Ms. Marilyn Brant
Debbie - Marilyn, first of all thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to partner with us as we feature your latest novel Friday Mornings at Nine in March on the Fiction General Book Club at B&N.com.
Marilyn - Deb, thank YOU for inviting me! It's a pleasure to be here with you all ;).
D -In reading your bio on your web-site here I see a very literary background in your career path and to me it seems a natural progression from teacher, library staff, magazine writer, book reviewer to author, was that how it was a forward path or was there some twists and turns involved.
M- Oh, yeah. There were a lot of twists and turns. I don't think we always see the patterns as they're emerging in our real lives but, for me, the signs that I was inclined toward becoming a novelist were always there...I just spent a few decades ignoring them! The thing I knew for sure was that I had to do something creative -- it was part of what I loved about being a classroom teacher (I had some very bright 2nd and 3rd graders) because the creativity and enthusiasm of the kids was just so high. We wrote original class plays every year and performed them -- some were a full hour long! -- and one of the plays even ended up being shown on local cable. It was a simultaneously exciting and exhausting job, but after 8 years full time, I knew, more than ever, that I needed to focus more heavily on the arts. I'd actually just taken a leave of absence from the school district to add an art-teaching certification when my husband and I got the happy news that I was expecting. Once my son was born, all I wanted to do was sketch pictures of him and write about him and, eventually, I started sending in those pictures, poems and essays to parenting magazines. A few of the written pieces surprised and delighted me by getting published and, in one case, one of the watercolors I did of my son as a baby was printed in a magazine, too.
D -Your educational background is an eclectic blend of arts and science with an awe inspiring list of alma maters. Was it that insatiable curiosity mentioned on the web site bio that took you not just all across America but over the pond as well. And what was it like studying abroad.
M- I've always been extremely curious about places I'd never been -- both in the U.S. and around the world. I remember being 11 years old and writing this very descriptive passage about how beautiful Switzerland was... I described the cozy chalets and the breathtaking mountains and the warmth of the people. My 6th grade English teacher said she loved it. Thing was, I'd never been anywhere near Switzerland at the time (and I'd told the teacher that), but I'd watched movies like "The Sound of Music" that featured the gorgeous Alps, read all about Bern, Geneva and Zurich in the encyclopedia and desperately wanted to visit the country, which I finally did when I was 19. I remember thinking in junior high that my life couldn't possibly be complete until after I'd seen the Alps with my own eyes...and visited Venice...and climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower... But, with every fabulous, exotic place I saw in person, I found myself adding 12 more to my Must-See list, LOL. So, the idea of being able to take classes in a foreign city and learn about the country and its people (and its regional dishes!) was just an intoxicating concept.
I've always been extremely curious about places I'd never been -- both in the U.S. and around the world. I remember being 11 years old and writing this very descriptive passage about how beautiful Switzerland was... I described the cozy chalets and the breathtaking mountains and the warmth of the people. My 6th grade English teacher said she loved it. Thing was, I'd never been anywhere near Switzerland at the time (and I'd told the teacher that), but I'd watched movies like "The Sound of Music" that featured the gorgeous Alps, read all about Bern, Geneva and Zurich in the encyclopedia and desperately wanted to visit the country, which I finally did when I was 19. I remember thinking in junior high that my life couldn't possibly be complete until after I'd seen the Alps with my own eyes...and visited Venice...and climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower... But, with every fabulous, exotic place I saw in person, I found myself adding 12 more to my Must-See list, LOL. So, the idea of being able to take classes in a foreign city and learn about the country and its people (and its regional dishes!) was just an intoxicating concept.
D- We will be discussing your novel Friday Mornings at Nine, were the characters in the book based on people you know and do they know who they are in the book.
M- !! This is a great question. Short answer: No. The characters in this book aren't based on specific people I know, and they're not based on me, either. I did draw a handful of traits for Bridget, Tamara and Jennifer from people I'd met real life, but I scrambled them, along with interesting characteristics of people I'd read about in other novels or from actors who'd portrayed roles really well in a films I'd liked. And I, personally, have very few of the special skills my characters have. I can't garden like Tamara to save my life. I kill every single plant. Really. Plants scream when they see me walking by (it's inaudible to human ears, but I know it's there). I'm also not remotely a techie like Jennifer. I just learned to text about a year ago, and I've only sent, maybe, 10 messages total. Like Bridget, I love delicious food (!!), but my interest goes only as far as LOOKING at the recipe in the cookbook and admiring the finished product when someone else makes it. I rarely cook anything remotely complicated myself.
However, as a writer, I'm always trying to be honest about how complex our human emotions are, particularly in regards to relationships. So I did talk with a lot of women over the years about their marriages and, sometimes, even about their affairs. What interested me most was where there were similiarities between many of us -- in what we fantasized about, what we complained about, what we struggled with privately and, at times, what we were willing to discuss over coffee with our friends. I wanted to explore the degree to which self-understanding played a part in being conflicted in one's relationships. ALL relationships, by the way, not just one's marriage. I feel strongly that our friendships and our family relationships, too, are affected by how well we know ourselves. Which is why one of the biggest issues in the book is, actually, the concept of "choosing" -- coming to know ourselves well enough to make healthy decisions -- rather than the concept of "cheating." I think we can really only be in a relationship fully (romantic, friendship or otherwise) once we understand how and why we've chosen to be there. And that, in every relationship, we choose over and over again (either consciously or unconsciously) whether we want to stay. So, I really wanted my characters to move from living what I considered very unexamined lives to being actively and consciously aware of their choices.
D- Who are your literary heros/heroines and do you write the kind of literature you like to read.
M- I write the kind of literature I absolutely LOVE to read. I'm a huge fan of stories about women's personal journeys -- how they overcame obstacles, dealt with tricky family situations or relationships, learned to listen to their own voice -- so contemporary women's fiction with some romantic elements is a perfect fit for me. In classic literature, Jane Austen's novels Pride & Prejudice and Persuasion speak to me strongly, as does E.M. Forster's A Room with a View, so the characters from all of those books are heroes and heroines I particularly love. I found the introspection of A Separate Peace by John Knowles to be fascinating, as well as the humorous dialogue and the heartbreak of Erick Segal's Love Story. I also really like the novels of Elizabeth Berg, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Susan Wiggs, Jennifer Crusie, Anne Tyler and Sue Miller.
D- Tell us about your next novel and when does it come out.
M- My next novel is called A Summer in Europe, and it comes out on November 29, 2011. I'm VERY excited about the release of this book! It's the story of a woman who gets a five-week trip through Europe as a 30th birthday gift from her eccentric elderly aunt. The only catch? They're taking the trip with her aunt's senior-citizen Sudoku and Mah-jongg club, and they're a collection of really offbeat characters! So my heroine knows going into it that she's in for an unusual experience, LOL. She'll have the chance to see lots of great European landmarks, meet some handsome foreign men and eat a tremendous amount of Italian ice cream.
D- Tell us something about you that would surprise us.
M- Hmm. Well, I met my husband on my 23rd birthday, and we went on our first date just 4 days later. We spent the afternoon and evening talking, going out for burgers and catching an evening movie. Nothing at all unusual, but I knew when I came back home that night that I'd met "The One." I'm not sure if that surprises any of you, but it sure surprised my husband when I told him about it a year later!! (It took him a few months longer to reach the same conclusion. :) We've now been married for 18 years, and I can honestly say that my instincts were absolutely right. Neither of us are anywhere near perfect, but we're a really good match for each other.