I’m happy to announce two things: 1. This week on Traveling With T- Randy Susan Meyers stops by for an interview and author spotlight (where she reveals a special surprise for book clubs that have chosen The Comfort of Lies for their reads!) and 2. that The Comfort of Lies will be August’s Book Lovers Unite online book club selection. August’s selection will be hosted here at Traveling With T (Jen @ Book-alicious Mama had a wonderful time hosting The Painted Girls for July!) For more information on August- read here.
Interview with Randy Susan Meyers
Randy Susan Meyers- thank you for agreeing to be interviewed!
Thank you for choosing my novel for your group! It’s an honor that I truly appreciate.
What was the inspiration for The Comfort of Lies?
How do you create characters? Are the characters based on people you know?
Hope this is okay—I am answering the above questions together, as the answers are quite linked.
I didn’t give up a baby for adoption nor adopt a child, but with every pregnancy scare I had, I wondered about the choices I might make. Infidelity? I struggled with the issue in ways that allowed The Comfort of Lies to come frighteningly alive in my mind (and hopefully on paper.) I haven’t suffered through all of my characters’ crises but I’ve been close enough to imagine them all far too well.
Writing this book drew me to dark places and gloomy themes (falling hard for a man who isn’t yours; learning your husband has cheated; an unplanned pregnancy; thinking that you’re not cut out for motherhood; giving up a child for adoption; wrestling with the pull towards work and the demands of motherhood; failing at work.) Blowing up emotional truths into a “what-if” novel forced me to visit past sins of my own, sins that were visited upon me, and sins that had always terrified me as my future possibilities. People disappearing, or not being what or whom one thought—these themes are at the core of my writing and my life. The Comfort of Lies is not autobiographical—but I drew on bad times and exploded those stretches into “could be far worse” and “what if.”
I examined that thin line teetering between morality and absolution. These are themes I seem to visit in all my writing: the many ways women approach motherhood, fear of truth, forgiving others for sins and forgiving oneself for sins.
There something a little creepy about knowing that when friends, family, neighbors, and mailman read the novels I wrote, that they’re probably thinking: So that’s what she thinks about when she has sex! Oh, that’s how she really views her kids! My God, she lies to her husband?
No matter how much I insist that no, the mean cheating husband is not really a faintly disguised version of my husband (or ex-husband), I’m quite sure that their nod of agreement translates to, Sure. I just bet.
How to explain a writer’s joyous transmogrification of demons into fiction? How to tell someone that no, that is not my mother, my sister, my husband, but a stew of the emotions and fears and love that I’ve absorbed. Philip Roth said it well in an interview (that I can’t locate) where he explained how it was the very goodness of his mother that allowed him to write about awful mothers. I understood that, because it was only after I entered a warm loving relationship that I could explore the darkest parts of myself without fear.
I’ve tried to explain my work process, in answer to those knowing glances about my characters: No. It’s not me—it’s nuggets of all my fixations blown up into a world of crazy. It is, as I read in The Nobodies Album, a novel by Carolyn Parkhurst, the butter that I can finally put in the cookies, a phrase from Parkhurst’s main character, a writer, who muses:
“There’s an analogy I came up with once for an interview who asked me how much of my material was autobiographical. I said that the life experience of a fiction writer is like butter in cookie dough: it’s a crucial part of flavor and texture—you certainly couldn’t leave it out—but if you’ve done it right, it can’t be discerned as a separate element. There shouldn’t be a place that anyone can point to and say, There—she’s talking about her miscarriage, or Look—he wrote that because his wife has an affair.”
I hope I never forget the phrase (and that I always give proper thanks to Parkhurst) about “the butter in cookie dough”. What a perfect capture for fiction—taking the elemental issues with which one struggles, giving those problems to one’s characters, and kneading those thorny emotional themes that haunt into the thoughts, minds, and actions of those characters until, hopefully, you can beat that sucker into submission.
Then move on to the next one.
How do you explain to a neighbor that your lifelong struggle with a mother obsessed with vanity became a character’s need to re-invent herself as a cosmetic tycoon? That your daily struggle with weight grew into a character’s morbid obesity? That your lonesome childhood morphed into a Dickensian orphanage?
How do you answer the questions, “Where did you get that idea?” There’s not a book club I’ve visited that hasn’t asked me that question about my book, and while the answers I give are honest: a childhood incident, the work I’ve done, a letter to the editor I read—those are the answers about the book’s recipe.
Now, thanks to Pankhurst, I have the answer to how the emotions marbling the story really came about:
It’s the butter in the cookies.
In Comfort of Lies, there are several characters- did you have a favorite?
If there’s any character I can call a favorite, it would be the most silent: Savannah. The little girl captured me from the first time I wrote her name/s. (The fact that there were two names represented, for me, the pull on this child.)
The book has nothing written from her point of view—but my original manuscript ended with an epilogue from Savannah, a scene that takes place seven years after the end of the book, when Savannah is 13. I might have written that scene just for me, as I had to know what happened to her (and the rest of the characters.)
After much back and forth, my editor and I decided not to end with that epilogue, but now, so many readers have asked what happens to Savannah, that after the paperback comes out (Feb 2014) I am going to send a PDF of that scene to all book clubs who’ve chosen The Comfort of Lies for their group. (This is the first time I’ve written about this plan, Tamara! I’m breaking this news here.)
As for the main characters—(in order of appearance!) Tia, Nathan, Juliette, and Caroline—it was never a matter of favorites, but of challenges. Each character forced me to access a different side of my self and of other people I know, of beliefs, of experiences. I found that fascinating. I write each character from a very close point of view, entering their world in totality. We are all the stars of our own show. The same is true of characters. They believe the reality they tell themselves, so each character must be written with a sense of empathy for self, the same as we hold for ourselves.
The only time I consciously base a character on someone I know is in the case of minor or walk-on characters. These are characters that are allowed to be more ‘one-note’ so I can have some fun by pulling up memories and either honoring (or not) people from my past.
When writing Comfort of Lies- did you know how it would end? Or did the ending reveal itself as you were writing?
I outline about ¾ a book before I write. This gives me enough of a road map to know where I am going. Then, as I write, I am drawn to what will become the inevitable (to me) conclusion. This outline gives me the structure that I need, without losing the momentum I want for passion and discovery.
As I wrote The Comfort of Lies I had that anxiety of “what are they going to do!” that keeps me on edge, keeps me taking long walks to figure out what everyone will do. I search for the most logical and honest-to-the-characters ending, while keeping in mind a satisfying arc for the reader (and for me!)
Randy, I remember reading an article that you had written about being a writer of a certain age. Do you think being older helps in your writing? Are you more focused now than possibly at an earlier time?
Yes, yes, and yes! I always loved writing (and in fact co-authored a nonfiction book in my twenties) but due to circumstances (single-parenting, working two jobs) it took many years before I could concentrate on my true love (besides my children and 2nd husband) of fiction.
One of the main advantages in waiting to write is this: I believe using emotional experience from the past gives me greater control in my work than I had when I was writing from fresh wounds. When I look back at some of my earlier work (unpublished!) I see that I was far less able to be honest. I was not able to write without “the reader over my shoulder.” It is obvious to me (with much wincing) how much I was writing to either heal my own past or justify decisions I’d made. Now I don’t feel that constraint.
And, very important, now I can have a calm life while infusing my work with every bit of drama I can squeeze in, living by these words from Gustave Flaubert:
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
How long did Comfort of Lies take to write?
Drafting and editing the novel took about eighteen months. Then there is an entirely new set of edits and revising that one does with their editor, so from conception to publication was about three years.
If Comfort of Lies was made into a movie- Randy , do you have a dream cast in mind?
These were the actor-images I imagined as I wrote—vague dreamy versions of them. Caroline was a combination of a young Meryl Streep and Laura Dern. Tia held a sense of Natalie Portman’s coloring and fragility (along with Keira Knightly.) Nathan held a hint of a young Andy Garcia combined with Craig Bierko. And Juliette, although the coloring is wrong, I had a feel of Julianna Margulies.
How would you describe Comfort of Lies?
The short version is:
The Comfort of Lies, a novel about the collateral damage of infidelity, reveals the darkest and most private thoughts of three women. A little girl’s birthday triggers a collision course for three women—the woman who gave birth to her, the woman whose husband fathered her, and the woman who adopted her—forcing them to face the damages of infidelity and make decisions about marriage, motherhood, and their careers. The Comfort of Lies, a novel about the collateral damage of infidelity, reveals the darkest and most private thoughts of three women.
The longer version would include:
Three Mothers. Two Fathers. One Child.
Five years ago Tia fell into obsessive love with a man she could never have. Married, and the father of two boys, Nathan was unavailable in every way. When she became pregnant, he disappeared, and she gave up her baby for adoption. Now, she’s trying to connect with her lost daughter and former lover.
Five years ago, Caroline, a dedicated pathologist, reluctantly adopted a baby to please her husband. She prayed her misgivings would disappear; instead, she’s questioning whether she’s cut out for the role of wife and mother.
Five years ago, Juliette considered her life ideal: she had a loving family, a solid marriage, and a thriving business. Then she discovered Nathan’s affair. He’d promised he’d never stray again and she trusted him. But that was before she knew about the baby.
Now, when Juliette intercepts a letter containing photos meant for Nathan, her world crumbles again. How could Nathan deny his daughter? And if he’s kept this a secret from her, what else is he hiding? Desperate for the truth, Juliette goes in search of the little girl. Her quest leads to Caroline and Tia and before long, the women are on a collision course with consequences that none of them could have predicted.
Any ideas as to what the next book will be about, Randy Susan Meyers?
In my next novel (which has a current release date of September 2014, from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster) social worker Maddy Illica shields herself with pills and work as she protects herself and her children from husband Ben ‘s temper. Public defender Ben dreams of being a hero while his family crumbles under his periodic rages, until his recklessness precipitates a tragedy. Maddy can no longer protect anyone and nothing is certain. The story is told from the point of view of Maddy, Ben, and their 14-year-old daughter.
*Special thanks to Randy Susan Meyers for agreeing to be interviewed!