One of the best things about fall is the start of school. Yes, I know. Spoken
like a true teacher, but I can't help it. There's nothing quite like a brand
new notebook, pencils, and the 64 count box of Crayola crayons! Before you get
carried away and start thinking I'm nuts, I am happy to report that I read in
Redbook Magazine that even Debra Messing shares my same
sentiments about school supplies.
This month's Jen's Jewel touches upon that feeling of newness but at the
other spectrum...the end of the school year. You know that feeling. School is
out! No more homework (for us to check)!! Lazy days of summer ahead sipping
iced tea by the pool. But what if...what if your child was involved in an
accident and from that point forward, her life was never the same? How would
you possibly be able to live your life with the constant guilt in knowing that
your child ended someone else's life? It's truly something we never stop and
think about, but we all know it could happen in a blink of an eye.
THE REST OF HER
LIFE is such a powerful, poignant story that I just had to interview
the mastermind behind this intriguing plot, Laura Moriarty.
With so many questions swirling around in my mind, I was thrilled to be able to
talk with her. What follows is our conversation. As part of the interview,
Hyperion Books has graciously donated five copies of her novel. Please
look for the trivia question at the end of the column. Good luck!
Go grab something warm to drink and get to know
my friend, Laura Moriarty.
Jen: Of all the books I have read this year, yours has been the most
provocative and captivating in the sense that it touched upon a topic that I
had never given any thought to as happening in my life. So that my readers
have a better understanding of your writing style and influences, please fill
us in on your educational and professional background.
Laura: I got my undergraduate degree in social work. I sometimes wish I
would have majored in English or creative writing, but in many ways, my social
work background has helped my writing. The first scene I wrote in my first
novel, The Center of Everything, came directly from something I saw happen
where I was a social work student at a clinic for the uninsured. Later, I
worked with people with disabilities, and some of the people I met during those
years show up in my first novel as well. After working as a case manager for a
few years, I went back and got a graduate degree in creative writing. I think
my writing really improved during those years in graduate school: I had some
practical life experience under my belt, but I had a lot to learn about reading
and writing and language. I still do, of course, but it was great to have those
years of intense study of reading and writing.
Jen: Has writing always been a passion of yours? When was the defining
moment in your life when you decided to take a stab at it and write a book?
Laura: I resisted it for a long time. I didn't think I could make a
living at it. I wrote stories in my spare time, but I majored in social work,
and I was taking pre-med courses. I wanted to do something useful, and
something that would give me financial security down the road. But at some
point I realized writing was the one thing I was truly passionate about. It
would be hard to pick one defining moment -- some critics argue the sudden
epiphany is a myth! For me, it was a long, slow realization. You might also
call it a case of growing commitment.
Jen: Your first novel, THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING, got rave reviews. How did you go
about writing your new release, THE REST OF HER
LIFE, with the pressure of knowing that your fans expected this one to
be as stellar (which it most certainly is, by the way) and spell-bounding as
Laura: I think you just have to get over the idea that you're going to
please everyone all the time. I think my skin is actually a little thicker now.
I don't need everyone to like every book. I have to write what I want to write.
I remind myself that I can't say I like everything even my favorite author has
Jen: A simple question, but one I have to ask. How did you arrive at
The accident on which the novel is based is such an innocent act that changes
the lives of a family forever. Did you do much research? And if not, how then
did you so accurately portray the feelings of your characters? As I read the
book, I kept thinking you must have been in a similar situation or had known
someone who had been.
Laura: No, I haven't been in this situation, at least not yet. I
say 'yet' because while researching this book, I realized how common an
accident like this is. When I've done readings from this book, people
invariably come up at the end and say, 'my mother was killed by her friend like
this,' or 'I paralyzed someone backing out of my driveway,' or 'my daughter's
friend ran over someone ten years and she has never been the same.' I got the
idea from reading the newspaper and thinking about what a tragedy an accident
like this is for both the driver and the victim. As for research, I did meet
with a criminal lawyer and also a civil lawyer. But I didn't want it to become
a novel with a court scene as the climax. I wanted the focus to focus on the
emotional effects of an accident like this, and also guilt, and also the idea
that you can do so much damage without intending to.
Jen: What I liked best about THE REST OF HER
LIFE was the way you layered the story with sub-plots, but at the same
time, you stayed true to the main storyline. Please tell us about your writing
process. Plot first? Characters? Outline? About how long did it take for you
to complete the novel?
Laura: With THE
REST OF HER
LIFE, I came up with the plot first, or at least the incident that sets
the plot in motion. As I said earlier, I wanted to investigate the idea that
you could do so much harm without meaning to. I then thought, 'wow, that's true
of parenting as well,' and I was thinking that link when I was imagining the
characters who might populate this story.
Jen: Which part of the book was the most challenging for you to write
Laura: That would be the scene near the end, where the two mothers, the
mother of the victim and the mother of the driver, have their final
confrontation. There had to be some resolution, but not too much resolution. I
had to be true to the characters and their feelings. They weren't going to fall
into each other's arms and weep. So I spent a lot of time thinking of what they
might actually need to say to each other, and what each woman would walk away
Jen: There are many strong women in this book with distinct
characteristics that we as readers can relate to at least one if not all of
them. If you had to pick a favorite character, who would you choose and why?
Laura: I like Eva, Leigh's friend, quite a bit, and she has a lot of me
in her. I say this with some trepidation. I know not all readers will like Eva,
because she's a bit of a gossip. Okay, she's a terrible gossip. I don't know if
I would call myself a gossip: I hope I'm careful about people's feelings, and I
would never want to embarrass someone. It's much more tantalizing for me to
listen than to tell. I think the same qualities that make me love to read also
make me want to know the 'back story' on the people in my world. I think in
some ways, gossip gets a bad rap. If you're spreading rumors or lies or even
embarrassing truths about someone, then no, that isn't valuable or good; but,
like the narrator of THE
REST OF HER LIFE points out, I've found that knowing something of an
acquaintance's history -- especially any kind of suffering or heartbreak -- will
make me more compassionate toward and interested in that person. Eva, like
gossip, is sort of the glue of her society. She does care about people.
However, Leigh also notes that she doesn't really feel so positive about gossip
when she's suddenly the one Eva is talking about.
Jen: At times, I felt so sorry for Kara's mother, Leigh, and the
unfortunate childhood she had to endure. What was your motivation for painting
such a dismal picture? Do you think the plot would have worked as well if she
had just experienced a semi-normal family life? I also couldn't help but feel
compassion for Justin, who seems to be lost in the shuffle at times. Perhaps
his loneliness mirrors his mother's earlier years. Was that your focus?
Laura: No -- if Leigh would have come from a semi-normal family, this
would be an entirely different book, more about external conflicts than about
internal conflicts, which I think are more interesting. This is an odd book, in
that although the accident happens to Kara, it's really her mother's book. The
blind spot that causes the normally caring and conscientious Kara to roll
through a crosswalk and hit a pedestrian is a metaphor for her mother's
emotional blind spots -- she really doesn't see how her own difficult childhood
is affecting her parenting and her relationship with Kara. The tragedy here --
and in so many families, I think -- is that Leigh has always been obsessed
with being a better mother than her own mother was, and trying to give her
children everything she herself didn't get. But in trying so hard to do the
opposite, she ends up fostering the same kind of feelings in her daughter that
she herself had toward her mother. She is a better mother to Justin, Kara's
younger brother, because, as you point out, he suffers in a way Leigh can
relate too. But before the accident, Leigh's daughter has so much she didn't
have- a loving father, a stable home - that her mother subconsciously feels she
can't relate to her.
Jen: What message, if any, are you sending your readers by writing this
Laura: I don't think it's anything that could be summed up in one
sentence. But the theme that shows up, again and again, is that people usually
cause harm to others not out of malice but because they just don't see
themselves, or a situation, clearly. Many people -- and I would specifically say
many parents -- don't see themselves the way their children see them. It's
frightening to think you could be causing problems with your child when you're
truly trying to do just the opposite. As Leigh notes, 'People don't see
themselves. They really don't. It's eerie to see it up close.'
Jen: After the completion of the book, was it difficult for you to say
good-bye to these characters? Had they become a part of you?
Laura: Yes. I mean, there is a lot of satisfaction in completing a
book. But I find myself wanting to use an old character or old voice when I'm
writing something new. And that's not good. I try to stretch myself and come up
with someone new.
Jen: What has surprised you most about the publishing business and why?
And if you could go back and do one thing over in your career, what would it be
Laura: I do think the publishing business is more open and accessible
than people think. This might be because I've had a very good experience, but
I'm always surprised by how many people ask me, with narrowed eyes, 'how did
you get your agent?' It's as if they think there's a secret handshake or
something. My agent's name and mailing address are listed in the Writer's
Market. I sent her a letter, and then chapters, and then the book. I worked
hard. I revised. I listened to her advice. At the end of the day, I think an
agent chooses to represent work that she loves or at least knows she can sell.
But I don't think you have to know anyone. Just today, someone acted very
surprised when I said that yes, I support myself and my daughter with my
writing. He said, "you're really lucky," and "you must have a really good
agent." Both things are true, but there's a bit too much fatalism there, I
think. I have all kinds of luck, good and bad, and I do have a great agent. But
I also work hard -- I pretty much dedicated my twenties to working on my
Jen: Are you at work on your next book? If so, what can you tell us
Laura: I am at work on my next novel, but I hate to talk about it. I
feel like I might jinx it. I can only find solace in the fact that I remember
feeling this insecure about the first two novels, and they worked out.
Jen: Do you have a website? Blog? Mailing list? Do you participate in
author phone chats? Any upcoming author tours and/or book signings?
Laura: I have a website, www.therestofherlife.com and the 'events' page
on my site lists my tour dates. I'll be touring all through September, all over
the country. I'm really excited about this, because I enjoy talking with
readers so much. I love to do author phone chats, but it is a bit difficult
because most book clubs meet in the evening, when my three-year-old is not at
all keen on letting me have an uninterrupted conversation. I go to local book
clubs all the time, and that's really fun for me. I've visited so many that I
think I could write an essay on book club cultures. They vary so much. I've
also visited several classes -- college and high school. I only do that if the
students have all read the book, though. It's much more satisfying for everyone
that way, I think.
Jen: Thank you so much for the opportunity to chat with you. Your book
is absolutely phenomenal. If you are ever in the Baltimore area, I would love
to meet you! I wish you much success in the future.
Laura: Thank you, Jen! I hope I do get to Baltimore -- I'm a huge Anne
Tyler fan. I appreciate the encouragement.
I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Laura. Five readers to
correctly answer the following question will win a copy of THE
REST OF HER
LIFE. Good luck!!
What is the name of the
main character's younger brother in THE REST OF HER
Next time, I will be bringing to you an interview with Gemma Halliday,
author of UNDERCOVER IN
HIGH HEELS. You won't want to miss it.
Until next month...Jen
2 comments posted.
This story reminded me of a number of things concerning my mother. One of the first things I can remember her saying after she received her driver's license was that she prayed that she would never hurt a person in an accident. She was more worried about that than dying herself. And, like many mothers she too had aspects that we as her four children did not like at all.
(Sigrun Schulz 4:13am October 17, 2007)
Really enjoyed the interview, and I also love the smell of new school supplies..lol.
It brings back fond memories of school and my favorite teacher, Miss Thomas. I enjoy your books so much...keep them coming!
(Sandra Greathouse 7:41am October 18, 2007)