Thursday, June 17, 2010
Q and A With Maryann McFadden, Author of SO HAPPY TOGETHER
As anyone who has read my first novel, THE RICHEST SEASON, knows, I love writing about different generations, and using their points of view. So when it was time to write my second novel, which became SO HAPPY TOGETHER, I decided this time to have the characters in the same family. At the heart of this story is Claire Noble, a history teacher in her mid forties who has raised a daughter alone, led a small town life, and is about to reach for some of her long-held dreams: to travel, to study photography, and to marry the kind of man it seems she's waited her entire life for. But...and isn't this what makes a good story?... her family gets in the way.
The inspiration for this came from finding myself caught in the same dilemma, and having no idea there was actually a name for it: The Sandwich Generation.
What's the easiest part of writing for you? The most difficult?
I think the toughest part is starting that first draft because in the beginning the characters aren't real yet. And for me, it's all about the characters. I need to love them, feel them, be in their heads, because I want my readers to care about them so much. By my third draft, they're starting to become like family and it's much easier for me to know what they would really do and not do. But of course, we don't want anyone to be predictable, so there's that delicate balance. In the end, what I'm most proud of as a writer is my character development.
In this novel, we see what life is like through the eyes of Claire, her mother, Fanny, 78, and her daughter Amy, 23. All three of these women have dreams, but when they get to Cape Cod, they find their dreams changing, as they begin to look at life differently. The light on Cape Cod is famous for it's beauty. It's been luring artists and writers for more than a century. And I use the light literally and metaphorically to show how these characters transform, in some surprising ways, especially Fanny. For me, setting is like another character, both in my first novel, THE RICHEST SEASON, set on Pawleys Island, and SO HAPPY TOGETHER, set mostly on Cape Cod.
I love writing older characters. I think we can learn so much from them, and usually for young people they are the most surprising, because it's assumed that you reach a certain age, and the dreams fade, and you feel differently inside. But I remember my own grandmother at 80 telling me she still felt 18 inside. I never forgot that.
I’m also a big observer of life, and people. When I began writing Amy’s character, I sat and thought for a long time about my own children at that age, how I felt way back in my 20's, and took a hard look at the world today, and all of the challenges young adults face navigating this crazy place! Here she has to go back home and let her mother help her, something that also prickles her pride, because they’ve been estranged for several years. But Amy has a new dream, and with her mother’s and grandmother’s help, perhaps she can achieve it.
What's the best craft advice you can give writers?
Polish, polish, polish. I begin every morning by polishing a few scenes back and continuing where I'm about to write fresh. That accomplishes 2 things, it constantly improves the language, the flow, the character development, and then when I hit the blank page of the new material, my mind is already in the groove. This is especially great when I'm tired, and unsure where I'm going with the new scene, because it kind of jump starts the creative process and it gets the thread of the story cooking in my head again.
My other advice is not to panic if you don't have an ending. I never do! For me the story, and the characters, grow organically. And I may write many drafts before I actually write an ending. With my first novel, THE RICHEST SEASON, it wasn’t until the 3rd draft, with over 400 pages, that the way to end it fell into place. I mean, I had an idea of what would be the “right” way—that is the “politically correct” way due to the growth of the character, but it didn’t feel right, and so I kept writing and letting things unfold until the true ending that had me going “Yes!” came to me.With SO HAPPY TOGETHER it took about 4 or 5 drafts until I wrote the ending, and my 3rd novel, which I’ve recently finished, it was the 6th draft!
So far, though, it works, because I’ve been thrilled with each ending.
Who are your influences?
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Annie Proulx, Anne Rivers Siddons, Emily Dickinson, and believe it or not, the reknowned editor Max Perkins of Scribners, who nurtured so many of our most famous writers in the first half of the 20th century. When I read the outstanding biography of him by Scott Berg, my take on novel writing changed and grew. I recommend it to everyone who wants to write.
What books do you have on your nightstand now?
I recently read Pat Conroy's latest, South of Broad, which I loved. It's a big book so it took me a while, as I was finishing up my own 3rd novel. I don't get to read as much as I'd like, because it seems I spend so much time writing that the rest of my life becomes triage, like in the ER! One of my other recent favorites is Bird in Hand, by Christina Baker Kline. And I am now on the very last pages of A Summer Affair by Elin Hilderbrand, which is perfect for me right now, as I wanted a light, fun escape.
What was the most exciting that's happened to you since you became a published author?
Without a doubt that would be my first Moveable Feast in Pawleys Island, SC. I went there in 2006 as a self-published author, feeling a bit like a fraud when I rolled into town for a signing. To return a few years later to a sold out luncheon, with over 120 people there to hear me read and talk about my first novel, THE RICHEST SEASON, actually brought tears to my eyes. Mine was a long journey, and it nearly didn't happen. That was some emotional, amazing moment!
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