When did you first know you could be a writer? I think when I went to graduate school at San Francisco State. I worked with Francis Mayes, Anne Rice and Molly Giles. They were all working, well-published writers who later went of to do great things. I knew then it was possible.
What genre are you most comfortable writing? Definitely literary fiction although I think I have a mystery in me. Having said that, I maintain that every story is a mystery.
What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general? I suppose it’s that no one’s asking you to do it, it’s all self generated and for little or no guarantee that what you create with even be read (although the self-publishing model has changed that somewhat). In fact, people generally find it strange when you say you’re a writer. There just isn’t a whole lot of support. So I think writing in general and novel writing in particular is a huge act of faith. Writing also requires a lot of self-discipline. And a lot of bum glue!
Can you share a little of your current work with us? Here Among Us is about a family that comes together at Thanksgiving to discuss their mother’s failing health. When the story opens we’re catching all four characters at a moment in time when their habitual way of being is about to give way. In Flynn’s case, she’s already lost her job but she’s about to lose her mother, her own identity and whatever beliefs she’s clung to about her father. At one point in the book she really feels like she’s got nothing left and it shakes her to her core. Her sister, Maeve is in a similar boat but for different reasons. Osheen, the girls’ brother is also at a turning point in his life—a place that requires him to make some decisions about what he wants.
How did you come up with the title? I was back east for the holidays and picked up a book of Irish poetry at my sister’s house. The words, here among us, where in a line of poetry from some ancient poem whose name I didn’t recognize. It struck me because in the book was writing, the adult children come to realize (each in their own ways) that their long dead father is, in fact, always with them. Hence, here among us.
Can you tell us about your main character? My main character is Flynn O’Shea. She’s in her early 40s, a single mother, an unemployed attorney and a generally agitated and unhappy person. I feel like Flynn has lost faith, no only in herself (she can’t find a job) but in her ability to enjoy life. When her older sister, who she’s never gotten along with, invites her to come for Thanksgiving to talk about their mother’s failing health, she automatically assumes her sister has an agenda. She goes reluctantly, bringing her teenage daughter, the one person in the world she trusts loves unabashedly, and conflict ensues.
How did you develop your plot and characters? A lot of trial and error. I started out writing a very different book than what I finished. Flynn and her sister, Maeve and brother, Osheen, all came through pretty much as they were created right from the start. But the plot changed quitea bit around some of the mother’s revelations and also regarding Maeve’s husband, Jeffrey.
Why did you choose to write this particular book? That’s a good question. Years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, I had a friend whose father had died when she was very young. She always seemed somehow emotionally stuck, and I realized (and I believe she admitted as much) that it was because of that trauma and how it was handled within the family (stoically and without much support for her feelings or confusion). I always wanted to write about that—the trauma of a parent dying and its affects on the family. The fact that my husband died during the writing of the book was very strange but also gave me new insights into what the characters had been through.
The setting was inspired by a family I worked for right out of college who owned restaurants in New Jersey. The owners were from Ireland and the kids helped run the business. I was intrigued by the family dynamics and always wanted to write about it.
I put the two together and the result was Here Among Us.
What was the hardest part about writing this book? My husband died while I was finishing the second draft. I put the book down for about a year and, since I have to write, worked on short stories. Getting back to it took some real discipline. I also felt really strange about it suddenly, like I’d somehow brought it on writing about it. I don’t feel that way now.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it? Oh my god, yes!!!
Let’s see, I learned how to end a chapter (sounds basic but doing it right is difficult). I learned not to leave the book for too long at a time because you change and therefore your experience with the characters changes. I learned to trust my instincts. If something wasn’t working to let it go, knowing that the answer would come to me if I was patient
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? I’d have to say, “I am not bound by the story of me.” I think Flynn especially has a pretty entrenched vision of who she is (tough, uncompromising) and that it stops her from fully experiencing life, and love, for that matter.
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Genre – Literary Fiction
Rating – R (Strong language, adult themes)
When unemployed San Francisco attorney, Flynn O'Shea, and her teenage daughter, Didi, are summoned to New Jersey for the Thanksgiving holiday by Flynn's socialite sister, Maeve, she expects a fight. After all, she has been battling Maeve most of her life. Disagreeing about the extent of their Irish mother's creeping dementia and the fate of the family's thriving restaurant business, named for their beloved, long dead father, Paddy, is surely a recipe for a world-class brawl. What Flynn doesn't expect is the fragile truce the sisters forge to save O'Shea's from the clutches of Maeve's scheming husband, Jeffrey. Flynn and Maeve are reluctantly aided by their forty-four-year-old brother, Osheen, a handsome Peter Pan still cruising the Jersey shore, getting high and dodging responsibility. And while Didi tries to convince her mother that "everything is as it should be," just when Flynn is sure she's gained the upper hand on Jeffrey, her own mother's shocking confession sends her into a wine-soaked tailspin and forces her to deal once and for all with the ghosts of her past. Devastated, Flynn must choose to save O'Shea's or risk losing forever all she has left of her father.
Maggie Harryman was born in New Jersey and moved to San Francisco soon after college. She received an MA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and spent the ensuing years working as a copywriter in various industries including healthcare, tech and real estate.
Maggie lives in Northern California in the heart of wine country, has two wonderful children in college and an old, faithful dog named, Humphrey.
Here Among Us is her debut novel.
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