Thursday, October 3, 2013

Q&A with author Randy Susan Meyers

Randy Susan Meyers is the author most recently of the novel The Comfort of Lies. Her other books include The Murderer's Daughters, a novel; and What To Do Before Your Book Launch, a nonfiction guide. She is based in Boston.

Q: How did you come up with the concept for The Comfort of Lies?

A: There were a number of things I was exploring. One is lying. I’m a great liar. Many people who grew up in strange families [are]. It took me a while to figure out that it’s not the best way to make your way through life. How lies seemingly protect us as children, but giving it up can be difficult. When I married my husband, it was shocking, because he was so truthful! It was almost like we had a mixed marriage.

Motherhood is another one—the ways women approach mothering so differently. No one is automatically a great mom or a bad mom. I felt really comfortable exploring that. I had my first child at 21, and I’ve never not been a mom.

The third is obsessive love, and the crazy places obsessive love will lead us.

Q: You focus on three main characters: Tia, Juliette, and Caroline. Do you sympathize more with one than the others, and what have been readers’ reactions?

A: Readers’ reactions are very interesting because they are very definitive about who they like, but it’s never the same.

Each of them is my favorite, for different reasons. Tia, I feel for the most. She’s probably me a million years ago—not the specifics, but the emotional fiber. As a writer, people want to know, Who’s you? I like to read and write books with a lot of emotional truth, “hot” books. You have to access something ugly inside to get there, and who doesn’t have something ugly inside? Tia is the ghost of the past.

Juliette is the balabusta in us, who believes we’re going to get there by doing, doing, doing. Caroline was the most interesting for me to write.

Q: You write on your website that elements of both your novels are taken from your own experiences. How were you able to blend those experiences with fictional elements, and what did you see as the right balance?

A: For me, that is the “what-if.” Generally, books come from two or three directions. One is a core experience, moment, or neurosis in life—you’re taking that and blowing it up into “what-if.” What if in an obsessive relationship I had in the past, I had gotten pregnant? You’re taking it and making it worse. 

Or it can be the idea of taking something I’m dealing with—being fearful of people yelling. What if you’re in a relationship with someone who’s emotionally abusive, and you’re fearful but need to stay strong? My father tried to kill my mother, but he didn’t succeed. What if he had succeeded? I don’t use biographical material, but I use emotional biographical material. And I don’t worry. People who read it will think that everything happened to me—you can’t fight that!

Q: You’ve also co-written the book What To Do Before Your Book Launch with author M.J. Rose. Why did the two of you decide to write this, and what do you think is the most common misperception about what happens once a writer signs a book contract?

A: She knew a lot about the publishing end. I knew so much less, but I became an insane researcher. People were asking me questions as though I was an expert. I realized I had no clue what I was doing. I lucked out; I did a lot of research.

There are so many misperceptions. Even if [aspiring writers] hear about [potential] problems, they think, That will never happen to me…

So much is up to the writer. You shouldn’t just sit back.

Q: What can you tell us about your next novel?

A: The title is “Accidents of Marriage.” It’s told from the point of view of a husband, a wife, and a teenage daughter; it’s about what happens when one moment of too much anger turns into tragedy.

I explore unexpected collateral damage. I worked with batterers for 10 years; I worked with groups on violence prevention. Some were awful people, and some thought, Wow, how did it get [to this point]? They did not understand the cause and effect. The book will be published in September 2014.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: This is something I came to later; I always wanted to write. I did co-author a non-fiction book in my 20s, Couples with Children. The Murderer’s Daughters, [my first novel,] came out in 2010 when I was 57. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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