So many of your books deal with mother/daughter relationships. How has your own relationship with your mother and as a mother affected your writing?
It’s funny, because I never start out writing about mother daughter relationships. In The Last Beach Bungalow, I started out writing about a woman who falls in love with a house. In The Only True Genius in the Family, I started out writing about a painting prodigy (and while I was aware that she would certainly have a mother and that her mother would play a role in her story, I never imagined that the mother would take over the story.) The Threadbare Heart began as a story about a woman who loses the great love of her life. In the end, each of my books have ended up being very much about mothers and daughters.
Why does this happen? It doesn’t come from any dramatic mother-daughter dynamic in my own life. My mom was a traditional housewife, who now has a full life of her own, and we get along very well. My relationship with my own two daughters – who are 14 and 17 -- is fantastic. My tendency to write about mothers and daughters stems, rather, from a belief in “mother power,” which I felt very keenly when my kids were small. I can remember being hyper consciousness about my role as a “gatekeeper” in their lives. I used to literally think, What if they were meant to be a great dancer and I never take them to dance class? What if their great calling is to be an animator and I restrict them from watching too many Disney movies? I was aware that my attitude and my actions in any given moment could directly impact who they became. I was also aware of the flip side of this equation – that if I messed something up, I’d be to blame forever.
This directly relates to the creation of fictional characters. I get into my characters through their work or their hobbies – through the things that they do every day. That’s the window through which I start to imagine their life. I usually start out my research for a book thinking about a particular activity – photography, or fabric collecting, for example. As soon as I begin to consider how my character got into the activity, or why she quit it, or why she loves it, or why she hates it, I can’t help but think about mothers. Mothers are so often there for those defining moments of our lives – the first time we pick up a camera, or wander into a fabric store, or take a ballet class. They witness the spark that can ignite a passion – and they have the power to either fuel it or squash it down. Right there, you have so much room for drama! Because what if the mother never got to do the thing SHE loved? Or what if she did, but didn’t have the talent to do it well? Or what if she did and she DID have the talent, and she thinks such talent is the key to a good life?
In The Threadbare Heart, I began by thinking that Lily, the main character, was going to be a textile historian. Don’t ask me why – it’s just what I had in my head. I know nothing about textiles and very little about collecting, so I set out to learn about it. I read a number of fascinating books, and ended up having Lily be a mathematician who collects fabrics instead of a fabric expert. As soon as I started thinking about WHY Lily loved to collect fabric, and where she STARTED this hobby, and what it means to her, I started thinking about her mother’s relationship to fabric, and to Lily, and before I knew it, I had a mother who was in the business of cranking out high end pure white sheets for four star hotels, and a daughter who liked to poke around flea markets and collect dusty old “rags.” And ta-da! – not only did I have a surface reason for conflict, I now had two women with two very different ways of moving through the world. Which is to say that I had a story.
Thanks, Jennie! Don't forget to get your 250 word or less essay in by May 8th telling me about your favorite mother/daughter pair in fiction (books or movies)! The winner will appear here and receive a signed copy of Nash's The Threadbare Heart, just released today!