What inspired you to write I Couldn’t Love You More?
In graduate school, I took a master class with Grace Paley who said, “Write what you don’t know about what you know.” It didn’t occur to me until a few years ago that this is exactly what I do. I’ll take moments from my own life, from my family’s life, from strangers’ lives and I’ll look at what would normally happen—what I know—and then I’ll consider everything I don’t know, the big “what if’s.”
Like my other two novels, Hunger Point and Good Girls Gone Bad, I Couldn’t Love You More evolved in this way. Here’s what I knew: I’m a mother and stepmother. I have three children. I love them each equally but all differently. I’ve always been a writer who tackles complex themes and risky subjects—I write about the things that people think but never say aloud. So, I was looking for a challenge. If a book has a predictable storyline or familiar situations, there’s little satisfaction in writing it. A woman deciding which man she’ll spend her life with? I’ve read that story a million times, but a stepmother deciding which of her children she’ll save in a freak accident? Now that’s a challenge. I had no idea how I would react if forced to choose between my daughters, and figuring that out became my obsession for the next decade. In fact, even though the novel is finished and published, I still grapple with the question. I mean, how can any of us know what we would do in that situation?
Which of your characters do you identify with the most and why?
In I Couldn’t Love You More, I identify most with Eliot, the narrator, and also with her mother, a failed novelist. Like Eliot, I am a mother and a stepmother. I work in corporate communications (although my job differs from hers). I understand the need to be “good”—a good mother, a good daughter, a good wife, a good sister—and how that can be such an overwhelming burden. I’ve never been in her situation, but I understand her reactions, which is why I think she’s such a fully developed character. I took a 360-degree view of Eliot and wrote her from all sides. Similarly, her mother is very familiar to me. I’ve experienced a great deal of rejection throughout my career, so I sympathize deeply with Dolores’s plight as well as her need to keep writing, no matter what. To make her realistic, though, I had to make her very different from me as a person. Still, her fundamental desires are all mine: to be taken seriously as an artist, to love her daughters and have them love her, to write what she wants, to live fearlessly.
What message do you hope readers will get from your novel?
This is a very good question, although it’s difficult to answer. To be honest, I’m more interested in crafting an honest, believable story than I am in conveying a message. To this end, I hope that readers will connect with the interior lives of these characters and feel wrung out by the novel’s end.
What do you like the most about the publishing process? What has been a challenge?
Like many writers, I love connecting with readers, especially if they enjoyed the book. Even if they didn’t, it’s interesting to hear other peoples’ points of view. (Full disclosure: I’d much rather hear that a reader liked my work.) The publishing process is grueling. There is no doubt about it. My first novel did well, my second novel didn’t, and it’s taken me ten years—ten years!—to get this one written, edited, and sold. But I’m here, I did it, and I’m grateful for the second chance.
What are you working on now?
I’ve been working on a new novel for about a year and a half. It’s a corporate book, set in the HR department of a small, failing company. That’s all I can say, though, because I don’t want to jinx it.
Is there anything else you would like readers to know about you or your book?
At my publisher’s suggestion, I wrote a very personal essay about I Couldn’t Love You More called “This is a True Story,” that is bound into the print and eBook versions of the book. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the writing life and may enhance a reader’s experience of the book. In any event, I’d love to hear from you!