Friday, November 4, 2022

Q&A with Elaine Durbach




Elaine Durbach is the author of the new novel LAF--Life After Felix. It's a sequel to her novel Roundabout. A longtime journalist, she lives in New Jersey.


Q: What inspired you to create your characters Sally and Felix, and how would you describe their relationship?


A: An encounter with an old college boyfriend more than 40 years after we'd parted set me thinking. With both of us married, there was no possibility of getting involved, and that opened us to a closer friendship than we ever had in the past. It set me thinking about vulnerability and boundaries.


But then I couldn't bear to keep my characters apart. I have them finally get over their fears, so they can trust one another and revel in what they share, in a way I don't think my ex and I could ever have done.


Q: You've said you hadn't intended to write a sequel to Roundabout--why did you decide to write LAF--Life After Felix?


A: To my delight, a couple of readers mentioned they were sad to part with the characters at the end of Roundabout. One in particular, a man who had lost his beloved wife, said he needed to know that Sally had a life after losing Felix.


To my surprise, I knew what happened to her, that a meeting with a new man helps ease her longing for him -- but leads to new complications, hence LAF - Life After Felix


Also, I wanted to go further into the idea that what one learns can change impressions from the past. It's a strange process, but as the story unfolded, I discovered facts that explained aspects of Felix that I hadn't known when I wrote Roundabout


Q: What do you think the novels say about family, and the different ways in which a family can be constructed?


A: Hmm, I hadn't thought about that, but for Sally the sense of family comes more from caring and connection than blood. With her parents having lost all their relatives in the Holocaust, she has grown up knowing only their little trio, and craves more. That desire to be part of a larger whole makes the breakup of her marriage particularly hard.


But through loving Felix's children - and meeting Felix's brother -- she finds connections that are fulfilling in their own way. 


Q: Do you think Sally has changed at all from the first book to the second?


A: Yes and no. The second book picks up only six months after the first, but it focuses much more on Sally in the present than in the past. She still has her fear of being hurt, and of losing her cool, but she is far freer and more forthright than in her youth. She swears more! And, for those who care about such things, as I do, she chops off her long hair.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Again to my surprise, I wasn't ready to walk away from Sally and her sort-of family. Book Three, Next Steps, follows closely on LAF.


Sally has been so afraid of being hurt, whether because of the trauma her parents went through or simply because of her own personality, that she hasn't fully understood her own agency--the impact she can have on other people. Taking responsibility for that, I think, means recognizing her own power, with its limits and all its potential.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Sally turns 70 in Next Steps. I'm coming up on that myself, and I'm fascinated by the push-pull of past and future. How Sally deals with her present reality is confronting me with questions I'm sure others my age--and people of all ages--face too: What do we need to accept and what can we change?


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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