When Char Hawthorn’s husband dies unexpectedly, she is left questioning everything she once knew to be true: from the cozy small town life they built together to her relationship with her stepdaughter, who is suddenly not bound to Char in any real way. UNTETHERED explores what bonds truly form a family and how those bonds can be tested and strained. Char, a college professor, wife and stepmother to a spirited fifteen-year-old daughter, loves her family and the joyful rhythms of work and parenting. But once her husband is gone, the “step” in Char’s title suddenly matters a great deal. In the eyes of the law, all rights to daughter Allie belong to Lindy, Allie’s self-absorbed biological mother, who wants to girl to move to her home in California.
While Allie begins to struggle in school and tensions mount between her and Char, Allie’s connection to young Morgan, a ten-year-old-girl she tutors, seems to keep her grounded. But then Morgan, who was adopted out of foster care, suddenly disappears, and Char is left to wonder about a possible future without Allie and what to do about Morgan, a child caught up in a terrible crack in the system, and causes Char to once again question her connections to the people she loves and the entire meaning of family.
Author Julie Lawson Timmer, an attorney by training and profession, zeroes in topics that seems pulled straight from the headlines. She talks to Fresh Fiction columnist Yona Zeldis McDonough about the cross over between the two professional worlds she inhabits and how she uses one to inform and amplify the other.
YZM: How did you get your start as a novelist?
JLT: I have always loved writing, but it wasn’t until 2011 that I decided to take a real shot at writing a novel. I lost a friend to cancer that year, and I was so enraged for her sake that I felt I had to express my feelings, and writing made the most sense to me. Also, I was turning 45 that year, and for some reason, that felt momentous to me. I did some soul searching and decided that in another 40 years, as my days were coming to a close, the one biggest regret I would have is not trying to write a book and see if I could get published. I decided I didn’t want to live with that regret, and that the time was now, so I promised myself I would have a draft of a novel completed by my birthday. I met that goal, and as a reward, I booked myself a seat at a writer’s conference, promising myself I would have the novel revised in time to pitch at the conference. I did pitch it there, and while those pitches didn’t lead to representation, I learned so much at the conference and made some lifelong writer friends, and those things combined helped me revise the book again and again until I finally landed my agent, two years after I began writing the novel.
YZM: Does your work as an attorney influence or enhance your work as a writer?
JLT: I don’t know that my day-to-day work as an in-house lawyer influences my writing. I do know, however, that my training as a lawyer and my prior job as a private firm litigator have helped my writing enormously. Litigators have briefs to file all the time, often on little notice. We are used to writing fast and efficiently, whether we feel inspired or not, because we don’t want to commit malpractice or be fired for failing to write the thing and get it filed with the court on time. So, we don’t wait around for the muse or other inspiration to strike, and we spend very little time staring at a blinking cursor on a blank screen. Instead, we WRITE. I carried that training with me in writing my first book and have carried it for all other books since. I don’t insist on certain background music, a certain location, a certain kind of coffee, or any other inspirational sort of thing: I just write. Lawyering also teaches time management, which is helpful to anyone who intends to write a novel while also holding down a job and balancing kids and home life. It also teaches outlining, and structuring a narrative in a way that is clear and concise. All of these things are great skills for a novelist.
YZM: UNTETHERED deals with both step parenting and with foster case; timely subjects for today’s readers?
JLT: I think so! There are so many blended families these days; I expect each of us knows a stepparent or knows someone who has a stepparent, even if we’re not in those roles ourselves. And of course, foster care and adoption have a long history. In my social media feeds, there are many people who are fostering kids, fostering-to-adopt, or who have or are about to adopt. The modern family has changed a great deal, and I think UNTETHERED presents a picture of the new modern family.
YZM: What do you hope readers come away with after they finish your book?
JLT: I hope readers who are stepparents come away with the sense that they are not alone in facing the challenges of stepparenting. It’s a unique role, and many stepparents feel misunderstood by their closest friends because those friends, if not stepparents themselves, often simply don’t “get it.” I think UNTETHERED shows those parents that there’s someone else who “gets it” and I think that can be helpful. I hope it is.
I hope readers also come away with insights into the world of foster care, adoption and “rehoming,” and that they will see the many different facets and challenges in those realms.
YZM: What’s next on your horizon?
JLT: My third novel, MRS. SAINT AND THE DEFECTIVES, is scheduled to come out in August 2017, and I’m currently writing my fourth. True to my lawyerly self, I’m outlining it like mad.
YZM: Is there a question you wish I had asked?
JLT: Well, anyone who follows me on social media knows I looooove to talk about my dear little Miniature Pinscher (MinPin) whom we rescued about 1.5 years ago. So, I’ll pretend you asked how she’s doing, and I’ll tell you that she is wonderful! This summer, she has learned to run in the trails near our cottage, off leash–huge development for her as she used to run away any time she was given any leeway. This makes the trails much more fun for all of us and I swear she runs with a very proud expression on her sweet little face.
When Char Hawthorn’s husband dies unexpectedly, she is left questioning everything she once knew to be true: from the cozy small town life they built together to her relationship with her stepdaughter, who is suddenly not bound to Char in any real way. Untethered explores what bonds truly form a family and how, sometimes, love knows no bounds.
Char Hawthorn, college professor, wife and stepmother to a spirited fifteen-year-old daughter, loves her family and the joyful rhythms of work and parenting. But when her husband dies in a car accident, the “step” in Char’s title suddenly matters a great deal. In the eyes of the law, all rights to daughter Allie belong to Lindy, Allie’s self-absorbed biological mother, who wants to girl to move to her home in California.
While Allie begins to struggle in school and tensions mount between her and Char, Allie’s connection to young Morgan, a ten-year-old-girl she tutors, seems to keep her grounded. But then Morgan, who was adopted out of foster care, suddenly disappears, and Char is left to wonder about a possible future without Allie and what to do about Morgan, a child caught up in a terrible crack in the system.
Women’s Fiction [G.P. Putnam’s Sons, On Sale: June 7, 2016, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9780399176272 / eISBN: 9780698407862]
About Julie Lawson Timmer
Julie Lawson Timmer grew up in Stratford, Ontario. She now lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband Dan, their four teenage children and two badly-behaved labs. She is a lawyer by day, a writer, mom/stepmom, fledgling CrossFitter and dreadful cook by night.
About Yona Zeldis McDonough
Yona Zeldis McDonough is the author of six novels; her seventh, THE HOUSE ON PRIMROSE POND, will be out from New American Library in February, 2016. In addition, she is the editor of the essay collections The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns Forty and All the Available Light: A Marilyn Monroe Reader. Her short fiction, articles and essays have been published in anthologies as well as in numerous national magazines and newspapers. She is also the award-winning author of twenty-six books for children, including the highly acclaimed chapter books, The Doll Shop Downstairs and The Cats in the Doll Shop. Yona lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, two children and two noisy Pomeranians.