05-02-2012 04:04 PM - edited 05-02-2012 04:11 PM
Well I hope you're all packed and ready to go, the flight leaves early Monday morning and we won't be home until June.
Here's Marilyn's interview, I kidded her that pretty soon she won't have any secrets left from us
Interview with Marilyn Brant
author of A Summer in Europe
Deb - Marilyn is no stranger to the General Fiction board, she was with us last year as we discussed her novel Friday Mornings at Nine. So Marilyn, welcome back.
Marilyn - Deb, it’s always such a thrill to be here. Thanks so much for inviting me for a return visit!
So tell us, Marilyn, as you were researching A Summer in Europe did you go to all of the places in the novel? What was your most memorable place?
While I was writing this novel, I didn’t travel at all, aside from an occasional driving trip to visit my family in Wisconsin. (Since I live in the Chicago suburbs, that wasn’t very far.) However, my husband proposed to me on London Bridge during our first trip abroad together—exactly 20 years ago this spring—which was an incredibly romantic gesture. And, for about 5 years after that, before we became parents and homeowners, the two of us backpacked through Europe during our summer vacations from teaching. We were insatiable travelers during that time, and we visited nearly every site mentioned in the novel. I think I missed only the ruins of Waverley Abbey in Surrey, England and Monet’s Gardens in Giverny, France, which means we need to go back someday to see them both! We had fascinating experiences in every one of the eight countries my heroine and her companions got to visit on their grand European tour—Italy, France, Switzerland, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Belgium and England. For me, those travel days were unforgettable and endlessly inspiring.
As far as my most memorable place…ahh, that’s a hard thing to narrow down. One of my favorite, completely serendipitous experiences was when we were in Budapest, Hungary and were told by a local woman we met at a shop about an operetta that was going to be performed that night. On the spur of the moment, my husband and I decided to buy tickets and attend. It was truly fabulous. I didn’t understand a word of it (!!), but the singers’ passion for music filled the room, and everyone around us seemed to be just as touched by the heartfelt songs as we were. I loved that night so much that I gave a similar evening to my heroine in the story, although she had personal relationship dramas going on around her in addition to all the dazzling musical numbers.
And then there’s Venice, Italy, which is one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s just so breathtakingly unique and timeless. Not everyone loves it, I realize, but I had daydreamed about visiting Venice for at least 15 years before I finally got there. I’d been a little worried when we first arrived that it wouldn’t live up to my fantasy, but that fear was immediately dispelled as our little waterbus sailed down the Grand Canal and into view of St. Marco’s Square. Just thinking about it now makes my heart beat faster! Venice was one of those locations that simply awed me from my very first glance. In fact, if there’s such a thing as “love at first sight” for me, it wouldn’t be with a person, it would be with a place…that one in particular.
You are considered a “Women’s Fiction Author.” Does being put on a genre shelf bother you?
You know, this is an interesting question. My initial response was “No, of course not. I love being a women’s fiction author.” And that’s true. I write stories that feature women as the protagonists, and I deal with coming-of-age situations and major milestones for my characters that many women would—I hope—be able to relate to personally. However, there’s been a great deal of discussion recently about the term itself and if there’s an inherent prejudice or sexist attitude in the use of the phrase. After all, there isn’t a similar label specifically for male writers (i.e., “Men’s Fiction Authors”). So, the categorizing of a group of female writers this way can come across as dismissive, implying that the novels written by “Women’s Fiction Authors” are only suitable for one half of the population. That, of course, I don’t believe is true at all.
Tell us about getting your first novel published, was it a difficult process? Were you an overnight success?
An overnight success?! (*pausing briefly to gasp with laughter*) Oh, I wish!! But I suppose everything is relative. From the long view of a thousand-year epoch, perhaps, one might consider the decade I spent pursuing publication to be merely “overnight,” right? LOL.
Getting my first book contract was a difficult and seemingly never-ending process that took over nine years. According to Jane was the title of that debut novel—but it wasn’t the first book I wrote. Actually, it was the fifth full manuscript I’d completed and, even though it won the Romance Writers of America’s highest award for an unpublished manuscript in 2007 (the Golden Heart® for “Best Mainstream Novel with Strong Romantic Elements”), I still had to seriously revise and restructure it before it was finally accepted for publication. There were a lot of rejections along the way—from agents, editors, contest judges—but rejections and require revisions don’t stop once a writer becomes published, so the necessity of dealing with criticism was an excellent lesson to learn early.
Your writing reminds me of an Impressionist painting, it’s not for a reader who wants to be told step by step what happens to the characters at the end. Is this intentional or is it all in my own mind?
Deb, to me, that’s a huge compliment—thank you!
I’ve written a couple of romantic comedies (On Any Given Sundae and Double Dipping) where the endings are more spelled out, as is customary for the genre. Those were fun stories to write, but the delight in reading a romance is not in wondering how it will end but in enjoying how the characters will get to their happily ever after.
However, with my three women’s fiction books (According to Jane, Friday Mornings at Nine and A Summer in Europe) it was certainly my intention to bring the characters to an interesting, hopeful place at the end of the story and then allow readers to take a few intuitive leaps themselves. I’ve always loved imagining what might happen next for my favorite book characters by other authors. I used to spend hours mentally constructing sequels to their adventures! So, yes, I want to give my readers that same gift of possibility…to bring them along on a journey, let them get to know my characters well enough to see a range of potential outcomes and, then, allow them to choose the one that best fits their worldview and their sentiments. After all, once the book is in a reader’s hands, it’s no longer just my story anymore…
Do you belong to a writer’s group?
Yes. I’ve been a member of Chicago-North RWA since 2002. It’s a part of the 10,000-member strong organization of the Romance Writers of America, but Chicago-North also has a reputation for being a great local critique chapter. I’ve learned so much being a part of it, and some of the people I met there are still my closest friends and best critique partners. Life’s gotten busier for many of us, so I don’t attend meetings as regularly as I used to, but I still meet often with my writing friends. We frequently exchange scenes we’ve written and give each other feedback. Sometimes we’ll get together for a weekend writing retreat or to brainstorm story ideas. Sharing the process with them is both helpful and a lot of fun.
Do you write fulltime?
For now, I do. I spent most of my earliest writing years working elsewhere, though. I was an elementary school teacher when I first started playing around with fiction. After my son was born, I took a leave of absence from the school district and, during my baby’s naps and late into the night, I began drafting my first manuscript. It was an incredibly flawed attempt at a novel, by the way, but I didn’t know that then! I also began writing and publishing poems, educational articles and personal essays in magazines, which were my first writing credits.
I eventually began working part time as a freelance journalist for a regional parenting magazine and, also, as a book reviewer for Romantic Times/RT Book Reviews. Soon after, I added on another part-time job at a public library, which I went to in the evenings or weekends when my husband could be home with our son. But, a few years ago, it got to be too much to juggle. So, for now, I’m just writing novels and some articles, trying to keep the house relatively clean and getting our son (who’s now a teenager—where did the time go?!) to all of the practices and clubs he’s involved with after school.
A Summer in Europe is your third published novel. Do you lose some of the magic of your first release date by number three or are there still butterflies?
There are still butterflies. For me, I think there always will be. Like most authors, I put a lot of heart/soul/thought into my novels, even when my experiences and personality traits are different from those of my main characters. For instance, I was fortunate to have traveled much more extensively in my early life than my heroine Gwen did, but I still got to relive some of my first impressions of Europe through her eyes, and I tried to show her growth as the result of her unusual summer abroad.
Travel, I’ve found, is a stimulating, mind-expanding adventure. So, Gwen’s journey—both literal and figurative—is one I hope will resonate for readers, and there’s a tremendous excitement that comes from the prospect of connecting with readers that way. I’ll always be indebted to novelists I admired for giving me that sense of connection, too. That feeling that someone else out there experienced something similar to whatever I was facing at a given stage in my life, understood its joys or challenges and took the time to express it in fiction.
Of course, whenever you share something creative and personal with the world, anxiety also comes along for the ride. Writers can’t help but hope that what we say has meaning to someone beyond ourselves or our small circle of editors and critique partners, but we’re never certain of that until a reader emails us or writes a review. To hear “Hey, I felt that way before, too,” or “You said something I was feeling but never put into words,” or simply “Your novel made me laugh on a day I needed it,” well, that’s a response that makes the months (or years!) of struggling to write and revise a novel worth it.
Okay now for a fun question, for someone as well traveled as you: What would be your dream vacation?
Ohhh, I love daydreaming about things like this. There are tons of cities in the world I haven’t yet visited that I know I’d find fascinating: Moscow, Dubrovnik, Tokyo, Perth, Cairo—just to name a few. There are other places where the natural beauty is sure to be amazing, such as Alaska, Iceland, Fiji or Tahiti. Believe me, I have a travel wish list that’s five miles long! I’d jump at the chance to take an around-the-world trip and make stops at all of these places and more…
But, my “dream vacation” is actually not about me at all, it’s about my son. What I’d love most is to take him on a classic grand European tour before he goes off to college. I want to show him all of the sites Gwen got to see in A Summer in Europe, plus some others that weren’t in the novel, like the city of Athens, Spain’s Costa del Sol and the fjords of Norway. The time and expense involved makes this idea the stuff of fantasy right now, but getting to share those experiences with him would definitely be a dream come true.
And here is my review of A Summer in Europe
On Gwen Reese’s 30th birthday, it wasn’t the expected gift from her boyfriend Richard (which she didn’t get) but the totally unexpected one from her eccentric aunt Beatrice that turned out to be the life changer for this disciplined and ordered person. Gwen suddenly finds herself the beneficiary of a vacation in Europe complete with scenic and historic sites and in the company of Aunt Bea’s quirky friends and members of her S&M (Sudoku and Math-jongg) club. But something profound happened to this regimented life on this very free spirited journey and as Gwen travels a road she’s unfamiliar with she learns something about herself that was hidden beneath that façade of uniformity, even more surprising is that she’s not the only one on a path of discovery.
Emerson Edwards and his brother, Thoreau, meet the group in Italy and throw a wrench in Gwen’s well-oiled life with their intelligence and their irreverence.
There are consequences that come with discovery and it’s as these two very different roads connect that Gwen will find out if the fear of her past will dictate her future.
This is a brilliant piece of contemporary literature, it’s timeless in its essence. Ms. Brant brings us a rather later that usual coming of age in this story of a woman who’s life has been ruled by loss and fear, then she gives us the hope that this new woman can come out of her chrysalis in tact and ready to take on her whole new world. She does this with her customary prose like dialogue and a narrative that will take your breath away as she takes us through Europe that can vividly be seen in your mind’s eye. Her characters are superstars, every one of them from the 90 year old feisty Zenia to the 15 year old Ani and all the ones in between. But it’s Gwen who shines the brightest, who we will cry with and cry for, who we will root for and scold who we will want for most of all as we see her evolve throughout the novel. Is it a love story, yes it is, but not just a romance, it’s the love of one’s self, of familial and friend love and of course also that love that makes the world go round, the kind of love that heats the coldest of nights and fills the emptiest of rooms.
This is your first must read of December and you’ll want to share with the people who mean the most to you, a perfect stocking stuffer and yes it wraps beautifully. It’s also a read that will be enjoyed by multi-generations and both sexes. If this is your first trip with Marilyn Brant I know it won’t be your last.
Thank you Ms. Brant for another exceptional read.
The novel also made my 20 best of 2011 list you can see it and my other selections here
Visit Marilyn's website here
And I'll be featuring some of Marilyn's European pics during the read
The Mouth of Truth in Rome (pictured below with Marilyn's husband) here is the link for the tour pics
05-03-2012 11:41 AM
Debbie, thanks so much for interviewing me and posting it here, along with your lovely review!!
And, Lisa, thank you so much! I hope you'll like it .