Ellen Meister's third novel The Other Life was recently released and after I had the chance to read and review the book, she was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions for In The Next Room.
The Other Life is your third novel, but the first two seem to be categorized more as "chick-lit" from what I've seen- how do you feel about this label? Is the genre something you intentionally moved away from in your recent book?
I wasn't thinking about genre when I wrote any of my books. I was just writing the stories that moved me most at that time. With Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA, that meant a friendship story about three women who conspire to get a George Clooney movie filmed in their children's schoolyard. With The Smart One, that meant a sister story in which the discovery of a body in an industrial drum serves as a catalyst to their relationship.
So while The Other Life does indeed seem to be some kind of major shift—with a darker landscape, a higher concept and deeper emotional waters—it still has a female relationship at its core, as it explores the power of the love between my protagonist and her mother. So in that sense its heart in the same place as my other books.
I just read that The Other Life has been optioned by HBO as a TV series. First of all, congratulations, that's awesome! I was wondering if you had the ability to cast anyone in the major roles of the book, who would they be? Did you have anyone in mind when you were writing the book?
Thanks! I'm a huge HBO fan and this was the most thrilling career news I ever got.
As far as casting, that wasn't on my mind while writing the book. But after it was finished and a Hollywood agent took it on, I allowed myself the indulgence of wondering about it, trying to match actresses who could play my thirty-something protagonist with actresses who could play her mother. It became almost a game, and I came up with just about every combination imaginable. It was a lot of fun, but what it taught me is that there's no single casting answer. If the HBO series gets produced, the key will be finding actors with the right chemistry.
A huge portion of The Other Life revolves around Quinn learning that the child she is carrying has a disability, as a mother yourself what was it like writing about such an emotional topic? Do you have any advice for women who are going through something like what Quinn experiences?
I had to navigate some rough emotional waters to write about Quinn's situation. But, as the mom of a kid with special needs, I knew that her love for this kid would be as profound and life-changing as anything a person could experience. To moms out there just beginning the journey of raising such a kid, know that there will be moments of joy that will fill you.
Where did the inspiration for The Other Life come from?
The Other Life grew out of a fleeting thought I had when sitting down to write. I was contemplating the notion that each day, when my husband left for work and the children left for school, I got to escape into this fantasy world I was creating with my fiction. That got me wondering what would happen if a married woman like me had the ultimate escape … the ability to slip through a portal to the life she would have had if she had made completely different choices.
But of course, I understood that it would take something monumental for a happily married woman with children to consider leaving her family, even temporarily. I lived with the idea for quite a while before it all started coming together. However, it wasn’t until I realized that her mother was dead in one life and alive in the other that I knew I had a book.
Do you have one book you think everyone must read? Who are some of your favourite authors?
Yes, The Other Life!
Seriously, I think everyone should read the books that move them and deliver some kind of joy. Despite what our English teachers tried to tell us in school, novels are not medicine.
My favorite authors are those who explore the relationships between people in new and surprising ways, and whose affection for their characters—despite their flaws—goes directly from the page to my heart. It's a long, ever-changing list, but some constants include Richard Russo, Richard Yates, Dorothy Parker, Elinor Lipman, Steve Almond, Wally Lamb, Susan Isaacs, Harper Lee, Maya Angelou, Alice Hoffman, John Irving, Mary Gordon, E.L. Doctorow, Jane Austen, Jonathan Franzen, Joshilyn Jackson and J.D. Salinger.
What are you working on next?
I'm working on a novel about a timid woman movie critic whose life is changed in all kinds of unexpected ways when she is visited by the ghost of her idol, Dorothy Parker. The working title is Farewell, Dorothy Parker. It will be released sometime in 2012.
Ellen Meister is the author of three novels, THE OTHER LIFE (Putnam, 2/11), THE SMART ONE (Avon A, 8/08) and SECRET CONFESSIONS OF THE APPLEWOOD PTA (Morrow/Avon, 8/06),Ellen Meister as well as numerous short stories. In addition to writing, she served as editor for a literary magazine, runs an online mentoring group for women authors, and curates for DimeStories, a literary radio program. Ellen does public speaking about her books and other writing-related issues. She is working on her fourth novel, FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER.
Thanks so much to Ellen Meister for her time, and I fully recommend the mesmerizing The Other Life. Click here to read a review of the novel on In The Next Room. To learn more about Ellen's books visit the website http://ellenmeister.com/