WINNER: LESLIE B83!
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Book: Best Kept Secret
Author: Amy Hatvany
It’s time for June’s Blast-O-Books and I want to kick it off with one of the best and most thought-provoking books I’ve read in a really long time. Best Kept Secret by Amy Hatvany was heart-breaking and uplifting all at the same time. At the center of this novel is Cadence, a single-mom who is trying the best that she can to get through her days raising a whirlwind of a happy little boy and working in freelance writing. When life becomes more and more difficult, and she starts suffering from insomnia, and work is not coming for her, a glass of wine at night helps her to sleep. That glass of wine becomes two and three, which then turns into a couple of bottles a night. Within a year, she is a full-blown alcoholic on the verge of losing the most important thing in her life: her son Charlie.
I was drawn to this book for so many reasons. As a mom to three children very close in age, I know what it’s like to need something to calm the nerves when you’re at your wit’s end, when you think you might blow a gasket over spilled milk. I also discovered that two of my absolute favorite authors, Emily Giffin and Sarah Pekkanen have already read, loved and blurbed Best Kept Secret. And of course, there have been times in my own life that I have blogged about being unable to care for my own children because I’ve been too hung over. So this book hit home for me, and I’m very confident that Best Kept Secret will unearth feelings in every single woman who’s ever had a sip of wine, or felt like she’s not doing the best job at motherhood, or maybe has been unsure about everything in life she thought she had a handle on.
Here is a Q&A I did with Amy, which was very kind of her to take the time seeing as her book debuts on Tuesday! Thanks Amy!
Me: I'm soaring through Best Kept Secret, and if I didn't have 3 kids and a busy schedule with them, I would have cleared my days and finished it by now. I am in love with little Charlie and my heart breaks for Cadence, who has what I can see, was a slow-growing yet serious drinking problem. What I love about this book is that I think all mothers of young children can see a part of themselves in Cadence, whether they find themselves craving a glass of wine, a Xanax, or even needing to satiate their nerves with a pile of carbohydrates. What do you think?
Amy: You are very sweet! I’m happy you’ve been drawn into the story, and I think you’re absolutely right. My hope in writing the book was that women might see the similarities they share with Cadence, rather than the differences, you know? Because I think it’s pretty easy and automatic to look at a mother with a drinking problem and say, “oh, I’d never do that; I’d never be her.” But I don’t know a mother out there who doesn’t look for some kind of escape from the constant emotional, mental, and physical demands of caring for children - toddlers, especially! Whether it’s in a glass of wine, a carton of ice cream, or online shopping - the indulgence is motivated by the same need - to soothe inner turmoil. I hoped that in creating a character who readers can relate to on many different levels, I might also create a better understanding and sense of empathy for how Cadence ends up with a drinking problem, and how much vicious judgment and stigma she had to fight against in order to get well.
Me: What inspired Best Kept Secret? How much of the book was drawn from real life experience?
Amy: While the plot and characters are fiction, I was inspired to write the book based on my own experiences of being a mother and an alcoholic. The emotional experiences Cadence has are much like what I went through - the guilt, the shame, the denial and disbelief that I couldn’t just figure out a way to stop drinking on my own. I’d had a lot of success in my life before that point, and I didn’t understand how in the world I couldn’t just put an end to a behavior that was so obviously destroying me.
I am very much like Cadence in that I maintained a very happy, confident exterior for the rest of the world to see, but subconsciously, I struggled with feelings of loneliness and fear. I was such a convincing actress, though, I couldn’t articulate or maybe wasn’t even aware of those feelings. I had gone through a terrible divorce, and like Cadence, developed a bad case of insomnia. I never really drank much before that point, so that first glass of wine relaxed me and seemed like an easy solution to my sleeping issues. Of course, I didn’t understand how easily I’d build a physical tolerance to alcohol, and how dependent I’d become on the mental and emotional “escape” my nightly big-ass goblet of wine gave me from the pressure of single motherhood. Eventually, I, too, came to a point where I had a stare down with a bottle of pills, unsure if I really wanted to continue living, but the thought of my children growing up without me was what led me to finally ask for help. I’ve been sober almost six years, and I know it sounds strange to say, I feel like my spiral into drinking was one of the best things that could have happened for me. It woke me up. And it gave me the inspiration to write the book and let other women know they are not alone in this kind of struggle.
Me: What was the hardest part about writing Best Kept Secret? Easiest?
Amy: The hardest part was definitely revisiting the shame and guilt of what it is like to drink in front of a child. The thought of alcohol really does make me ill, now, so having to go back to the time when I was drinking every day and remembering what it felt like - the physical sensations, and then the emotional backlash that always immediately followed - was extremely difficult.
I think the easiest part was writing the scenes with Cadence and Charlie, showing how they were connected, how much she adores him, and he loves and needs her. I have an incredible relationship with my children, and all I had to do was pull that feeling up, and those scenes just kind of appeared on the page. (Plus, my son actually did call them “blueberry stones” instead of “blueberry scones”!) My life with my children is filled with so many tender, wonderful moments, and getting to infuse Cadence and Charlie’s relationship with those kinds of emotions was my favorite aspect of writing the story.
Me: You've written two previous books (The Language of Sisters and The Kind of Love That Saves You) under another name, Amy Yurk, and I can’t wait to read those two books! I also noticed you focus on really hard topics in your novels - mental retardation, rape, death, alcoholism, divorce, single parenthood. Yet it seems that there are hopeful messages within. Why do you think you tackle the tough stuff?
Amy: Ha! Perhaps I’m a masochist? (Kidding!!) That’s a great question, actually. And it may sound kind of cheesy to say, but I really do believe that all the growth I’ve ever experienced in my life has been rooted in the tough things I’ve gone through, so that’s what interests me. How characters develop as a result of a significant event - especially how we, as women in our culture, are faced with so many challenges and what we do to rise up and face them every day. Anne Lamott says, “There’s no point in writing hopeless novels. We all know we’re going to die; what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this," and I think that’s why I write the books I do. How we tackle what life throws our way is what defines who we are - and exploring those kinds of journeys is the work that brings me joy; finding a way to see hope in the darkest of circumstances is such a powerful quality for characters to discover within themselves.
I also think that writing about the tough stuff helps readers (and me!) feel maybe a little less alone in whatever we struggle with. To read something and feel, “Oh, I’m not the only person to ever have those thoughts/feelings,” brings about a sense of connection that I cherish when I read other authors’ works. And that’s the fundamental reason I write - to connect.
Me: When you have time to read, who are your favorite authors to read?
Amy: Oh, there are too many to list! But I never miss anything by Jennifer Weiner, Emily Giffin, or Elizabeth Berg. I also love Joyce Maynard, Elizabeth Strout, T. Greenwood, Sarah Pekkanen…the list goes on and on! I read mostly commercial and literary women’s fiction, though Laura Hillenbrand’s UNBROKEN was the last non-fiction piece I dove into. She is a phenomenal woman, and I hugely admire her work.
Me: You've got two more books coming -- what are they about?
Amy: Yes! OUTSIDE THE LINES is due out in February, 2012, and tells the story of a woman searching for her homeless and mentally ill father, whom she has been estranged from for twenty years. It’s told in alternating viewpoints of both the daughter and father, past and present, which was a departure for me as a writer and I am very pleased with how it turned out.
The one I’m currently working on is as yet unnamed. It explores what happens when a woman is suddenly and unexpectedly thrust into the role of full-time mother and is forced to confront the complicated reasons behind her previously hard-fast decision to remain childless.
Me: Thanks Amy for sharing your amazing novel and your life with us! And I can’t wait to read your next novels!
To enter to win Best Kept Secret, share one of your best kept secrets – it can be funny – you don’t have to make it serious in order for you to enter to win the book! One of my best kept secrets is that when my husband is out of town, I will keep the house a total mess until like an hour before he is supposed to be home, then we all rush around to whip the house into shape. I’m like the mom who is really the babysitter – let the kids stay up late, we eat junk food, watch bad TV, go out for ice cream and pizza all of the time! Then when Dad gets home from being out of town, it’s time to be the real mom again!
What’s your best kept secret?
If you're new here, check out the rules and other stuff for the June Blast-O-Books there under that highlighted link back there, or feel free to leave me a comment always and I'll answer it in the thread, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is always at my discretion to change things up, and because of some regulations, I guess I must say that the books I review are given to me by either the authors or publishers or publicists, and I am never paid for my reviews, and they are my own personal reviews, and you know what, because I'm here telling you this anyway, I will also tell you that I never review a book I don't like, because you know what, why waste my time, life is too short to read a crappy book! There. There's my new mantra!