As the author of 14 best-selling novels — with a new book coming out in March — Jane Green is one of the country's most popular chick-lit writers. And yet she has this to say about her life as an author: "Every now and then, my 13-year-old son looks at me and starts laughing — he can't reconcile that some of his teachers or the moms of his friends get excited about me or my books when I'm just his regular, old mom."
Green is known for her character-driven stories filled with emotional appeal. The women she writes about are believable and generally likable characters, but their lives are also complicated and rooted in realities that keep them grounded — realities like teenage children.
On Tuesday, Green, who was born in London and lives now in Connecticut, will be appearing as part of the Baltimore Sun Book Club, a series of author appearances. She'll be talking about her most recent best-seller, "Family Pictures," a story that focuses on two women — both moms — who find themselves entwined in a disastrous midlife crisis. In an email interview, Green, 45, shared her thoughts about her success as an author, as well as some of her own feelings about the characters in "Family Pictures."
How did you come to write your first novel, and did that first novel get published? What was the process like that first time?
A friend of mine suddenly announced she had written a novel and got a publishing deal; I thought: Hang on ... if she can do it, I can bloody well do it too. That novel went to a bidding war, and went on to be a huge best-seller. It was completely terrifying, overwhelming and wonderful. I had no idea back in 1996 how much of a rarity it is to have that kind of success so quickly. My career since then has had its ups and downs, but I am enjoying the work now more than ever before, and still seem to have stories to tell.
When you started writing novels, what was your goal as an author?
I wanted to write stories I wanted to read, that I and my friends related to. My hope is that as I've grown and changed, my readers have grown and changed with me. I do have a lot of younger readers, which always amazes me given I am now writing about forty-something women, usually on the brink of a midlife crisis.
What's your writing process like, and where do you write?
I have a gorgeous office at home, but tend not to write there because there are so many distractions. I go to a little writer's room in town every day, with my laptop, and sit quietly for a few hours until I'm done. It's rarely more than four hours, and I'm usually done by lunchtime. Twice a year I take myself off to a writer's retreat where I do nothing but write for 10 hours a day, for a week. No kids, no dogs, no phone calls, no Wi-Fi ... all I do is lose myself in the world of my characters, and it is heaven!
There are two moms/wives in "Family Pictures" — Sylvie, who starts out happy and charming, and Maggie, who starts out superficial and ugly and then changes dramatically. Did one of these characters resonate more with you in the end? Which one are you more like?
I definitely saw myself in Sylvie, hopefully not too much of me in Maggie before the transformation. Maggie's transformation was lovely, and unexpected. Of course I had planned it, but didn't expect to fall so in love with the new Maggie.
At the start of "Family Pictures," a reader might think the book is about marriage, but as the story goes on it really becomes about mothers and daughters — including one daughter with an eating disorder. Was that shift in focus something that evolved as you were writing the book?
Very much so. I started with the focus on the two women, and it became increasingly clear that their defining relationships were with their daughters. The eating disorder storyline was never something I had planned, but as I kept writing, it was clear this was the thing to focus on.
How did you get inside teenage Eve's head so well to understand what it's like to have an eating disorder?
I struggled with an eating disorder when younger, and have read around the subject for years.
A scene with spoiled New York teenage girls is every mom's nightmare, but it also seemed to tap into a world of privilege where kids are often just too bored and so run into trouble. How did you do the research for this part of the book?
I know plenty of people with kids in elite, private schools, and had heard many stories. I have drifted into the homes of some of those very wealthy families in New York, and am fascinated with the dynamic, and how much freedom the children are given.
What are your own thoughts about wealth and privilege in families? How do parents avoid letting their kids become so bored? Do you think rich families tend to "outsource" their children's upbringing a little too much?
I think the key to everything is balance. Outsourcing can be very harmful, as can helicopter parenting, which doesn't teach children independence, nor how to deal with failure. If your children have a passion, be it sports, arts, theater, anything you can channel their energies into, they are less likely to go off the rails, although obviously, not all kids find their passion. Frankly, I'm the last person to go to for advice — most of the time I'm struggling to keep my head above water!
Jane Green, Between the Lines
Favorite free-time activities: "Mostly sleeping, thanks to Lyme disease, but when I'm not bedbound, cooking, gardening, making candles."
Book she's reading now: "The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P." by Adelle Waldman, although it's becoming increasingly clear I'm a little too old for it."
Favorite book she's read in the last year: "So many! I couldn't possibly whittle it down to one, but it includes "Beautiful Ruins" by Jess Walter, "Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson, and "May We Be Forgiven" by A.M. Homes."
Something readers would never guess about her: "I have an ill-advised tattoo. Actually, I now have half a tattoo because I tried to get it removed years ago, and it didn't quite work."
If you go
What: Jane Green will speak, followed by a Q&A session and book signing.
When: 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 23
Where: The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., downtown.
Tickets: $25; baltimoresun.com/bookclub or 410-332-6431.