Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Jamie Beck

Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author Jamie Beck’s realistic and heartwarming stories have sold more than three million copies. She is a two-time Booksellers’ Best Award finalist, a National Readers’ Choice Award winner, and critics at Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist have respectively called her work “smart,” “uplifting,” and “entertaining.” In addition to writing novels, she enjoys dancing around the kitchen while cooking and hitting the slopes in Vermont and Utah. Above all, she is a grateful wife and mother to a very patient, supportive family.

Beck's new novel is Truth of the Matter.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Generally, I aim for my novels’ titles to quickly convey a major story element. Truth of the Matter is the perfect title for this book because it not only hints at the hidden life of one of the three point-of-view characters (Marie, the grandmother with dementia), but also goes to a core theme about how our perceptions shape our realities, so when we seek to change ourselves or our situations, we need to start by getting to the truth of why we think or feel the way we do. Anne’s identity has been wrapped up in being a wife and mother for almost two decades, so she must discover the truth of who she is after she’s stripped of those roles. She will also need to reconcile the truth about her beloved grandmother with the woman Anne believed her to be, and how her misconceptions shaped Anne’s views about motherhood. Meanwhile, Katy is a highly gifted yet anxious teen who is trying to figure out where she fits in with her broken family and at her new school. Readers love secrets, too, so I hope the title intrigues readers enough to peek inside.

What's in a name?

I confess, the characters’ individual names in this story don’t have all that much meaning, but the name of the fictional town (Potomac Point) is deliberate. A welcoming setting can be a hook for domestic fiction readers who want to be whisked away to someplace charming. Thus, I made up a name that would signal that this series is set in a small town on the Chesapeake Bay, because what could be more welcoming than that? Secondly, the setting is tying three books together, so I needed to make sure the name was easy to identify and different from my other series’ settings. Lastly, I like alliteration!

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I was quite a romantic in my teens and would fantasize about writing dramatic love stories for television or film. Then I became a lawyer! When I began my writing career in my forties, of course I had to begin with romance novels because, in the words of a friend and fellow author (Kristan Higgins), kissing makes every book better. I enjoyed writing those, but after four series, I was ready for a change. Women’s fiction gives me a much broader canvas for exploring interpersonal relationships (which is really what I liked most about love stories). I’m in my mid-fifties now, so I’ve seen and lived through a lot that has affected what I consider important and worthy of a story. For example, as a mother of two, I’ve learned a lot about the epidemic of teen anxiety in this country, which is largely what motivated me to write Truth of the Matter. I can’t imagine my teen self would’ve foreseen something that unromantic as being an issue near and dear to my heart.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I’ve never thought about this before, but it varies by the story. In this case, it was the ending, mostly because I made material changes to Anne after completing the first draft. Part of the problem was that I got so invested in Katy’s painful self-image and sorrow that I lost sight of Anne’s development. The other problem was that I was focusing so much on Anne’s mothering that I failed to dig deeper into her womanhood. Thankfully, my wonderful editor helped me reshape key elements of this story to bring Anne more fully onto the page, which changed a lot of the latter half of the book. Now she will resonate with many readers, particularly with women who are in the middle of life—in the middle of marriage, of parents and children, and of careers.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Pieces of me creep into all my protagonists because I am writing about relationships (family, friendship, romantic) and I cannot divorce myself entirely from my own real-world perceptions about any of that. In this particular book, I imbued Anne with a lot of myself (moreso than any prior female protagonist). Prior to writing novels, I was a lawyer-turned-stay-at-home-mom who probably spent too much time worrying about my kids and not enough time on myself. When I finally decided to try a new career, it took a lot of courage, but like Anne in this book, I learned that it’s never too late to start living your best life.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

First and foremost, music. I am awed by songwriters (particular favorites include Sara Bareilles, Ed Sheeran, Sting, and Dar Williams). I get a lot of character ideas from song lyrics, working up elaborate backstories for the “character” who wrote the lyrics to a particular song. I also get inspired by psychological studies about various mental health matters and how they affect relationships. The human mind is fascinating. Conflict often springs from the different yet valid way people respond to events, which is great fodder for a novel. I love working through the tangle of how those responses shape a person’s (or character’s) ability to be happy.
Visit Jamie Beck's website.

--Marshal Zeringue