Author Interview – Marybeth Whalen

headshotHi Marybeth! Thanks for popping over to the blog to talk about your book! I’m honored to have you here.

To get started, I always ask for the 2-minute intro as well as something that not many people know about you (your favorite song to turn up really loudly, your favorite food to eat when you are sick, your most hated season, etc). Please, tell us about you!

Marybeth Mayhew Whalen is the author of The Things We Wish Were True and five previous novels. She speaks to women’s groups around the US and she is the co-founder of the popular women’s fiction site, She Reads (www.shereads.org). Marybeth and her husband Curt have been married for 25 years and are the parents of six children, ranging from young adult to elementary age. The family lives in North Carolina. Marybeth spends most of her time in the grocery store but occasionally escapes long enough to scribble some words. She is always at work on her next novel. You can find her at www.marybethwhalen.com.

What people may not know: I am a huge planner, as in I love all things planning related. I am currently using a traveler’s notebook with multiple inserts to help me keep track of the different things I have going on in my life. I love it and could talk about it all day long. (It annoys my friends who don’t love planning like I do but I do not care.) I love 80’s music, especially alternative 80’s music (think Sirius/XM First Wave channel). I love bread far too much. Dark chocolate and wine too. And I am not a huge fan of winter because I hate being cold!

07-the-things-we-wish-were-trueLet’s dive right in to your most recent novel, The Things We Wish Were True. It came out in early September, but first topped the charts as a Kindle First pick in August. What an exciting release! As I scoured the internet for information about you, I kept coming back to the Author-To-Author interview you did on your site, Shereads.org. It’s so funny to me that you don’t consider this book a thriller! Even when you first sent me the description, it gave me chills! Whatever genre you consider it to be part of, it is a clear departure from your previous five novels. What made you decide to push through to this new territory this time (that of darkness and secrets and “webs of secrets”)?

I used to write inspirational fiction and, while I enjoyed it at the time, felt I had kind of said all there was to say along those lines. This new book is more the kind of stuff I choose to read myself and it’s a genre I wanted to delve into. I love to take a suburban setting, flip it over and show what’s going on underneath—the dark underbelly as it were. I guess that’s showing my more cynical side. But it’s also showing something I feel passionate about—that so many people are quietly dealing with things we know nothing about. It’s easy to think someone has it all together, but very often we couldn’t be more wrong.

You’ve talked a bit in other interviews about how, although there are many voices in the novel, Cailey’s is the only one that came to you in first person. She’s also a young girl. I might be able to assume that Cailey is not the character you identify most strongly with in the novel. Is there a character in The Things We Wish Were True that reflects you most clearly? Or are you a part of each of them?

There is some of me in all of them. That’s what’s fun about creating an ensemble cast! Cailey is probably closest to my heart and, to me, the real hero of the story.

Your three most recent novels were published through Harper Collins Christian publishing and you used to be a writer for Proverbs31.org, but I didn’t know that when I read this one. In fact, I may have been looking for Christian undertones to the novel if I had known that before I read it, but thinking back, cannot recall any. Was it jumping out of the Christian publishing pool that allowed you to write a bit of a darker novel? Or did you write this more suspenseful/secretive plot and then seek out a new publisher? I’m interested to hear how that worked!

I’d always wanted to write for the general market so in the summer of 2014 I took my writing career down to the studs, as it were, and rebuilt from nothing, as if I’d never written a novel at all. I had no novel, no agent, no publisher. I wrote this novel on spec, then queried agents, then once I found an agent we went out on submission. It was both exhilarating and terrifying!

In The Things We Wish Were True, there’s a very small-town feel to everything. Everyone knows everything about everyone (and all their business). But in a previous novel, The Wishing Tree, you wrote with a big social media presence, and talked about how “these sites have invaded all our lives, for better or worse.” How do you think social media could/would affect the events and how they played out in your newest novel? The small-town grapevine travels pretty fast, but Facebook and Twitter are usually faster!

This novel was interesting in that social media doesn’t really play a part at all—which is rare. I hadn’t considered that until you asked! The characters are in summer mode, and much of the scenes take place at the pool or outdoors—so, in pondering your question, it’s kind of neat that they’re too busy experiencing summer to be absorbed in the various outlets that usually monopolize our time. Yay to my characters! 🙂 I need to be more like them!

On a final note, going a bit further back and getting a bit more personal, I found an interview you did on a Homeschool Podcast from seven years ago! I was thrilled and daunted to discover that you homeschooled all six of your children for a time. I am a fellow homeschool mama, as are many of my friends/readers. I then discovered in another interview that your youngest was in transitional kindergarten, giving you time to write in the mornings. Can you tell us about how that transition took place? Did switching away from homeschool give you the time you needed to write these novels (as the first one came out a year after this podcast, I assume there was some kind of timing element in that).

I did homeschool for more than a decade. It’s part of our family history that never fails to come up at family dinners when my oldest children are all home. They have such funny and fond memories of those years. Alas, the financial realities of raising our brood began to hit as the older ones began wearing braces and driving cars and talking about college. So I began to put more time and effort behind my writing. Which meant less time for homeschooling. I had to decide which would better serve our family overall and ultimately the solution of me writing a book a year while my younger ones went off to a lovely and wonderful nearby charter school was our solution. My hat is off to any mama who can homeschool and write a book a year and still be a nice person. That wasn’t me! 🙂

Marybeth took the painstaking time to write back to me on her interview after a pretty bad hand injury this summer. For that, I am even more grateful! I often feel like my blood, sweat, and tears go into these questions, but I’m guessing there may have been actual sweat as you took the time to respond! Thank you so much for your time!!

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