From the New York Times bestselling author of Good Luck with That comes a new novel about a blue-blood grandmother and her black-sheep granddaughter who discover they are truly two sides of the same coin.
Emma London never thought she had anything in common with her grandmother Genevieve London. The regal old woman came from wealthy and bluest-blood New England stock, but that didn’t protect her from life’s cruelest blows: the disappearance of Genevieve’s young son, followed by the premature death of her husband. But Genevieve rose from those ashes of grief and built a fashion empire that was respected the world over, even when it meant neglecting her other son.
When Emma’s own mother died, her father abandoned her on his mother’s doorstep. Genevieve took Emma in and reluctantly raised her–until Emma got pregnant her senior year of high school. Genevieve kicked her out with nothing but the clothes on her back…but Emma took with her the most important London possession: the strength not just to survive but to thrive. And indeed, Emma has built a wonderful life for herself and her teenage daughter, Riley.
So what is Emma to do when Genevieve does the one thing Emma never expected of her and, after not speaking to her for nearly two decades, calls and asks for help?
Dabney: Kristan, Kristan, Kristan, you’ve written (yet another) book that celebrates and illuminates the ways we mothers and daughters love each other, hurt each other, dream for each other, and, heartbreakingly, fail one another. You’re killing me here, you really are.
Kristan: I blush! Was ever an author happier to slay a reviewer? I think not.
Dabney: I, like many an AAR reader, am part of a multi-generational family. One moment, I’m talking to my mom about Doris Day–a complex heroine if ever there was one–and the next my daughter is explaining the dating app The League to me. Emma, the heroine of Life and Other Inconveniences, she’s my people. If you were going to tell me the three most important things to know about her, what would they be?
Kristan: Oh, great question!
1. She defines herself as Riley’s mother first and foremost. Emma got pregnant in high school, but she never doubted that she wanted or loved or could raise her child. Everything Emma does from pregnancy on is in her daughter’s best interest. Being a mom brings her the most pride, the most satisfaction, the most emotion, the most reward, and of course, the most fear.
2. While Emma is a very strong, caring person, she carries some pretty nasty scars from her childhood and adolescence. It will take some doing for her to move past those, and yet some of the worst things are already settled and forgiven.
3. At the same time, Emma could teach a master class in grudge-holding. She’s not going to let her grandmother off easily, and nor should she.
Dabney: As usual, Emma and the others who people your pages feel real enough to join my book club for drinks. How do you create these multidimensional characters? Do you know them well before you start writing or do they unfurl as you go?
Kristan: A little of both. It takes about 150-200 pages for me to really get to know the characters—their hearts, their surprises and secrets. But I know their circumstances before I start to write. Sometimes, something can sound trite in the early phase of writing…for example, Genevieve’s disapproval of Emma getting pregnant in high school. But then as I wrote that storyline, I could see how much Genevieve had riding on her vision of Emma’s future and her hopes for their relationship. So that frosty disapproval becomes more sympathetic after spending weeks and months with Genevieve. Does that make any sense, or am I rambling?
Dabney: I’m guessing, in your research for this book, you spent time talking to health professionals. How do you choose what your characters will struggle with? I’m thinking here of physical concerns rather than psychological or relational.
Kristan: I always talk to people with firsthand knowledge of a particular situation, whether it’s a career or a physical condition. Life and Other Inconveniences addresses two particular health issues, and both are central to Emma’s motivation in returning to Connecticut for the summer. I have a doctor who’s always willing to take questions from me—honestly, he could have another career in helping authors—and a friend who’s a psychologist, so she helps me with the emotional ramifications of physical challenges. For this particular book (and for a few others), I’ve had firsthand experience caring for people with the health issues described in the book—one via a family member, one as a respite volunteer for parents of profoundly disabled children.
Because I write fiction, I choose something that will be particularly hard for this character to handle. Conflict drives the story—we all know that—so forcing a character to confront their worst fear makes a more visceral experience for the reader.
Dabney: This one’s from AAR reviewer Shannon. She notes that family plays a huge part in all your books. Sometimes you focus on families linked by blood but you also create a strong sense of found family in your work. Do you draw on people in your own life? Or are your characters completely fictitious?
Kristan: The answer is both, Shannon. Sometimes I’ll base a character (or a habit or way of speaking) on someone I know, but inevitably, they morph into someone else. In the beginning phases, I might make a note like, “She’s incredibly dignified and regal, like Mrs. Denunzio.” But in the writing, the character starts to become more than just my take on Mrs. D. By the end, she might share some characteristics of dear Mrs. Denunzio, but she’s completely Genevieve.
Dabney: You and I have sat down and talked a few times and, based on that tiny acquaintance, I believe your stories reflect you and your beliefs about what matters. In this book, what is it that you want readers to come away with?
Kristan: Another great question! I want readers to come away with the message that we all experience loss, but how it defines us is up to us. Tragedy can make us stronger, braver, better, kinder—or it can whittle us down to bitter, fearful victims. The choice is up to us. And I also love what Shannon said: We make our families. They might be the family we’re born into, and they might have nothing to do with biology, but surrounding yourself with people who see the best in you…that’s always a good choice.
Dabney: Now, not to carp because, damn, I love your women’s fiction but romance misses you. What is it about women’s fiction that calls to you now? And should I get over my dream that you’ll still write Sarah and Ned’s story and/or return to romance?
Kristan: I think women’s fiction is more freeing to write than romance, because the romance doesn’t have to be the central part of the story—the “Whoops, what are YOU doing here?” / first kiss / gratuitous ogling / I hate you / I like you stuff that is the brunt of a romance novel (I say that with great affection, considering my romances well defined in that description). My women’s fiction has romance in it, but it’s happening alongside the rest of the story, rather than leading it. It’s about the individuals, not the couple. Coupledom is a happy consequence of the individuals coming into their own.
I haven’t forgotten Ned and Sarah from the Blue Heron books. I have a story for them in the back of my brain. You never know what the future will bring.
Dabney: Thank you for talking with me, Kristan. It’s a brutal world. Your stories remind me love, kindness, compassion, caring and–so necessary–humor are invaluable. I can’t wait to read whatever it is you write next.
Kristan: Thank you, Dabney, for giving me the chance to talk with you! I always appreciate AAR’s thoughtful questions, sense of humor and insight. Hope to buy you a drink sometime!
Life and Other Inconveniences is available at these retailers: