Q&A: Jane Green
Westport author Jane Green talks about life as a writer—including interviewing Hugh Grant, raising six kids and living in Figless Manor—at the Mohegan Sun Cabaret Theatre Sept. 22.
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You've written 12 best-sellers. Is any one of them the closest reflection of yourself?
All of my books are a close reflection of me—I put huge amounts of myself into my books. People who know me always say they can hear my voice and recognize me. None of the books are my story, but all of them are drawn from my life. There's not one character that is me, but I appear in all of my characters.
What about your last book, Promises to Keep?
Promises to Keep was directly inspired by events in my life, as one of my best friends died of stage 4 breast cancer. I made the decision to stop my life and look after her. And be there for her in whatever way I could.
As a writer I live very much inside my head, and there's so much going on inside my head I'm not very good at expressing it verbally. The way I process my feelings and emotions is by writing. My life became about doctors and hospitals and chemo, learning and researching and keeping track of medications. I realized very quickly that there was a buildup of feeling inside of me I needed to write about. But how do you ask one of your best friends if you can write about something so personal? I didn't know how to do it; I didn't think I could.
And she turned to me one day with a twinkle in her eye and said, as we were leaving the hospital, "I hope you're going to write about this." I couldn't write about her, and I couldn't write about what she was going through, because I couldn't possibly know about what it feels like to have that diagnosis at such a young age, 43 and with young children. But what I could write about was what I was feeling. And how it felt, to me, to watch someone I love go through this. What I ended up writing about was the lessons that I learned, and really what I learned was how to love someone, and how to be a friend. And that loving is truly a verb. That it's about acts of love—more about what you do than what you say.
How did that change the way you live your life?
It made me much more mindful of the relationships in my life, looking after them and being present, in a way that given our schedules, it's sometimes very hard to be. I had to work at being emotionally and mentally present for my children, because i'm always physically here. I don't have a nanny; I'm a full-time mother as well as an author. Often, when they want to talk to me, I'm cooking, or on the phone or computer. I wasn't present, and I really learned how to be. Mindfulness is so important.
What can you tell us about the book you recently finished?
Another Piece of My Heart is coming out next spring. It's about blended families and a 17-year-old girl who's going off the rails—acting out, drinking and doing drugs, lost in her need for attention. She ultimately becomes pregnant. The book is about her journey, and the journey of her family and the people around her. It's a bit of a departure for me—for one thing, I've changed publishers to St. Martin's Press, and have a new editor. They all work very differently. Anyway, it's been a joy working with her. There's a lot more serious drama in this book; I loved writing it.
You're often called the "Queen of Chick Lit." How do you feel about that?
There's a problem with being called chick lit anything. Chick lit started and became associated with a certain kind of book, which tended to be a very honest and humorous look at young women's lives, in a very real way. I'm thrilled to have had a hand in introducing a genre that isn't going away, that has impacted the world of publishing and enabled Young Adult literature to grow. But those of us in our 20s and 30s who were looking for Mr. Right are now in our 40s, and not writing about romance and singlehood any more. We're writing about life, and marriage, and losing friends and dealing with in-laws.
So what we're writing about is not frivolous. The problem with continuing to be associated with chick lit is that there are so many readers who will not pick up a Jane Green book because they think I'm writing for 20somethings. That's my issue with it. I'm writing for 35 and up. And I hear from tons of women in their 60s through their 80s who adore The Beach House. But my fear is that there are plenty of potential readers dismissing me, due to this label.
What kind of sacrifices has writing required of you?
Honestly, I don't feel I've made sacrifices to write. I feel so enormously blessed to be able to do what I do. I'm able to be a mother and be present for my children, and yet I'm not defined by being a mother. I have something that's mine, that fulfills a part of me that just being a mother couldn't.
From looking at your blog, I realize that you just moved into a new home.
We just built a home—we've been renting for five years. We used the home that we rented—which we completely loved—as inspiration for this home. We designed it; I picked everything in it. It's been a huge labor of love.
And you're calling it Figless Manor?
Only as a joke. The land we bought originally had this abandoned and dilapidated house on it—the only thing I was excited about was this wonderful mature fig tree that was dripping with fruit. The figs were probably going to be ripe in three weeks. I was planning fig jam, fig tarts. But on the day we closed the sale, without our knowledge, the fig tree was dug up. Now, we've planted a new fig tree. Very small, but its very happy in its spot.
With all the cooking you do, what have you discovered lately that you enjoy making?
Having done this intense cooking course with the Culinary Institute has completely changed the way I cook. It's given me a knowledge of cooking as science that I'd never appreciated before. I always thought baking was a science, but cooking was creative. I now realize that only by understanding science can you be creative. My cooking is now much simpler—it was way too "busy" before. My husband is completely thrilled with my new food.