I got up early to work on lesson plans.
Dexter had other ideas.
We’ve wrapped up the book tour for Melissa Ford’s third novel in the Life From Scratch series, Apart at the Seams. And we’re fortunate today to have the author herself answering questions our very curious book group put to her.
Book Tourist: How did you accumulate so many foreign-words-with-no-real-
Melissa Ford: It started with a word that actually wasn’t used in the book: protekcja. I was working on a draft of the book and had to use that word in conversation with someone on Facebook. It’s this huge idea of protections/connections/
Why a sideways sequel? How did you ever think of such an awesome idea? Did you write both books at the same time or separately? What did you learn from the experience about your own perceptions of other people and situations?
I’ve seen it done a bunch of times, and I’ve always enjoyed it myself. And it made sense to apply it to this situation. I think we all think we know things about our friends, and if we were to actually be able to shift perspectives, we’d see how little we understand.
You’ve written on your blog about visiting The Daily Show in researching this book. What other research did you do (for this or your prior fiction?
I spent a lot of time speaking with a designer at Narciso Rodriguez too. I knew NOTHING about television production or about fashion — so why did I choose two professions I knew nothing about to become major plot points? Never again.
I feel as if everything potentially becomes research for a book: travel, interesting conversations, visiting someone at their work place. I’m always tucking aside little things I notice and thinking, “that could bring some verisimilitude to a future book.”
Arianna is single, a mom, and driven, however she cohabits with a guy who appears to be the opposite and balances her type A personality. She shares, “Ethan isn’t exactly the poster child for responsibility.” I disagree. Ethan is in his own way; he softens her edges, loving and supporting her for who she is. He is familiar, safe, and wants commitment. She fights it all, which is why Noah is so tantalizing. And scary. One of the fascinating triangles in your book. I appreciated how the men respected each other. Did you play with writing this triangular relationship another way, and if so how?
Yes! In the first draft of the book, Arianna was much more interested in Noah from the get-go. She had a crush on him after they had coffee together, and she was much more proactive in pursuing him. Then the book swung in the other direction with Noah pursuing Arianna from the get-go. And finally, I settled on the relationship forming organically over time; a crush is born as they spend time with one another and see how much they have in common. That crush isn’t necessarily romantic on Arianna’s end; it’s more of an I-wish-my-boyfriend-
Ethan tries hard, and does pretty well navigating Arianna’s contrasting messages. She appears to make a lot of assumptions about what she feels he should do without having the discussions and creating an environment of understanding. Communication is an issue throughout the story. She makes assumptions about her friend Rachel’s blog, and about others. She talks in her head, a lot. Why doesn’t Arianna communicate better with Ethan, Rachel, her co-workers, and others? Why doesn’t she speak up?
Why don’t any of us speak up? I say that tongue-in-cheek. There are so many times when I could easily tell someone something, but I don’t because I don’t want to rock the boat, or I think there is no point in saying the words aloud, or I think I know something when it turns out later that I don’t. I think we all make assumptions every single day. And part of what makes life interesting is when we realize how off we were in what we first assumed about each other.
I know that as an author you might regard your characters as “children”, hence you love them all, even if sometimes it is a different kind of love. That said, who was more fun to write, Arianna or Rachel? Whose “pain” touched you more, Arianna’s not wanting to marry Ethan or Rachel’s divorcing and then marrying Adam?
I never thought I’d get into writing from Arianna’s point-of-view — it was very difficult for me at first. But ultimately, I think I enjoyed Arianna more because she is so different from who I am. I ended up really loving her by the time I said goodbye to her.
As I said above, it was really hard at first. Arianna holds her feelings close to her chest and doesn’t discuss difficult things. I can’t say that I really understand people who operate this way even though I know plenty of people who do. I think writing from her point-of-view helped me to understand those people better. And love them just the way they are.
Does Arianna really love Ethan for who he is, what he offers and how he offers it? Can she? I came away feeling she could not over the long haul. I felt she did not really delve deeply enough into who she was or what she wanted and why, other than her son, who was on the peripheral. I picture her in the future as single, sometimes happy with her choices but not fully understanding why she makes them. I never got a feel for her as a mother or her relationship with Beckett, little warmth and maternal overtones. By the end of Apart at the Seams, Arianna seems to be moving towards meeting Ethan half way, however I had little faith that the relationship would be long term. What did impression did you intend to leave your readers with?
I think they’ll make it for the long-haul, unmarried well into old age. I think Ethan is a pleaser, and he’ll be attempting to please her into the future. Attempting being the operative word because he doesn’t always get that what would make him happy may not make other people happy. And I think Arianna genuinely loves him.
There was a lot more about Arianna parenting in earlier drafts of the book which were taken out because this was really a story about her relationship with Ethan and Noah. We all have many aspects to our identity and infinite pages worth of time to explore them on a daily basis, but in a book, you need to keep a laser focus.
Wow… that’s a really interesting question. I think it can if you assume your friends are reading. I have a friend that I know reads from time to time because she’ll bring up a post. But I go into every conversation assuming that she hadn’t read my blog that week and repeat information I wrote about because I never want to take it for granted that someone reads or knows something about me. So I think as long as you never expect your friends to gain important information via social media, you’re fine. The second you start putting social media between you as the conduit for the relationship, you run into danger of creating distance.
About 7% of the way through the book, Arianna describes her reasons for choosing the safe career option rather than the fulfilling one, referencing her priorities in life and how they’ve changed and evolved. She says, “I’ve been working to support myself, but not really working to fulfill myself.” How have your priorities changed and evolved throughout your life so far? How do you see them changing and evolving over the next ten years? Can you tell us about the trade offs you’ve made and are prepared to make?
Again, a really interesting question. I could earn a lot more if I wasn’t a full time writer, but being a full time writer gives me the space to be the parent I want to be while still having an income. How many other jobs slip into the hours a person wants to work without detracting from the rest of their world? I get to volunteer in the twins’ school and at their computer club, run a book club for kids, and be “off” (for the most part) the moment they walk into the house. But the trade off is the financial piece — I’m definitely not earning what I could be earning. It means checking out library books more often than buying new books. It means opting for a DVD at home rather than going out to a movie in a theater. Not things that particularly bother me, but something to consider if you’re ever thinking about writing full time.
That said, one thing I am really struggling with is writing the book I want to write vs. writing the book that I know will sell. I have tremendous jealousy over writers who have written the sort of books I want to write. I know — totally useless emotion, but there you go. It becomes a struggle to justify writing the book I want to write, which likely won’t sell because I can’t do it as well as the writers I admire, or writing the book I’m happy to write, which probably will sell. I usually go for the book I’m happy to write.
And to be clear, I am really happy with the book I’m working on now, which is — once again — women’s fiction. I enjoy working on it. I like the characters. It’s a great project. But there’s that book in the back of my brain, my passion project, which is always begging me to work on it. I obsess about that book, specifically about the fact that I probably shouldn’t put my time towards it. Did I mention that I’m obsessed with it?
I bet I’m not the only one who would line up to read Mel’s passion project (well, if people still had to line up to get books). Write it, Mel, write it!
Help an author out: If you’ve read any/all of Mel’s books, make sure to review them on Amazon.
Thanks to all book tourists for their participation on each other’s blogs, and to Mel for entertaining our questions. Find Mel at her blog, Stirrup Queens, and as section editor at BlogHer.
In case you missed it the first time, here are links in this book tour. Click around to see what we’re discussing in Apart at the Seams.
Lori of LavenderLuz.com
Esperanza at Stumbling Gracefully
Anne Bauer of The Sound of Hope
Kathy at BloomingBurghBoomer
Bronwyn Joy of Journeys of the Fabulist
Katherine A of Inconceivable!
Elizabeth of Project Progeny
Kathy of Bereaved and Blessed
A new book tour announcement is coming soon. Here’s a hint. Stay tuned!
Several book lovers are sharing our thoughts about Melissa Ford’s third novel, Apart at the Seams. Even if you aren’t part of the tour and even if you haven’t read the book, check out what people are saying — you might find that this book is one you want to put on your wishlist.
NEWSFLASH: Apart at the Seams has been chosen for the Kindle Amazon Daily Deal for TOMORROW, September 5.
Via the links below, you’ll hear from book tourists as we answer questions put to each other in our virtual book club. Next we’ll hear from the author herself as Melissa Ford responds to the questions we posed to her about her characters, her sideways sequel, her writing methods, and other juicy tidbits from behind the scenes.
See the master list at the bottom of this post, following my own contribution to this book tour.
Melissa is adept at exploring big themes for women who are trying to have it all. She lets us peek in as her characters sort out competing emotions: Self vs partner. Career vs relationship. Ambition vs presence. Excitement vs stability. Creativity vs contentment. These conundrums appear in my own life and are likely to have near-universal resonance.
As a companion novel to Life from Scratch and Measure of Love, this third book in the series takes a sideways narrative with Rachel’ best friend Arianna (you don’t need to have read the prequels for “Apart at the Seams” to work for you). This single mother and aspiring fashion designer has just taken her relationship with Rachel’s brother, Ethan, to the next level. And Arianna gets an incredible opportunity through her fashion house, one that involves hanging out with a Jon Stewart-esque cast on a late-night TV show.
But! Inevitable cracks appear in her relationship as demands are made on her and priorities shift. How can Arianna be both true to herself AND in relationship with a man who has such differing values?
Melissa examines these knotty problems from all angles. As I read, I see so much of myself in her heroines.
Three questions from the book group and my responses:
Why didn’t Arianna ever loser her temper and go off on people who were annoying her? She’s the straightforward, no nonsense, Midwestern girl who gets things done. As a straightforward, no nonsense, Midwestern girl, my expectation would be that someone would get a serious dressing down…especially considering her stress level. But maybe Minnesotans are more like Canadians than other Midwesterners?
Maybe geography isn’t the main thing that goes into straightforward-no-nonsenseness.
I first had to gain clarity (a very gradual process) within myself before I could express to others my emotions and preferences. In previous stages I have experimented between the extremes of being aggressive to get what I want (my teen years, during which I was an erratic bulldozer with my parents) to being very passive about it all (early romantic relationships, hierarchical work relationships). I’ve modulated that pendulum in recent years and in most situations I can be appropriately assertive.
But it took trial and error — and time. I think time, rather than place, is what kept Arianna from being as straighforward-no-nonsense outside her head as she was inside her head.
It feels as though Arianna would become irritated with Ethan for not doing things she needed him to do yet she often wouldn’t verbalize clearly what it was she wanted or needed. Why do you think asking for exactly what you need makes you feel so vulnerable?
This goes back to having clarity within, with having healthy boundaries around what is and isn’t reasonable to expect from a person and relationship, and being able to articulate those expectations — asking for what you need. These are traits I continue to develop (there is no there there).
When not quite confident of where one person starts and another begins, and when unsure of a code of behavior, Arianna resorts to what so many women do — being the “good girl.” I have been taming my inner Good Girl for decades. She emerges when I feel out of my element. And when she does, I become a consummate people pleaser, taking care of the other’s needs while seething that my own aren’t being addressed.
I think it is very vulnerable to be authentic — to live without a mask, without a barrier between you and the world (or just the other in a relationship). To do so, you are clear within yourself, you set and patrol boundaries that are respectful to you and the other person, and you have courage to ask for what you want. It’s a very vulnerable state — and paradoxically, a sign of incredible inner strength.
Arianna has several major events that are downplayed by Rachel. How would you have reacted if this had happened to you? Would you have made the effort to repair the friendship?
My first inclination with discord is to look within. Was I the one who didn’t share enough? Am I expecting my friend to read my mind? Are my expectations too high regarding the important people in my life? Do I expect that others will supply for me something that I could very well supply for myself?
After my exercise in introspection, I take a look at the other person. Did she know what I needed in that moment? Should she have known (and how?)? Did she deliberately slight me? Is there other evidence that this relationships is waning?
I may decide to speak up to my friend, I might say:”Hey, when that big thing happened to me, I feel as if you weren’t really there for me. What was going on for you?” If my friend has repeatedly not been there for me and I’ve tried to address it multiple times, I may simply let the friendship die. If I myself am in a funk, I would tell myself to “snap out of it! — stop being a victim and move on.”
So yes, I would make an effort to repair a friendship by looking within, by talking it out, and by asking for what I want. But if the person is unresponsive to my overtures, I would not belabor my efforts. I would not close the door forever, but I would not continue my efforts on something that’s just not there at a point in time.
To continue to this book tour, please visit the links below. Comments are much appreciated by the book tourists!
Thanks for following along on our book tour, and be sure to come back for Saturday’s batch of posts!