Suzanne Hayes & Loretta Nyhan discuss their collaboration on I'll be Seeing You, and how they came to write the novel.
Is it really true that, as of the date of this interview, you've never met each other in person? How did you connect initially, and how did you come to write a novel together? What has that experience been like for each of you?
Yes! It's true. We haven't met yet. Sometimes this surprises us. It feels like we have, but we only know each other through phone calls and email conversations.
Suzy: I was blogging and connecting with other writers online. I remember the day that Loretta launched her blog. It was announced over a set of other writer blogs. I clicked on over and there she was! Writing about organic food and the Beatles. I commented on her posts, and she started commenting on mine. A friendship was born. I think it took us about a year to shift over to phone conversations, and it was during one of those conversations that we expressed our desire to write something completely for ourselves, for fun. I suggested letters back and forth via email. We agreed on setting the letters in WWII, and then I sent off the first email, in character, and hoped for the best. When I got the first email back, I was elated. Soon the letters were flying between us. A story was forming as a friendship was growing. It was a very exciting time.
Loretta: The way this novel came together is a classic example of the "happy accident," which, of course, means it was meant to be. When the first letter came it was like a shock to my system. I was consumed with the need to write back, and that feeling never changed throughout the whole process. This experience has been one lovely surprise after another.
What was your inspiration for I'll Be Seeing You? How, if at all, have your own personalities and experiences informed the characters of Glory and Rita?
With both of us trying to get writing careers off the ground, we were spending a lot of time thinking about what it means to wait. We were talking to each other almost daily. It was the support that we needed, someone else going through the same experience. It seemed only natural that we would write about two women who were in a stressful situation and leaning on each other for support. I don't really think we discussed that part of it, though I think we stumbled into it. We both share a passion for similar historical eras, and we both like the research part of the writing.
Suzy: Glory is younger than I am, but she looks at life the same way. Her idealism, her sometimes selfish-without-knowing-it behavior is a lot like my own. The part of her character that is most related to me is the house and town where she lives. I grew up visiting Rockport, Massachusetts, every summer. It lives inside my heart. When I was thinking about where I wanted to spend my time in these letters, there simply was no other choice.
Loretta: Rita is bolder and more outwardly opinionated than I am; however, I do love to give advice (sometimes when I probably shouldn't). I also have a husband and two sons, and though it was disturbing, I forced myself to imagine what I would feel if I had to send them off to war. It certainly wasn't fun, but it helped give those letters a necessary emotional depth. There were tears, though, lots and lots of tears!
You've created such a rich and memorable cast of characters in this novelparticularly Glory and Rita, but also Levi, Robert, Roylene and even the incomparable Mrs. K.! When you started the book, did you have all of the characters and their journeys mapped out in your heads, or did they reveal themselves to you as you wrote? In what ways did the characters surprise you along the way? What was the greatest character morph as you wrote and revised the novel?
Suzy: I didn't have anything planned. I wrote a letter (the first in the book) and sent it off. When I received Rita's first letter, and real characters were starting to emerge, I responded to her in character. Soon, my own cast of characters came through the keyboard. They surprised me as they showed up. They had so much to say! For me, the character that changed the most was Glory. She grew up during the revision process. It was an amazing experience, helping her grow from spoiled child to wise adult. (Well maybe not always so wise )
Loretta: When I got Suzy's wonderful first letter, Rita appeared and just started talking. I know how that sounds, but sometimes characters show up with fully formed lives. I knew Rita would have a crazy neighbor. I knew she would be overprotective of her only son. I knew her husband would be a real sweetie, and I knew what would happen to him. Her story was there; I just discovered more and more of it as time went on. The only real surprise for me was Roylene. Just like Rita, I didn't expect her to become so dear to me.
What can you tell us about your next novel?
We want to tell you EVERYTHING about our newest novel! It's so exciting to write about new characters. The historical era we chose was the progressive era: 1917-1920 America. It's about two sisters, Pasadena and India Adams, who find themselves cast out by family misfortune. They end up in Manhattan with two very different agendas: Pasadena is determined to earn enough money to buy back their family home, and India just wants to grab up everything the city has to offer.
The girls find themselves living on the top floor of a tenement in the overcrowded Lower East Side. They quickly learn that survival will be more difficult than they planned. Instead of finding solace in each other, the sisters search for their brother, Kingston, who disappeared into the chaotic city. As the girls' separate lives begin to intersect in ways they'd never imagined, it's Kingston who they hope will sort things outif they can only find him.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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