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Take 5 with Jennifer Crusie

[1]Maybe This Time [2] is Jennifer Crusie’s new book, landing on bookshelves everywhere today. This is her first solo novel since the wildly popular Bet Me, which won the 2004 RITA.)

Maybe This Time is smart and quirky, brimming with the trademark Crusie repartee. Here, with a Take 5 to whet your appetites, is Jennifer Crusie [3].

Q: Jenny, what’s the premise of your new book, Maybe This Time?

Andie Miller is trying to settle down, something she’s never been any good at, so before she gets married to an impatient fiance, she goes to sever her ties with her ex-husband, North. He asks her for one last favor: he has inherited guardianship of two children, and he needs someone to go to the isolated house where they’re living, evaluate their needs, and bring them to the city. Should take about a month. But when Andie gets there she finds that the children are hellions, the housekeeper is creepy, the house may be haunted, and she still has feelings for her North. Trouble ensues.

Q: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?

Andie and North both have intimacy issues and communication problems that they were never going to solve on their own. But when two children enter the mix (what Henry James called “another turn of the screw”), they have to take the risk and connect, both to the kids and then to each other if they’re going to save the kids. And the fact that the kids don’t want them means they have to go way outside their comfort zones. Add to that a cast of supporting characters who are, each in his or her own way, trying for second chances, and you have a lot of desperate people in one big house, which puts Andie and North under even more pressure.

Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?

I think exploring the relationship between the little girl Alice and Andie. I haven’t written many children, but Alice is such a fully formed person for me, so strong and independent and at the same time so desperate for a mother, and the way she and Andie grow together, neither one really wanting a mother-daughter relationship but getting it anyway, was difficult but in the end incredibly rewarding. The other aspect was making the ghosts real, especially May, so that you could understand why there were there, that they weren’t just things that went bump in the night but need and regret and anger and jealousy and all the things the living were, just distilled into purer form. It was such a different way to write character, and that was very freeing.

Q: I seem to remember a time when you were thinking about a ghost story quite a long time back. Is this the same book, and if so, can you pinpoint what brings a particular book to ripeness? What drew you to the idea of writing about ghosts?

A very long time ago, long before I became a fiction writer, I was working on my masters in feminist literature and wrote a journal entry for a class about how I’d rewrite the classic heroines. Evangeline would stop wandering around, start a fast food franchise with her face on it, and let Gabriel find her. Madame Bovary would look at the losers who surrounded her and decide to emigrate instead of eating arsenic. Hester Pryne would set up shop as as a master embroiderer and charge the townswomen through the nose for her needlework. But it was the governess in The Turn of the Screw that I felt the most for because her employer had charmed her and then sent her into hell. In my version, when the ghosts showed up, she’d have called him and said, “Get your butt down here, this place is haunted.” The poor woman doesn’t even have a name. That was the one that stayed with me for fifteen years; I really wanted a shot at the governess, even though I love The Turn of the Screw. So I moved the story to 1992 and told it again and realized that many things had to change, both because of societal changes and because of the kind of books I write. So a lot of things became inverted. For example, James’s twenty-year-old governess falls prey to the ghosts because she’s isolated; if she’d had somebody older and smarter there who could say, “Get the hell out of here,” she’d have been okay. But thirty-four-year-old Andie runs into trouble because she’s not isolated; as long as it’s just her and the kids she doesn’t haven’t much trouble because she’s calm and experienced with kids in particular and life in general, so there’s not much emotion for the ghosts to feed on. But when people start showing up at the door and passions rise, the ghosts become dangerously strong. So it was really James’s book and not ghosts per se that drew me. Still once I was into the narrative, the idea of the emotional ghosts that haunt us, the things left undone and unsaid, coupled with real ghosts, spirits with unfinished business, unable or unwilling to move on, became very compelling. There are a lot of people in this book, living and dead, who want do-overs, and I think that’s a compelling motive: Just give me one more chance and maybe this time I won’t screw up.

Q. You have one the most unique voices in romance and women’s fiction–two parts smart, one part snark, and one part pure heart. Who are some of your influences?

Well, first, thank you, that’s a wonderful compliment, especially coming from you. Influences. Dorothy Parker, Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen (I love the honesty of Elizabeth Bennet when she says she first began to love Darcy when she saw Pemberley), Margery Allingham, Rex Stout . . . I read so voraciously when I was a kid, but those are the writers I went back to over and over again. if I had to pick one, it would be Heyer. I remember thinking when I began to write fiction, that I wanted to do the same thing for readers that Heyer had done for me, putting on the page those wonderful heroines who never gave up, those steady heroes who knew who they were and didn’t have to swagger around proving it, and those terrific plots crammed with vivid supporting characters like a warm cookie full of chocolate chips. I didn’t read Heyer to find out what happened, although that was fun, too; I read her to live in that world with those people, everybody sparkling and spunky, ready to fight the good fight and win. So she had a huge, huge influence on me.

Thanks, Jennifer!

Read my review at A Writer Afoot [4].

About Barbara O'Neal [5]

Barbara O'Neal [6] has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life [7], which landed her in the RWA Hall of Fame and was a Target Club Pick. She is a highly respected teacher who also publishes material for writers at Patreon.com/barbaraoneal. She is at work on her next novel to be published by Lake Union in July. A complete backlist is available here [8].