From the outside, Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, might look like the perfect all-American neighborhood. But behind the white picket fences lies a web of secrets that reach from house to house. Up and down the streets, neighbors quietly bear the weight of their own pasts—until an accident at the community pool upsets the delicate equilibrium. And when tragic circumstances compel a woman to return to Sycamore Glen after years of self-imposed banishment, the tangle of the neighbors’ intertwined lives begins to unravel. During the course of a sweltering summer, long-buried secrets are revealed, and the neighbors learn that it’s impossible to really know those closest to us. But is it impossible to love and forgive them?
This is the question that Marybeth Whalen poses in her moving new novel, and she talks to Writing a Woman’s Life columnist Yona Zeldis McDonough all about how her moving new novel attempts to answer it.
About Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
Marybeth Mayhew Whalen is the author of five previous novels and speaks to women’s groups around the United States. She is the cofounder of the popular women’s fiction site She Reads and is active in a local writers’ group. Marybeth and her husband, Curt, have been married for twenty-four years and are the parents of six children, ranging from young adult to elementary age. The family lives in North Carolina. Marybeth spends most of her time in the grocery store but occasionally escapes long enough to scribble some words. She is always at work on her next novel.
FF: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
MW: I’ve never not written so I knew I wanted to write– but didn’t really believe I would write things other people would actually read. I considered writers to be magical people and never felt I was especially magical. Now of course I know different. Writers are ordinary people who just happen to interpret the world through story. And I’m glad I get to be one.
FF: How did you get your start as a novelist?
MW: I met a friend who called me on all my excuses (my kids, my lack of time, my lack of knowledge, etc.) and didn’t let me quit. Everyone needs someone like that in their life! I’ve dedicated several of my novels to her and we now run a site devoted to sharing the best in women’s fiction called She Reads. Story brought us together and in some ways, it keeps us together!
FF: You write so affectionately about small town life; are you a small town girl yourself?
MW: I am. I live in the same small town I grew up in– but of course as our area of the south has grown, the town itself has changed. It is the same town and it is a different town and I guess I circle that concept a lot in my writing: the changing landscape of the American South, or whatever you want to call it.
FF: This is an ensemble novel in which most of the voices are in the third person. Why is Cailey the only exception?
MW: I just wrote her exactly as she came to me. She was the clearest voice out of all of them and, to me, the hero of the novel. So I liked that her voice was distinct because she got to be the only character who spoke in first person.
FF: Several characters discover unwelcome secrets about each other or themselves: Zell, Everett, Jencey; how do they cope?
MW: One of the things I like to do when I write is to throw a bunch of people into some dark and unwelcome situations and then see what happens. It’s great fun for me as a writer and it’s also the kinds of books I like to read. But my intent is never to leave them in these dark and unwelcome situations. It’s to watch them find whatever they need (friends, support, wisdom, strength, love, etc.) to begin to climb out of them. I always want to finish out my novels on a note of hope so that, in response, perhaps the reader will find hope as well. I think we live in a world where hope can at times be in short supply so it’s nice to find it in the stories we read.
FF: Cailey has a secret she does not reveal in the course of the novel; why not?
MW: There are so many secrets being revealed in this novel that I just had to let her hang onto that one!
FF: What are you working on now?
MW: My next novel is (tentatively) titled WHEN WE WERE WORTHY and is about a tragic event that affects an entire small town, most notably four main characters whose lives are irreversibly changed by what happens. It’s another novel about people keeping secrets (or trying to!) and coming to understand both themselves… and each other.
In an idyllic small-town neighborhood, a near tragedy triggers a series of dark revelations.
From the outside, Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, might look like the perfect all-American neighborhood. But behind the white picket fences lies a web of secrets that reach from house to house.
Up and down the streets, neighbors quietly bear the weight of their own pasts—until an accident at the community pool upsets the delicate equilibrium. And when tragic circumstances compel a woman to return to Sycamore Glen after years of self-imposed banishment, the tangle of the neighbors’ intertwined lives begins to unravel.
During the course of a sweltering summer, long-buried secrets are revealed, and the neighbors learn that it’s impossible to really know those closest to us. But is it impossible to love and forgive them?
Women’s Fiction [Lake Union Publishing, On Sale: September 1, 2016, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781503936072 / ]
A compelling novel about one woman’s search for the truth from the author of YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME.
After suffering a sudden, traumatic loss, historical novelist Susannah Gilmore decides to uproot her life—and the lives of her two children—and leave their beloved Brooklyn for the little town of Eastwood, New Hampshire.
While the trio adjusts to their new surroundings, Susannah is captivated by an unexpected find in her late parents’ home: an unsigned love note addressed to her mother, in handwriting that is most definitely not her father’s.
Reeling from the thought that she never really knew her mother, Susannah finds mysteries everywhere she looks: in her daughter’s friendship with an older neighbor, in a charismatic local man to whom she’s powerfully drawn, and in an eighteenth century crime she’s researching for her next book. Compelled to dig into her mother’s past, Susannah discovers even more secrets, ones that surpass any fiction she could ever put to paper…
About Yona Zeldis McDonough
Yona Zeldis McDonough is the author of six novels; her seventh, THE HOUSE ON PRIMROSE POND, will be out from New American Library in February, 2016. In addition, she is the editor of the essay collections The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns Forty and All the Available Light: A Marilyn Monroe Reader. Her short fiction, articles and essays have been published in anthologies as well as in numerous national magazines and newspapers. She is also the award-winning author of twenty-six books for children, including the highly acclaimed chapter books, The Doll Shop Downstairs and The Cats in the Doll Shop. Yona lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, two children and two noisy Pomeranians.