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Interview: March 22, 2013

In Jane Green’s latest novel, FAMILY PICTURES, two women’s lives intersect when a shocking secret is revealed. Green talked with’s Norah Piehl about her fascinating female protagonists, along with the book’s contrasting settings and the huge surprise at the center of the story. She also reveals which of her main characters she fell in love with immediately, some of her favorite books and writers (particularly in the suspense genre), and the plot line of her next novel, which she has already completed. Your writing career has evolved substantially since you wrote STRAIGHT TALKING and JEMIMA J more than 10 years ago. Instead of focusing primarily on romantic concerns of young single women, your books now often explore issues surrounding modern marriage and parenting. Do you think your work has evolved to reflect where you are in your own life?

Jane Green: I have always thought my books have charted the course of my life, without being about my life. I never tell my story, but have always drawn from what I know. Whether it was being single and living in the city in my 20s, to going through divorce, etc, I have looked to the themes of my life for inspiration. Some of my favorite books have been taken less from my life, as more from the lives of those I see around me. The themes of Family Pictures were very definitely not mine, but were sparked from a couple of families I knew, and what I imagined might go on behind closed doors.

BRC: There's a big surprise --- to put it mildly --- at the center of FAMILY PICTURES. Has it been difficult talking about the book without giving away the secret?

JG: Impossible! The surprise is also the big sell! I still haven't quite figured out how to talk about the book without giving it away. I am heartened by the fact that some of the online reviews said they knew it was coming from the beginning, but it didn't change their enjoyment of the story and seeing what happened to the characters.

BRC: It must have been tricky to figure out how to structure the novel to give the surprise the maximum impact. Did you know from the beginning how the story would unfold and the way that you would go about telling it?

JG: I had a vague idea, but my first draft was far more jumbled up. My very talented and brilliant editor unravelled my mess in order for us to put it back together in a way that made sense. I truly couldn't have done it on my own.

BRC: FAMILY PICTURES portrays two very different women, Sylvie and Maggie. Both of them are appealing in their own ways, but both are also flawed. Did you find one of the female characters easier to develop than the other?

JG: Interestingly I adored Sylvie right from the beginning. I put a lot of my creative yearnings into her, and was terrified I wouldn't empathise or understand Maggie in the same way. And yet, I grew to love Maggie very quickly, particularly once she moves away from Connecticut and starts to rebuild her life.

BRC: The novel also has two contrasting settings --- a wealthy New York City suburb and more laid-back La Jolla, California. Since you live in Connecticut, I'm assuming that describing that world --- and giving it a satirical bite --- was easy for you. What was it like to write about the very different cultural milieu of Sylvie's California home town?

JG: Sylvie's California home town is where I secretly wished I lived. I have lived in Connecticut for 12 years and love it, but each time I find myself travelling to California, I find myself fantasising about living there. The weather! The gardening I could do! The wine! Which is, of course, the beauty of being a novelist: all those unsung dreams can go straight into the novel.

BRC: Both Sylvie and Maggie cope with their daughters' health crises. In Maggie's case, her daughter Grace turns to alcohol to deal with family turbulence. In Sylvie's case, her daughter Eve wages a long and nearly fatal battle with eating disorders. What did you want your novel to say about parenting, specifically about the relationship between mothers and adolescent daughters?

JG: I wish I could say I had a definitive message about parents and children in trouble, but sadly I think each case is unique, and painful, and impossible to understand. Perhaps the only thing I might say is taken from al-anon: those with family and friends struggling with addiction have to understand the Three C's: I didn't cause it; I can't control it; I can't cure it. And the other great lesson is learning to detach with love.

BRC: Your descriptions of Eve's anorexia and bulimia are particularly harrowing. Do you have any personal familiarity with the disease through friends and family? Were these scenes as difficult to write as they were to read?

JG: They were incredibly difficult to write, yet also easy because of my familiarity with the disease. 

BRC: You first started writing when you lived in the UK, where you grew up. Now, as I mentioned, you live in Connecticut but still have a huge fan base overseas. How does connecting with your readers in the UK help maintain your ties to your home country?

JG: I love how my UK readers make me laugh on Facebook. No one else quite understands the humor, and sometimes they'll bring up a childhood TV show, or song, or book that sweeps me back. Last year I was on tour in the UK, and I met one of my readers who I have corresponded with for years. It was overwhelmingly lovely.

BRC: You include an honest and sometimes quite funny blog on your website. Do you enjoy blogging? Do you feel that your readers are able to see a different side of you or understand your work better by reading your blog?

JG: I tend to write on Facebook these days rather than blog, and I'm usually a little nervous. I'll write pretty much anything I'm thinking about, whether it's thoughts on writing, to thoughts on Taylor Swift. I'm always humorous, or at least try to be, and constantly have to be careful because the English humor is definitely edgier than Americans are used to, and I feel terrible when I get all these affronted comments. It's also a little mystifying: I can't think why they're following me or indeed reading my books if they really don't understand my humor.

BRC: I read on your blog that you have already completed your next novel after FAMILY PICTURES. Can you give us a hint as to what it's about? 

JG: I am just finishing a book about a woman in her 40s going through a mid-life crisis. Married to a wonderful man, with two great kids, she isn't unhappy, it's just that life is a bit...dull. When a younger man starts paying attention to her, at first she responds, not because she would ever have an affair, but because it's so lovely to be noticed, to feel alive again. But where do you draw the line, and is it possible to draw the line before it's too late?

BRC: I know that you're an avid cook. What is your favorite dinner to prepare after a long day of writing?

JG: Takeout. But if my children insist, Toad in the Hole, which is a uniquely English dish of pork sausages cooked in Yorkshire Pudding, which is basically a giant popover.

BRC: What writers do you read for enjoyment or inspiration?

JG: Since Gillian Flynn's GONE GIRL I have fallen headlong into an obsession with suspense novels. I have loved STILL MISSING by Chevy Stevens and INTO THE DARKEST CORNER by Elizabeth Haynes. Other authors I love are Jonathan Tropper, Laura Dave, Armistead Maupin, Dani Shapiro and Ann Patchett.