About marriage, family, and a custody battle, The Underside of Joy is just a knockout of a book. I couldn't wait to invite Sere Prince Halverson to my blog, and I'm absolutely honored she's here. Thank you so much, Sere!
Your luminous novel is set against the redwoods and the vineyards, which I loved. is this something you already knew, or did you research, and if so, what was the research like for you?
I am fortunate to live in Northern California, surrounded by redwoods and vineyards. I spent a lot of my childhood here, but then left to go to college and ended up living for seventeen years in San Diego, which is lovely, but never felt like home. Whenever we’d drive through Sonoma County, I’d tell my kids, “Look at the trees! Look at the trees!” Even now that we’ve lived here quite a few years, when I step outside, I still want to twirl around like Maria in the opening scene of The Sound of Music. This is a place that continues to awe but also feels deeply familiar. In part, the novel is my love song to this beautiful area.
I loved the complexity of the relationships, especially between the two mothers. You ask the question in the book, what makes someone a mother, and a good one? Can you talk about the answer?
I don’t think there’s one answer to that question. It takes a lot to be a good mom and motherhood does not come naturally to every woman. Even good mothers fail their children at times. But a mother who leaves her children? Society tends to automatically label her as a “bad mother.” There are times when the decision to leave, given a mother’s circumstances or limitations, can be a painful sacrifice that’s the best choice for the children, although there will still be scars. This decision was something that as a mom, I couldn’t fathom. I knew I needed to write about it.
And because I’m a mom and a stepmom (as so many of us are) and have a mom and a stepmom (as so many of us do), I wanted to explore the relationship between two women who love the same children, to turn the fairytale version of the evil stepmother on its head.
I'm always fascinated by process so can you please talk a bit about how you wrote the book? Are you an outliner or a writing-by-the-seat-of-your-
pen type of person?
Oh, I do both! It begins with a character. I start writing without a map, sort of like jumping in the car for a road trip, not knowing where I’m headed. But by the first rest stop, I start making notes, asking questions, coming up with a loose plan. I tend to write the first draft fairly quickly then spend a lot of time on revision. I pin it all up on a bulletin board to try to get the shape of the thing. I also lay it all out on the floor and walk through chapters, moving things around. Old-fashioned, I know.
But I revise constantly on the computer, too. I love revising. You know how the wonderful Annie Lamott insists on the shitty first draft? My second draft, third draft, even fourth draft—all shitty. But eventually I get into the land of not-so-shitty, then into not-too-shabby, and that’s when I glimpse the twinkly lights of it-may-actually-be-working, and I keep going. I should also add that I took a month-long writing retreat at a cabin in the redwoods by the Russian River. This was a writer’s absolute heaven—total immersion—and made a huge difference in The Underside of Joy.
What's obsessing you now?
I’m going to reveal myself as the newbie debut novelist that I am and admit that I’m completely obsessing about the publication of my first novel. It took me forever to get here--with a lot of close calls and major disappointments along the way. I stare at the gorgeous finished books my publisher sent me and think, Hey, it’s really happening. And they even spelled my name right!
I want my story to inspire others. For twenty years, I worked as a freelance copywriter and creative director, helped raise our four kids and wrote fiction. This is actually my third novel, although it’s the first to be published. And it’s being published in 15 countries! Keep going. You just never know what’s ahead.
What question didn't I ask that I should have?
How about this one: How do you feel about being interviewed for this blog?
Extremely grateful. And touched once again by your big-hearted generosity to other writers. Thank you, Caroline!
The Underside of Joy will be published January 12th by Dutton. Read more at Seré’s website: www.sereprincehalverson.com and on her blog at www.whomovedmybuddha.blogspot.