The college years are an adventurous time in a studentís life. While discovering
what the future may hold, special friendships evolve merely by happenstance. As
the years go by, we reflect on these past relationships often wishing we could
take a step back in time. But, what if one of your college chums contacted you
asking for help? Would you be willing to risk it all in order to save a friend?
This monthís Jenís Jewels
Marisa de los Santos
touches upon this very topic in her latest release FALLING
TOGETHER. Itís the heartwarming story of three college friends who have gone
their separate ways only to find themselves reuniting in order to save one of
their own. With a spectacular backdrop of the Philippines, Marisa captures the
sheer power of true love and friendship in this spellbinding novel.
As part of this interview, William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins,
has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win.
So, donít forget to the look for the trivia question at the end. And as always,
thanks for making Jenís
Jewels a part of your autumn reading list.
Jen: New York Times bestselling novelist, your stellar career has
touched many readers around the globe. So that we may catch a glimpse into the
life of the woman behind the words, please share with us your educational and
Marisa: I was an English major at the University of Virginia, and in my
last year of college, I took my first poetry writing workshop. It was a
revelation, and I knew I needed to continue my studies, so I went first for an
MFA at Sarah Lawrence College and then got a PhD in English and Creative Writing
at the University of Houston. All along, my focus was poetry. I never took a
fiction workshop, never wrote a short story (at least not as an adult!). I
taught for a few years at the University of Delaware before I stopped in order
to write full time.
Jen: Your writing career initially began in poetry. Please describe for
us your journey and how you became a published poet.
Marisa: I think I became a poet first because I spent my life—and
Iím talking about beginning as far back as I can remember—in love with the
sound of words, the rhythms and the music that happens when words bump up
against each other. Poetry places the music in the foreground, and I found that
magical. In graduate school, I got the chance to work with some astonishingly
gifted poets and teachers, teachers who made me read and read as well as write.
I sent a lot of poems to literary magazines and got my share of rejections, but
also got some published. My first book was actually a collection of poems
called FROM THE BONES OUT, published by the University of South Carolina Press.
Jen: Please share with us your "Aha!" moment when you decided to switch
gears and try your hand as a novelist.
Marisa: I donít think there was a single, identifiable "Aha!" moment,
which is probably for the best because I think the sudden understanding that I
had a novel to write would have scared me to death. All those pages! Instead,
the understanding sneaked up on me little by little. It started with a voice in
my head that turned into a character named Cornelia Brown, and eventually, after
living with her for a long time, I began to see hints of her story. So one
summer, I decided to write it down. I had a pretty substantial chunk of novel
before I would admit to anyone, myself included, that thatís what I was doing:
writing a novel. But once Iíd begun, I was hooked. Iím addicted to novel
writing. I love getting to know the characters, having them come alive. And I
love that total immersion in another world.
Jen: In terms of nuts and bolts, approximately how long does it take for
you to write a novel? And, do you plot first, or simply just allow the novel to
take on a life of its own?
Marisa: I start with the characters and, if Iím lucky, with a wisp of
plot, and I hold the characters in my head for a long time, months, and just try
to get to know them. I collect details, small ones like what kinds of Halloween
costumes theyíve worn or how they like their pizza, and big ones, like the thing
their fathers said to them that they never forgot. On some level, I know Iím
creating them, but it feels like Iím discovering them, as though they exist and
I have to learn them. And as I learn more and more, the shape of the plot gets
more defined. During all of this, I donít write, except maybe to jot a note or
two, but, for me, this is as vital a part of the process as the writing itself,
and it can take more than six months before I feel ready to put down the first
word. Iíd say that from the moment I have the characters to the moment I write
the last word, I work for two to three years.
Jen: Why do you choose to incorporate the Philippines into the storyline?
Does this fascinating country hold a special place in your heart?
Marisa: My dad was born in Cebu City and lived there until he was about
thirty, when he came to the U.S. to do his surgical residency and fellowship.
My mom is Anglo-American, from Maryland, and my sister and I were born in
Baltimore and raised in Virginia, and I didnít visit the Philippines until I was
in my early twenties. But it was a transformative experience in so many ways.
I got to explore a vibrant, complicated, sometimes startlingly beautiful
country; I got to meet a whole branch of my family Iíd only seen in glimpses
before; and I got to discover so much about my father. Since then, Iíve gone
back many times (my husband and I have already taken the kids three times, and
we have a trip planned for March), and each time, I become a little less
tourist, a little more balikbayan, which means a person who comes home.
I canít tell you how honored and excited I felt when I realized that Iíd get to
take my characters to the Philippines with this book. But I also felt pressure
because I wanted so much to do a good job at bringing it to life. I worked
very, very hard on the language, trying to capture some of what makes the place
so rich and odd and contradictory (flowers pouring out of every crevice,
spilling over every wall right in the midst of profound poverty) and so entirely
Jen: Your new release FALLING TOGETHER is an
unforgettable novel exploring the depths of friendship and how relationships
evolve over time. (I absolutely fell in love with your characters!) How did you
arrive at the premise?
Marisa: First off, thank you, thank you for saying that about the
characters because I think thatís the best compliment of all! As a reader, I
can admire the plot and the language, but if the characters donít feel real and
important to me, I just canít love a book. So thanks, on my behalf, but mostly
on behalf of Pen, Cat, Will, and the rest!
This book started with an image, a silhouette, really, no distinct details.
Three people walking, a tall man, a tall woman, and a small woman in between
them. Pretty early on, I recognized their relationship for what it was: the
deepest, most sustaining kind of friendship. This led me to think about college
because I donít know if thereís a time and place when friendships are quite as
intense. All those late nights full of conversation, so few real, grown-up
world distractions. I can remember being in college with my friends and
thinking, "This will never end. We will never let this change." But of course,
it does change, and it should change. People grow up and deepen and work and
let their worlds get bigger, but itís hard. Itís always a kind of loss. I
think the story grew out of that, the question of what would happen when the
three friends figure out that this friendship they hold sacred has to change.
Jen: The story begins with Catís urgent request for help from her college
chums, Pen and Will. Letís start with Pen. Why does she choose to answer the
call despite the perplexity of her present situation?
Marisa: Pen is the one who was left behind, and sheís never stopped
resenting her friends for leaving and never stopped wanting them to come back to
her. Sheís in a fragile state, still reeling from the death of her father, and,
the only thing thatís keeping her from feeling entirely isolated is her five
year old daughter. Motherhood keeps her connected to the world, but without
fully understanding that sheís lonely, Pen is lonely. When she gets the email
from Cat asking her to meet her at the reunion, she only pretends to mull it
over; thereís never any doubt that sheíll go. And she goes with a great deal of
nervousness but also with extremely high, heartbreakingly high hopes.
Jen: In years past, Will purposely choose to remove himself from his
friendship/relationship with both girls. Why then does he resolve to reconnect
with CatÖ and Pen?
Marisa: Part of the fundamental structure of Pen, Will, and Catís
friendship was that Pen and Will took care of Cat, so when Cat says she needs
him, Will finds himself unable to refuse her. The prospect of seeing Pen again
is more complicated for him, but I think that, over the years, he has come to
suspect that leaving Pen the way he did, cutting off all ties to her, was a
mistake. Or at least possibly a mistake, and that possibility is enough
to carry him to the reunion. And letís face it, these were people he loved; they
were his family for years. In the time heís been away from them, Will has found
that that kind of feeling doesnít disappear, even if your life would be simpler
if it did. Plus, I have to think that both Pen and Will are just plain curious
about who the others have become. How could they not be? I know I would be!
Jen: Why do Pen and Will agree to allow Jason, Catís husband, to come
along on their search?
Marisa: Well, I think their reasons evolve as they get to know more
about his and Catís marriage, but at first, I think they have a "keep your
enemies close" philosophy. It would be bad to have him with them but worse to
have him searching the world for Cat all by himself. They tell each other that
they want to keep an eye on him. But on a deeper level, I think they both
believe that, as insufferable and boneheaded as he is, he truly loves Cat. Heís
loved her faithfully for a very long time, and that earns him a place on the
Jen: As Will and Pen rekindle their friendship, how do distant memories
hinder them from moving forward?
Marisa: You know, despite all of Penís big talk about love being an
imperative, something you are obligated to follow through with; sheís actually
much more resistant to moving forward than Will is. Penís caught: she wants to
keep Will in her life, but sheís afraid to let their relationship change shape.
Sheís very, very attached to the way they used to be, both because she loved
it, but also because it was familiar, known and knowable. At one point, earlier
on, Cat says, "Weíre all or nothing." At the time, Pen isnít sure she agrees,
but she ends up realizing that, when it comes to her relationship with Will,
this is absolutely true, and it scares her. It means taking a huge risk, and,
especially after losing her father, Pen is so nervous about investing deeply, in
taking chances on people who could disappear that sheís almost paralyzed by it.
Jen: How does Penís relationship with Patrick, the father of her child,
change the way in which she views marriage, love, and life?
Marisa: Patrick let Pen down in very real ways, not the least of which
was relinquishing any kind of custody of Augusta because his wife demanded it.
Certainly, Pen is more cautious and wary than she had been because of her
experiences with Patrick, but I think even more than being wary of commitment or
love, sheís wary of her own tendency to take the path of least resistance. She
ended up with Patrick in the first place because he caught her at a particularly
vulnerable moment. Will and Cat had just walked out of her life, and she was
adrift. Later, after she had ended their relationship once, she took Patrick
back because she had just given birth to Augusta and was vulnerable again. And
then, after her father died, she ended up with Patrick again. After all this,
I think itís not easy for Pen to trust her own judgment about what she wants and
why. She has to learn to trust other people, but she also has to learn to trust
Jen: Letís switch gears now and talk about your promotional plans. Please
take us on a tour of your website highlighting points of interest.
Marisa: Um, unfortunately, my website is still in the process of being
rebuilt, but Iím happy to tell you about my promotional plans. Iíll be
traveling quite a bit, although Iím not one of those writers who can leave for
several weeks in a row to tour because I have two very busy children, who need
two parents at home to drive them places and, truth be told, from whom I canít
stand to be away for very long. So I go away and come back, go away and come
back. Iíll be doing bookstore visits here in Delaware, and in New York and
Maryland, and Iíll be attending festivals and library events and author talks
and retreats in places like Nashville, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Boston, and
Austin, and St. Simonís Island, Georgia. Iíll also be guest blogging and doing
a satellite radio tour. Iím really excited about all of it. Nothing is more
fun than connecting with readers.
Jen: Do you participate in Social Media?
Marisa: Yes, Iím on Facebook, which gets a bad rap sometimes, but
which I like a lot. Such a good opportunity to interact with readers and other
Jen: Are you currently at work on your next project? (Any chance there
will be a sequel?)
Marisa: So far, no sequel, although I would never rule that out for the
future! I would feel lucky to check in with Pen, Will, Cat, and Jason in a few
years to see what theyíre up to. I can never tell whether Iíll get to or not,
but I would love it.
Iím working on a fourth novel that Iím so excited about, even though itís fairly
early on in the process. Itís about a sixteen-year old girl named Willow who is
the product of her fatherís second marriage. He views his first family as
having been a colossal failure and is especially disappointed in his children
from that marriage, twins named Marcus and Estella, who are now in their early
thirties, and who are understandably angry at him. The father views his second
marriage and his youngest child as his second—and last--chance at doing it
right. Consequently, he and his much younger wife have raised Willow in an
incredibly sheltered and controlled environment and have studiously kept her
away from most of her peers and especially from her siblings, whom she hardly
knows. When her father suffers a heart attack, though, Willowís world turns
upside down. With her father unable to homeschool her, she finds herself in the
school system for the first time. To make matters more complicated, her father
summons her brother and sister to come for a visit and, reluctantly, they
comply. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of the two sisters.
Jen: Thank you so much for stopping by to chat with my readers. I highly
TOGETHER, especially for book groups. It is a magical novel that will surely
find its place on the top of the bestseller lists. I wish you all the best.
Marisa: Thank you so much, Jen. Itís been a pleasure!
I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Marisa. Please stop by your favorite
bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy of FALLING TOGETHER today.
Better yet, how would you like to win a copy instead?
Okay, be one of five readers to answer the following trivia question correctly
and you could win. Good luck!
the name of Marisaís first book published?
Later this month, I will be bringing to you my interview with Rosalind Lauer, author of
A SIMPLE WINTER. You
wonít want to miss it!
Until next timeÖ
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