Author Talk: March 9, 2007
March 9, 2007
Cassandra King is the bestselling author of MAKING WAVES, THE SUNDAY WIFE and THE SAME SWEET GIRLS. In this interview, King describes the real-life events that inspired her to write her fourth novel, QUEEN OF BROKEN HEARTS, and elaborates on its message about love and loss. She also discusses the recurring themes found in all of her work and shares her thoughts on the importance of finding humor in the most dire situations.
Question: Are there parts of this book that you drew from your life experience?
Cassandra King: Almost everything in the book I drew from personal experiences, which has been the case with my other fictional works. QUEEN OF BROKEN HEARTS came about this way, too. As I was revising my last book, my sister's twenty-year marriage was falling apart. My own divorce, years earlier, had been bad enough, but witnessing my sister's grief and being able to offer little comfort was a different kind of agony for me. At a signing in Atlanta several months later, serendipity intervened, and the idea for a book was born. I met a woman who conducted divorce recovery retreats, and I not only signed my sister up, I accompanied her in order to do research. Watching the women at the retreat bond with each other, and make the first steps toward recovery, moved me beyond words --- or so I thought, until I began working on QUEEN OF BROKEN HEARTS.
Q: What ties each of your books together despite the obvious Southern settings? Are there certain topics, themes, ethics, etc. that you tend to address, consciously or not, in each novel?
CK: This is my fourth novel, so recurring themes are becoming more obvious, to the point that I found myself deliberating avoiding them when writing this book. For example, all three of my previous books have dealt with the redemptive quality of art, so I wouldn't allow myself to have an artist, musician, or writer in this one. But another prevalent theme of mine, the redemptive value of friendship, is present in this book. As for topics, all of my principal characters come to crossroads in their lives and face difficult and life-changing decisions. Also, the stories tend to be set in small towns, where everyone's life is more open to scrutiny. It's been pointed out to me that my books deal with the search for beauty and meaning in life, which isn't conscious on my part; I think this is what life is ultimately about for all of us.
Q: How were you able to go into such detail regarding birds in this book? Do the birds serve as particular metaphors?
CK: I'm an amateur birder and have a lot of material on birds, as well as several pairs of binoculars, notes, birdfeeding paraphernalia, and so forth. Bird-watching is one of the greatest joys of my life. In QUEEN OF BROKEN HEARTS, the birds at the retreat site worked nicely as a metaphor for the wounded participants who came seeking healing and the wings to fly again.
Q: Even though this book features a divorce therapist who deals with broken hearts on a daily basis, there are a lot of humorous scenes, as in your other books. Do you see humor as an essential part of a good story?
CK: Humor may not be necessary in a good story, but I believe it's absolutely essential to a good life. I gauge the seriousness of events in my personal life based on whether or not I can find any humor in them. If not, I know I'm in danger of allowing depression to take over. Obviously, we all experience tragedies that are far from funny, and I'm not suggesting we treat them otherwise. Even in the worst tragedy, however, humor can be cathartic and healing. I based a scene in QUEEN OF BROKEN HEARTS on something that occurred when my sister was at the lowest point in her divorce. She's a kindergarten teacher, and her staid and respectable teacher friends took a boat out on a lake near her ex-husband's house, where they mooned him. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about here.
Q: Do you see this book as a cautionary tale about love, marriage, and divorce, or not?
CK: No, I don't see the book as a cautionary tale, a 400-page treatise, or a how-to manual on surviving divorce. Instead, it is a story of love and passion, betrayal and heartbreak, loss and recovery. It deals with the ties that bind us to others, whether in family, friendship, courtship, or marriage. Mainly, I think the book is about the way that all of us struggle to make these crucial relationships work. In doing so, our hearts can, and often do, get broken. We can be disillusioned and hurt to the point where we ask ourselves if it's worth it, if loving others is worth the risk. And that's the core of the story. In QUEEN OF BROKEN HEARTS, each of my characters has been wounded by love, each in a different way; and each one has responded according to his or her willingness to take the risk. Ultimately, life is about loss and letting go --- not of the loss, but of the pain.