Monday, June 29, 2009

Girlfriend Visiting: Everyone She Loved

"Curran is a beautiful writer, both witty and evocative, and she knows how to keep a reader riveted. I was up way past my bedtime, unable to stop turning pages. I had to know what happened to this family. Read this book, then pass it on to your dearest friend. She'll thank you."
-- Joshilyn Jackson, bestselling author of Gods in Alabama and Between, Georgia

The amazing Sheila Curran. Her new book EVERYONE SHE LOVED is causing good friends to become better friends, better friends to become best friends, and best friends to be bonded for life. It's also the talk of books groups. Sheila herself is astonishing--her website has a surprise on every page. And I mean--a real surprise. A laugh. A tear. A connection. And she's probably lived in your hometown.
Go visit. You won't be sorry. But first--pull up a chair. She and I had a little chat.

HANK: You and I get into an elevator on the first floor. We're both going to 22! Oh, I say, you're the famous author. What's your new book about? You say:

SHEILA: Four women, friends since college, live in a charming southern beach town. One of them, Penelope, has more money than God. Which may be why she insists on playing the deity from time to time. Despite her beauty and inherited wealth, she becomes preoccupied with what might happen to her husband and children if she died. So she talks her husband into signing a codicil to her will.
If she should die, he won’t remarry unless the new wife (and more importantly) mother, has been approved by her sister and three best friends. Years go by, the codicil gathers dust, and more than its share of hilarity, until the unthinkable happens and everyone she loved must find their way without Penelope.
Simply told, it’s old money in the New South, romantic confusion, legal entanglements, and the unbreakable bonds between four women – and a man.

HANK: Do you remember the moment you had the idea for the book? How and when did that happen?
SHEILA: Books are born in strange places. This one was conceived in the front seat of a car.

No, not that kind of conception. My friend Julianna was driving. Our daughters were chatting in the back seat. I was talking about an article I’d written for McCall’s about two young girls in Arizona whose parents had died within months of each other. “Did you know that in some states, if there isn’t a will, the kids can be sent to foster care?”

The girls in my story weren’t so unfortunate. Their mother had named her best friends, another pair of sisters, as the children’s guardians. ”Just make sure you chose someone to take over if something happens to you.”

From there we talked about difficult it would be to chose which couple among one’s siblings and friends would best be suited for the job. Where did one couple’s permissiveness slide into overindulgence, another’s consistency into unbearable strictness? The idea of dying was hard enough, but figuring out which couple would most love your kids in your absence? Impossible.

We paused in our conversation just long enough for my brain to settle on yet another catastrophic possibility. “You know what would be worse?” I asked. “What if I died and John (my husband) married someone awful? I’d have no control at all!”

Another pause. “Unless,” I continued. “I could get him to agree that if he remarried, my sisters and friends would check out the bride. Make sure she wasn’t some kind of wicked stepmother.”

And thus was hatched the idea of EVERYONE SHE LOVED, a novel that explores the faith one woman placed in her dearest friends, the care she took to protect her family, and the many ways in which romantic entanglements will confound and confuse even the most determined of planners.

HANK: Your main character--is she you?
SHEILA: Well, there’s some question about who my main character is. Even though most of my book takes place after Penelope is gone, I certainly share her hyperbolic imagination and desire to control the uncontrollable. Lucy, her best friend, who takes over the care and tending of her children is a painter. The way she feels about her art is something of the way I feel about mine, protective, and willing to give up just about anything to be allowed to keep doing it. Martha, the smart-ass lawyer whose temper sometimes gets her into trouble, well..what can I say? And Clover, who thinks she can sing and gets the lyrics wrong, again, there’s something there of me.

HANK: So--movie time. Tell us who you envision playing your main character?
SHEILA: I picture Catherine Keener (who played Harper Lee on Capote, and the love interest in 40 year old virgin) as Lucy (who could also be played by Kate Winslet or Scarlett Johanssen.) Penelope should either be Penelope Cruz (who I’d love to see play a southerner) or Holly Hunter. Someone who can carry off imperious, charming, lovable and just a little bit over-the-top. I’m sure I’ve forgotten who else could play her. Martha should be Ellen Barkin or Cameron Diaz.
The love interest? McDreamy on Grey’s Anatomy. Patrick Dempsey? Or Daniel Day Lewis, or Liam Neeson. A bad guy? Phillip Seymour Hoffman could play the meddling relatives, tweedledee and tweedledum, twins from England. And for the perfectionist dance instructor Siobhan? Ooh, I think Sarah Jessica Parker or Kyra Sedgewick could do her up just right.
HANK: And you can be in the movie too--what part would you play?
SHEILA: I’d play Penelope’s clueless stepsister, Clover. Why? Oh, because she’s so unintentionally funny and carries with her the insecurity of having her mother abandon her at the age of 6. She still thinks it’s because she failed to place in the beauty pageant finals and has spent the rest of her life trying hard to become the sort of person who’d please her enough to get her back.

HANK: Do you read other people books while you're in the writing process? How does that affect you?
SHEILA: Oh, yes. Reading is my major form of entertainment. I’m not sure how it affects me but I think that because I read so quickly, if their style creeps into my prose, it will be edited out during the fifty thousandth time I read the manuscript during the revisions phase. I am continually learning from, and inspired by, other writers.

HANK: What's the very best line of the very best review you've gotten? So far, of course.
SHEILA: “…This is a gem.” Booklist. A starred review. Or maybe it was Jodi Picoult’s “warm, funny, inventive and original novel.” Or maybe Julianna Baggott’s “the unbreakable bonds between women have found their greatest writer in Sheila Curran.”

HANK: . What was your favorite book as a child?
HANK: Do you still love it?

HANK:. What's your secret indulgence?
SHEILA: Home and Garden Television, Real Housewives of New York, New Jersey and Atlanta, the Food Channel. Pasta of any kind. Any chick-flick.
HANK: What would you buy on a day of shopping?
SHEILA: Sheets. Cannot get enough of linens. Oh, and if money were no object? Art and oriental carpets.

HANK: What's one thing no one knows about you?
SHEILA: Gosh, Hank, I’m not sure there’s even one thing no one knows me. Tactfully put, I have a high level of disclosure. Or as one friend put it, a psychologist, “Sheila, your id is right on top of your skin!” (I had to ask what id meant, of course, and I guess it’s the part that knows what to keep secret and what not.)

HANK: Do you remember when you typed "The End?" What happened next?
SHEILA: I set the book aside for a few weeks and then came back to read it with fresh eyes. I probably celebrated by giving myself a ‘get out of guilt free’ day.
A final thought from Sheila:
"I have been kept alive, literally and figuratively, by the affection and support of my family and friends, whose sum total is my proudest boast and matters much more to me than my bank balance or intelligence quotient."


"And so our stories go..." said...

Interesting interview. Love your new book.

Sunnymay said...

Evocative story which raises the question, "What if I should die?", making me feel vulnerable. Then tosses conditions on a will spelling out the next "Mrs." needs approval of relatives. I've heard of prenups and wills, but didn't know about codicils. It seems like a supplement to a will used only by the wealthy to direct more care from the grave than usual. I like the premise of this story.