In January, Julie reviewed the debut novel The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson. Today we are excited to have her do a Q & A with us.
GJR: You are a mom and a step-mom, how hard was it to write from only one perspective?
Sere Prince Halverson (SPH): Ella’s situation was different than mine. My own stepdaughters’ mom was always present in their lives. But when Ella met Annie and Zach, their mom wasn’t around. So Ella became mom to them. In a way, I did write from the mom and stepmom perspective, because Ella had to make the difficult transition from being the only mom in their lives to sharing them, to becoming their stepmom.
GJR: From the very first pages of the novel, I loved Ella instantly. Was she based on anyone? What is it about her that you want your readers to connect with?
SPH: When I first met Ella, she was lying curled up on a bed with a blanket over her, feeling that she’d once had everything she’d ever wanted and had now lost it. I thought I was writing about woman in the early 1900s! But Ella was her own person and wanted me to know her story. I really didn’t base her on anyone, although I did connect with her right away. She obviously loved Annie and Zach and Joe. She was open about her imperfections (at least the ones she was aware of at the opening of the book), and I admired her garden and her love of nature. I definitely wanted to hang out with her.
GJR: For the reader, we are set up to not like or trust Paige almost immediately. Was this intentional or do you think it’s because the reader gets attached to Ella so easily?
SPH: I think both Ella and I were intimidated by Paige. She seemed to possess the confidence Ella lacked, and her flawless beauty was a bit unsettling. Besides, Ella is reeling from Joe’s death but has made it clear she’s going to be there every step of the way for Annie and Zach, who, let’s face it, Ella needs just as much as they need her. We’re rooting for Ella. And then Paige walks up in her heels with her computer-enhanced hair, calling Annie “Sweet Pea.” Not exactly a welcome sight.
GJR: You deal with a variety of issues in this book; motherhood, family history, depression. Which part came first and how did it evolve?
SPH: It began with the character of Ella. Then Paige walked in. I realized I had a story about a mom and a stepmom. I knew Paige had left, and had a reason for leaving. Slowly I began to understand her. The Capozzis were keeping something quiet too. But I didn’t know what it was until I’d written numerous drafts of the story. My friend Kelly, a history teacher, said to me one day, “Did you know Italians in this area were interned during WWII? I hadn’t known. But now I knew what was up with the Capozzis.
GJR: Joe is very much a central character in the book and yet he dies with in the first 20 pages; how did he shape/influence the story?
SPH: Without Joe, there would be no story. Joe’s death was the inciting incident and he had a hand in much of how the novel was shaped. We learn more about him through the other characters—through Ella, Frank, Marcella, Joe Sr, Lizzie, David and finally Paige. Annie and Zach reveal a lot about the kind of father Joe was to them.
GJR: Are you currently working on a 2nd novel? If yes, what writing stage are you in?
SPH: I have recently completed another novel, and it too is a story I’ve been working on for many years. It’s a completely different setting—in Saudi Arabia, where I lived for a short time in the early eighties.
GJR: When you write, do you have to have background noise or total silence?
SPH: I like it quiet. Sometimes I’ll listen to music when I’m working, but it can’t have words. I hate the sound of TV or people talking when I’m writing. For a long time, I had kids at home, so I’d get up in the wee hours of morning and write before they woke and then when they were at school. That habit stuck and I still get up ridiculously early. I love to work in the quiet.
GJR: You live in Northern California, what are your favorite activities to do there?
SPH: I love living here. I enjoy hiking. There’s a woods right out my back door. I like to go to the ocean and the river. My husband and I have kayaks. We have a large extended family and there’s a lot of get-togethers that always involve an abundance of food. (But my in-laws are Norwegian/Swedish, not Italian!) My husband and I like to cook and go out to dinner. We love hanging out with our kids when they’re home for a visit, watching movies and playing games. My very favorite thing to do when I’m not writing is reading a good book.
GJR: If you were stranded on an island, what book would you want to have with you?
SPH: If you really mean book singular, without an s, then I’d have to say whatever book I happen to be working on at the time.
GJR: You’re having an author get-together, dinner party. Who’s on the guest list, which recipe would you grab, and why?
SPH: I’d grab my husband, who is a splendid cook, and ask him, “Honey? What are you making for dinner?” The answer might be paella, or perhaps grilled vegetables along with some amazing grilled flank steak and salmon. I always make the salad. We’ll keep it simple but delicious.
The guest list? At first, I started typing up the names of the authors I worship, but the very thought of talking with them makes me quake in my Uggs. So I’ve changed my mind. The food will be good and I don’t want to be too nervous to eat. I belong to a private online group of 25 debut authors called Book Pregnant. We all have our first books coming out. It’s such a fun and supportive group of authors. They’re all invited. We’ll need to toast all 25 debuts!
Thanks so much, Julie, for these great questions. You gave me a lot to think about it!
Thanks so much to Ms. Halverson for taking time to answer our questions. For more information about her check out her website, her blog or follow her on Facebook.