All Posts Tagged With: "Ellen Meister"

THE OTHER LIFE, Ellen Meister

Other Life

A Conversation With
ELLEN MEISTER
Author of
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 Meister

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?Ellen Meister

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
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    Deadline: May 15th, 2011 ~ Midnight, EST

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  • The Smart One by Ellen Meister ~ Maryann Wolford
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The Smart One, Ellen Meister

Smart OneBev Bloomrosen thinks her sisters see her as a loser. Not that she minds being the Smart One, but she can’t imagine she’ll ever live up to her family’s expectations … especially since she left behind her artistic ambitions-along with her humor-impaired ex-husband-to pursue a career as a “mere” schoolteacher.

But her sisters have their own image problems. Clare, the Pretty One, married well and seems to have the perfect suburban life, yet worries that the paper thin fabric of her beautiful designer world is ripping apart. And Joey, the Wild One who had 15 minutes of fame as a one-hit-wonder rock star, struggles with sobriety and keeping the secret of her weirdest ambition yet. They love each other but mix like oil, water, and hundred-proof gin . . .  *as written on website ~ VISIT ELLEN’S WEBSITE FOR MORE DETAILS ABOUT THE SMART ONE

Carrie: What inspired you to The Smart One?Ellen Meister

Ellen:  I knew for a long time that I wanted to write a sister story … to explore the ways in which we continue to define ourselves by our childhood roles. Then, when I sat down to noodle with the first chapter and my protagonist’s voice emerged, I was charged! I knew that I could explore all the relationship issues I wanted to get into, but have a great time with it and take the readers on an entertaining ride.

Carrie:  Give us an idea of the plot without giving too much away.

Ellen:  When three adult sisters discover a decades-old body stuffed inside an industrial drum, they begin a bold, heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious journey that will either bring them together … or tear them apart for good.

Carrie:  What is the primary message you’d like your readers to take away from this book?

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