07-30-2012 10:43 PM
Today's guest blogger is EMILY ARSENAULT! Some of you may remember meeting Emily when she visited with us about a year ago:
07-30-2012 10:44 PM
I haven’t had a terribly interesting life, so I won’t share too many details. But the highlights include:
• When I was a preschooler and a kindergartner, I had a lazy eye and I was Connecticut’s “Miss Prevent Blindness,” appearing on pamphlets and television urging parents to get their kids’ eyes checked. I wore an eye patch and clutched a blonde doll wearing a similar patch. I imagine it was all rather maudlin, but at the time I wouldn’t have known that word.
• I wrote my first novel when I was in fifth grade. It was over a hundred pages and took me the whole school year to write. (It was about five girls at a summer camp. I’d never been to a summer camp, but had always wanted to attend one.) When I was all finished, I turned back to the first page, eager to read it all from the beginning. I was horrified at how bad it was.
• At age thirteen, I got to go to a real sleepaway camp. It was nothing like the book I had written.
• I studied philosophy in college. So did my husband. We met in a Hegel class, which is awfully romantic.
• I worked as an editorial assistant at Merriam-Webster from 1998-2002, and got to help write definitions for their dictionaries.
• My husband and I served in the Peace Corps together, working in rural South Africa. I miss Losasaneng, miss many of the people we met there, and dream about it often.
• I am now working on my third novel. It is tentatively titled Just Someone I Used to Know, named after and old song Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton used to sing together.
07-30-2012 10:45 PM
07-30-2012 10:47 PM
Q&A for Miss Me When I’m Gone
Author Jennifer McMahon recent interviewed Emily about Miss Me When I’m Gone:
JM: Miss Me When I’m Gone features excerpts from a fictional memoir Tammyland, that is described as a “honky-tonk” Eat, Pray, Love. I’ve never been much of a country music fan, but the way you write about the music made me feel like I was missing something. You inspired me to start watching YouTube videos of these amazing classic country singers. I’m seriously going to add some of their music to my iPod. Why did you choose to write about country music?
EA: Admittedly, I used to turn my nose up at country music when I was younger, but I got into classic country about ten years ago. Now I’m seriously never happier than when I’m listening to George Jones and Tammy Wynette singing “We’re Not the Jet Set.” For me, it’s not just about the music, but the personalities of classic country. Ever since I saw Coal Miner’s Daughter in my early twenties, I’ve been inspired by Loretta Lynn’s life. When I began to branch out and learn more about her female contemporaries, I found that they all had fascinating personal stories: Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Dottie West. It is easy to dismiss someone like Tammy Wynette, for example, as meek and old fashioned with her “Stand By Your Man” type songs, but I find the story of her life very compelling. For the book, I liked the idea of a modern liberal, intellectual-type character drawing inspiration from these admirable women and their music—despite some obvious surface differences in her life from theirs. So I started with that.
JM: You must have done an amazing amount of research to get all the Tammyland details in there. What was that like? Did you go touring around the south visiting all these places yourself? And, what I really want to know, did you ride a rollercoaster in Dollywood?
EA: Well, you caught me—Dollywood is the one place featured in the book that I didn’t go to (although I watched people’s vacation videos of Dollywood—including the roller coasters—on Youtube). I took a “research trip” to Nashville and other places in Tennessee, as well as Tammy Wynette’s hometown of Red Bay, Alabama. I didn’t quite have the time or budget for Dollywood, plus I have an old friend (also a big Dolly fan) who I’ve long promised I’ll accompany to Dollywood someday. I didn’t want to go back on that promise by going there without her. In any case, most of my research was from listening to classic country over the years, reading all of my favorite musicians’ biographies, and watching interviews and old footage. Most of my information came from those sources. The research trip was just a fun tax-deductible bonus. And by the way, I hate roller coasters. I’m a wimp.
JM: Like your first book The Broken Teaglass, Miss Me When I’m Gone features a book-within-a-book. What do you find intriguing about this narrative device? And what was the process of writing it like – did you go back and forth or write all the fictional memoir bits at once?
EA: I find that having multiple narratives helps me stay motivated. When I get stuck in one narrative, I switch to the other. (This was the case for my second book also. It didn’t have a book-within-a-book, but the narrative alternated from past to present.) With The Broken Teaglass, I wrote the draft of the book-within-the-book before starting the outer book. With Miss Me When I’m Gone, I switched back and forth.
JM: We’ve both written mysteries set in New England. What about the place inspires you?
EA: Except for the two years I lived in South Africa, I’ve never lived anyplace else besides New England. I feel very out of place anywhere else—in life as well as in writing.
JM: You’ve worked as a lexicographer, an English teacher, a children’s librarian, and a Peace Corps volunteer. How has your diverse background influenced your writing?
EA: That’s a good question. I don’t think I was necessarily any good at any of these jobs. In all of these capacities (except maybe English teacher, when I was too harried most days), I was usually daydreaming half the time I was supposed to be working, making up stories and dialogue in my head. Does that count as “influence”?
JM: I’d love to know about your writing process, particularly since you’re a new mom! When I was pregnant, I had these fantasies of being able to write for hours while my little cooing baby napped or played contentedly by my feet – Ha! So how are you managing to juggle writing with being a mom?
EA: I’m very lucky that my husband works at home several days a week—and that I live a three-minutes’ walk from two different coffee shops. So lately, my husband kicks me out for a few hours a week to go to a coffee shop and write. I’ve heard a lot of people say they became more disciplined about using their limited free time effectively once they became parents. I’m hoping that’ll happen to me. We’ll see. It’s too early to tell. My daughter is only two months old.
In general, I have a pretty sloppy process. I typically start with a scene or character that interests me, then slowly build a plot around that. I don’t plan ahead much. About 2/3 through most rough drafts, I usually change my mind about the ending and have to go back and do a significant revision. This is very frustrating, because I never think that will happen. Just once, I’d like to know my ending for certain and get all the way there without changing my mind. Hasn’t happened yet. Maybe when that parental discipline kicks in?
07-30-2012 10:50 PM
“Outstanding … Arsenault’s lyrical, moving prose serves to make this more than just a compelling whodunit.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Author Gretchen Waters made a name for herself with her bestseller Tammyland—a memoir about her divorce and her admiration for country music icons Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton—which was praised as a “honky-tonk Eat, Pray, Love.” But her writing career is cut abruptly short when she dies from a fall down a set of stone library steps. It is a tragic accident and no one suspects foul play, certainly not Gretchen’s best friend from college, Jamie, who’s been named the late author’s literary executor.
But there’s an unfinished manuscript Waters left behind that is much darker than her first; a book ostensibly about male country musicians yet centered on a murder in Gretchen’s family that haunted her childhood. In its pages, Gretchen seems to be speaking to Jamie from beyond the grave—suggesting her death was no accident…and that Jamie must piece together the story someone would kill to keep untold.
07-30-2012 11:04 PM
Guest Blog by Emily Arsenault
MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE started about ten years ago, when my husband bought me a CD of Tammy Wynette’s Greatest hits. (At the time, I was a “dabbler” in classic country music: I listened to the occasional Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson.) I remember listening to that CD over and over while I made a chocolate torte, trying to decide what I thought of Tammy. Some of her lyrics (e.g. in her “DIVORCE,” for example) were pretty maudlin. Some (such as those in “Good Lovin’ (Makes it Right)” struck me as outrageous. But I had to admit “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” was catchy.
Eventually, I developed a curiosity about Tammy along with her musical contemporaries—in particular, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. All three of these women had such interesting personal stories. And while I found Tammy’s music the least accessible at first, the more I read about her life, the more she fascinated me, and the more I felt I could appreciate her voice. All three women had to overcome a great deal of adversity—and break a number of gender barriers—to achieve their success. Years later, after I’d published my first book, I had the idea to write a mystery that celebrated these women and their work. So that’s where the Tammyland element of the book came from.
In its first draft, Tammyland was combined with a very different story. Gretchen’s personal life and second manuscript were entirely different from how they stand now. And the narrator, Jamie, was the mother of a one-and-a-half year old daughter. I was about three quarters of the way finished with it, but something kept me from getting to the end. One day I read through it and felt something is really wrong here. I won’t go into great detail about what was wrong, but the bottom line is that Gretchen’s story somehow didn’t fit with Tammyland.
Four months from my deadline, I started over, keeping only a few of the Tammyland pieces. I also decided to make Jamie pregnant—partly because I thought it would be interesting to have her at this turning point in her life, but partly because I was newly pregnant myself and I liked to occasionally use the manuscript as a place to bitch about how crappy I felt. The following couple of months are a blur now—I remember a lot of writing, a lot of nausea, and a lot of snapping at my husband. I handed in the manuscript in November and then was given my revisions by editor in January. By then I’d “caught up” with Jamie’s “seven months pregnant.” I did some pretty significant revision—along with updating some of the later pregnancy bits. For example, there’s a scene where Jamie looks down and realizes that her belly is covered in cracker crumbs. I never would have thought of this if I hadn’t been pregnant myself. While pregnant, I discovered what a messy eater I am—crumbs that normally would’ve fallen onto the floor and into my lap unnoticed were now clearly visible to everyone. And I, like Jamie, played Patsy Cline’s music to my belly.
My publisher’s copy edits arrived on our doorstep the day my daughter was born. I attended to them (usually one-armed) in a haze of night feedings and diaper changes. Later, when I was reviewing the galleys, I added one sentence to the final pages of the book—one where Jamie expresses a sentiment about her first days with her baby son. Without that line, I felt Jamie appeared too cold regarding her new role as a mother. And it gave me a chance to bring together the end of the book with my own story.
07-30-2012 11:32 PM
I just got started on Miss When When I'm Gone last night and am to the point that she is meeting with Gretchen's bf. Just wanted to stop by and say hi.
07-31-2012 12:18 AM
Enjoyed it very much. I will have to check out your other books!
07-31-2012 08:08 AM
My daughter is a huge Jennifer McMahon fan. When I showed her Jennifer's recommendation and interview, she was hooked! I think she's going to start with MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE. I've read THE ROSE NOTES but I still need to check out the third book.
07-31-2012 10:59 AM
Lovely blog...I will have to get the book!
07-31-2012 11:58 AM
Becke, thanks for having me here!
I love Jennifer McMahon's books too . . .
Hi Emily! My daughter is a big reader but we don't always share the same tastes. I thought she'd like your books, but I had to catch my daughter's attention first! I think she's going to read the new book first - I'm building up her to-be-read pile!
07-31-2012 11:58 AM
07-31-2012 02:54 PM
07-31-2012 11:41 PM
Are you already working on your next book, Emily? (I guess I should ask if it's completed, which is probably more to the point!) I'm curious to see what topic you'll focus on the next time out. Can you give us any hints, or is it too soon to say?
08-01-2012 12:46 PM
Wow, that was a great interview of Emily done by Jennifer McMahon. I'm intrigued by Emily's use of women who have been big stars in classic country music. I was never a fan of the "twangy" country music, but have to say I've moved more towards country music in the past few years. Now my family members all think I'm kind of crazy when I hum or sing country tunes!
I'd be interested in knowing what Emily thinks of some of the current female country singers and how she thinks they measure up against the pioneers. Anyway, I'm adding Miss Me When I'm Gone to my TBR pile.
08-10-2012 08:25 PM
I just wanted everyone to know that I have a review and giveaway of Miss Me When I'm Gone posted on my blog. I can say the book wasn't for me, mainly linear and narrative issues, but I think most mystery fans will enjoy it.
Here is a link if anyone want's to try and win it: http://wordsmithonia.blogspot.com/2012/08/miss-me-