June first has probably always been a day I’ve looked forward to. Living in Montana, winters are long and spring is something of a miracle. (To give you a feel for my mood in January… I throw a neighborhood women gathering I call The Donner Party Tea.)
Springtime this far north doesn’t arrive on June 1st necessarily. That day can bring snow just as readily as sunshine. But this June 1st I’ll have my new season regardless of the weather. It’s the day my novel, The Do-Over, will be available.
Long Winter of Publishing
And yes, I have waited through a long winter of publishing… many, many long winters. I like to think I was supposed to tell the stories of women at mid-life and needed to get there myself to understand the terrain. Who else could capture the joys and irritations, the exhaustion and stubborn hope than a sister who is also knee-deep in permission slips and peri-menopause?
Admit it, if you were looking in at your own life, you’d find it interesting. (And I don’t mean a can’t-look-away-from-a-train-wreck interesting.) You’d see, as I do, that women at this stage in life are working hard for others and just beginning to see that they can begin to shift some of that amazing caretaking energy back to themselves.
I think of The Do-Over as a female fantasy in which we get all the good things and some of the bad things we deserve. Most of us don’t want to blow up our lives so much as take a break from them. And not just a vacation from warehouse shopping and work, but a vacation from our own limits. That’s what Mara Jane Mulligan does, and it’s what I hope mid-life lit. encourages us all to do.
What draws a writer to a story? Maybe it’s something lofty like a desire to change the world, but what drew me to The Do-Over was a long, cold, dark winter stuck inside with two children. I fantasized about taking a vacation from my beloved family and returning re-energized.
After the wonderful break, I’d be ready to make another peanut butter and jelly sandwich and happy to warehouse shop for jugs of ketchup. Since a vacation wasn’t actually shimmering on the horizon, I spent the rest of the long season escaping to my computer. I lived Mara Jane Mulligan’s story vicariously, and I hope others will feel the fantasy of their own domestic escapes.
Question and answer with the author
Where did you get your idea for this book?
There were a rash of movies about superheroes, and it struck me that they were male fantasies. I thought, “what’s a woman’s fantasy?”
Every woman I know longs for a break. A vacation is great, but even when you’re on one you’re still a wife and a mother and a woman who doesn’t wear prints. The real fantasy would be to take a break from your whole life, be somebody else, and recharge enough to head home again.
Where do you get your ideas for writing in general?
I wrote a screenplay from an obituary. I read them every day because I love that they are mini biographies. I keep my eyes and ears open for things just like that, an over-heard bit of conversation in the grocery store, a piece of news, a picture. Then, when something strikes me, I ask, “what if?” and try to put the least likely character in a challenging situation.
What are your inspirations?
I just love to write. “Inspired” sounds like the stars need to align, but I think writing is fun. I entertain myself by living with stories in my head. Besides, if I’m not writing, I’m like a hamster without a wheel, and my family is inspired to tell me to get to work.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
Third grade. I wrote a story for Mr. Hartman, a Nancy Drew sort of mystery based on my grandmother’s black velvet watch band. The story was well received at Muldown Elementary. I realized writing was great fun, and I was forced to abandon my second grade dream of being a botanist, a profession I chose because the word was cool.
What do you like to read?
I always have a non-fiction book going. I think of it as continuing education. I love books about finance and budgeting, self-improvement, home organization, business, and, of course, writing and creativity. In fiction I read for pure pleasure: Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Janet Evanovich, and Jennifer Crusie.
How do you balance writing and family life?
I write at home, so it’s been tricky. I learned never to write when the girls are around. My mom radar is always on, and I’m easily distracted by anything I hear outside my office door. I can plot, research, take notes, etc… but I don’t even try to get any pages done. Now that they’re both in school, it’s easier, but I still go away from the house to write during school breaks. I’ve written with no trouble in a McDonald’s playland with children screaming. They just weren’t my children.
How did you start writing novels?
My background was in poetry, and I was teaching college English when I had an idea for a novel. I think working in different forms keeps writing interesting. I dove in and used the first novel to learn how to write one. My first screenplay started the same way, as an exercise in how to be a better writer. Now I like to alternate novels and screenplays.
How did you research The Do-Over? Did you run away from home or play volleyball on a nude beach?
First, what I love about fiction is that I get to make stuff up. It’s the main reason I don’t use my journalism degree. News agencies frown on “made up” stuff. For The Do-Over I took many, many bubble baths while entertaining the fantasy of thirty days away from everything, including myself. And I did take the family to Vancouver to fill in the details of that wonderful city. I scouted the beach next to the nude one. I like to imagine I would have happily gone the female equivalent of the full monty had the children not been there.