Monday, October 20, 2008

Author interview: Jean Page Reynolds

I read The Space Between Before and After and thoroughly enjoyed it. My review is posted and I highly recommend you read the book. Luckily for me (and you) I was able to interview via email author Jean Page Reynolds. I am excited to share her comments with you.

About the author - Jean Page Reynolds (the official bio from her website - check out her website for her version):
Jean Reynolds Page is the author of A Blessed Event, Accidental Happiness, and The Space Between Before and After. She grew up in North Carolina and graduated with a degree in journalism from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She worked as an arts publicist in New York City and for over a decade and reviewed dance performances for numerous publications before turning full time to fiction in 2001. In addition to North Carolina and New York, she has lived in Boston and Dallas. She moved with her husband and three children to the Seattle area in 2002.

The interview:
Dear Michele,
I was a dance writer for fifteen years and I have to say, I’m still more used to being on the question end of things than the answer. But here goes…

Michele: What was your inspiration for writing this book?
Jeannie: I actually wrote much of Hollyanne’s story (up to the crash on the night of the moon landing) years ago. I was always looking for an adult character who could do justice to little Hollyanne. I tried several times with plots/characters that didn’t work. Each time, I would put her away again with the idea that I would try again later. As I reached a certain point in life, it seemed as if everyone I talked with had challenges involving aging parents or their kids – and often it was both at the same time. My husband and I were no exception. This stage of life that fell “in between” the generations became a theme I wanted to tackle, and so I went back to little Hollyanne and everything seem to happen in the right way as the story evolved.

M: How did you choose for Holli and Connor to be the narrators of the story? Did you start with just Holli or someone else?
J: I began with just Holli and Hollyanne. I knew that I needed both perspectives to fully tell the story. But then, in order for the narrative to move forward, I needed for the reader to know things that Holli had not discovered. Conner was the best person to enlist for this. I have to say I was nervous about writing from the point of view of a twenty-year-old male character. I went to my son (now twenty-two, but at the time twenty – and with none of Conner’s problems!!) and ask him to read for dialogue and internal thought credibility. He offered advice and was very helpful in working with me to get it right.

M: Why did you decide to relate the tragedies in Holli’s life to tragedies in the space program? Have you always been interested in the space program?
J: As I mentioned, the early section of Hollyanne’s story was written years ago. I built that story around the night of the moon landing because the memory of staying up late and watching the event on television had always been one of my most vivid. When Challenger exploded, I had just found out that I was pregnant with my oldest. It was such an emotional day. Later, with Columbia’s tragedy, our family had just left Texas and moved to Seattle. I talked with friends from my old neighborhood near Dallas who said they thought that a bookcase had come crashing down upstairs or that a car had been driven through the garage door. Again, the emotions that I associated with all of these events seemed like something that would be useful in a fictional narrative. So I made the stories of the space program a thread that ran throughout the book.

M: How does The Space Between Before and After compare to your other two books, A Blessed Event and Accidental Happiness?
J: While all three books are very different in my mind, I know there are common themes that run through them. Dysfunctional families, motherhood, secrets and redemption… I also hope that they convey a resilience that I believe exists in most of us. Getting knocked down by circumstance is something that everyone goes through at one time or another. I’m always amazed at the way we, as human beings, get back up and find hope again. So all of the books, while they don’t tie up into neat bows in the final chapters, end with characters who have reached a point of seeing hope for the future. THE SPACE BETWEEN BEFORE AND AFTER has the distinction of a main character that friends and family tell me is more like me than any other I have created. For what it’s worth, maybe I’m inching closer to myself in fiction with each book. I suppose it’s cheaper than therapy.

M: Who are your favorite authors?
J: Oh, how much space do you have? I tend to have favorite books rather than favorite authors. My recent favorite is THE HISTORY OF LOVE by Nicole Krauss. She has these amazing alternating viewpoints -- one is from an old man who escaped the Holocaust, and the other a young girl named Alma -- both living in New York (Brooklyn, I think). Krauss weaves the stories of these two characters together in a lovely balance and with voices have perfect pitch. The author is young and I couldn’t believe she had such old soul perspective. I also love HANNAH’S DREAM a new book by my friend and fellow HarperCollins author Diane Hammond. It’s about an aging zookeeper and the elephant (Hannah) he is trying to save. If I had to pick a favorite author of all time, it would be Elizabeth Spencer. She studied under Eudora Welty and began publishing in the late 1940s. Her novella, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA was adapted first as a movie and more recently as a Broadway musical. She has the most authentic Southern voice I’ve ever encountered in fiction. She tackles race, class and region with such compelling characters that, when I’m reading, I lose track of which world is real, my own or the book. My favorites of hers are THE VOICE AT THE BACK DOOR and FIRE IN THE MORNING. My biggest regret with these books is that I can never read them again for the first time.

M: What are you currently working on?
J: I just sent the first draft of my next book to my editor. The title we’re working with now is THE LAST SUMMER OF HER OTHER LIFE, but that could change between now and publication. At the moment, they have it scheduled for Summer ’09, but I don’t have a specific month yet. It is the story of Jules Fuller, a thirty-eight-year-old woman who has been caring for her sick mother in her North Carolina hometown. While on this extended visit, she is falsely accused of having inappropriate contact with a local teenager. The story revolves around her efforts that begin with trying to clear her own name and end with her trying to save the boy from whatever has driven him to make the accusation in the first place. Having just sent the draft to New York, I’m at that blissful state of enjoying a few free moments to myself before the editing begins. I should face that closet that’s gotten out of control, but I think I’ll read a few books and maybe rent a movie or two instead.


Julie P. said...

Great interview! I enjoyed the book too! I just happen to have a wonderful contest right now for up to 10 copies of THE SPACE BETWEEN BEFORE AND AFTER:

Shana said...

Great interview, Michele & Jean!

I love the name Hollyanne!

I like the three themes Jean mentions that are present in her books. I usually end up loving stories with those topics.

That next book sounds fantastic too.