Five Questions For Author Joy Fielding
As we look forward to our webcast with Joy Fielding on March 31 at 4 p.m. EDT, Zoomer had a chance to catch up with the New York Times best-selling author from her vacation home in Florida and chat about her new page-turner Now You See Her, about exploring depression, writing about sex and changing priorities.
Athena McKenzie: Marcy’s experience as both the daughter and the parent of a person with manic-depressive disorder is quite moving. Did you do much research or is this more writer-ly imaginings?
Joy Fielding: Most of that was imagination, but I have done, what I call casual research over the years on this topic. I find it interesting. I know a fair number of people who suffer from depression, not so much bi-polar but depression. And I’ve known a few people who have committed suicide, so I’m not unfamiliar with the situation. But most of it was how I would imagine it would be like to live with somebody like that, as a child. Having a mother like that. I had an extremely sane mother, so this was definitely not writing from experience. Just trying to think about how difficult one’s childhood would be if you had a mother who you literally could never depend on and it’s not her fault. Then growing up with the fear of it happening to you because if you’ve had a parent, especially a same-sex parent who has been through a physical or mental disease, there is the worry that it could be your fate. So, the two sisters in the book are always watching each other for signs. Then the fear again of passing on whatever it is to your offspring. Always being on the watch. The idea of passing on a defective gene to your child is very guilt-inducing, even if you can’t help it.
I don’t think it’s that difficult to imagine it. You take what you know, make adjustments and apply it.
AM: The setting is also very striking. When did you know you wanted to have the story take place in Ireland?
JF: I knew that the book had to be set in a foreign country because I needed, quite literally, for Marcy to be the stranger in a strange land. I wanted her to be really isolated and removed from everything. Even though she’s never been comfortable in her life, I wanted her to be more uncomfortable. So, I knew that the setting had to outside of North America. Originally, I thought of countries like Italy or France, but then I realized I’m really complicating things for myself as a writer, by putting her in a country where they don’t speak English because I’m always going to be putting in foreign phrases and we’re always going to be dealing with the language issue. I didn’t want that as a distraction for me or the reader. So, I thought, she has to be in an English-speaking place. Why not Ireland? It’s a fabulous country. It has such a rich, historical background and in a way, it’s a country that’s always fighting with itself – the two halves of the country that were always battling with one another. And that kind of mirrored what was going on in Marcy. It was a good fit. The setting should contribute something to the main theme and to the story, and I felt that Ireland was not only beautiful and scenic but really did mirror the inner conflict that Marcy was experiencing, the constant war with herself.
AM: You quote line a from T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufolk. Do you often use poetry as inspiration in your novels?
JF: Yes. Well, that was always one of my very favourite poems. I’ve used poetry occasionally in books. I actually quoted one of Margaret Atwood’s poems in one my earlier ones. Kiss Mommy Goodbye. I’ve used my daughter Shannon’s song lyrics in a couple books. Heartstopper was one. Because I think she writes such wonderful songs and I occasionally quote her very poetic lyrics. If a poem strikes me as relevant, if it works, if it reveals something about the characters and what they are going through. I thought the image within Prufolk, “We have lingered within the chambers of the sea-” just was very fitting and shows again what is going on in Marcy’s head.
AM: Let’s talk about Marcy’s sexual reawakening. Do you think that subject is neglected for woman characters of a certain age?
JF: You know, I haven’t read a lot of sex scenes lately, now that you mention it. I remember when I was younger – maybe it was the books I picked, I don’t know – but I seemed to read a lot more graphic sex scenes than I’m seeing in literature now. It strikes me that that there’s not that many any more. And women of certain age are definitely neglected, not just sexually, but every which way – certainly in popular fiction, maybe not in literary fiction. In popular fiction, as with most movies, women of a certain age seem to fall off the map. I’m cognizant of that. When I make the characters in my books younger, there is different kind of energy. This story, I felt, encompassed all the ages, but Marcy clearly needed to be a middle-aged woman because she has to have a grown daughter and I didn’t want to make her too young. I think the issue no matter how old you get, you always feel a good 20 to 25 years younger than you are. Your body will occasionally tell you that you’re not that age anymore, but generally as long as you are healthy, which is clearly the main thing, you really don’t ever feel very old.
I think that with a character like Marcy, she needed to have a certain life experience. She is of the age where women tend to start falling off the map and to suddenly be in a foreign country, to find herself at loose ends, alone and there are men who find her attractive and we are not always sure of their motives and Marcy is as astounded as anybody else. But I wanted to show that woman really of any age are sexual beings and it’s unfortunate that some people stop seeing them that way.
AM: This is your 23rd book. Do you have any thoughts of slowing down?
JF: Not at the moment. I’m almost finished the next one and I’m trying to get ideas put in place for the one after that so that I’m ready to go right into the next one. I don’t see myself stopping or slowing down, certainly in the next little while. There are other things – now that I have a grandson, I want to spend more time with him – there are other things that are important. It may be a function of getting more mature, but the things that were once terribly important to me are not quite as important or I’m not quite as ambitious. I’m much more accepting of things that I have and I don’t feel the internal pressure anyone more to produce or succeed. I have succeeded. Really, I’m writing because I love to write and I enjoy what I’m doing but I don’t feel any huge urgency to be successful. I don’t feel that compulsion anymore. It’s not what drives me anymore. It’s just that I enjoy it.
Watch the video trailer below for Now You See Her, featuring music from Fielding’s daughter Shannon.