attorney, Jack McIntyre, both men who will play an intimate role in her future. They do what they can to help her, but relationships are tangled, loyalties are tenuous. It will come down to Nina to confront a killer, and work her way toward some form of justice. For More…
The Problem With Women…is Men, by Charles J. Orlando – The Problem with Women… is Men: The Evolution of a Man’s Man to a Man of Higher Consciousness is an in-depth look into stereotypic men today and the challenges women have surviving with them and/or finding one that’s good enough to keep. Written entirely from a man’s point-of-view and experience—based on 10 years of real-world research and hundreds of interviews—The Problem with Women… is Men offers a humorous, blunt, tell-all examination of men, their issues, their refusal to change and how women can “train” them into men that are more sensitive, knowledgeable, loving and dare I say… evolved. For More…
Last Chance Rescue – A savvy and accomplished advertising executive, Brad Sievers’ life is forever altered the night he runs into Jessie Van Dyke at his high school reunion. In his new role as a search-and-rescue team member in the Colorado Rockies he comes face-to-face with the precariousness of human life and his ability to affect it. He finds himself challenged by — and drawn to — Jessie. But Jessie has a dark past of her own — a past that threatens their friendship when they rescue an Iraq war veteran. When Brad nearly dies in a senseless accident and Jessie’s beloved horse rescue ranch is threatened, he learns what it means to be a true friend — and to have a true friend. But it’s not until Jessie goes missing one night that he realizes where his heart truly lies. Will he be able to overcome his fears and save Jessie from hers? For More…
Win the “Across Carrie’s Desk” Book Package
To enter to win a free copy of ALL three Books:
Be sure you’re subscribed to the Words To Mouth e-newsletter
Leave a Comment Below
Deadline for entry – April 15th, 2009 midnight, EST
U.S. & Canada residents Oonly; No P.O. Boxes Please
“Back in America, little was known of my life in Jamaica,” wrote Errol Flynn
I had the privilege of meeting and cruising with the Manic Mommies back in November. One of the lovely mommies, Kim Erskine, organized an on-ship book club and we all met up in the library one afternoon to chat about The Pirate’s Daughter. It was the perfect backdrop to talk about a book set in the tropics. The conversation was thought-provoking and as with most book clubs, impressions were introduced that weren’t previously considered. Some of the questions our group had about the book went unanswered, so it was wonderful to pose them directly to the woman who penned the words. I contacted The Pirate’s Daughter author, Margaret Cezair-Thompson and asked her to speak with me about her book.
Listen in as Margaret speaks so eloquently about her book and the Caribbean island nation she adores so much. She is a gifted storyteller and simply a delightful person.
Then, join the conversation & be entered to win a FREE copy of The Pirate’s Daughter by:
Leaving a comment below and/or
Calling 206-309-7318 and sharing your impressions of the book or this interview–something I can play on-air
Deadline February 15th, 2009, EST
No P.O. Boxes Please
U.S. & Canada residents only
In 1946, a storm-wrecked boat carrying Hollywood’s most famous swashbuckler shored up on the coast of Jamaica, and the glamorous world of 1940’s Hollywood converged with that of a small West Indian society. After a long and storied career on the silver screen, Errol Flynn spent much of the last years of his life on a small island off of Jamaica, throwing parties and sleeping with increasingly younger teenaged girls. Based on those years, The Pirate’s Daughter is the story of Ida, a local girl who has an affair with Flynn that produces a daughter, May, who meets her father but once.
Spanning two generations of women whose destinies become inextricably linked with the matinee idol’s, this lively novel tells the provocative history of a vanished era, of uncommon kinships, compelling attachments, betrayal and atonement in a paradisal, tropical setting. As adept with Jamaican vernacular as she is at revealing the internal machinations of a fading and bloated matinee idol, Margaret Cezair-Thompson weaves a saga of a mother and daughter finding their way in a nation struggling to rise to the challenge of independence.
A wonderful book review excerpt from BookingMama:
THE PIRATE’S DAUGHTER by Margaret Cezair-Thompson has been on my radar for over a year now so I was very excited when one of my book club members selected it for our December meeting. News about this book just kept popping up everywhere, and all of the buzz was so good. I think it was only a matter of time before I picked it up.
I first heard about this novel when Unbridled Books released it last fall. The book’s description sounded very interesting to me. Then, it started receiving some big-time praise including including the #1 October 2007 Book Sense Pick as well as 2008 Essence Magazine Literary Award for Fiction. In August, the trade paperback version of THE PIRATE’S DAUGHTER was released by Random House with a bright, gorgeous cover. And just a few months ago, Celestial Seasonings’ Adventure at Every Turn selected it as one of their book club picks. I am just so glad that someone finally selected it for us to discuss.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I began reading THE PIRATE’S DAUGHTER, but I have to say that the book was a little different than I thought it would be. While I knew that the story was about a young Jamaican girl, Ida, who falls in love with Errol Flynn, I didn’t know that the book also included a lot of historical information about Jamaica. Having known absolutely nothing about Jamaica and their struggle for independence in the 1970s, I thought it was very interesting. The author did a tremendous job of incorporating the history with the characters in this novel.
I had always known that Errol Flynn was a unique figure to say the least, but I had no idea how much trouble this man could cause. I found him to be extremely distasteful — he seemed to prefer under-age girls and lots of alcohol; however, I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of him and his actions — these scenes were excellent. He must have been such a charismatic figure because men and women alike wanted to be in his presence (although to me he just seemed disgusting.) I found it so sad that Ida fell in love with him (or the idea of him) and ended up sacrificing her entire life because of her feelings. For More . . .
Margaret’s Suggested Reading:
- Mister Pipp, by Lloyd Jones “I love and highly recommend,” says Margaret
Margaret’s favorite author (when forced to pick ONLY one!):
Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries savors the countryside in the Genesee Valley of upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at www.legardemysteries.com and www.mooremysteries.com and his newest Mazurka.
In addition to receiving publishing contracts for Double Forté, Upstaged, Tremolo: cry of the loon, Mazurka, Healey’s Cave, and One Potato, Blue Potato, Aaron writes Seedlings, a monthly column featured in the Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine (FMAM) and the Mysteryfiction.net literary newsletter Voice in the Dark. His short articles on writing have appeared in Absolute Write, and his essay, “Word Paintings” was included in the 2007 Bylines Writers’ Desk Calendar. Visit his blogs at www.murderby4.blogspot.com and www.aaronlazar.blogspot.com. Aaron is the Saturday Writing Essential host on www.Gather.com.
To Win a FREE Copy of Tremolo:
- Leave a comment below
- Call 206-309-7318 and leave a voice mail message I can play on-air
- Be sure to subscribe to my e-newsletter, so you’re informed of the winning name
- Deadline for entry – January 15th, midnight, EST
Carrie’s Conversation with Aaron
Carrie: Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about Tremolo: cry of the loon?
Aaron: Tremolo is a coming-of-age mystery suitable for all ages, and it particularly plays to the nostalgia of baby boomers. This novel, third in the Gus LeGarde series, is actually a prequel to the founding book of the series, Double Forté, which begins in the current day when Gus is already a grandfather. The novel is set in the Belgrade Lakes of Maine, in summer 1964, when Beatlemania hits the States and the world mourns the loss of JFK. Eleven-year-old Gus LeGarde faces his first brush with evil against the backdrop of the most powerful events that rocked the nation. When Gus and his friends capsize their rowboat in a thick fog, they eventually clamber to shore, where they witness a drunk chasing a girl through the woods. She’s scared. She’s hurt. And she disappears. The camp is thrown into turmoil as the frantic search for Sharon begins. Reports of stolen relics arise, including a church bell cast by Paul Revere. When Gus stumbles on a scepter that’s part of the spoils, he becomes a target. Compelled to find Sharon before the villain does, Gus–armed only with a big heart, a motorboat, and a nosy beagle–must dig deep for courage to survive the menace that lurks in the dark woods.
Carrie: Why did you choose “To Kill a Mockingbird” as the film that Gus watched in Tremolo?