Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Q&A with Fran Hawthorne



Photo by Jolene Siana


Fran Hawthorne is the author of the new novel I Meant to Tell You. Her other books include Ethical Chic. A longtime journalist, her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and Newsday.


Q: What inspired you to write I Meant to Tell You, and how did you create your character Miranda?


A: As my cousins and I have swapped family lore over the years, I’ve been intrigued by the differences in the versions we were all told growing up. I decided to write a four-generation saga, narrated in reverse chronological order, that would unspool the way each generation’s truth gets warped in the next generation, not only the secrets that are hidden, but also the ones that are transformed.


Well, after I finished the sections just about the two youngest generations, I realized that these two narratives by themselves were so full of people, plot, and theme that they needed a book of their own.


Even though the oldest generations were now out of the manuscript – except for a few hints -- they’d already influenced Miranda’s personality, because I’d mapped out their personalities and stories in detail.


For instance, Miranda was partly raised by her grandparents; she inhaled a huge dose of idealism from her mother and grandfather, but also a large helping of skepticism from her grandmother. So, while she’s daydreaming about something that might happen, she’ll also be analyzing the ramifications of that dream from every angle she can think of. Sometimes the dreams win out, sometimes the analysis.


Then, I deliberately added facets to Miranda’s personality to make her more complex. You might assume that having an analytical mind would help her academically, but in fact Miranda is a mediocre student in the history class she takes at Georgetown University, taught by the father of her future fiancé, Russ.


Finally, Miranda – like all characters – created herself. Once I put her in a room or a conversation, she went off on her own.

Q: The author Jennifer Coburn said of the book, “Fran Hawthorne delivers a nuanced exploration of the connections among women – and how they can unravel when lies of omission are revealed.” What do you think of that description, and what do you think the novel says about keeping secrets?


A: It was so lovely of Jennifer Coburn to say that. I hope my book shows the nuances! Silence and secrets can certainly destroy a relationship, but blurting things out can be damaging, too. Just as there are “white lies,” I guess you could say there are necessary secrets. Miranda, toward the end of the novel, matter-of-factly decides to keep her mouth shut about one biggie. (No Spoiler Alert! I won’t reveal here what her secret is, but I’d be interested to learn what readers think of Miranda’s decision.)


Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I always knew the basic ending, and also the endings of the key subplots. I need that amount of structure to keep the novel from totally unraveling while I write. But I also headed off on plenty of narrative routes that turned into dead-ends or rocky, narrow, impassable paths, and then I had to rewrite and rewrite.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Miranda and her friend Ronit?


A: It changes, but always within the clasp of friendship – until it’s not.


At the beginning, Ronit is the stronger personality. Miranda is fascinated by her, while Ronit views Miranda as an interesting example of American culture. Gradually, Miranda starts developing tinges of impatience and worry toward her friend, even as Ronit grows more insecure and self-doubting. After their estrangement, Miranda misses Ronit desperately, almost reverting to their original roles.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Two novels are fighting for my attention at the moment: A novel about a mother and daughter who haven’t spoken in years, set in California, is further along, and there’s also a detailed outline for a novel about a family business, which would take place in Albany, New York. And who knows? I’ve still got the first two generations of my original I Meant to Tell You saga to finish.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: As a runner like Miranda and Russ, and also a journalist, I (literally) did my legwork for this book: I walked, ran, or rode on nearly every street, bridge, boat, Metro, and subway that my characters walk, run, or ride in Washington, D.C., and New York, and I tried to act out, onsite, the major actions. (Yes, even the one at the Gallery Place Metro station.)  


I hope you’ll take a look at my website, https://www.hawthornewriter.com/, and please check me out on Twitter and Instagram, https://twitter.com/hawthornewriter, and https://www.instagram.com/hawthornewriter/.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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