"A tour de force written by two wildly talented writers."
Connie May Flowler, author of Before Women Had Wings
Yep, yep, that's only some of the praise being given A WELL-MADE BED, an exhilarating new novel written by two equally exhilarating writers. About murder, lust, friendship, dementia and that mysterious wheel of Peruvian cheese, the novel is both rollicking fun and rapturously written.
Abby Frucht won the Iowa Short Fiction Prize in 1987 and is the author of six other novels, Snap, Are You Mine?, Licorice, Life Before Death, Polly's Ghost and a second collection of stories, Fruit of the Month and The Bell at The End of the Rope.
Laurie Alberts is the author of three other novels (Lost Daughters, The Price of Land in Shelby, and Tempting Fate); a story collection (Goodnight Silky Sullivan); two memoirs (Fault Line and Between Revolutions: an American Romance with Russia), and a craft of writing book (Showing & Telling). She has received a Michener Award for the Novel, The Katherine Anne Porter Prize, the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society Prize for short story, and an American Fiction award.
What sparked the writing of this book? What was it that haunted you so you had to write this?
Abby: I read a newspaper article in 2010 about old people with dementia who wandered. The detective who was being interviewed said that such people tend to walk in the direction of one of two things: water, or a place or event from out of their pasts. I thought of a daughter following around her dad who was wandering and learning things about his and her past, and what haunted me was the idea of him leading her toward evidence of wrongs he had done, wrongs in which she herself was in a way complicit ... but I knew that such a book would need to be a more plot driven book than I have ever felt able to write on my own. So I called up Laurie. Plus, the other thing was, I was tired of sitting around by myself at my desk. Laurie’s a thousand miles away, but as soon as she said yes, my desk got brighter and busier. It was like turning on the TV or something; stuff just started happening.
Laurie: I am the “No” person in this relationship, so when Abby called me talking about writing a novel together about a serial killer with dementia I didn’t want to write about that subject together or alone but we’d both been recently scammed – Abby’s parents lost all their retirement to a famous scammer and a college friend of mine, who is now in jail, tried to involve me in his Ponzi scheme, so I suggested we work with the scam theme instead. Out of that grew an entirely new idea – of Jaycee and Noor and the cocaine-laden wheel of Peruvian cheese.
What was it like to work with another person? What did you expect it would be like and what happened instead? Did you find your writing routines changing?
Abby: I loved working with Laurie. I loved knowing that we were going to read each other’s chapters and each other’s input as soon as we and they were ready, and that we would talk about what we read, and that whole new unexpected parts of the story were going to come into being without my needing to be the one to think of them. I loved, as I knew I would, the grounded rationality of her world and her characters, whose lives continue to appeal to me as being more real, more palpable, and more relevant than the lives of my own characters, which tend in my view to lack a center of gravity. As for routine; I’m a sociable person, and I loved the mix of creativity and friendship. It was like cooking a giant and unwieldy meal together and somehow pulling it off or at least getting away with it.
Laurie: Abby is much more lyrical and playful in her prose than I am. I was constantly surprised and inspired by the turns she took with events and language. Of course I said “No” a lot when I thought she was being too fanciful. Working together also revealed to both of us the differences in our composition process – I tend to blurt out a first draft, concentrating on generating ideas, and then go back to work over the prose later. Abby likes to get everything exactly right as she goes along (and also as she revises endlessly). We had to acknowledge the differences in our approaches and find a way to be respectful of them. We also discovered that we had two very distinct internal images of the place where Jaycee lived with her dotty parents and their “Living History Books” theme park. I ended up having to draw a map that we could agree on – or maybe I forced that one by drawing the map. What’s inside your collaborator’s head is a mystery constantly being revealed…
Noor and Jaycee are so different, yet they share one driving need--money. And they need it right away. Ah, that's something everyone I know can relate to--but their so-called foolproof plan isn't so foolproof. Do you ever think that if money worries went away, the world would be so much easier to maneuver? (Then we'd only have to worry about work we love and love we need...)
Abby. My parents, who are gone now, were Bernard Madoff investors. Overnight December 11, 2008, on the day of Madoff’s arrest, their life savings went from something over half a million dollars to exactly four dollars and sixty four cents. But when I watched the ABC miniseries about Madoff’s crimes a few weeks ago, I didn’t miss my stolen inheritance. I missed my parents. So yes, I agree that the world would be a much sweeter place if everybody had the luxury that I had of sitting on a soft couch in a warm room with a full stomach missing my parents instead of their money.
Laurie: I think we tend to create problems to fill the problem-vacuum and we would just invent other issues to fret about if we had no money worries. I’m not talking about people who are struggling to survive, but people like you and me. Yes, the world would be easier to maneuver – we just might not be as happy about it as we think we would be.
I love the subtext of the title--the well-made bed that always gets messed up in one way or another. Who came up with it--and why?
Abby: Just a day or two ago, right now in February 2016, a week before pub date, I picked up the book to choose which passages I would read at a reading next week, and I was surprised to find our title, A Well-Made Bed, buried amid the rest of the prose on the bottom of page 118. We hadn’t planned on embedding our title in the prose as some authors do, and in fact, when we wrote that chapter, in which a principle mystery of the book is answered, our title wasn’t A Well-Made Bed yet at all but the working title, A Cool Drink of Water or maybe even further back when between us we called the book Hillwinds. The funny thing is that the paragraph on page 118 in which the words of the title are found, is contextually the perfect place for them, because it’s in that paragraph that the book’s main balancing act, between a life on “the straight and narrow,” as Jeff puts it as he lies in his well-made bed after doing a grave wrong, and a life in which you do bad things on purpose, is expressed. Ordinarily I go out of my way NOT to include a book’s title in its pages, because it makes me think of something my friend, the writer Mary Grimm once said to me when we were walking in her Cleveland neighborhood decades ago, and that is that she finds it self-conscious for a title to be included. So now I think maybe Laurie and I were being self-conscious subconsciously. Is that even possible?
Laurie: I was trying to remember how we came up with that title but Abby conveniently discovered its source the other day. Or, if not its source, its expression.
What's obsessing you now and why?
Abby: I’ve always been most interested in observing, in the news and through literature and even in the people I know (not to mention myself), the outer limits of human fallibility. At least that’s how I used to put it. Now I see that human fallibility HAS no outer limits.
Laurie: Having survived a very nasty riding accident in September including a helicopter airlift—one of many I should say -- and following an intervention by doctors and family, I’ve had to give up my horses and my riding life. What’s obsessing me now is getting over losing 30 years of my life with horses and remaining open to what will come next.
What question didn't I ask that I should have?
Laurie: How many fights did Abby and I have along the way as we wrote this book? Many, including some ugly ones in which we cyber-hurled insults and curses at one another. Are we still friends and willing collaborators? Absolutely.