I’m pleased to welcome Ellen Meister, author of The Other Life, to Peeking Between the Pages today to celebrate the paperback release on December 6 of her book. I read and reviewed The Other Life back in March (my review) and I really loved it. I oohed and awed over it in my review and I can still clearly bring the book to mind. It’s about a woman leading parallel lives and getting to see what would have happened had she taken another path in her life. It was fantastic! Ellen joins us today with a guest post entitled Listening to Cicadas: Where Writers Find Their Ideas…
As a writer, I’m often asked where I get my ideas. I suppose people expect me to say that they come from a particular source, like the newspaper or overheard conversations, or maybe from my dreams. But the truth is that ideas come from everywhere, and finding them has less to do with the source than the job description.
Being a writer is all about paying attention, both to the outside world and our inner thoughts. We watch the world to collect observations for the mental catalog of details that add richness and life to our scenes. The grease inside the clock on an old stove … the glimpse of a business woman’s pink lace bra as she leans over to pass a file … the sound of cicadas on an August night … the minty toothpaste residue on your tongue that spoils the taste of your morning orange juice … these are the kind of details make the scene feel real to the reader, and are critical to a successful work of fiction.
But being a writer also requires paying attention to the inside—those stray thoughts that might otherwise flit through our consciousness without scrutiny. Fiction writers have to capture these thoughts and examine them. My latest novel, THE OTHER LIFE, is a case in point.
As a workhorse who has her hands full much of the time with kids and a busy household, I cherish that magical time when I’m alone in the house and have complete peace to write. On one such day, after my husband had left for work and the kids had left for school, I was thinking about how I would use the precious time to escape into the world of fiction I was creating. Simultaneously, a question occurred to me: What if a woman like me had a literal escape—a portal to the life she would have had if she had made completely different choices? I pictured it as a physical thing—a fissure in the foundation of her home and beyond it, another life.
It was such an intriguing idea that I examined it from several angles, realizing it would take something monumental for a happily married woman with children to consider leaving her family, even temporarily. I knew that if I could figure that out, the idea might well become a novel.
I carried it around with me for a long time, and little by the little, the details of the book emerged: my character was pregnant and there was a problem—something that terrified her. Still, that wasn’t enough to hang a story on. Not for me, anyway. The book would need to have a complicated relationship at its core in order for me to be hooked. And then it occurred to me—my protagonist’s mother was dead in one life and alive in the other. At that moment, The Other Life was born.
I didn’t know if anyone else would be as thrilled about the idea as I was, but I knew I had to write the book. And now that’s it out there in the world and I’m getting such positive responses from readers—and even interest from HBO—I’m glad I paid attention to the stay thought … and to the buzz of excitement that told me to pursue it.
For any writers who are reading this, I’d love to know about your latest idea and how it came to you.
Ellen, thank you so much for this wonderful guest post. I, for one, am very happy that this idea came to you and that you went ahead with it and The Other Life came into being. It’s one of my favorite novels for the year.
About The Other Life by Ellen Meister
Quinn Braverman, a pregnant and happily married young mother with an unsettling secret. As a child, she stumbled across a portal to an alternate reality where her other life was playing out, a place where every choice she made was the opposite of what was happening in her present life. Intrigued yet wary, Quinn ignored the portal for more than two decades while building a life on Long Island with her attentive husband and adorable young son. But their idyllic life is threatened when Quinn gets frightening news about her pregnancy, and the portal draws her like a magnet with the promise of a fear-free existence. More than a simple escape from uncertainty and grief, it offers a comforting reunion with her artistic bipolar mother whose suicide seven years ago shattered Quinn’s world—on the other side of the portal, her mother is still very much alive.
Unable to resist the portal’s lure, Quinn begins to slide back and forth between the parallel universes, each of which offers elements of bliss as well as devastating loss. In one life she has a loving, stable husband and a six year old who needs her, but she also faces a shattering prognosis for her unborn child and no mother to comfort her. In the other, she is free of this pregnancy’s burden, happily living with her neurotic, famous ex-boyfriend in New York City , and, though childless, is reunited with her beloved mother. How can she possibly choose?
THE OTHER LIFE explores just what it means to be a mother and asks the impossible question of what to do when you learn that your unborn child will be severely disabled. In addition to being an emotionally powerful story, the rights to the book were recently optioned by HBO to become a series.
About Ellen Meister
ELLEN MEISTER is the author of three novels. Her most recent book, THE OTHER LIFE (Putnam), appears on several Best Fiction of the Year lists, was singled out by the American Booksellers Association for the prestigious Indie Next List, and is under option with HBO for a television series. She currently edits manuscripts for published and aspiring authors, teaches creative writing at Hofstra University Continuing Education, does public speaking about writing-related issues, and is at work on her fourth novel, FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER (Putnam, 2013). For more information visit ellenmeister.com.
I have one copy of The Other Life by Ellen Meister to share with my readers. To enter…
- For 1 entry simply leave a comment entering the giveaway.
- For 2 entries, follow my blog. If you already do, thank you, and please let me know so I can pass the extra entry on to you as well.
- For 3 entries, blog or tweet this giveaway and spread the word.
This giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents only (no PO boxes) and I will draw for the winner on Saturday, December 31/11. Good luck!