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Grace Talks About The Eves

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What gave you the inspiration to write The Eves?

The narrative of Jessica’s mom’s death is very autobiographical, although I was not thinking of her risotto recipe at the time she died. The profound understanding that at that moment all of her stories were now lost to me was stunning despite the time we had to prepare for her death. The other big piece was bearing witness to the struggle I see in fellow adults in their relationships with their grown children and the horrible feeling of not feeling part of their own children’s stories. It seems to me that the book connected those experiences.

How autobiographical is the story?

There are certainly parts of me and those I know in the book. I’ve told you the core, the impetus for the start. The story itself, however, is quite fictional. Carl Jung, the great German therapist, says that when we dream each of the people in the dream actually represents a part of our selves. That’s probably true to some extent when you create characters. There are parts of me in each of the characters. I have to also admit, I’ve stolen heavily from personal experiences and conversations, as well as the experiences of those around me.

 

Can you give an example?

Sure. I have a good friend with a boat. She and her husband are among the most likable people in the world. The Tug is modeled after their boat, and so are the characters. They are the prototype for Allison and Malcolm, but their stories are not my friends’. Another example would be the quilt and the handprints; there are real examples of this in my life. The best example is the harvest. I had the great privilege of being with my son when he participated in a similar project. He lived ‘off the grid’ for six months and then there was this wonderful harvest. It is absolutely my imagery from there that created The Grange.

 

Your writing creates such clear pictures of The Grange and the house on Hobart Street. Where do those images come from?

I owe thanks to my children for so many of those images. I’ve already mentioned the harvest. The house on Hobart Street is conjured from a house my daughter lived in and that I would love to remodel the way Roy and Jessica did. And yes, you can hear lions from the roof! I think it’s the fine details in a story that make it rich, believable. I wanted readers to feel they were sitting on the window seat with Jessica, that they knew where she kept the vodka in the kitchen, that they could hear the smack of The Washington Post on her porch.

 

How long did it take you to write The Eves?

I started it five years ago and wrote the first two and last two chapters, then put it away. A potential agent at the time said she thought Jessica was too self-centered and she didn’t understand where I was going with the novel. I was discouraged, but the women kept roaming around in my head. I didn’t have much choice but to finish the book. Once I decided, it took about three and a half months.

 

You wrote the first and last chapters, and then the middle. How does that work?

I’ve heard most authors write from start to finish and are surprised at where they wind up. That’s never worked for me in any of my books. I know where I want it to start and end up. In education, we call it ‘planning for the end in mind.’

Did you know what would happen in the middle to get you to the end?

Absolutely not. For me, the middle is the hard part. I had some high points. I knew Jessica would go to Africa, for example but there were so many parts that were just fun to uncover as I wrote. I didn’t know about the decision Sonia would make regarding Erica. There were also unexpected and never anticipated things, like the character development of all the ladies. The character of Jesper was fully unanticipated, demanding some rewriting in the final chapters necessary. Those things changed the last two chapters, but not by much.

Is writing easy for you?

Yes and no. I’m really blessed with the ability to have words spill off the end of my fingers onto a page. I’m much better that way, actually, then when I’m speaking. The easy part is that I get such a charge out of the process, the characters talking in my head, the ability to create tension and resolution, the opportunity to help people learn. You can have great fun as an author. There are things in the book that make me, and probably only my siblings, giggle or nod. For example, the phone number of the driver Jessica texts in the ‘Re- entry’ chapter is my childhood phone number, the locket Jessica wears, and the picture of her mother are actually descriptions of my mother’s locket. You can make things live again or be important again in your writing. I like that part a great deal.

What’s hard, sometimes, is the attention to detail. When I read through one of the drafts, Erica was fifteen on one page and several paragraphs later I state she’s sixteen. There were times where it was hard to tie the two ends together. There were big things like what had to happen for Jessica to change, and little things like why Jessica bought the can of beans at the M and M. I didn’t know why I had her buy them, then it just made so much sense that she would have used them to make the soup in ‘The Naming’ chapter.

You mention helping people learn as something you like about the writing process. The book is filled with that from the harvest, to the sustainable/greenhouse, to lambs hearing, to the Leakey footprints, and so much more. Why is that important?

As an educator, and simply as a person, I think it’s so important to keep learning. In The Eves I’m very much guilty of what they accuse many first authors of contriving. Namely, a book that has everything I know in it. It was great fun to also do research. I didn’t know how to shear a lamb, or about the regrets of aging parents, or about Paul Simon and the lyrics to Mother and Child Reunion, or a host of things. ‘Through the magic of the Internet,’ as Erica says, you can find out an awful lot.


I wanted the experience of reading The Eves to be similar to, say, listening to NPR, In fact, it was the inspiration for a few of the lines in the book. One set is when Elizabeth and Jessica first meet in her room and they talk about listening to NPR. The other is when Jan and Margaret Mary have a dispute about the use of quilts in the Underground Railroad. I wanted to provoke thought, conversation, being informed. It was important to me to create that dynamic because I think most readers are really smart and they want to not only be entertained but to learn.

What's it like to have people read your work?

Honestly, it’s the most naked and hardest thing I do. Opening yourself up, even for praise, is a very humbling process. It’s also really fun. I didn’t realize how much I’d enjoy sharing the experience of people reading The Eves. When someone says they are on page twenty or the chapter about Africa and are loving it, I get excited for them. I want to know where they are in the book, what they hope happens, what makes them sad or happy or mad. It is for me, like Jan says, delicious! It’s also somehow silly, it’s just a book. So many people have such amazing gifts. I just gather words.

 

How important is race, age, and sexual identity in the story?

I want to say it’s critically important and not important at all. When I was writing the plot summary for review, the document where you have to describe the characters, I had a very hard time labeling them, Black, White, Latinx, Native American, lesbian, etc. Part of that points up my privilege, or advantage, as a white author. People assume the character is white unless otherwise categorized. I wasn’t comfortable with that. Their individual ages, traits, experiences, and cultural background certainly give them their richness. These, combined, are the sum of the whole. But I also wanted the book to feel seamless as if we could get the feel for them without the labeling.

 

Do you have a favorite character or a least favorite?

Oh, that’s a tough one. I like them all for so very many reasons. I love Tobias. I can hear his voice in my head, and the actor that would play him on the screen. He’s very much like my Dad, who I miss dearly. Jessica isn’t my favorite, but I can feel her very intimately. Sonia just makes me laugh and I love that. I wish I got to know Tia, CC, and Jesper more. I’m particularly glad Jesper showed up.

 

You mention the book going to the big screen. Do you think there will be a movie?

Wouldn’t that be lovely? Let’s see it become a full-fledged, well-received book first. However, to be honest, I wrote with the idea of a film or cable series, not because I was being grandiose, but because I got such a visual and palpable sense of the experience. I could see it as a movie or a Netflix experience and wrote with images of certain characters in mind.

 

You mentioned, just now, being honest. Talk about the theme of that in the book.

Well, without giving too much away, Jessica is living a lie. She does this because it makes her life easier. At the end we learn that Elizabeth and Roy tell a lie as well. I think that a lot of us are less than honest with ourselves and others and I wanted that tension and honesty to come through in the book. There is also judgement around Jessica, is she a bad person because she is living this lie, or do we have sympathy for her because it helps her survive.

 

Another theme is how differently different people look at the same event, can you talk about that?

That was much harder to write about, probably because it’s just so true, so honest. We all know that no two people see the same thing the same way but there is something so very ‘off ' with the way Jessica sees things. She mentions early on in the book that Roy sees things she doesn’t. That gets echoed in a statement about Sonia and Erica as well. Most profoundly, I think, is what Jessica believes to be true about her and her kids. Certainly, all the other characters see Jessica much differently than she sees herself. This raised for me the question of what is true and how do we ever know it. Is personal ‘truth’ real and how much does it matter when it differs from another’s?

 

Is there another book in you?

When I finished The Eves, I thought my little storyteller was quite happy. However, I've started another novel called The Egg. It's about two sets of sisters and two pandemics and how a single decision can change the course of our history. I'm looking forward to see where this leads!

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