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Episode · 2 months ago

WB-S2E31 It all comes down to this w/Therese Anne Fowler

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

WRITERS' BLOCK Ron Block is joined by Mary Kay Andrews in conversation with NYT Bestselling Author Therese Anne Fowler to discuss It All Comes Down To This, her latest novel.

You know, it's a choice that you have to make when you're constructing a novel and deciding whether the novel is going to sort of be mostly plot driven or more character driven. Because, as I was saying, I was reading these dysfunctional family drama, the types of books they're they're really more character driven kinds of stories, and so it just sort of freed me to go deeply into each of the characters and set it up so that what we we know a lot about each of the characters and we know that each one of them has a kind of a secret. Welcome to the friends and fiction writer's block podcast. For New York Times bestselling authors, one rock star Librarian and endless stories. Joined Mary Kay, Andrews Kristin Harmel, Christy Woodson Harvey and Patty Callahan Henry, along with Ron Block as novelists. We are four longtime friends with seventy books between us, and I am Ron Block. Please join us for fascinating author interviews and insider talk about publishing and writing. If you love books and are curious about the writing world, you are in the right place. Welcome to the newest episode of the friends and fiction writer's block podcast. Today we are talking with New York Times bestselling author Terese Anne Fowler about her newest work. It all comes down to this. I am Ron Block and I'm Mary Kay Andrews and Teresam Fowler is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author whose novels present intriguing people in difficult situations, many of those situations deriving from the pressures and expectation of their cultures as well as from their families.

...therees aren't a BA in sociology and cultural anthropology and an m F A and creative writing, both from North Carolina State University. She's been a visiting professor and occasionally teaches fiction writing at conferences and workshops. A member of Phi Beta Kappa and Pan America, she's married to award winning professor and author John Kessel. They live in North Carolina. Welcome to the podcast as thank you so much for having me. This is great, this is fun. I'm so excited to talk about this book. Let's get get off, though, by having you tell us the elevator pitch about your book. But then I also want to ask you to tell us what's at the heart of the book. Oh Gosh, elevator pitch. I'm terrible at this. So this is a novel, contemporary novel that is essentially the story of these three sisters in the wake of their their mother's death, and I'm not giving anything away when I say that very early in the story the mother has decided that her daughters need a little bit of intervention in their lives, and so one of the things she decides to do in order to help them out is to direct that the family's cottage on Matt Detrit Island to be sold and then the proceeds distributed equally among the three sisters, which she thinks it was going to be a great idea. The sisters are not all in agreement as to how great an idea that actually is, but it is sort of broadly my take on the dysfunctional family drama. Y. Yeah, I have to agree with that. Now one of my questions was do you have sisters? I don't, I wish I did. I wish I did. I think that part of why I write stories with sisters in them, so I can live vicariously through the characters. Okay, so now then, you just told us part of the next question. The answer the next question where did the original kernel of the idea come come from? This story is, I think, the first of...

...my novels that didn't arise directly from its inspiration but kind of took a released circuitous path. I had the character back, the oldest sister, in mind and I kept putting her in different story scenarios, and so the first scenario of this actually was set in Raleigh and you remember, you used to live in Raleigh. If you go down overland road, if you're going towards what used to be called Cameron village, there's was this new development of condominiums being built, like super expensive million dollar condos going up, and so originally it was beck and a sister and a girlfriend, and then C J as this character who kind of is the troublemaker in this scenario. So that set up kind of stayed true. But then I thought it would be more interesting if there were three sisters instead of two sisters and a friend. And I was writing this in the middle of when everybody was just sitting at home and we couldn't travel, and so my imagination decided it would be much more interesting for me anyway to have New York City, which is a place I love, and Mount Desert Island, which is a place I love, and again sort of vicarious living through my characters, set the story ultimately there. I had been reading these dysfunctional family novels, also something to do during the early days of the pandemic, and so I thought, well, I might be interesting to write something like this, and I wanted to write something that was lighthearted but still had a little bit of depth to it, something that would have a happy ending, because folks who read my previous novel will remember that that book is exactly the opposite happy ending novel. That is true. But one of the things throughout all of your writing, though, it's just excellent how you bring your characters backstories into into it. Each early chapter of this book,...

I learned so much about each character and I just like, I want to know more. I want to know more. How do you approach that and how did you incorporate that into the early chapters? Writing backstory, I can't imagine, is very easy. You know, it's a choice that you have to make when you're constructing a novel and deciding whether the novel is going to sort of be mostly plot driven or more character driven, and because, as I was saying, I was reading these dysfunctional family drama the types of books they're they're really more character driven kinds of stories, and so it just sort of freed me to go deeply into each of the characters and set it up so that what we we know a lot about each of the characters and we know that each one of them has a kind of a secret or you know something that they are withholding from the rest of the characters in the story. And then the fun of that, of course, is watching what happens when those secrets get revealed and what the consequences are. So I think for that to work you really have to know who these characters are and have a sense of why it matters what the fallout will be. Did you know Marty's secret from the beginning? No, Marty's secret was it was a thing that kind of was a shape shifter for most of the drafts of this novel. I had an early conversation with actually with my film agent at you know, I had sold the novel on proposal and so I knew that there would be the secret for each of the characters, but I kept thinking, now, what is the mother's secret going to be and I had an entire draft of the book in which Marty's secret was. It was her her parents were criminals and they were on the run and they had done something horrible and it was very interesting, but it didn't really work for the novel as a whole. So that went away and ultimately the right thing to do was to connect it more directly with, you know, existing situation in everybody's lives. But that's...

...a great question because, you know, I didn't want to do anything that was trite and yet I didn't want to do anything that was too ridiculous or extreme. And Yeah, we went we went through several traps trying to figure that out. I kind of want to read that first secret. I saved that actually, so maybe it will find its way into something new. You know, I said no writing has ever wasted. I hope that's true. Did you Marty was such a strong character, even as even you know, she's on her deathbed and she's pulling strings. Yeah, she's not manipulative, but she's certainly got some ideas on how to affect some change. Were you tempted to bring her back into the book postmortem, like from the beyond, because you kept having paragraphs or like if Marty Giller were watching down, looking down on her daughters. Yeah, just figuring out how much of that to keep in the book was kind of a judgment call. My editor, I think would have liked there to be sort of one more involvement from Marty, but you know, I worried about you know, we're going to tip it into sort of this magical realism sort of space, and ultimately did not do that either. So see, I think we're talking more about what I didn't do this we're going to talk about what. One of the things you did do is that Marty was ever present though throughout the book. All of their thoughts and decisions were always based on her kind of thinking. She was looking over them. Yeah, that's right. Let's talk about this setting. Setting is so important to this novel. You know, it's been in the nineties here in Atlanta and reading this book I was ready to book a trip to Maine and when I first started reading it I was because I knew you loved in Raleigh and we have a very great mutual friend, our dear Diane Chamberlain's right. I was trigued by them choice of Mount Desert Island as the location...

...of the Geller family camp until you slightly mentioned Alba Vanderbilt objected your previous novel, a well behaved woman who she summered on Mount Desert Islands. That correct. Well, you know George Vanderbilt, who was responsible for the built more his first summer home was there in Bar Harbor, and so Alba did visit when she was early in her marriage. Yeah, so was that sort of a a fond echo to a well deserved woman? No, I I absolutely put those things in on purpose. So there are Easter eggs for leaders of my earlier books. Yeah, yeah, and of course New York was some there's some something special about the Geller family apartment, something about that location that meant something to you. Well, kind of sort of a woman writer who was friends with my husband, John Kestl, who she's she's past now, but had an apartment more or less in that same location. And again, I was sort of just traveling through my my history, you know, visiting places that that were meaningful to me. Um, so that apartment was basically Carol M Schiller's apartment in New York City. And Yeah, I don't think that you know it necessarily meant anything more than that. Just that again, I just love I love New York City. I am tempted, I think, to sort of become the person who just writes novels set in New York, the Non New Yorker who writes all her novels with New York sats. That will be your claim to fame. But you do it so well. I mean all of the scenes that are in New York took me right back there and it was just very you just really evoked the feeling of the city and the love of the city. So your your love of the city really...

...comes through. I'm glad to know that. Thanks. I want to ask a little bit more about the three sisters, Beck, Claire and Sophie. Can you talk about developing each one but intertwining them too, because they could have been separate stories, but somehow do you write them each separately or do you right? You kind of continuous from beginning to end, pretty much front to back, continuously, but then in revision, of course you know you have discovered things as you move through that then you go back and address to fill things in revision. The sisters. I don't know if I had a particular model you know, for how their relationship would be, except to say that I knew, you know, what each of them did and who they were in their lives, and so working from that helped me figure out the dynamics among the three of them. And I am not, you know, I don't have sisters, but I am a sister. I have to older siblings and, you know, working through the dynamics of what our relationship looks like. We are. My brothers and I are kind of like these three characters in that we're not super close, we're not close geographically, we're not in each other's business, you know, all the time. But when we see one another it's as if no time has passed at all and the dramas of our past are immediately, you know, there to recall. So you might recall in the book there's a conversation between Beck and Claire when they meet up in New York shortly after Marty's death and they're having the same, you know, sort of debate about each one of their choices in life that they might have had, you know, ten times before. Yeah, that really revealed their personalities to like who was who in this conversation. I loved him. Yeah, I love when Claire was digging at back about not having the full time job. Yeah, her work dependent on that, like her worthless...

...person dependent on on that. Yeah, so they know how to push, push each other's buttons for sure. Oh Yeah, Oh yeah. One thing I really liked was that trace. Thanks and cheers to you for giving us three memorable female characters, two of whom Beck and Claire, and maybe sort of Sophie. Sophie thirty seven. She's thirty six when the story starts. Yeah, so they are mostly solidly middle aged, which not you don't see that a lot in Um. In do you call your work women's fiction? Um, it can be called Women's passion. I mean, I mean, I know my work falls solidly in that category, but you don't see that that much. You don't. We don't see women giving their readers of their demographic characters, of that demographic and I love that. Beck and Claire, we're solidly middle aged, and a couple of laudable male love interests, C J and Paul, who are also in Midlife. That was a deliberate decision, or was they? Did they just come out that way? Well, I I agree with you entirely that that there are not very many characters represented in women's fiction or popular fiction who are my age or around my age, and one of the I guess it was a theme that emerged. It's not really a theme that I brought deliberately, but you know, the idea that when we get to the middle of our lives we've made certain choices and we have taken certain paths and sometimes we get to a point where we are ready to sort of reflect on what whether those were the right choices for us and how well they worked out, and taking the power to remake our lives in you know, in the middle, if you will, versus you know story,...

...many of which are terrific, that are all about women starting out in their lives, you know, and choosing their first romantic interests and all of that, and I thought, well, I am a person who got married in middle age quite happily. Um, there ought to be more stories like this. So I didn't. It wasn't exactly the driving interest in writing about middle aged women, but certainly appeals to me as a reader and a writer. Yes, you've got the two older sisters, but then sophie kind of comes along. She's kind of got that air of youth, still about her a little bit and finding her way, while the other two are kind of thinking about what's going to happen next in their lives. She's kind of still up and coming. was she easy to write? Sophie was the easiest of these characters for me. For some reason she just threw leapt out of my brain, threw my fingertips onto the page. Um, there's so much energy in her character and Um, yeah, you're right, she's sort of in this liminal space in her age, thirty six, which means she's not really young exactly, but she's certainly not old. Um, she's still living the life of the young woman. Big City, lots of travel, very material in her interests, but you see that she's not exactly satisfied with that and it hasn't it turned out to be quite the life that she thought it was going to be. Yeah, she was. She was the easiest and I think, Um, well, I like listening to readers tell me which character was their favorite. So when I was on book tour in June for people who had already read the book, when I was doing events, I was hearing from them. You know, Oh, you know, I so identified with Beck Or. You know, Claire was absolutely my favorite character. Oh my gosh, I want to be Sophie when I grow up. You know, it's fascinating. It's like a row shack test for readers. You know, which which character is their favorite? Well, I would pick carlow.

Yes, somebody asked me if if our lot could have a spinoff story of his own, and that's because I would pick dedre. There you go. Yeah, so was the ending always in your mind as it is, or did that evolve through the writing of the book? What I well, I can't say too much without giving away, but it's a little bit different from what I initially imagined and a little bit of a Meta sort of twist to it, which I think I leave that for readers to discover. But ultimately, when my agent finished reading the final draft of the book, she said that is the most satisfying ending of a novel that I have read in a long, long time. Yes, yeah, so I got at least one reader. You know, I think a lot, a lot of readers love it. I hope you know. Talking about the fee back, you have talked about writing your earliest three books and how that experience made you consider stopping writing. Yeah, so I wish you would talk about that a little bit. Yeah, so my my first three novels were solidly women's fiction and each one was sort of, you know, less successful than the previous book, and so when the third one was published, it was pretty much dead on arrival, and that's a shame because, you know, I hope that I was getting better, you know, book to book, but the publishing business, as you know very well, is a complicated and not always logical is to be in. So, you know, I had to make a decision at that point what to do next in my career, and one of the options was just to like, you know, go get a job working at McDonald's or I mean something that would be easier and more predictable. But love...

...writing, I love that I get to do this work. So I just had to figure out what else I could do, what I could do differently that might rescue my career, and I honestly did not know when I was writing that book, which was Z my first biographical historical novel, if it was you going to do the trick, if anybody would want to buy it. And in retrospect, of course it seems like a brilliant decision because it saved my career, gave me an entire new life as a writer. But yeah, this business, it can it can beat you up pretty badly and I'm just too stubborn to quit. I think you know, he was reading his scenes. We're back the reluctant novelist was writing and rewriting and deleting when she was reading and deleting, and then I relate. Yeah, I was having a real visceral reaction to that. And then when she's in the Kayak in the middle of the lake and she gets her would be agents critique of her writing and she promptly throws her phone into the lake. I think every writer I know has gotten feedback like that and wish that they had thrown the phone in the lay. Yeah, satisfying moment. It's insane, but a great scene though, and I think you're right a lot of writers will absolutely relate to that. So in a lot of your books you talk about class difference, especially in this one, it's like cj is kind of like straddling the two classes. Can you talk about why you put that into the book? I think this is just something that is inherent. When I'm writing stories. I'm writing about the human condition, and the human condition is always going to be reflective of class differences. I'm just very interested in that for whatever reason. So maybe because I don't know if there's, if there's a really...

...solid reason that is, except that I grew up without much of anything. You know, I'm from a when I talk about where my family fits on the class Um scale, I say we are, you know, hanging on to the bottom rung of the middle class and basically just swimming as fast as we can, because I didn't have very much in my early life and was acutely aware of what I didn't have and what other people did have and and sort of making those judgments of, you know, who's a good person and who's not a good person, and what does money do for you, and and how can money corrupt people but also be used for good? Anyway, it's kind of a stew of interests and experiences, I think that I bring to my stories and I you know, I did this with a well behaved woman, you know, with writing about Alva vanderbilt. There were people who probably thought, you know, do we need another novel about, you know, rich people who have more than they deserve and more than they need, and I'm interested in how that works too, because everybody, we're just people, you know, in the end, and the contrasts are fascinating to me. Answer Very Long answer to a very simple question. No, no, no, no, because it's something great to explore and we see it in things on TV, like the gilded age. Now, the same thing you're talking about, all the haves and the have nots. Yeah, succession is one of my favorites right now. Well, talking about drama. Well, speaking of drama, you were mentioning z earlier and it was adapted into a series by Amazon Studios. Can you talk to us about that process? Oh, that was that was such a surprise and such an excellent experience, right up to the point when Amazon pulled the plug on our second season. But really, Um. So, that started out with just the usual route of...

...through my film age and, you know, getting some interest from a production company and going back and forth with them over did they have a script? Do they have showrunners? You know, what did they have in mind? I took I don't know, about a year before they came back to me and they said they had Amazon interested and Christina Ricci potentially attached to it, which was really cool. Right found out later, when I was on set visiting, that Christina was actually the person who got the whole thing rolling. And what was interesting about that is, you know sometimes the celebrity wants to have in hand in things directly, like they get on the phone, they call, you know, the author. Oh, I chose your book. You know this, aren't you excited? Um, Christina really want to work behind the scenes. I think she was not the kind of person who felt like she needed the credit for this, but I have to say when she was doing press for the series, for its premiere, there was not one interview that she gave in print or on a program where she didn't give me credit. You know that I was there. Was My book that inspired her to do this project and I just thought what an excellent human being. You know what a surprise that was, but it was so much fun. It was so much fun to get to visit the set. It was great fun to meet, you know, the actors and the writers and just see how it all gets done. Um, it was a great experience. Why don't you, can you tell us about what you're working on next, because obviously you didn't quit writing. You didn't. I mean through her phone in the lake, but you, you didn't. And actually, you know, we know, we may know that Becky kept writing. Yeah, I think that's...

...going to keep writing. I think she's got the sickness, Um, same as I do. Um, I am working on things, but I haven't committed to what the next book is. So that's really all I can tell you. I have temptations in a couple of different directions and I'm putting words on the page, but I'm still in that that evaluating Um space, the squishy space. Yeah, the squishy space. My husband, God love him, he has to put up with me figuring it out. Is that a professional term? squishy space? That's what it feels like. Yeah, I don't like that space. I want I want to know my path forward. What about you? I yes, I am so much happier when I know that path forward and I have to say I have mad respect for your ability to make that squishy spaces as small as possible and just get the next book underway. Um, that's I wish I could make that happen faster. Yeah, I think I'm in that squashy space now. Well, what rob what else do we were going to ask teresabout? Well, we're gonna ask her for some of her favorite book recommendations. Oh, book recommendations. Oh Gosh. What have I read lately that I thought was great? Oh Um, Susannah Clark's latest novel, Para Andaci, is one that I think a lot of people have not really noticed. I loved that book and surprised me how much I loved that book. Also. Oh Um, mini driver has a kind of a memoir out right now that again, I think, has kind of flown under the radar for readers and was wonderful. She you know, it's not one of those those Hollywood tell alls. It's just more of a...

...like essays and meditations on episodes in her life and she's a great writer. She was a nice surprise. Yeah, yeah, totally those we're good. I'm trying to think what else I've read. I'm reading a lot of stuff for research right now, so not so much fiction, but those two books for sure. Oh and I should I gotta Plug my husband's story collection. Sorry. You know, this is part of the marital contract and and just an excellent book. So John Castle, my husband, has a new story collection out called the dark ride and it is a career retrospective his short fiction over the course of his career. He's a fantastic writer. He probably will listen to this later and he'll he'll his space will get read. But yeah, people should know about him and his work. I've made lots of notes. Yeah, I'm I'm over here scratching nose too, AD my ever teetering Tbr okay, I one thing I have to ask you about, because I kept seeing or hearing echoes of little women, and it all comes down to this. was that deliberate or can you not? I mean, I think so many women writers of my generation, and we're not the same generation, I don't think, but I think so many of us related to Joe Marsh. Yeah, we I read little women. I can't even remember the first time how old I was, and identified with her in a visceral way because, you know, she's the writer in the family. She's a storyteller and I think before long before I knew that I would be a writer, I somehow knew that I was one, if that makes any sense. And so in this story with Beck being a writer, I think that is kind of a natural um connection because she's at the right age right for that as well.

And then I didn't actually notice it as much to start with, and then my editor sorcued into these echoes and they weren't deliberate on my part, and then she helped me to kind of draw those out and make them a little bit more apparent. I just totally see some amy and Sophie. Yeah, that's what she said to so and then the funny cory situation. M said to the older generation. There's you know, I think it's tragic that there's a whole generation of of women who don't know some of those books. And you know some of those Luisa May alcott. Yeah, Louisa May ALCOP books have been sort of discounted and I still think they're a rich trove of stuff. Yeah, you know, we we are much more familiar with Jane Austen as readers, and even then I think what has happened is we've got all these adaptations of Austin and even of little women, and people don't bother to go to the works, but the books are much better experiences than almost any adaptation. We just watched last night the new persuasion and I think you know it well, the thing that makes that book so excellent is that the tension between the romantic tension at the beginning of the story and the resolution of that romantic tension at the end of the story is powerful because the romantic interests don't have an opportunity to express themselves right. It's it's that that anst that is going on throughout the whole story, but in the new film version they they're interacting with each other regularly and I think it just sort of takes all the air out of the balloon. Frankly, yes, a lot of I've...

...heard a lot of people have very solid opinions about it. One Way. Well, read the book. That's what I say. That's right. Always, always, so, teres, where can readers connect with you? Online? Readers can find me mostly through facebook and through Instagram, although I am a reluctant social media user. I am I do have a presence and I do enjoy hearing from folks aspirations to be an instagram influencer, like so, like Sophie, I think. So Sophie's in some ways an alter ego of mine, like she has figured it out Um, and yet she hasn't. So maybe that's me too. That's a bit of all of us. Thank you so much, therese, for joining us on the writer's block and I can't wait for more of our listeners to discover it all comes down to this a pleasure. Thank you, guys, for having me. Thank you and thank you for tuning in. Please be sure to visit the friends and fiction bookshop dot org page to purchase Teresa's book while helping out independent bookstores. On behalf of Mary Kay, Patty, Kristen and Christie. We love having you join US each week. See you next time. Thank you for tuning in to the friends and fiction writer's block podcast. Please be sure to subscribe, rate and review on your favorite podcast platform. Tune in every Friday for another episode, and you can also join us every week on facebook or youtube. Where are live? Friends and fiction show airs at seven PM Eastern Standard Time. We are so glad you're here.

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