Questions & Answers
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? When I was ten years old, I began to write down the stories that filled my mind. They were full of mayhem and gore, and usually involved a brave, beautiful little girl who saved the day. I started a novel when I was fourteen or fifteen and quit a few chapters in. I’d been reading books by Tolstoy, Tolkien and L.M. Montgomery, and thought if I couldn’t write nearly as well as they, why bother trying? The desire to write books never went away, though I tried to stifle it. It wasn’t until I was going stir-crazy as a stay-at-home mom to toddlers that I realized I needed to write.
How long did it take you to write Gingerly? That’s difficult to say. I began work on it four years ago, but was so busy with my young children, taking online college classes, and trying to start a sewing business, I didn’t get much writing done. We also moved from New Hampshire to Massachusetts during that time. I didn’t begin working on it in earnest until about two years ago, and had to stop for a few months while we moved from Massachusetts to Florida to be closer to my husband’s parents. I’ve thought I was done many times in the past year, only to realize it needed more revisions.
What genre is your book? Women’s Contemporary Fiction, also known as “Chick Lit”. Some authors don’t prefer the latter term because of its sexist connotations. I personally don’t mind, because I grew up in Southern California when “chick” was used as a term of endearment. My babysitter, a sweet valley girl named Martha, used to call my sisters and I “chicks” while painting our fingernails and making us popcorn. We loved it.
Despite the genre, there is no reason why men can’t enjoy this book, too.
What has been the most challenging thing about writing Gingerly? I have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and that presents difficulties. I’ll start researching something online and get sidetracked. Next thing I know, I’ll be watching a music video and dancing along. As if my brain isn’t enough of a problem, my young children hate to see me typing and do whatever they can to distract me. I have to constantly fight to stay focused.
Another challenge was creating a main character on the autism spectrum. Aiden, the little boy, is closely modeled after my own son at four. I was concerned that the story would focus too much on his behaviors and not enough on his personality. I became almost paralyzed with worry that other autistic people might view it as an oversimplified or unfair portrayal of children with special needs. I worried about what my son would think, reading it years later. Would he feel embarrassed, like he’d been reduced to a long list of symptoms? I had to remind myself that all I could do was my best, and that I could only write what I knew. In the end, I think I managed to capture some of the essence of who he was for others to enjoy.
Why did you set the book in Saint Simons? My husband grew up not far from Saint Simons, and we visited his family and the island often. When I started the book, we were living in New England, which is lovely in the spring, summer and fall, but cold and desolate in the winter. Saint Simons and Jekyll, with their pristine beaches and friendly atmosphere, are beautiful places to think of during the long winter months. I used to daydream about buying a home on the Golden Isles, and that worked its way into my story.
Are any of the characters based on real people? As I mentioned, Aiden is based on my son at four. The character of Nick is loosely based on my own husband, give or take a few million dollars. Whenever I was at a loss as to what Nick would say, I’d ask him for suggestions. Like Nick, my husband is kind, thoughtful and nurturing. Women sometimes ask me if he has a brother! Then there’s Hildegarde, the exchange student. She is loosely based on Reinhilde, the Belgian exchange student we had six years ago. Their personalities are similar, but Reinhilde was more mature and much easier to get along with. She’s still a big part of her family and we treasure our visits.
There were other characters who were, to an extent, inspired by friends. Jenna, the housekeeper, reminds me of my friend, Sarah (except Sarah is more fun). Caitlyn’s friend, Christy, is named after a friend of mine. One friend ice-skates, which is a nod to Sarah Jo. Another friend, Maggie, is named after one of my aunts. Nick’s mother, Barbara, reminds me of my own. Elaine is a compilation of several catty women I’ve known over the years who shall remain nameless. I can also truthfully say I’ve known men who were every bit as misogynistic and entitled as Greg and Matt. Other than that, the rest is pure fiction.
Did anything in the book happen to you in real life? No. Well, sort of. Reinhilde sometimes Skyped with her cats like Hildegarde did in the book. My son used to get upset like Aiden if his special toy car went missing. People have made the same assumptions about my son as they did about Aiden (i.e. refusing to accept his diagnosis, assuming he was “gifted” in some other area to “compensate”), but unlike in the story, most of those people were well-intentioned.
I did visit a plantation that was not unlike the first one Caitlyn toured, and I felt the same way about it.
What was your favorite part to write, and why? It’s hard to choose a favorite part, but it’s probably when Caitlyn, Nick and Aiden go to Paris. I had the pleasure of meeting up with Reinhilde there two years ago. I imagined how my children would react to some of the things I was seeing, and wrote that into the story. I could have stayed for months, but couldn’t leave my young children for more than a few days. In writing about Paris, I got to visit again in my imagination, and spend as much time as I wanted. I also enjoyed writing about sewing. Sewing is my second favorite pastime. If I couldn’t sew as much while focusing on the book, at least I could write about it.
What was your least favorite part to write, and why? It was harder than I expected to write about Caitlyn’s PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I know a thing or two about that. I would empathize with her so, I would find my chest tightening and remember things I hadn’t thought about in years. I’d thought it might be cathartic to write about someone else going through it, but it wasn’t. I would have to get a hug from my husband or go for a long walk to begin to feel okay again.
Is Gingerly appropriate reading material for a young teen or my conservative grandmother? Probably. At last count, there were four instances of relatively mild swearing. There aren’t any sex scenes—my family is going to read this! While there is some violence, it isn’t gratuitous. The characters have flaws and don’t always make the wisest choices. Overall, the book is uplifting without being too precious. If Gingerly was a movie, it would be rated PG; maybe PG-13. If in doubt, read it first.
What are some of the novel’s themes? A recurring theme is remaining true to your standards, regardless of how others react. Another theme is how the past shapes the way we view the present. A violent past can make a safe harbor seem fraught with danger. We might romanticize a shameful history in order to feel better about where we are today. And sometimes, past betrayals leave us unlikely to ever trust again.
Are you writing anything else? Yes. I’m well into a rough draft about a tech-savvy young woman who is coming to terms with her drug-addicted mother, a vivacious hiker who has been missing for two years, and a handsome Italian car salesman who aches for the daughter who was never really his. I’m not sure if it’s a mystery, a romance, a thriller, or all three. It’s set in Cornish, New Hampshire and Amherst, Massachusetts, places I’ve lived near and loved visiting.
What do you do when you get writers block? I usually tootle around and start a sewing project I may or may not finish. When I’m having what I call “a good adulting day”, I overcome writer’s block by jotting down details about the characters: what motivates them, what annoys them, their middle names, favorite colors, childhood fears, etc. Most of that never makes it into the book, but it reacquaints me with my characters and gets the creative juices flowing.
What advice would you give to writers out there? Your book is not your baby. The less you view it as an extension of yourself, the more clearly you can see what it needs. If you can’t separate your identity from your work, even the most helpful criticism will seem like a personal insult. Don’t let someone’s opinion of your writing define you. You will only get better if you keep at it.