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.


Author Jane Green appears at the Mohegan Sun Cabaret Theatre Sept. 22 at 7 p.m., as the finale of the Eastern Connecticut Libaray Consortium's summer 2011 Connecticut Authors Trail. For info, call (888) 226-7711 or visit sites.google.com/site/connecticutauthorstrail2011/.

How did you get involved with the Connecticut Authors Trail?

It's not a terribly dramatic story—they asked me. Unless I have a huge conflict, I always try to do anything that is local: supporting my town, supporting my state. So I was just completely thrilled they thought of me.

Do you have a plan for your speaking appearances?

Yes, and it's usually a last-minute one last minute, because I'm not terribly organized—I do quite a lot of public speaking. It isn't a case of one speech fits all; I always tailor them to a specific event. But I try to have the same rules apply to all of my speeches: There has to be honesty. I try to inject pathos, humor and celebrity stories in some way. I talk about life as a writer, the pros and cons, what it's like. My biggest pro remains being asked to interview Hugh Grant a couple of years ago. I throw in a little bit of everything and really try to give an insight into where we get our inspirations, how we write.

What was special about interviewing Hugh Grant?

When I started writing novels many years ago, my first three or four books were much more strongly about romance. Now that I'm a married mother in my 40s, my books are much more about life and all the things it throws at us. But in the early days when I was writing about single girls my age who were looking for their Mr. Maybes, I always held this picture in my head of the perfect romantic hero. And I have to admit, it was always based on some version of Hugh Grant. So when Parade magazine phoned and said, "We know you must be terribly busy, but would you have time to interview Hugh Grant for us next week?" my answer was, "Let me think . . .Yes."

And what was it like?

Interviewing celebrities is always surprising in many ways, because we have a vision of who they are from the roles they play. They are usually quite different. I will say he was spectacularly charming. When I googled him I found out he's not a huge fan of interviews and journalists. Though I'm not a journalist, that made me very nervous. So I ended up cooking for him. But I'm not going to spoil the story any further because I'm sure I'll talk about this at the event. It was an experience.

Any other experiences like that?

After I submitted that interview, Parade called again with another opportunity. They told me, "We think you're the celebrity whisperer. We have someone else we'd really like you to interview.' I thought, "Whoever it is, no one can possibly be as exciting as Hugh Grant; I'm going to be disappointed." So I asked who it was and they said, "Harrison Ford."

Because I find straight interviews very, very dull, I thought, "Rather than sitting at a table with him and asking questions, I'd much rather do something where he's comfortable. So I asked his assistant if Harrison would take me up in one of his planes. The assistant said Harrison would take me for a helicopter ride, and that's what we did. It was wonderful.

I assume you haven't interviewed George Clooney yet?

Not yet, but that would be the trifecta. That's what I'm hoping for.

I was a journalist for many years, and interviewed a lot of well-known people, but they weren't Harrison Ford and Hugh Grant. The most exciting thing for me way back then, 100 years ago, was David Hasselhoff. Actually, I didn't interview him, I just met him. I thought that was so exciting.

Now, sadly, I'm spoiled, because I'm deeply unimpressed. Interviewing someone is such a false premise—you can't get a real sense of someone in this very unrealistic situation, sitting across a table firing questions. Really, you only see who people are not by what they say, but by what they do. So, I'd much rather watch someone in action.

What else have you been working on?

I finished my novel this year—the one that will be coming out next spring. And then I went a did a cooking course at the French Culinary Institute in New York. It was a full-time, intensive, six-week cooking course—I loved it. It was amazing. But when I finished, I decided I was going to take two weeks off. I spent two weeks lying by a pool and on the beach with books. It was amazing. I don't think I ever did that before in my life. It was really hard, but after awhile it was really lovely to be switched off.

How did you first get interested in writing? I know you worked for the Daily Express.

I was always an avid reader. As a child, nothing made me happier than escaping into a book. That was really where I found my solace. I would read anything; that really gave me my love of stories. I never thought I'd grow up to be a writer, but I fell into it. I studied fine art and thought I'd be an artist, but then I fell into journalism. I wasn't actually a very good journalist—I was working for a tabloid, and now everyone knows how tabloids operate. The Engliah tabloids are notoriously difficult; I wasn't on the news desk, thankfully.

As an interviewer, I never wanted to write anything but lovely things. I would never ever write anything negative—if I didn't like something, I'd try not to do it. But it was the writing I loved; I loved just losing myself in words. When I was in my late 20s, a girlfriend of mine who wasn't a writer suddenly wrote a book in her spare time. Lo and behold, she announced she'd gotten an agent, gotten a publishing deal and her book was coming out. I remember thinking if she can do it, so could I. It never occurred to me I couldn't. I wrote my first book, and within three months there was a bidding war. It was sickeningly easy. Looking back, I'm astonished at my naivete. I left my job to write a book, and it worked.

Talent is important, but it's amazing how much timing and luck come into things, isn't it?

Oh, 100 percent. And there's also this wonderful quote by Goethe: "Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it." I think there's a lot of truth to that—that boldness, combined with luck and timing, can open up everything.


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.

Q&A: Jane Green

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