Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Interview with L. Alison Heller, Author of The Never Never Sisters + Giveaway! (US only)

I'd like to welcome debut author L. Alison Heller to the blog today to celebrate the publication of her newest novel, The Never Never Sisters, out today from NAL Trade Paperbacks, a Penguin imprint.

Welcome to Books à la Mode, Alison! Let's get this interview started.

Will you please share a brief bio with us?

L. Alison Heller grew up in Connecticut and attended Bates College in Maine. After graduation, she wandered dreamily around the eastern seaboard, temping and interning and shelving books, trying a little of this and a little of that, before landing in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Having hit her limit for dreamy wandering, she enrolled at the University of North Carolina School of Law. In 2000, she graduated from UNC with honors and moved to New York City, where she toiled in several law firms, growing increasingly nostalgic for those days of dreamy wandering. Alison opened her own family law and mediation practice in 2006 to help couples divorce with their sanity intact.

Alison is the author of The Love Wars (Penguin), and her second novel, The Never Never Sisters (also Penguin), hits shelves today.

Alison currently lives in Brooklyn with her family and is right now probably working on someone’s divorce or on her next novel or riding on the New York City subway, dragging or being dragged by at least one child on a scooter. (Don’t be fooled by Alison’s modest blush—the subway dragging is every bit as glamorous as it sounds.)

Readers, here's a bit about the book, which is out now!

An absorbing, highly entertaining novel about family secrets, The Never Never Sisters introduces you to the strong-willed and big-hearted Reinhardt women, as they reunite one summer in New York. Gifted storyteller L. Alison Heller has written another witty and moving page-turner that will captivate readers and keep them guessing right up until the satisfying end.

Sometimes you just need to get away….

Marriage counselor Paige Reinhardt is counting down the days to summer, eager to reconnect with her workaholic husband at their cozy rental cottage in the Hamptons. But soon a mysterious crisis at Dave’s work ruins their getaway plans. Paige is still figuring out how to handle the unexplained chill in her marriage when her troubled sister suddenly returns after a two-decade silence. Now, instead of enjoying the lazy summer days along the ocean, Paige is navigating the rocky waters of a forgotten bond with her sister in the sweltering city heat.

As she attempts to dig deeper into Dave’s work troubles and some long-held family secrets, Paige is shocked to discover how little she knows about the people closest to her. This summer, the self-proclaimed relationship expert will grapple with her biggest challenge yet: Is it worth risking your most precious relationships in order to find yourself?

What was the original inspiration for the story?

It all started with Dave and his betrayal. And, as they always do, things twisted and turned from there.

I understand—on a gut level—that parental rush to defense when a kid does something horrible. But what about when it’s someone you married? If you think you know someone better than anyone—and then you learn something that disrupts that narrative—do you change the narrative or do backbends trying to smoothly incorporate the new fact?

I think people probably do both—and maybe degrees of each every day—and I wanted to explore that. And as readers of The Love Wars might know, I’m a bit fascinated by the big law firm culture. During my time working at various offices, there were colleagues who got disciplined for getting caught doing (ahem) untoward things. I never stopped wondering about their spouses. I thought it would be especially interesting if the pair dealing with such a conflict was a “golden couple”: supremely blessed on the surface with some hidden baggage.

At the end of the book, Paige has loosened the strings of some of those crucial relationships and reinforced others. Without giving too much away, were you trying to explore what’s forgivable in a marriage?

Absolutely. And explore how people reconcile two fundamental and opposing truths:

That there’s a basic, human need for attachment and connection.
That the human experience is a singular one.

I think so much of life is reconciling these two facts. As Orson Welles said, "We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone." (Cheers, everyone!)

About halfway through writing this novel, I had just dropped off my daughter at school when I passed a couple on the street corner. They were—rather romantically and dramatically—kissing each other goodbye before heading off to their offices or wherever they were going. They looked so unbearably sad about parting, and then, in the moment after they did, the woman blithely skipped down the steps to the subway as though the only thing on her mind was not missing the train. It was like seeing two different people. (For a while this was the opening scene in the novel.)

There’s this romantic ideal about two people going off into the sunset on a horse (or in a carriage or a flying convertible like in Grease). But you know once they’ve been on that horse for a while, someone will get thirsty when the other will want to keep going until they reach the destination. Someone will want to help that guy on the side of the road and the other will think he’s a serial killer. Everyone makes bargains in their relationships. Everyone lets their principles slide or evolve at some point to honor their connections—it’s just a question of knowing where your lines are at any given moment.

Because, as the above Orson Welles’s quote ends, "only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone."

It's interesting how Paige, a marriage counselor, helps couples find their way back to each other as she grapples with issues in her own marriage. At one point she says to Percy, “I’m not like my clients.” Did you make her a marriage counselor to provide that contrast?

This is an especially funny question because Paige did a lot of floundering in the early drafts, before she became a marriage counselor. She tutored a bit for standardized tests. She dabbled in grad school (medical, dental) and she spent a lot of time and effort beautifying and mixing up health shakes filled with things like flaxseed and kale protein powder. (I don’t know if there is such as thing as kale protein powder, actually. But it does sound healthy and it would have totally been up Paige’s alley.)

None of that felt one hundred percent right, though. Paige had to be a woman of opinions, someone who thought she’d figured out all the answers for relating. I’m a divorce lawyer and mediator as well as a wife—how couples relate and bond or dissolve in the face of external forces and internal conflict is of lifelong fascination to me.

Paige’s job change felt very natural. It made a lot in the story click and, really, she was much happier and stronger as soon as we gave her that job. (My editor and I both breathed a little sigh of relief.) Frankly, it was nice to give her that anchor, because she gets quite a lot thrown at her, including that being a marriage counselor doesn’t give you an automatic answer guide to your own relationships.

What surprised you the most in writing the book?

I love this question because being surprised while writing a novel is unavoidable, as well as one of the best parts.

Aside from how very many drafts it took, I’d say the biggest surprise was the evolution of certain characters. A lot shifts as I draft, but one constant here on the journey from idea to completed manuscript was the substance of Dave’s “lie” and how it impacts Paige and Dave’s marriage. I was not expecting to become as fond of Dave as I did, or that there would be such genuine compatibility between him and Paige. I’m so glad I stuck it out with him, because it complicated Paige’s choice and forced her to explore her personal belief system: what makes one transgression forgivable and another not? I’m very curious how readers felt about Dave throughout the book, so please—shoot me an email. I’d love to hear!

Vanessa surprised me too. Her journal entries kept getting deeper and deeper. Finally my editor suggested I expand her points of view in the contemporary timeline, which, in my opinion added another layer of dimension to the story. Vanessa is a little tricky: she builds massive walls and is also incredibly, piercingly honest, especially in her journals. I loved writing those entries; I think a lot of people tap into something different voice-wise when they write and that was very liberating to explore how open and raw she was.

Obviously this is primarily Paige’s story, but Vanessa helped The Never Never Sisters come together. She mines a lot of the themes I wanted to explore—how the struggle to find your own truth dovetails with the struggle of those closest to you, how one’s own narrative and identity impacts parenting style and experience and the role of familial expectation in all of it.

Where can you be found on the web?

Thank you for stopping by the blog today, Alison! It was incredible getting insight on the book and its developmental process. Congrats again on the new release, and best of luck with future endeavors!


Books à la Mode is giving away a print copy of The Never Never Sisters—woohoo! To enter, all you have to do is tell me:
Tell me about your most interesting sibling—what's your story? If you are an only child, tell me about a best friend who could be your brother or sister.

Don't forget to include your email address in your comment so I know who to contact when I randomly select winner. Don't make me track you down! No email = No entry!!!!
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Alison and I really want to hear your thoughts! :)

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publicist—a huge thank you to Wunderkind PR!
Giveaway ends June 17th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US readers only. Sorry, rest of the world! Please check out the top of my sidebar where there is a list of currently running giveaways that are open internationally.
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!