In November, I read a fantastic novel that was a family drama, a mystery, a love story, and a bit of a comedy rolled into one fantastic book. This novel was A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents by Liza Palmer (read my original review here). I really enjoyed this novel and am pleased that author Liza Palmer graciously agreed to answer some interview questions for me.
Interview with Liza Palmer:
Q (Laura): I love the title of this book. How did you chose this great title?
A (Liza Palmer): The title for this book was definitely a thorn in my side. For my first two novels (Conversations with the Fat Girl and Seeing Me Naked,) the titles came first - but this one was a little more stubborn. I played with the main character's name (Grace) a lot and then quickly realized that a billion other people had already had that idea. As I sat writing one day I was listening to my iTunes and I have it set to show the album cover of the song playing and Chris Walla's Sing Again came on off the Field Manual album. And I just stared at it. That feeling. That tingling, world stopping moment when you actually feel the creative spark - not to be confused with the All Spark. Same idea, but not something desired by Megatron. So, I played with the word Field and really thought about the book - which, by that time, was close to finished. And soon Rubiks Cubed my way to A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents. As you do. There are obvious concerns when announcing such a title - I get the odd "Is it...uh...non-fiction?" with a furtive glance to my parents. But, usually it's met with curiosity and a nod to the tongue and cheek humor that needs to be present during such a dark time in one's life.
Q (Laura): Were the events in the novel based on any real events in your life - or are they entirely fiction?
A (Liza Palmer): I think every one of my novels starts with the What If game. What if you were met with the sickness of a parent? What if that parent was someone who'd abandoned you as a child? What if you were forced to fight for this parent - a parent you're not even sure you love? How do you prove/define love anyway? All of these concepts are very real to me, but the bricks and mortar of the novel are all pure fiction. Although, the Hawkes family was particularly alive to me - there was something about this family that really inspired and entangled me. They just demanded a certain level of commitment.
Q (Laura): Being one of four children myself, I loved your descriptions of the interactions between the four Hawkes siblings. Do you have any siblings?
A (Liza Palmer): I have one older sister and a very tight-knit family - something that I definitely plumb all too often in the name of a book. I just think family is the most fertile ground. This group of people you are forced to just DEAL with, for better or worse. They know you better than anyone and will use that knowledge however they see fit. I just love it. Every book I write doesn't start out as a family drama, but the minute I ask one question about my main character I find myself digging around in their family history - playing that What If game. Being the younger of two siblings, I did find it challenging to write the Grace/Leo relationship - not being familiar with the concept of being an older sibling. I relish in being the baby of the family and it actually took a few passes to get that relationship right without making them both babies - although, one could argue...
Q (Laura): Who is your favorite character in this novel?
A (Liza Palmer): Not fair!
There's no way I can answer this question! As I said, the Hawkes family as a whole was particularly compelling to me and each sibling could have had their own story. That said, I loved writing Abigail's kids - Mateo, Emilygrae and Evie. There was a lightness they brought to the book that was definitely needed every once in awhile. They were always fun. I also loved writing John. Who wouldn't? He was definitely not hard to spend time with. Yeah, I can't pick a favorite...Grace and her wit, Huston and his courage, Abigail and her rules, Leo and his innocence... They really do fit together as a little dysfunctional unit.
Q (Laura): What is your favorite line in this book?
A (Liza Palmer): Man oh man, you're asking the tough questions. My brain is racing right now - and hilariously I'm thinking of great lines from other people's books. The opening line to David Copperfield is particularly awesome although not the answer you're probably looking for.
Back on topic...
I actually love the opening line, "Once upon a time we were a family..." it really does say a lot about the Hawkes and the book. The pain of their history and the fairy tale that's about to follow, evil stepmother and all. I loved that Caryn Karmatz-Rudy (my editor) at Grand Central let that line have its own page. Such a cool choice.
Q (Laura): Tell me more about John. He is such a unique love interest. What was your inspiration for creating him?
A (Liza Palmer): Ah, John. He's quite the lightning bolt. I really wanted to explore the idea of trust as it relates to love. I knew Grace was going to be a mess with trust, but I thought it would be an interesting twist to have the love interest have issues with trust, as well. Like, kinda pulling away from the love interest who is this flawless-unknowable-white-horse-riding-God (and wholly uninteresting, if you ask me) and really shine a light on a more flawed hero. John is relentless in his devotion to Grace (relentless in everything he does, to be honest) but it's almost in spite of himself that he has this soft spot for Grace. In my mind, real love should propel you clear out of your comfort zone and I really wanted to play with that concept with John and Grace. The tattooed element of him - well, besides being a personal, shall we say, liking - that was inspired by a random gas stop. I was in Oxnard, CA after this book event and I had to stop to get gas. The guy in front of me in line had that tattoo (Never Trust a Soul) on the back of his neck. AND WHAP - lightning bolt. A place to start building my hero.
Q (Laura): I would love to learn more about your previous two novels. Do you have a brief description of them that you would like to share? Was it easier writing this novel?
A (Liza Palmer): My debut novel was Conversations with the Fat Girl:
Here's the back cover copy (I still have a problem summarizing my own books, if you let me I'll get caught up in all the details I find endlessly fascinating...)
Everyone seems to be getting on with their lives-except Maggie. At 27, she's still working at the local coffee house, while her friends are getting married, having babies, and building careers. Even Olivia, Maggie's best friend from childhood, is getting married to her doctor boyfriend. Maggie, on the other hand, lives with her dog Solo, and has no romantic prospects, save for the torch she carries for Domenic, the busboy. Though Maggie and Olivia have been best friends since their grade school years, Olivia's since gone the gastric-bypass surgery route, in hopes of obtaining the elusive size two, the holy grail for fat girls everywhere. So now Olivia's thin, blonde, and betrothed, and Maggie's the fat bridesmaid. Ain't life grand? In this inspiring debut novel, Maggie speaks to women everywhere who wish for just once that they could forget about their weight.
My second novel was Seeing Me Naked: Elisabeth Page has big shoes to fill. She's the daughter of living legend novelist Ben Page, and the sister of literary wunderkind Rascal Page, and her career as a pastry chef is decidedly not up to her family's snooty standards-even if she works at the hottest restaurant in L.A. Elisabeth hopes no one will notice that her five-year plan to run her own patisserie has morphed into an eleven-year plan to nowhere. Her personal life is also frozen in time: she's still involved with her family-approved childhood sweetheart, a journalist whose constant jaunts leave her lonely. Enter an exciting career opportunity and even more terrifying, Daniel Sullivan, a beer-drinking basketball coach who is everything her family is not. Addicted to control and bred to criticize, can Elisabeth finally embrace happiness? Only if she has the guts to let others see her naked…and let them love her, warts and all.
*And now A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents. I keep thinking it's going to get easier - that somehow this history of starting and actually finishing books should add up to me not being sick to my stomach every time I sit down at the computer. I think there is a level of comfort there, but it may have more to do with just being so invested in each project. You know, for a long time I put away the dream of writing and in so doing put away the thing I cared most about. I just thought writing wasn't something people could do for a living. But, when I started dreaming again it was like letting that genie out of the bottle - and what I've found is that it has no intention of getting shoved back in. So, now I'm stuck with this crazy passionate genie looking over my shoulder and for the first time since a long time I care about what I'm doing - and with that comes a certain unease and imbalance that I hope will get easier as the years go by. Fingers crossed. Until then? Caffeine. And a lot of it.
Q (Laura): Who is your favorite author?
A (Liza Palmer): I am a huge Steinbeck fan. Huge. I took a pilgrimage to his museum in Salinas, Ca a few years ago and am still reeling. The Rocinante, the wooden box that housed the manuscript for East of Eden. Beautiful. I also love Jack London. I guess I'm partial to California writers who defined themselves.
Books I've read lately that I've loved - Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffinegger, Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum, Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion, Names My Sisters Call Me by Megan Crane, The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova, anything by Elizabeth Hoyt, and Easy on the Eyes by Jane Porter.
I think I can say that my favorite book of all time (as it stands today) is probably Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Unreal book. Just...fantastic. Life changing.
Thank-you Liza for the great interview! Fantastic answers!
Summary of A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents (From the Publisher):
Grace Hawkes has not spoken to her previously tight-knit family since her mother's sudden death five years ago. Well, most of the family was tight-knit-- her father walked out on them when she was 13 and she and her two brothers and sister bonded together even closer with their mother as a result.
She's been doing her best to live her new life apart from them, but when their estranged father has a stroke and summons them, Grace suddenly realizes she's done the same thing he had done...abandoned those who need her most.
And need her they do, for inside the hospital walls, a strange war is unfolding between the pseudo-kindly woman who is their father's second wife and the rest of the original Hawkes clan. Upon reconnecting with her brother and sisters, Grace will find a part of herself she thought was lost forever. As they unravel the manipulative deception of the second Mrs. Hawkes, Grace will finally be able to stand up for her family-- and to remember what a family is, even after all these years.
Miriam of the Hachette Book Group has been kind enough to offer five copies of A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents by Liza Palmer for this giveaway.
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The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday January 29th.