In Conversation with Carla Malden
What was it that made you want to tell this story? What do you hope your readers will take away from your book?
As a young(ish) widow, I found myself becoming infuriated with couples I knew who were trashing perfectly good marriages… or at least what appeared to be perfectly good marriages. I had no choice in losing my husband. I became angry because I felt that they had the choice to preserve their marriages. I also knew that no one can ever really know what the fabric of someone else’s marriage is like. So I became interested in the chasm between those two things: the appearance of a marriage and the reality of a marriage.
For my protagonist, Maura, that chasm exists for her internally. She falls into that chasm and finds herself unmoored. I hope that readers will think about the value of nurturing a marriage and, secondarily, the insidious nature of that home invader: the computer.
How much did you borrow from your own life in creating this book?
Mostly, I borrowed from other people’s lives – or, more accurately, used them as springboards. However, I know what it is like to become obsessed with something. I know what it’s like to pull a thread and end up somewhere you had not anticipated, but that turns out to be inescapable. I know what it’s like to have things loop in your brain that you can’t tamp down.
Do you think Maura changed her opinion about what her husband was doing, or simply learned to accept it?
That is the one of the questions we are left with. But by the end of the book, they have both engaged in what many may see as marriage deal-breakers. This episode in their marriage will always be lying there between them, but they can make the choice to use it as fuel for contention or as the cautionary tale that saved them. We can’t really know how many times either of them is going to bring up the other’s behavior when they’re in the middle of a fight… and which of those times will unravel them again. It’s a possibility. At the end of the book, they are contentedly lying in bed, having weathered this storm, but they are very much at the back of the bus like Benjamin and Elaine in The Graduate.
Is this a subject that you want to write more about in the future?
Yes, I look forward to writing more about relationships. Marriage, in particular, fascinates me because it is the one relationship where the one person is up close and personal with the best and worst of another person on a daily basis. I am currently writing a novel about second marriages.
What do you think is unique about your story?
This is a story about a marriage that is tested in both traditional ways and ways that didn’t exist ten years ago. I gave a lot of thought to developing Maura as a complicated and complex, clearly flawed, character. I love that she can’t get out of her own way. I love that she ends up fighting for what she realizes is all she really cares about. I also think the Los Angeles/movie industry backdrop helps give it a fun sense of place that not only contributes to the texture of the story, but actually acts as a sort of character in the story.
When you were writing this book, how did you feel about Adam’s behavior? Is it, or should it be, more accepted as part of nature?
I think that Adam’s behavior is not okay. I think he crosses the line. I can understand the impulse to revisit the past, especially since he is at a point in his life that is shot through with a disappointment. He’s at that inevitable is-that-all-there-is moment. However, he actually takes up emotional residence in his past, and that is not okay. Even if emotional cheating is part of human nature — which I don’t believe it is – commitment to another person demands that you ignore that impulse rather than act on it. Like Maura, I believe that his email exchanges with the other woman constitute a betrayal of his marriage. The question is whether it warrants savaging the marriage?
Where did the idea stem from?
The idea stemmed from being a sideline observer of other people’s marriages crumbling. And from an inherent distrust of technology. And a deep interest in exploring how our upbringing seeps into our daily lives as adults, for good and not so good. I was also fascinated by the blurred line between virtual infidelity and actual infidelity. For someone like Maura who lives so much in her head, the line is basically nonexistent; that is her undoing.
Do you think, in the end, this was something that strengthened their relationship or weakened it?
The hope is that this episode strengthened their marriage. The fear is that it weakened it. In reality, it probably did both. It made them aware of a fault line that ran through their marriage that they were heedlessly tromping on all the time. Not until this earthquake happened did they know it was there. Now they will be more careful. They’ll tiptoe when they get close to it and hold each other’s hands when they have to cross it. Or so we hope.
Do you think it’s important for couples to share the truth of these experiences with their children?
Clearly, Maura and Adam want to protect their daughter from the raging conflict in their marriage. They fail miserably. In theory, I think parents should strive to insulate their children from marital strife. In reality, that is probably easier said than done. In any event, I think intimate details between parents should not be foisted on the children. It is always a parent’s job to protect the children. You portray Maura as a somewhat flawed character; she refuses to get help for her vertigo, she has almost a “me against the world” mentality, etc. It feels very trueto- life.
How much of you is in Maura?
There is a lot of me in Maura – the perfectionism, the high expectations, the steadfast belief in right and wrong. The flip side of those qualities can be an uncompromising rigidity that can be unproductive. Maura has a lot of the me I try to tone down, the parts of me that are likely the most difficult to live with – both for myself and the people who actually live with me: stubbornness, the need to be right. She also has some of my more admirable traits, I hope – devotion to family, loyalty, strong moral core.
Did you think it was important to make her imperfect?
I thought it was very important to make her imperfect. The plot is driven by a few huge mistakes that she makes. It is her effort to reclaim her life, despite her imperfections, that makes her struggle poignant and the story meaningful.
What drew you to telling a story about infidelity?
I don’t think infidelity is the deepest crux of the story. However, I was interested in comparing virtual and real-world infidelity. And infidelity lent itself to the story I wanted to tell about this particular woman because it provided a crucible for all of her issues – many swirling around in her since childhood — to boil over. The deeper crux of the story centers around how easily we get in our own way — how expectation and disappointment can trap us.
What is your writing practice?
My writing practice varies depending on what stage of a project I am in. I spend a lot of time percolating. I don’t enjoy writing an outline, but I force myself to make one. There is no guarantee that I will stick to it once I start writing, but it provides a safety net. I also keep a file with all kinds of snippets: lines of dialogue, snatches of description, character insights, any little thing that comes to me that may – or may not – pertain to the project. In terms of ass-in-seat time, a four-hour writing day is a good day… keeping in mind that I’m frequently thinking about my project when I’m driving, grocery shopping, etc., even when I don’t know that I am. When I’m really absorbed, I spend more hours than that. I often have two to three good hours in me in the evening, too.