Q. Missy has taken longer than most to “become an adult.” Has loving her father too much—and thus, staying by his side—proved to be her downfall?
A. Missy is a high achiever who relies on her book smarts, but in many aspects of her life, she has “failed to thrive” because she has chosen to stay near her father rather than branching out on her own. We can trace this behavior back to the childhood trauma of losing her mother. Whether consciously or not, Missy internalized this loss and compensated for it by staying close to home. In her naïveté, she neglected to consider her father would someday grow old, or in his case, get ill. Missy’s role as child is quickly exchanged for the role of parent as she assumes the care of her father. Because it happens quickly, her adulthood accelerates from zero to sixty. Before she knows it, in her lap she has the burden of her father’s illness, the firm’s future, an eager boyfriend, a love from the past, a school in India, and the tender soul of a teenage girl.
Q. You have described this story as a “hero’s journey,” referring to mythologist Joseph Campbell’s famed monomyth. Did you set out to write a hero’s journey?
A. I set out to write a story about a shy daughter and her gregarious father. I knew the father would die and the daughter would be left on her own for the first time in her life. Courage, strength, fortitude would be needed for her to carry on. As I came to inhabit this space, it occurred to me that Missy would embark on an adventure—riddled with trials and challenges—and much would be required of her. I suspected Missy had it in her to overcome these obstacles, and in the end, she would emerge with not only the prize but also a boatload of self-esteem.
Q. For Missy, what was the prize? What was her payoff for taking the risks?
A. Missy returned with many prizes: (1) the self-confidence in knowing she could lead rather than follow, (2) the courage to stand up and fight for what she believed in, (3) the permission to stand on the edges of the bell curve and experience the risky side of life, and (4) the insight that she and Joe may not be forever, but they are for now, and now is the only place to live. But her biggest prize was Katherine. Missy had never been an influence to anyone. It was always the other way around—people were an influence to her. With Katherine, she got to be that special person. Missy got the chance to be the mother she never had to an insecure middle school girl.
Q. Missy held her father in the highest esteem, believing him to be the ideal man, and in doing so, turned a blind eye to his flaws. As she grows into a stronger person, she begins to see him through a clearer lens, don’t you think?
A. Frank Fletcher loved his daughter, and he admired her intellect, but he wasn’t shy about pointing out her shortcomings. He wasn’t outwardly critical of her, but in their daily conversation he would insinuate that her life was lacking. “Why don’t you go shopping with some girlfriends? Why don’t you play tennis at the country club?” He meant well, but Missy wasn’t a shopping-and-country-club type of girl. Frank Fletcher believed she’d be happier, better, more successful if she were. Herein lies the dissonance between who Missy was and who her father wanted her to be.
Q. How does the brain play a thematic role in this story?
A. We are each given certain talents on which to hang our hat. I made my protagonist exceptionally smart, but she’s a bit of an introvert and shies from too much sociability. Frank, in contrast, may not have a genius IQ, but he’s outgoing and friendly and could talk his way through any situation. Thus, each relies on her/his brain in a specialized way.
Q. Frank gets Alzheimer’s. Was there any question as to which disease you would assign him?
A. Frank had to get Alzheimer’s because what could be more devastating to a storyteller? For a man who lived to retell stories from the war, from his lifelong career, of his beloved wife—what could be a worse fate than losing his memories, his words?
Q. You inhabit the space of an Afghanistan war veteran—an amputee, no less—as well as a Vietnam War veteran. Was it important for Joe to be a marine and for Frank to be an army vet?
A. I am hugely patriotic and have great appreciation for the men and women who serve and have served in the armed forces. As an eighteen-year-old headed off to college, Joe was nearly perfect—at least in Missy’s eyes. He was strong, optimistic, determined. He was a guy on a mission. And I knew he would end up a marine. So when I considered him fifteen years later, and the challenges he might have faced, in addition to a fed-up-with-the-Marines wife, I thought of an amputation. It was the type of issue that would give Joe pause, but I knew Missy wouldn’t flinch. And Frank—outgoing, gregarious Frank—wasn’t without his share of pain. He’d been to war and buried his wife. These facts make his rosy outlook on life even more spectacular.
Q. There are similarities between Frank (Missy’s father) and Lucy (Kate’s mother) in that they both push their children to be different from their true nature.
A. A child loves her parent no matter what, and we see in Missy how forgiving she is of Frank’s implied criticism of her. She lives with it because she loves him so much and believes that his drive for her to be more outgoing is the only way he knows to root her on. Frank was a great man, and maybe he did all he knew in terms of being a father, but he wasn’t flawless. Missy finally sees that.
And Katherine, once she’s in India with Missy, sees that love comes from unlikely sources and “family” can be made of people we just met.
Q. You set the scene in a financial planning office and give Missy the profession of a financial planner. Yet we come to see that Missy’s passion resides more in policy and philanthropy. Do you think most people have dual interests when it comes to their careers?
A. Speaking from my own experience, I’ve wanted to be many things. When I moved to Washington, DC, in my early twenties, it was because I was single-sighted on working for the CIA. I very much wanted to travel overseas and live in DC and research foreign lands. But around the same time, I got involved with stock picking and investing. Investment clubs had popped up everywhere, and I became interested in the financial world. I eventually chose it as my career and went on to work as a financial planner for nearly fifteen years before I tried my hand at writing. That’s when I entered a novel-writing contest. My “next” career was launched from there.
1. When we first meet Missy, we get the sense that she is a “behind the scenes” type of gal. When Frank falters at the seminar and forgets what he’s talking about, Missy knows what she should do. She knows she should shout from the back of the room to help her father, but the words won’t come out. Her shyness has debilitated her. Are some people too nervous to act, even in a situation such as this?
2. Missy lurks on Facebook as her way of living vicariously through others. In a sense, watching others is her “call to adventure.” Some contend that Facebook and other forms of social media have created more loneliness, rather than less, because the sense of inclusion is merely implied, rather than real. What do you think?
3. Joe, in his youth, was the type of guy who wanted to save the world. Now that he’s older, he sees that there are a lot of things he can’t control. He volunteers at the veterans’ hospital, but he can’t cure the guys. He’s there for Kate, but he can’t go to middle school for her. Are guys—in general—fixers? Is it hard for them (and women, too) to accept that there are some things that can’t be fixed?
4. Missy admits that her father has aged and she hasn’t seen it. How reliable is our memory? Do we hold on to our best images? Do our minds see through “rose-colored” glasses? Is there anything wrong with remembering the past more fondly than perhaps reality demands?
5. Missy has a real identity crisis, and we often find her asking, “Who the hell are you, Missy Fletcher?” Does life have a way of passing faster than we had planned, until the point when we wake up one day and we’re older than we realized, looking at ourselves in the mirror and wondering the same thing: “Who the hell are you?”
6. Missy is irritated by Lucas because they are so much alike, but she’s smart enough to do the math. If his characteristics annoy her, then perhaps she annoys herself. Is it hard to see ourselves in others, in our children? Do we tend to like people who are like ourselves, or are we too critical for that?
7. Missy has a fear of flying, but in a sense, it’s another excuse for her to stay put. She’d love to travel, if only she could board a plane. And we find her goading Lucas into taking trips that she herself has shown no ability to take. Why has it taken her thirty-six years to overcome this fear?