Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Out Today: HOUSE OF GLASS
I’m doing a couple of local events and would love to see you there. I’ll be reading with my dear friend Rachael Herron, whose gorgeous new book is PACK UP THE MOON.
In honor of release day, I thought I would share the author interview that appears in the back of the book.
Q: House of Glass is an emotionally charged, ripped-from-the-headlines thriller about a family put to the ultimate test. What was your inspiration for this story?
A number of years ago, a home invasion took place in Connecticut. A family of four was imprisoned, abused, and all but the husband killed. Details of the case, and the subsequent trial and conviction of the killers, held the country in thrall and dominated the news for weeks.
I was unable to watch or read accounts of the case. Though I often write about violent characters and dark impulses, I have a low tolerance for real evil and suffering, and often take the coward’s path, burying my head in the sand until the story is supplanted by fresher news.
But several aspects of the case were impossible for me to forget. One in particular: the mother was taken from the home by one of the killers, and driven to a bank where she was forced to withdraw money. She believed that when she handed over the money, her family would be freed. She knew her husband had been beaten and her children were vulnerable and defenseless.
I can’t imagine a more desperate moment for a mother. I decided to retell the story with a different outcome, giving her a bit of luck, a few unexpected allies, and strength she didn’t realize she possessed, from a source she had forgotten.
Q: Like House of Glass, your previous novel, Garden of Stones, also featured a mother in a harrowing situation, forced to make difficult decision in order to save her family. Is this a recurring theme in all your novels? What is the message you’re trying to send about motherhood?
When my agent, Barbara Poelle, pointed out this recurrent theme, I was surprised. I hadn’t noticed that it was such a consistent thread. Soon, though, I came to see that it is the element that binds my work in all my disparate genres.
It’s probably no accident that all my published novels were written in 2007 or later. In that year, my children were twelve and fourteen, no longer children but not yet adults, and I had experienced some of the challenges of raising adolescents and glimpsed the long shadow of the challenges to come. A mother of an infant is fiercely protective; a mother of a teen - a person with some autonomy - must face the terrifying fact that she can’t protect against all the danger in the world. I think my stories were an effort to direct all this helpless maternal protectiveness and fear.
Now that my children are nineteen and twenty-one, they have experienced and survived any number of hurts, and I have been forced to admit that I am no longer the axis around which their lives turn. This, too, is an aching change for a mother. But there is recompense: the older they get, the more frequent the glimpses of their own strength and capability.
In House of Glass, both children are instrumental in helping the family survive. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think this reflects my own shift to seeing my children as powerful on their own.
Is there a message there? Other than “Parenthood is not for the weak,” I’m not sure. Maybe it would be more apt to see my work as a sort of therapy journal...
Q: What was your toughest challenge, your greatest pleasure, and your biggest surprise as you were writing House of Glass?
I was going through a divorce while writing this book, and as a result, my poor fictional couple was saddled with all kinds of angst that wasn’t the least bit germane to the story. There was a memorable three-way phone call in which my agent and editor gently broke it to me that I had to go back to the drawing board and, in essence, reimagine these characters while remembering that they are not me. I don’t think I will ever really learn this lesson - all my characters are me in some sense, from the most heinous criminal to the bratty kid down the street - but this experience did teach me to create a little distance in a very crowded creative realm.
My greatest pleasure was probably joking around with my sister about “her” character. Early in the first draft, Jen’s sister Tanya was a feckless sort who brought her own ignominious end - and also drank too much and had really trashy taste. I loved calling Kristen up and saying “You’ll never believe what you did today.” I figured it was only fair, since the early version of Jen - the elder sister - was uptight, snobbish, and dismissive. As the book progressed, I was able to report to Kristen that “her” character got stronger and wiser while Jen had to learn a few hard lessons. I’m very lucky that Kristen is a forgiving sort.
As for my biggest surprise - I suppose it would be the effortlessness of writing Ted, the husband. As someone who spends a fair amount of time bashing middle-aged white guys for any number of sins and irritations, I was surprised to find that I not only understood his motivation, his emotions and shame and longing, but that I had great compassion for him.