Mothers & Other Liars by Amy Bourret.
A Pen & Palette Book Review and Author Interview
Literary agent Nathan Bransford has a terrific blog, and on August 3 he did a post called, “Writing vs. Storytelling.” I was thinking about his words as I finished reading my friend, Amy Bourret’s, first novel, “Mothers & Other Liars,” last week. Why? For two reasons:
I found Amy’s STORY to be compelling—I was turning pages and wanting to know what happens next, and that means it’s a good story. But…
I found the prose to be a little less smooth and polished than I hoped for. That said, she has a published book and I don’t, so I’m not casting stones, just observing. And, as Nathan said in his blog post, “… in today's publishing world you need an extremely high degree of craft in order to be published.” So maybe her craft is more polished than I realize. Again, I don’t have a book out there yet!
Or maybe it’s her style or genre that I’m having a hard time pin-pointing. In this past Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, there’s a nice essay by Pamela Paul called, “The Kids’ Books Are All Right.” It’s about how so many adults are reading and enjoying books that belong in the “Young Adult,” (YA) genre, and WHY. Paul quotes Amanda Foreman (42-year-old mother of five and published author) as saying:
“A lot of adult literature is all art and no heart…. But good Y.A. is like good television. There’s a freshness there; it’s engaging.”
Like good television. That’s what I felt when I was reading “Mothers & Other Liars,”—that it read very much like good screen writing. The short (2-3 page) chapters. The jumping quickly from scene to scene. And although the subject matter is mature, one of the main characters is a nine-year-old girl, so I’m sure the YA audience would find it gripping, as I did.
And now, about the author. Amy and I met this past January at the Pulpwood Queens’ Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas. We were both kind of odd-women-out at the event, since neither of us were published author-presenters, and we weren’t part of any of the Pulpwood Queens book clubs, either. But what I found out after visiting with Amy was that she was an author-in-waiting… waiting for her book to come out in August! So when she got her advance copies, I asked for one so I could review it here on my blog. “Mothers & Other Liars” hit the bookstores on August 3, and has been chosen as a Target Stores Breakout Book! I’m so thrilled for Amy and wish her much success on her book tour and beyond! And now, for a quick interview.
5 Q & A with Amy Bourret
P&P: Hi, Amy. Thanks for taking time from your book launch tour to “chat” with my readers here at Pen and Palette. I know this is a busy and exciting time for you. When we met, at the Pulpwood Queens’ Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas, back in January, you had a book deal and a publishing date, but no book in hand yet. How does it feel to finally be at the point of seeing Mothers & Other Liars in print?
AB: It's been amazing. When I first received the Advance Readers Copy in April, I was giddy, and then to have the real book in hand, well, I thought it couldn't get much better than that. But it did. I have been so touched by the readers who have contacted me to tell me how much they loved the novel and the ways it resonated with them.
P&P: I just read a terrific interview with Jodi Picoult in Writer’s Digest. I noticed that you’ve been compared with Picoult in some of the blurbs for Mothers & Other Liars. In her WD interview, Picoult named Charles Dickens as #8 on her list of top 10 writers she admires. She said: “I like to think he created the genre I write: moral and ethical fiction. You tell a story about compelling characters, and somehow, through the back door, you get your reader thinking about tough issues that most of us would prefer not to discuss.” Do you consider your novel to fit into this fiction sub-genre, what Picoult calls “moral and ethical fiction”?
AB: That's probably a pretty good description. I think of myself as a moral and ethical person, but I didn't particularly set out to write a "moral" story -- I just wrote the story that wanted to be written. I am flattered, though, to be compared to Jodi.
P&P: I’m always interested in what writers did before they published books. As a lawyer, how did your work with child advocacy organizations spark the ideas for your debut novel? Did you actually deal with a child like Lark, or someone in a situation similar to Ruby’s?
AB: It was more just the general experience. A child builds her own life from the foundation of her family environment life. If that environment is abuse or neglect or incest, when she is removed from the situation she faces reshaping her life with a new definition of “normal.” I think my experiences of working with scared and scarred children are wrapped into the reasons my protagonist, Ruby, makes the choices she makes.
P&P: As the mother of three (now grown) adopted children, I have a question about something you had Ruby say to Chaz, the father of their unborn child. Not to give away too much about the plot here, I’ll just say that she was talking about what it might be like for their child to grow up in someone else’s care, to be adopted by someone else. Her words were, “A child who would never know the difference, who wouldn’t be scarred for life. A child who would be loved. Just by someone else.” My experience with other adoptive mothers and their adopted children is that the child more often than not does know the difference, and that they often suffer greatly because of the abandonment of their birth parents. I guess this is the type of discussion that you hope will take place in book clubs and reading groups, but as the author of these words, did you do any research into issues like this?”
AB: I do know that adoptive children generally do recognize the difference -- that is why, as I understand it, the trend is moving toward open adoptions. I received wrenching essays from adoptive children and mothers when I was working on an anthology about choices women make when faced with unwanted pregnancies (the book never made it to publication because almost all of the stories we heard were about adoption, and we couldn't make the book balanced in representing the choices of keeping the child or terminating the pregnancy). That being said, Ruby is feeling desperate and is speaking to Chaz from her own perspective—and trying to persuade him to agree with her.
As to your other comment, again, I didn't set out to write a "controversial" novel—that’s just where the story took me—but I am glad that the story is sticking with people and sparking debate. I've heard from a number of book clubs who have selected Mothers and Other Liars, and I'm looking forward to hearing about their lively discussions, which should be especially lively when they include some wine!
P&P: One final question, Amy. What are you working on next? Is there another book in progress, and if so, will it also spring from your experiences in the legal realm?
AB: I am working on my next novel, which St. Martin's will be publishing. I think all novels spring from the writers' experiences, either personally or through observation, and I am sure some of my own experiences, in work and in life, will be threaded through the story. But, no, it is not a "legal" story per se. (How's that for tacking on a legal term to the end of this question!)
P&P: Thanks for taking time to respond to my questions, Amy. And good luck with your book tour (see photo) and your new work-in-progress!
AB: Thank you so much for the privilege of speaking with you and your readers. I hope this post sparks some lively discussion! I'd be happy to respond to any further questions and requests to visit book clubs through my website.