Have you ever wondered what your parents were like as a newly married couple
before they had kids?Â Sure, weâ€™ve all seen the photographs from their
pre-parenthood days and have heard the story of how they met, but that doesnâ€™t
really tell us anything. Was theirs a whirlwind romance that would make you
swoon? Or, was it filled with tumultuous times that tested the strength of their
This monthâ€™s Jenâ€™s Jewels
Holly LeCraw explores
a sister and brotherâ€™s intense struggle to come to terms with the haunting
revelations from their parentsâ€™ past in her debut novel, THE SWIMMING POOL.Â
Splashing on the scene with her expertly written book of dives and dips and
twists and turns, this psychological tale will keep you up until the wee hours
of the morning.Â Mark my wordsâ€¦Holly LeCraw is the new IT girl in the publishing
As part of this interview, Doubleday, a division of Random House, has generously
donated 5 copies for you, my lucky readers, to win. So, donâ€™t forget to look for
the trivia question at the end. And as always, thanks for making Jenâ€™s Jewels a part of your
Jen: As a debut novelist, the story behind the path that led to
publication can be just as fascinating as the novel itself.Â So that my readers
may have a better understanding of the woman behind the words, please share with
us your educational and professional background.
Holly: Â I donâ€™t know
about fascinatingâ€¦.the path has consisted of working hard, alone, in little
rooms, for a long time.Â Also, battling myself for a long time--that is,
learning how to get out of my own way, and to trust the results.
I have a degree in English from Duke and a masterâ€™s in English from Tufts--an
M.A., not an MFA.Â My original intent was to get a Ph.D. and go into academia,
but I realized that was the wrong place for me.Â I did go to writing workshops
at Bennington (back when it was a summer program), the Sewanee Writersâ€™
Conference, and a few other places.
When I first got out of school, I worked briefly in publishing, but once I
realized I wanted to write, I started waitressing and temping and things like
that.Â In retrospect Iâ€™m not sure that was the best route, but at the time I
couldnâ€™t envision putting my creative energies into both a job and writing.Â
Then I started having kids and became a stay-at-home mom, and fit writing in
wherever I could.
Jen: Describe for us your â€śAh! Ha!â€ť moment when the decision to pursue a
career in writing became a reality.
Holly: Â For a
long time I didnâ€™t think of it as a career--because â€ścareerâ€ť connotes â€śmoney,â€ť
which I definitely was not making from writing.Â And, also, a sense of
legitimacy that took a long time for me to feel.Â But one answer to your
question is that there were a series of moments when I proved to myself, over
and over again, that I was miserable if I wasnâ€™t writing.Â I thought that in
order to be a grownup you had to work in an office and wear high heels and be
otherwise respectable, but whenever I tried to be that person I failed
miserably, so I finally threw in the towel.
The first true artistic â€śah-haâ€ť moment I had was when I was writing a story
called â€śAugust,â€ť about seven or eight years ago.Â This was after I had spent
years writing a not-very-good novel, and had finally put it aside.Â I had three
little children and not much time; I was pretty discouraged.Â But I had started
this story, and I guess because I figured I had nothing to lose, I was being
freer about it--I didnâ€™t know where it was going at all.Â I had some images in
my head, and I was just swimming from one to the next.
One afternoon I was working and realized I just had a few minutes before I had
to leave to pick up kids.Â Normally I would have stopped, but I decided to press
on, what the hell--and then, all the sudden, I had finished the story.Â I hadnâ€™t
even known I was near the end.Â And the end was a complete surprise to me; but
it was perfect.Â That was the first time that I really got out of my own
way--that I had not tried to control every word before it came out.
That story was nominated for a Pushcart, and led to some wonderful things.Â And
I remember that moment, sitting at my desk, looking at those words I had just
written, going, â€śOh.Â So thatâ€™s how it works.â€ť
Jen: Your debut novel entitled THE SWIMMING POOL has made a definite
splash in the publishing world.Â An intricate storyline layered with emotionally
charged characters makes this book a must-read.Â I could not put it down. Bravo!
How did you arrive at the premise?
Holly: Â It
started with Jed and Callie, the brother and sister.Â I knew their mother had
died, and they didnâ€™t know who had killed her.Â I thought it was a short story.Â
And then my husband took the kids away for a weekend, and in that lovely quiet
the basic outline of the book appeared.Â The key was Marcella; she was a very
small, ancillary character for about three minutes, and then I realized she was
Jen: As I mentioned, your book is a story within a story. Letâ€™s start by
dissecting its parts. Betsy and Cecil McClatchey have a typical country club
marriage. From the outside, it looks as if they lead an idyllic life. Yet, one
day Cecil dares to cross the line and has an affair. What is the catalyst that
leads him towards the path of self-destruction?
Holly:Â I donâ€™t
want to say itâ€™s a garden-variety midlife crisis--although maybe it is.Â
Actually, I think midlife crises arenâ€™t garden-variety all the time.Â I think
they can be profound existential crises.Â Youâ€™re confronting the idea of
mortality and realizing it might be too late to reinvent yourself, and realizing
all the decisions you made that you didnâ€™t even realize were decisions at the
time.Â Some people panic and throw everything away.Â Iâ€™ve seen it.Â I donâ€™t want
to play to stereotypes, but it seems like men panic much more easily.
I have to confess that I have the least sympathy for Cecil of any of my
characters.Â I had to work hard to understand him--because Marcella falls in
love with him, and I had to respect that, and respect him.Â People have affairs
all the time, and usually theyâ€™re not evil people.Â But a betrayal like that,
especially in what is a good, solid marriage, is just incomprehensible to me
personally.Â So I had to work very hard to try and figure it out.Â I think Cecil
just decided he hadnâ€™t taken enough risks.Â He had always played by the rules,
and he began to wonder what would happen if he didnâ€™t.Â I think Betsy could also
sometimes be rather closed; she is almost frighteningly self-sufficient.Â I
think he was attracted to Marcellaâ€™s vulnerability, because it was so different
from Betsy, and made him feel useful, and powerful.
Jen: Why does Betsy choose not to confront Cecil even though she is well
aware of his indiscretion?
Holly: Â Well,
sheâ€™s aware, in an intuitive way, but she doesnâ€™t have any concrete evidence.Â
And itâ€™s really only right before the end of her life that she admits to herself
that she knows.Â This just occurred to me, but I think sheâ€™s like Elizabeth
Edwards was for a long time (or the public perception of her, anyway)--sheâ€™s
just going to rise above, and hope this bad thing goes away.Â Betsy is a very
orderly person; this is the ultimate disorder, and she is just not prepared to
face it head on.
Jen: Within a blink of an eye, everything changes when Betsy is brutally
murdered by an intruder in her own home.Â How does Cecilâ€™s decision to not
expose his affair, even though it would prove his innocence, affect his relation
with his daughter, Callie? And, with his son, Jed?
Holly: Â I think
Cecil is so shattered he is not thinking clearly.Â He canâ€™t connect A to B.Â He
assumes that his children will know heâ€™s innocent, and by the time he realizes
that maybe that isnâ€™t the case, he feels powerless to do anything about it.Â His
feelings for Marcella are completely eclipsed by what has happened to Betsy; he
decided at the beginning not to tell anyone, because it seemed irrelevant to him
and because it seemed like a betrayal of Betsy, and later he doesnâ€™t have the
wherewithal to revisit that decision.Â He traps himself.Â And when he dies, he
leaves Callie and Jed in the trap.
Jen: Years later, Callie and Jed are still suffering due to the
circumstances surrounding both of their parentsâ€™ deaths.Â (Cecil dies not long
after Betsyâ€™s murder.) When Jed accidentally finds an old bathing suit hidden in
their summer home, what makes him search out the owner? Or, is it simply a
subconscious effort to bring the past back into the present?
book takes place, as books do, when the characters are at a crisis point.Â Their
parents died seven years ago, but the premature birth of Callieâ€™s daughter has
pushed Callie to the brink.Â Jed senses this, and he is ready to join her
there--ready to shake himself out of his emotional paralysis.Â The bathing suit
reminds him of a time when he still felt life held endless possibility--and,
incidentally, when he was attracted to someone, which he hasnâ€™t truly been in a
Jen: Marcella is a troubled woman whose life has been a series of
disappointing events that have stripped her of all semblance of self-worth.
Quite simply, she is an empty shell yearning for love.Â When Jed shows up on her
doorstep looking for answers, why does she choose to open Pandoraâ€™s Box?
Holly: Â That is
a very, very good question.Â Maybe a bit of a chicken and egg situation.Â The
first answer is that they have a powerful sexual attraction from the
beginning--but why?Â Honestly, it is something I didnâ€™t want to examine in too
analytical a way when I was writing it.Â It holds a magic that I didnâ€™t want to
parse away.Â Their relationship is taboo, definitely; it has quite an Oedipal
tinge.Â Jed has lost his mother (who, however, was nothing at all like
Marcella), and Marcella never had the son she longed for so desperately.Â She
doesnâ€™t think of him as a son, but that suggestion is there.
But at the same time, theyâ€™re equals.Â Theyâ€™re mourning the same person, the
same situation, and theyâ€™re both so broken.Â Itâ€™s possible that each was the
only one that could have brought the other forward.
I think Marcella also might initially give in to Jed partially out of guilt.Â
She feels she has helped to wound him, and so wants to comfort him.Â Which she
does.Â He hasnâ€™t been able to love anyone, really, since his parents died, until
he reconnects with her.
Jen: When Marcella reveals the details of her relationship with Cecil,
how does Jedâ€™s opinion of his dad change? Or, does it? Is he more sympathetic or
critical of his fatherâ€™s imperfections?
Holly: Â I think
Jed hasnâ€™t been able to mourn either of his parents fully, because of the ways
he lost them--thatâ€™s why he is so stuck.Â With his father, he has been stuck in
rage.Â When Jed finds out about his fatherâ€™s affair, in an odd way it
re-humanizes Cecil for him.Â Jed is disgusted and devastated, but his father
also becomes less monolithic in his mind, and that is the beginning of being
able to really see what he lost.
Jen: The wounded soul in this story is poor Callie.Â Unable to accept the
fact that her parents are dead, she barely exists in a world that has shown her
no mercy. How is her relationship with her husband Billy a direct correlation to
the way in which she views the atrocities in her life?
a very interesting question.Â In some ways she has been much more functional
than Jed since they lost their parents--sheâ€™s gotten married, had children.Â I
think though that her relationship with Billy is quite shallow--just as probably
all her relationships are shallow at this point, except with Jed.Â She is a
great one for soldiering on, like Betsy, and what happens during this book is
that she finally cracks under the pressure.Â Being a trouper like that requires
a lot of energy directed outward and not much inward, and thatâ€™s not sustainable
Jen: Without giving too much away, how does Marcellaâ€™s new relationship
with her ex-husband Anthony help her to reconnect with her daughter?
Holly:Â I donâ€™t
think itâ€™s her relationship with Anthony so much as the fruits of her
relationship with Jed--she begins to wake up, to be able to see other people, to
feel some agency.Â She begins to dwell less on her losses and the things she
never had, and to look instead at the things she does--namely, her daughter.Â
Sheâ€™s also able to reconsider her relationship with her own mother, who died
when she was about Toniâ€™s age, and which had never been very functional; and
that helps her to see herself as a mother and to think more clearly about how
she and Toni relate.Â It goes the other way too--as Marcella begins to thaw,
their relationship becomes vital again, to each of them.
When I was writing the book, I was very conscious of the beauty of these
peopleâ€™s lives.Â That might sound crazy, given all the tragedy and drama in the
book.Â But their connections are profound, and they all begin to sense the
wonder and depth of their love for each other, both the people they have lost
and the people they still have.Â I hope that in the end readers feel it is a
Jen: I wish we could talk about the shocking ending, but we canâ€™t.
Suffice it to say, my readers will not be disappointed.Â So, letâ€™s switch gears
and discuss your promotional plans. First of all, do you have a website? If so,
please take us on a brief tour.
Holly:Â I do
have a website-- www.hollylecraw.com.Â All the info about the bookâ€™s
promotion is there, and more about me, and writing the book.Â And there are
links to friend me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.
Jen: Are you planning a book tour? Also, will you be participating in
author phone chats? And if so, how would my readers go about scheduling one?
Holly: Â I am
going on tour--Iâ€™ll be in Atlanta (where I was born and raised); Seattle;
Washington, DC; Nashville; Durham, NC; and Oxford and Jackson, MS.Â And Iâ€™ll be
at a bunch of stores here in New England and also on the Cape, where the book is
Iâ€™d love to do phone chats and book group visits!Â The contact info is also on
Jen: Are you currently at work on your next novel? If so, what can you
tell us about it?
Holly: Â Right
now itâ€™s called THE SWEETNESS OF HONEY.Â Itâ€™s a bit of a Cain-and-Abel
story--there are two half-brothers, one middle-aged and one just out of college,
and they are both teachers at a prep school in New England.Â They each fall in
love with the wrong people--and, just to make things interesting, the same people.
Jen: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop
by and chat with my readers. What a powerful and well-written novel! I do
believe this is only the beginning of a long, successful career. Best of luck!
you so much.Â You asked wonderful questions.Â And I certainly hope youâ€™re
I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Holly. Please stop by your favorite
bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy of THE SWIMMING POOL
today. Better yet, would you like to win one instead?
Okay, FIVE readers who enter the Fresh Fiction contest
regarding this interview with the correct answer to the following trivia
question will be winners! Good luck!
What is the working title
of Hollyâ€™s next book?
Next month, I will be brining to you my interview with Gil McNeil, author of
NEEDLES AND PEARLS.Â You
wonâ€™t want to miss it.
Until next timeâ€¦
6 comments posted.
I love being able to catch a glimpse of an author's though process and learn more about new book just released or one that I can ceep an eye out for in the future. Best of luck with Swimming Pool and with The Sweetness of Honey (or whatever it ends up being titled in the end - personally, I like that title very much).
(Donna Holmberg 12:12pm April 26, 2010)
This was a truly interesting interview. I felt like I knew the author by the time she answered the many questions. Congratulations to both Holly and Jennifer!
(Gladys Paradowski 4:43pm April 28, 2010)