Q&A

Q:  The Watergate scandal is the backdrop of You Are the Love of my Life. Why did you select this time period, along with the DC setting, to set the novel in?

 

SRS: Lucy Painter, a single mother of two young children, with a reconstructed past has returned to the house where in the summer of 1951 when she was 12, she discovered her father’s suicide. A suicide that resulted from his personal shame and led to the secrets and inevitable lies that govern Lucy’s life and that of her children. You Are the Love of my Life  takes place in1973—a year of public lies with Watergate marking the end of Nixon’s credibility and his Presidency. The Paris Peace Accords on Vietnam  in January, 1973, concluded our involvement in a devastating war as the lies generated by our government surfaced in the press. It was a tumultuous year of social change with Roe versus Wade legalizing abortion and civil rights especially for women and blacks and finally at the end of 1973, as Harvey Milk ran for city counsel in San Francisco on a platform of social liberalism against government intervention in sexual conduct, the American Psychiatric Society eliminated homosexuality as a mental illness. All of these are part of the story in You Are the Love of my Life. I had in mind the story itself, the characters, the private deceptions, the love stories and then I chose the year of public deceptions and was amazed to discover how much happened in 1973. I was interested in the lie. How much was invented in private and public lives, how much repressed or simply retold as a better, more acceptable story than the truth might have been.

 

Q:   What research did you do when writing this book to be able to so accurately recreate DC in the 70s?

 

SRS: I researched what was happening in 1973—the music, the movies, the elements of social change and public dishonesty.  But I also know Washington. I grew up in Eisenhower’s Washington, the daughter of a print and media journalist and moved back with my own family in 1976. What primarily drew me to that time when I was a young parent came of reading my older son’s novel When the White House was Ours written from the point of view of a boy whose parents full of optimism and courting failure, are starting an alternative school. Something my son’s father and I had done when he was a child opening a school for smart troubled children in Philadelphia. It closed two years later. “How could you have been so idealistic,” he asked me, speaking from the more careful, thoughtful, even cynical point of view of his generation. I had not thought of us as idealistic. Simply young. But writing this book, I returned to a time when I had young children and the texture and feelings of those years resurfaced. So much of the research was simply memory.

 

Q: How much of what occurs in the novel do you feel was part of your own experience during the tumultuous 70s?

 

SRS: The details of the story were mine—the communities with vegetable gardens and homemade bread, spider plants and tiny gardens, the men belittled by Vietnam whether they had fought or not, the women on the cusp of a new tomorrow, fearful of change and longing for it. There was a certain irresponsibility, a lack of order, a sense that the world was full of promise and that the promise belonged to us.

 

Q:  The tightly knit neighborhood the novel takes place in is full of interesting and unique characters. Are any of these characters exaggerated versions of people you know?

 

SRS: I grew up in an area of Washington called Cleveland Park. It’s a community like  Witchita Hills in the book which I invented geographically but not in spirit. The characters are made up. I start a book with a character and the reality of the story is in my imagination. I don’t recognize anyone I have created as someone I knew or know which is not to say I am free of association with the characters who people my real life. I started my professional career intending to become a theatre director—I knew I couldn’t act front of an audience—by nature I’m a backstage player–but I love the excitement of inhabiting another life. I believe a fiction writer needs only to know him/herself to imagine any life from any cultural background and any geography. That is the joy for me of writing fiction.

 

Q:  The book starts with a startling suicide. Why?

 

SRS:  The book begins with Lucy’s discovery of her father’s suicide. Samuel Baldwin is a man of integrity and dignity, a trusted advisor to President Truman who is discovered in the act of sodomy. He kills himself before this disgrace is reported in newspapers all over the country. Her father’s suicide and the reason for it begins the book as it opens for Lucy a      life of secrecy and shame. During Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, Walter Jenkins, a close friend and appointed advisor  to the President  and a family man was discovered in a homosexual act and resigned in public disgrace.  My younger brother was with my father at National Airport when my father recognized Walter Jenkins heading out of town for the last time and embraced him. According to my brother, Jenkins told my father—you are the only person in Washington who has spoken to me since IT happened.” What happened to Walter Jenkins certainly was the seed for Samuel Baldwin.

 

Q:  You write the book both from the daughter’s point of view and the mother’s perspective. Was it easier to empathize with one or the other?

 

SRS: The book is written from the point of view of two women and a young girl. I empathize with each of them. Zee Mallory is the charismatic leader of the neighborhood women of Witchita Hills and every woman except Lucy but including her daughter Maggie falls in love with Zee. The competition between Zee and Lucy for Maggie’s love finally stirs Lucy from the stasis which has dominated her life as the single mother with a married lover who is the father of her children. The loss of Maggie galvanizes Lucy to go after her daughter, to lay claim to her, to tell her the truths. As Lucy reveals her hidden life to Maggie, the reader realizes as well what dreadful secret has propelled Zee Mallory to take on Maggie as her own.

 

Q:  Do you think parents should always tell their children the truth?

 

SRS: I told my children too much—my own parents told me too little, and so it goes generation to generation. I believe you should tell a child what he/she asks to know without the frills. I do believe that secrets are destructive to intimacy and this is a book ultimately about love.

 
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