Jane McCafferty’s Tale of a Desperate Wife

February 28, 2012
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First You Try Everything cover
First You Try Everything
by Jane McCafferty

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An Exclusive Authorlink Interview with Jane McCafferty,
Author of First You Try Everything


By Diane Slocum
March 2012

Evvie and Ben were always soul mates, from college on. Now, in their forties, Ben wants a divorce and it’s making Evvie crazy. Jane McCafferty’s second novel, First You Try Everything shows just how far she’ll go to get him back.

“When I’m writing, I usually slowly come to know a character through the process of writing itself.”
—MCCAFFERTY

AUTHORLINK: How do you make something as common-place as a couple breaking up into a compelling novel?

MCCAFFERTY: Good question. The fact that it’s so commonplace was part of what inspired me to take it on. I wanted to look at a character whose emotional response to heartbreak is unusually intense. I tried to trust that as a result of that intensity, the story would be interesting enough to sustain. Also, in my mind the story is about how completely interwoven Evvie and Ben were for many years. Their intimacy, before they started to separate, was so keen that it makes the break-up particularly grueling.

AUTHORLINK:Your novel is an intimate look into two people’s lives. How did you dig so deeply into each of their psyches?

MCCAFFERTY: When I’m writing, I usually slowly come to know a character through the process of writing itself. I’m really interested in that intimacy and how it evolves. I might start with imagining how someone looks while they drive, or how someone walks down the street. I get interested in that image, and start to question: who is that? What do they want from life? What are they going through? What memories do they have? With Ben and Evvie, I knew even before I started that I wanted to explore their break up, and that I wanted both of them to have a difficult time letting go. I didn’t know how far Evvie would go. Nor did I know, in the beginning, how conflicted Ben would be. I learned this as I wrote. Part of the pleasure of writing for me is getting to know a character’s memories, hopes, and dreams.

AUTHORLINK:Where did your characters come from?

MCCAFFERTY: While the characters are not based on people I know, I did give them both attributes of people I know. I gave Evvie, for instance, my own knowledge of heart break. While I have little in common with Evvie, remembering what the early stages of a deep heart break felt like to me certainly helped me understand her. My divorce was completely different, since I have children, and a great deal of support. But a friend once said he hated it when people said, “Well, at least it’s easier since you don’t have children.” In his experience, it was harder since they were left with nothing to show (he felt) for all their years. What they had was pure heart break. Their life together would soon become history. That made me think a lot.

AUTHORLINK:Did you always intend to write the story from alternating viewpoints?

“I wanted the reader to feel for both of them, to understand and sympathize with both points of view…”
—MCCAFFERTY

MCCAFFERTY: I made this decision fairly early on. I wanted the reader to feel for both of them, to understand and sympathize with both points of view, and to demonize neither. I really like how alternating points of view can unsettle us as readers. I like how Ben and Evvie both reveal how deep their love is for the other, however flawed. Just because Ben can’t stay with Evvie, doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a lot of deep feeling for her. I wanted this to become apparent as he becomes involved with Lauren.

AUTHORLINK: You make one departure from being in Ben or Evvie’s head. Why did you use Ranjeev’s point of view in one chapter?

MCCAFFERTY: I thought Evvie’s interest in Ranjeev, through Ranjeev’s point of view, would reveal how she was slowly coming undone. She loves how kind Ranjeev is, and finds him charismatic. But then we see him watching her try to make this movie. We see her approaching people who find her strange. I hope it allows a reader to begin to understand that Evvie’s desperation is pretty keen at this point. I also thought Ranjeev, being so outside of the main story, reminds the reader of the world that’s always going on around us when we’re caught inside our lives.

AUTHORLINK: Did you plan what Evvie would do next or did she take over? Did you know ahead of time how desperate – crazy – she would get?

MCCAFFERTY:I did have the idea, but I had no idea if I could make a character who would do something like this. After I understood that she had to be someone who was at the mercy of her own emotional response, I felt I knew her. She is obviously in quite a state. If we saw Evvie down the road, say a year or two after all this happens, she’d look very different.

AUTHORLINK: What do you hope people will learn from your characters?

“I guess I’d like people to come away with a renewed appreciation of how deeply bonded people ultimately are.”
—MCCAFFERTY
MCCAFFERTY: What a great question. I guess I’d like people to come away with a renewed appreciation of how deeply bonded people ultimately are. In some ways, the book is about how unbreakable bonds of love can be. Also, I think readers can learn from Evvie what not to do. Evvie’s someone who has made Ben into an idol. She’s wrapped her whole soul around Ben. She’s slipped into a state of dependency. Maybe some people can recognize such a tendency in themselves as they watch Evvie. On a more idealistic note, I suppose I was also hopeful that people would see what was revealed to Ben when he knew Evvie was really in trouble. His love is suddenly completely present, and nothing else makes sense. It’s like marriage therapy on really dangerous steroids. I think I was suggesting there that Ben and Evvie, given time, understanding, and healing, did not need to break up. I do think people divorce too easily, and often, down the road, regret it. You can read that part of the story and question the whole idea of what it means to break a bond.

AUTHORLINK: How was writing and publishing your second novel different from your first?

MCCAFFERTY: The experience was completely different. The first novel, One Heart, is told in four voices, and I had absolutely no clue where it would go when I started. This time I wrote in third person, and knew more about what I wanted to achieve. In both novels I felt close to the characters. In both cases I was happy to hear what to my mind have been really generous responses from readers.

About Jane McCafferty: Her first novel, One Heart, two short story collections and individual stories have received a variety of honors including a Pushcart Prize and an N.E.A fellowship. She is now daydreaming about a novel exploring the family dynamics of growing old in America and also is considering a non-fiction work on the Catholic priests of the Vatican 2 era. She teaches at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Diane Slocum
About
Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum

Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.

 

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This post was written by Diane Slocum