Randy Susan Meyers is the dazzling author of The Murderer's Daughter and The Comfort of Lies, her newest, about infidelity, marriage and motherhood. Thanks for being here, Randy!
Where did the idea for this novel spark? I always feel that writers write the books that they need to read themselves, that we write about the things that haunt us in some way. Would you agree? Can you talk about this, please?
falling hard for a man who isn’t yours; learning your husband has cheated; an unplanned pregnancy; thinking that you’re not cut out for motherhood; giving up a child for adoption; wrestling with the pull towards work and the demands of motherhood; failing at work.)
The Comfort of Lies is about the fierce intersection of three very different women, all swirling around an adoption that happened five years prior, and it’s also about what it really means to be a mother. Can you talk about that, please?
Motherhood. Isn’t is complicated and doesn’t it beg honest examination? I had my first daughter when I was twenty-one. I barely remember being an adult when I wasn’t a parent. I learned early that we are only as happy as our unhappiest child.
The Comfort of Lies asks if having children defines us. One female character hates the routines of motherhood—does this prevent her from being a good mother? Does anyone enjoy all moments of motherhood? Another gave up her child and wonders if she thus lost any claim to considering herself a mother. A male character learns about his child when she’s five years old—can he conjure up instant love for her, and will his wife be able to withstand this split in his loyalty?
All the characters wrestle with questions about adoption—but none more than the adoptive mother, who believes she has no right to complain, as though she’ll be judged harsher for owning up to the mind-numbing boredom that all parents experience. Plus, she finds it reprehensible in herself that she would rather be at work than with her child.
All characters are forced to examine the rights of a five-year-old girl versus their own desires. There are often collisions between the wants and needs of children and the wont and desire of their parents. On whose side should the decision-making arrow fall? And, should parents hold secrets from their children? Is this ultimately for the comfort of the adult or the child—and what price do we pay for hiding truth from our sons and daughters?
My favorite question is always about craft. What kind of writer are you? Do you plan things out? Do you outline or do you just follow your pen? What’s your daily writing life like?
I plan and outline, but only after I’ve pondered and held an idea close. Sometimes my deliberation period is years long—but once I’ve entered the planning, outlining and writing-first-draft phase, I move quickly.
My writing personality (I believe we all have creative dispositions) requires a fairly linear approach:
· Dream phase: aka, my murky idea time. This often comes from an event or traumatic moment—either in my life or the news—which engenders “what if” or “how could one possibly endure xyz?” These ‘dreams’ are followed by or concomitant with characters climbing out of the soup of imagination.
· Overall planning stage: I sit down and write a one or two page ‘essay’ of my book—what I call an overview. It is meant for my eyes only; it’s me telling myself what the book is about.
· Research. I love this stage and it’s not limited to a cold discrete time period. I need to have my underpinning solid to move forward with authenticity and for my brain to work. I pair my nonfiction study, Internet digging, and people-interviews with reading as many memoirs around my topic as I can find.
· Outlining: First I write a series of plot points—scenes and incidents that must happen to tell my story. Then these points (usually index cards) are put into the proper place on a timeline and then outlined in drafty chapters and scenes.
· Characters: I name and write an overview of each character. (I can’t work without characters carrying a name that rings for me.)
· Simplified, I think of it like this: Dream: A wolf who works through manipulation instead of force. Story: A wolf tries to trick a girl into becoming his dinner. Characters: Who is the damn wolf, who are his wolf-buddies, and who is his prey? Outlining: How we get from the wolf’s initial question of what he wants and how he’ll be thwarted to his ultimate failure or success. What steps do the wolf and Little Red Riding Hood take throughout the book?
And then I write many drafts, letting them cool off between takes.
My daily writing life is fairly structured. I am lucky enough to write full time. I get to work soon after my husband leaves for his job at 8 AM. I divide my day (but not well) between what I consider the business of writing, (everything from talking to my agent to interviews like this,) goofing off (Facebook, Twitter, reading articles about the end of the book as we know it and the death of publishing, mani-pedis, food-shopping) and writing fiction—whether it be first draft, revision, or final pages before the book will be printed.
When my husband comes home, around 7, I try to close my computer, but I’m not always good at that. I often go back to the computer at night.
I don’t set myself micro-deadlines (such as X words a day, something that works for many) but instead stick to making a macro calendar. I will mark exactly what month/day/week I expect to complete a draft and then operate as thought my life depends on getting that draft done. Overall, I’m a harsh boss to myself (making me wonder what the hell I was like when I was a director in a variety of human service agencies.)
Do you think there ever is a moment when we should lie?
When someone asks you if they look fat or old, or if the haircut they just got looks okay, they’re rarely looking for unvarnished truth—they want reassurance. One’s relationship with the person should presage the answer to whether you should lie or be truthful. For instance, I expect my husband to tell the truth 85.5 % of the time—and he knows exactly where, what, and why.
When I worked with batterers and abusive men (for ten years) they constantly claimed their abusive behavior was simply ‘being truthful’: “But she is fat, so why shouldn’t I tell her, right?” Truth is often used as a weapon. William Blake wrote, “A truth that's told with bad intent. Beats all the lies you can invent.”
Exploring lies is the backbone of my book—the lies we tell ourselves to feel better, and the lies we think are for the protection of others, but which serve to hide our darker side. In the end, I could only conclude that the “comfort of lies” is sometimes a necessary evil, but is usually a thin consolation indeed.
What’s obsessing you now and why?
I am wrestling with weighty issues right now—literally. Having just finished a draft of my third novel, my mind is wandering to novel number four, an idea that’s been in dream stage for a long time. I’ve had the first line for many years, and the character is slowly taking shape—as is her crucible. The underpinning is that which has most every woman I know by the throat: how much do you weigh and how much do you want to weigh? It sounds comical, but few find it so, right?
What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
That’s the question of when do people lie? (So different from the ‘should.’) and the answer to that is all the time. We lie for social reasons; because we grew up in homes where only lying made life bearable; because we’re afraid to tell the truth; because we are too weak to access the truth; because we lack courage; because we are mean; because we are selfish; because we think we are being kind.
Sometimes lying is a kindness. Other times it is a true sin. I think, in the end, what good people pray for is the wisdom to know the difference. I find it endlessly fascinating—especially as my upbringing engendered two great liars—my sister and me. My husband doesn’t even know how to lie, so we virtually have a mixed marriage. Being with him has been a lesson in learning that though my default is lying—I usually don’t have to. I’ve learned that telling the truth can be comforting. Amazing. He’s learned that he has an in-house liar when it’s needed. It’s nice to bring something to the marriage table.