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JANE GREEN TALKS TO SHAREN FORD

August 16, 2010

New York Times best-selling author Jane Green is often referred to as one of the pioneers of chick lit, but, as the devoted readers of her twelve novels will attest, Jane’s writing explores the lives of women in a way that cannot be restricted to a narrow genre.

Jane’s latest book, Promises to Keep, described as “a novel about the hard choices we sometimes have to make, what it means to be a grown-up, and mostly, about the enduring nature of love” was inspired by a close friend’s struggle with a rare form of breast cancer. Jane is donating twenty percent of the royalties from Promises to Keep to breast cancer research. I had the pleasure of meeting her at a special reading that also raised funds for the cause.

Listening to her entertain her audience with anecdotes about her busy life as both a mother and a writer, it was clear that the “voice” of Jane’s books is very much her own—warm, humorous and compassionate. Jane loves to cook and there were sighs of envy as she described preparing “comfort food” for actor, Hugh Grant, in order to cajole him into an interview for a Parade magazine article. *

Apart from a very important detail—she’s a best-selling author and I’m not— Jane and I have quite a bit in common. We were both born in England and started our writing lives as journalists. Consequently, I was eager to learn more about her journey from newspapers to the New York Times Best Sellers List.

SHAREN FORD: Your background is in journalism. When did you first realize you wanted to write novels and was it an easy or difficult transition?

JANE GREEN: Very easy, partly because the part of journalism I always loved was the writing, rather than the getting of the story. A friend of mine had written a book and had a publishing deal, and it never occurred to me that I couldn’t do the same thing, however, I never expected to have the longevity I have had.

FORD: The settings of your books, in England or the U.S., often seem to mirror your personal circumstances. How much of an inspiration for your writing is your own life?

GREEN: I have always drawn from the themes of my life, carefully managing never to write my own story. But I am trying to write real books that have emotional honesty, and truly, the only way I can do that is to write about themes that are close to me, and my family.

FORD: You’ve been dubbed one of the pioneers of “chick lit”, which seems a misleadingly narrow description considering that your books all explore the complex lives of modern women of varying ages. How do you feel about that classification, and would you describe your genre differently?

GREEN: I am thrilled to have been at the beginning of a movement that had such impact, and less thrilled at the pejorative term, however, fifteen years on, writing about women in their thirties, forties and older, dealing with all that life throws at them, I think I am less chick lit, and more women’s fiction. Period. Also, I defy anyone to think of me now as a ‘chick’!

FORD: Your books are hugely popular worldwide, but my guess is that your largest readership is in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Have you noticed any cultural differences between the reactions of your fans in each country?

GREEN: I think my books are softer now, thanks to motherhood and becoming truly Americanized—I have lost the hard edge that I had when I started out, and the slight sarcasm that comes with living in London.

FORD: Do you have a personal favorite among your books?

GREEN: I loved The Beach House and Bookends for their characters, and Jemima remains my sweetest heroine—I am thinking of writing a sequel for her because I am intrigued as to what might have happened to her all these years on.

FORD: Your latest, Promises to Keep, was inspired by real events in your life. You chose to accompany your friend, Heidi, in her struggle with breast cancer by making time to be with her every day. Simultaneously, you were writing a novel that explores the reactions of fictional women to a similar scenario. How did living what you were writing affect your creative process?

GREEN: I wrote in the beginning when Heidi was first diagnosed, but as she grew more ill, I had to stop. It was draining, and exhausting, and I didn’t have the energy or the will to write, pouring it all, instead, into looking after her. I began writing again very soon after she died, which was cathartic, and hard. I describe this book as having been written with an angel at my shoulder, and with tears pouring down my face, but writing it so soon after her death, I think and hope, I have captured something of her wonderful spirit.

FORD: In the novel, Callie’s death occurs in 2011. Why did you choose to set the final scenes in the future?

GREEN: It was hard for me to write about the death, and I didn’t want maudlin deathbed scenes. Ultimately this is a novel that celebrates life, and so I wanted to show that life carries on, and that there is still a tremendous amount of happiness and joy to be found, even while you are grieving.

FORD: You have a husband and six school-age children. Are you able to maintain a regular writing routine and, if so, how on earth do you do it?

GREEN: Writing requires a tremendous amount of discipline, and so I take myself off to the library every morning, with my lap top, and will not let myself leave until my quota of words is on the page.

FORD: Do you outline your books in advance, or do you follow an initial idea to see where the story might lead?

GREEN: I outline roughly, knowing that my characters will almost always change the direction of the story.

FORD: On your website, you have some words of wisdom for aspiring novelists. What would you consider the most important piece of advice you offer?

GREEN: Just write. Don’t talk about it, think about it, pay to go to endless writers’ conferences: sit down and DO it. The truth is in the action.

*Jane’s version of comfort food is roasted pork tenderloin with fig, prosciutto and sage stuffing…one more reason for me to feel inadequate, but the delectable recipe, along with many others, can be found within the pages of  Promises to Keep.

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