Every now and then you find a book with characters that stick with you far longer than the time it took you to even read the book. It does not matter how many books you read or how many movies you watch in the mean time, your mind always wanders back to that one character.
For me that character is Ella Been in The Underside of Joy. The Underside of Joy is about a woman, Ella, who loses her husband to a tragic accident, and then risks losing her Stepkids when their "Mama" comes back into the picture. The anguish Ella felt at the loss of Joe and the threat of losing her kids was just so palpable that it still resonates with me.
I recently had the opportunity to ask the author, Sere Prince Halverson a few questions and I am thrilled to be able to share her answers with you.
First of all, Welcome to my Web! Thank you so much for taking a few minutes to answer some questions for my readers.
Thank you for having me, Charlotte! And thanks for taking the time to read the novel and ask such thoughtful questions. I really appreciate it.
There were quite a few things floating around my head at the time. One of them was the image of a woman curled up in a bed under a blanket, feeling that she had once had everything she’d ever wanted and now she’d lost it. I didn’t know her story but I wanted to know more. Like you, I had recently become a stepmom, I had a stepmom, my kids had a stepmom. And none of us are evil. When I realized Ella was a stepmother, I thought I might have an opportunity to turn the traditional fairytale of the evil stepmother on its head. Ella and Paige’s stories are very different from mine, but I did pour in some of my own emotional truth about loving children and trying to navigate the complex feelings that come with sharing your kids and stepkids.
After the death of her husband, Joe, Ella is forced into a custody battle with the kids “Mama”, Paige, what kind of research did you have to do for the legal aspect of this story?
First, I did research on the Internet, looking up cases to see what kind of rights stepparents had when the spouse and natural parent had died. I also spent some time in the family law courtrooms. Finally, one of my first readers is an attorney, and she didn’t let anything slip by! I’m very grateful to her for that..
It is fairly common knowledge that there were Internment Camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II, but very little is known about the internment of Italian- Americans and German-Americans, what prompted you to tell the story of Joe’s Grandfather?
The Sonoma Valley area plays a big part in the Ella’s story, why did you choose that area of the country for the backdrop of Ella’s story?A friend of mine, Kelly, who happens to be a very smart history teacher in Sonoma County, casually mentioned to me that Italians in the area were interned during WWII. I’d been working on the book for several years before this conversation, and I knew something was up with the Capozzis, but I wasn’t sure what, exactly. So when she told me that, my mouth dropped open. I found the book Una Storia Segreta by Lawrence Distasi. “The Secret Story.” Italian-Americans don’t talk about the internment much; the government doesn’t talk about it. There’s a lot of judgment and shame and turned backs involved, which, of course, all fits in with the themes of my novel.
It chose me. I spent my teenage years in Northern California and then left to go to college. I ended up living in San Diego for 17 years. San Diego is lovely, but when I moved back north, I finally felt like I was home. I’m a sucker for trees, especially the redwoods. I never fail to feel enormously fortunate whenever I walk outside or take a drive. It’s a gorgeous part of the country and, in a way, I think of this book as my love song to this area.
I don’t’ have a sequel in mind at the moment, but the door is always open if these characters decide to come back someday and fill me in on what’s been happening. I think of them often, and have to admit, sometimes I miss them.
I am so not the expert! Every situation is different. Lots of hugs help. I really think we have to find our own way, our own relationship with each child. It’s important not to ever try to replace their mom. (Ella’s situation was different from mine because Paige was gone.) There are so many ways to love a child, to be in a child’s life. Love them deeply and do your best and allow that it won’t be perfect. That’s all I can give you!
There are so many, it’s always hard to narrow them down. When I was nine, I discovered Anne of Green Gables and Diary of Anne Frank—two very different books, both about Annes who loved to write. That’s when I began keeping a diary. A few of the non-fiction books I’ve always loved: The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, and Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery by Richard Selzer. Finally, some of the many contemporary novels that have stayed with me: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and Come and Go Molly Snow by Mary Ann Taylor-Hall.
Thank you! I’ve been working on a book set in Saudi Arabia, about a young American artist visiting her father, a doctor temporarily working in Riyadh. From the redwood forest to the Arabian desert…I like to change things up.
Thank you so much to Sere for stopping by my little Web! She has even been so generous to give away one copy of her book to one of my readers. We will take entries from now until February 22, 2012. US readers only, unfortunately. Please be sure to visit Sere at Facebook or her website, where you can read her bio and blog.
And if you feel like sharing, please let us know what character has stayed with you days, weeks, or even months after reading their story.
(Disclaimer: Your information is safe with me! I will not sell or reveal your information to anyone and once the winner has been chosen I will delete all entries.)