I was fortunate enough to participate in a discussion last week with Kim Wright, author of Love in Mid-Air, as part of the Manic Mommies Book Club. (Here is my review of Love in Mid-Air).
Here is writeup of the discussion.
Wright Intro: I always thought of myself as a journalist, but I had a novel in me. I got divorced 15 years ago, and all of a sudden, I was someone who was OK to talk to about marriage. People started telling me their stories. Because I had publicly failed in an inbred, small Southern town, I became the mother confessor of every unhappy woman.
Q: Were the stories in the book based on reality (yours or someone else's)?
A: 2/3 of all divorces are initiated by women. Why, I wondered, aren't these stories being written about? I did a lot of journaling to get through my own divorce. I filled many, many journals and put them into a garbage bag, and thought someday I would write non-fiction about divorce. After letting them sit for 2-3 years, though, I decided that these stories were a novel. But the real life stories were definitely the impetus.
Q: How does your ex-husband feel about the book?
A: My ex-husband and I are not Phil and Elyse. We are great friends. I offered him a chance to read the book before it came out, and he said no. But there were a few scenes that I was afraid of how he would take, so he read it. In the end, he was very supportive, and even suggested to me that I get a publicist.
Q: How about your friends – were any of them upset?
A: Writers take real life, move it around, amalgamate it, and make a mosaic out of it. In a few cases, I had to be sure that the person I was writing about was OK with the book. Most stories I changed, but one I took verbatim – really hot button stuff. I decided to let that friend read the book, against the advice of my editor, and it turned out she was upset, but not about what I expected her to mind… she didn't want me to describe her as having "granite countertops", because she thought that gave her away. You have to write what you really feel. Few writers want to hurt people, but you can't pre-think about what will be upsetting to people. You can't avoid upsetting people if you want to be a writer.
Q: Do you have a favorite scene?
A: I don't write in sequences – I write scenes as they come to me and fill the rest in later. The scene in Love in Mid-Air that came to me first was Elyse falling down the church steps. I didn't know who she was or why she was falling. That scene was magic, the impetus for the book. As for the letters, I wasn't sure how they were going to play into the book. As it turned out – even married women have fantasies of romance that they can't throw away – which is why Elyse kept those letters.
Q: Do you plot the whole book out first or write organically?
A: I write organically, which can result in 500 page monstrosities that need to be cut back. When you write as it hits you, you have to walk away from it and then come back six months later to see what fits. Outlining saves time, but to me, books that are outlined feel thin and don't have the messiness of everyday life. Writing organically leads to richer scenes that are more like real life. Now I read like a writer – I can tell who plots and who writes organically. Now that I have written a book, I have been initiated into a sorority/fraternity of people who have written novels. I love talking to other people who have done it. Everyone does it a little differently. Some aspects of writing can be taught, but you have to invent your own methodology.
Q: Why did you write Love in Mid-Air in the present tense?
A: I started writing it in the past tense, but I decided to use present because Elyse is so impetuous. Her life is going out of control. The book was more believable if I used the present tense. It also created more tension – the story wasn't over, it hadn't happened yet.
Q: Tell us about Kelly.
A: Divorce affects your friendships. I wanted Elyse to have one really good friend. In the sequel to Love in Mid-Air, there's a quote that friendship affects our lives even more deeply than love. Women really need their friends. Women's lives become so intertwined. Kelly and Elyse are so close that they share fate, but is Kelly protecting Elyse, or is she jealous of her? Is she trying to save Elyse from herself?
Q: Elyse's friends seem to see everything that happens through the prisms of their own lives. Can you talk about that?
A: Each woman had a distinct view of what marriage and motherhood is. Women project on each other all the time. They see others as extensions of themselves. By getting divorced, Elyse upsets the apple cart for these women.
Q: What is your next book about?
A: My next book – Almost Perfect – takes place when Elyse and Kelly are turning 50. All of the characters are there – this book picks up Kelly's story. Her flashbacks of things that Elyse talked about in Love in Mid-Air are told through a different point of view. In this book, Tory is mad at Elyse. She is upset that her mother isn't a typical mom, and she's determined to live her own life differently.
I don't "write what I know" – I write about what I can't get right, what I can't figure out in my own life.