Elayne Klasson is the author of the new novel Love Is a Rebellious Bird. A psychologist, she has worked at San Jose State University. She lives near Santa Barbara, California.
Q: You write, "When you begin to get serious about your writing in late middle age, there is the sense that time is precious." How long did you work on this novel, and how long have you been writing fiction?
A: In my late 40s, 25 years ago, after a career in academia and raising my four kids (much of it on my own as a widowed single mother), I asked, “If not now, when?” Although I’d written a fair amount of academic material and some journalism, I had always been passionate about fiction and so began.
Early on, in my 40s, I got some encouragement: winning a few contests and awards and residencies. However, Love is a Rebellious Bird took root five years ago after attending a high school reunion in Chicago and becoming interested in how those high school relationships influence, but do not necessarily define, who we become.
Q: How did you come up with your characters Judith and Elliot, and how would you describe their relationship?
A: I soon realized that long-form fiction was where I was most comfortable. I like to tell a story over time and I like to develop a character’s backstory. Taking off from this high school reunion I attended, I wondered about this real boy/man Elliot, who had always been every girl’s crush.
What would happen if this extremely desirable and attractive person actually had and maintained a relationship with one of the more ordinary girls/women who adored him? What happens when a charismatic and beautiful man actually becomes involved with someone not quite of his stature? I was interested in the power balance of this relationship over time.
Q: You note of your decision to tell the story in second person, addressed from Judith to Elliot, "I wasn't happy with this being told to an anonymous audience." What do you think the second-person narration adds to the novel?
A: I hope it adds two things: honesty and intimacy. A contract of dishonesty existed between Elliot and Judith. She is the loyal friend. Even when they sleep together, she is not to openly admit her love for him. That admission would change everything. By addressing Elliot directly in this novel, Judith’s story becomes more honest. And because it is more honest, I hope it is more intimate.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: I struggled over this. I didn’t write this novel to depict any great social message. Some readers have seen a “Me Too” story in the book. But I was hopeful that through this novel, readers would look at their choices in finding love in their own lives. I start out with that question: “Why do we love the people we do?”
I hope readers will take away Judith’s courage in looking at her choices and what they cost her as well as what they gave her. As we age, I think this accounting and self-examination is important. I like that Judith is not a victim—she is stubborn, analytic, sarcastic—but she always takes responsibility for how she lived her life.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have an unpublished novel I finished before Love is a Rebellious Bird. It is called The Earthquake Child. Having an adopted child, I was terribly interested in the interplay of nature and nurture—especially when a child is adopted by a family culturally and economically different than his biological family.
Again, following an adoptive child over decades, I tell his story from three voices. I am revising the novel and hope to publish it in 2021.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: It is a thrill and surprise that I am publishing my debut novel at the age of 72! I have worked hard and always felt that when the work was good enough, it would be published. I feel excited and exhilarated to be talking about and touring with this novel and am treasuring the experience. As I said earlier, I feel every moment if precious and I don’t want to waste any of it.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb