> Zed Book Club / Molly Fader Illuminates Hollywood Fame and a Nursing-school Friendship in “The Sunshine Girls”
Photo: Courtesy of the Author
Molly Fader Illuminates Hollywood Fame and a Nursing-school Friendship in “The Sunshine Girls”
In a Q&A, the author explains why she ditched her pen name, how her mother's story inspired her novel and the true story behind an ugly-button gag / BY Rosemary Counter / January 6th, 2023
Toronto-based author Molly Fader has published more than 70 bestselling novels in and around the romance space under her given name and two pen names – Molly O’Keefe and M. O’Keefe. What exactly differentiates a bodice ripper from chit lit or the higher-brow women’s fiction? And where does her newest book — The Sunshine Girls, a dramatic re-imagining of her mother’s friendships in an American nursing school during the Vietnam War —fall on the spectrum? Zoomer’s interview with the Chicago-born bestselling author goes wildly and passionately off topic in all the best, and most satisfying, ways.
Rosemary Counter: If I sound slow, it’s because I have the flu and have been up all night. But your book was perfect company!
Molly Fader: That’s a great compliment and so nice to hear, thank you. I’ve been in the business for a long time, but this is just my third book as Molly Fader, so it feels kind of new. I absolutely love romance novels, and the joy and the hope they give readers, and how loyal those readers are. I feel very lucky to get to do both.
RC: Are the genres really so different? I once interviewed Outlander author Diana Gabaldon and called her a romance writer, and she didn’t like that one bit.
MF: Hah! She’s a very fascinating lady who wrote a really genre-bending book that defies all boxes you want to put it in. Maybe it’s because I’ve been writing so long, but to me the people out there who want to sneer at romance novels, they just don’t get them. Read whatever you want, but it’s too bad that romance novels have this stigma. They’re such hopeful books that help people tackle issues and feel good and be happy. Who gets to say a Clancy novel is real but these books have no value?
RC: …unless they mean value like actual money, because romance novels far outsell every other genre. I’m getting irked now.
MF: Me, too. Romance novels have given me space to write about all kinds of things that need to be talked about with care and nuance. But The Sunshine Girls certainly has all this, too. Rather than the genre or the industry, what’s different is where I am in my career. This book is loosely based on my mom, so I couldn’t have written this book any earlier in my life because I didn’t have the context or perspective. Of course I see her in a very different way than I did when I was 30. Plus at that time I was super invested in writing about sex, haha!
RC: I can see why you’d veer in a different direction. Is this the first time you’ve based a book on your real-life family?
MF: Yes. Every writer puts parts of their life into all their books, but this is the first time I totally cribbed stories that my mother had told me about her life. My parents still live in small-town America, and since I’ve been talking about the book everywhere I go, my mom’s been getting questions like, “When did you have an abortion?” She gets to explain those parts aren’t her.
RC: So your mother’s best friend isn’t actually an Elizabeth Taylor-like icon?
MF: Not at all. The first scene is the book has two sisters at their mother’s funeral, and in walks this celebrity who says, “You don’t know who you mother really was.” That scene came to me, fully formed, but totally from my imagination. I started right there, thinking how a Hollywood icon and a small-town nurse would become lifelong friends, and then I situated the story atop my mom’s nursing training in the 60s.
RC: But the button thing is true, right? Tell everyone about the buttons.
MF: The buttons are very true! And it started the same way it does in the book: My mom was going to the store and asked her friend, Laura, if she needed anything. Laura said she needed buttons for a suit she was sewing. My mom, as a joke, bought the ugliest buttons she could find — these huge pink things that look like nipples. For revenge, Laura snuck into mom’s house and sewed the buttons down the front of her nursing uniform. Then mom attached them to a wreath in the attic so [Laura] would find them at Christmas. They’ve since pickled them, baked them into bread and sewn them onto bras while gifting them back and forth.
RC: I love that. Is a book easier or more difficult to write when the main character is based on your mom?
MF: The benefit is being able to call anytime and ask, “Mom, would people have said this? Worn this? How would you get a phone message at work?” All the nitty-gritty details were easy. But basing a whole story on a real person is a big ask. I borrowed all her real stories and then made some up, too. I’m so grateful she loves it and she didn’t ask me to change a thing. She’s totally tickled by the book – delighted – and Laura is too.
RC: Of course she is, she inspired the movie-star character!
MF: The book’s release is making her feel a bit famous right now, plus it’s her turn to give back the buttons, too. I think she’s got to knock it out of the park this time.