BlogHer Talks to Seré Prince Halverson

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BlogHer caught up with BlogHer Book Club author Seré Prince Halverson to ask some questions about her debut novel, The Underside of Joy


BlogHer: Even though we realize you are not your characters, do you identify more with either Paige or Ella? Do you like one of them better?

Seré Prince Halverson: When Paige stepped into the story, she intimidated me, just like she did Ella. I didn’t particularly like her, but I saw a vulnerability in her and she grew on me. As I began to get glimpses of her story, I felt for her more and more and yes, eventually, even liked her.

But Ella? Ella’s my homegirl. She’s definitely not perfect. Which makes me love her more. I still want to go on hikes with her and have her teach me about the birds and the plants and the secrets of her garden. I want to step around a pile of laundry to make a big bowl of popcorn and watch The Sound of Music with her for the 177th time. She’s not me. But she’s my kind of people.

picnic basket

Credit Image: stevendepolo on Flickr

BlogHer: On your website, you say that one of your tools of the trade is your black Uniball micro pen. I love a good pen, and increasingly over the last year I've found myself turning more and more to ink and paper. I'll scribble out a draft of a post, and then once it has a bit of shape I'll turn to the keyboard to refine it. Do you do all your writing in pen? At what point do you switch to a keyboard?

Seré Prince Halverson: Your process sounds a lot like mine. I didn’t grow up writing on a computer. (I’m too old for that!) But I started using one in my twenties. So I’m comfortable composing either way. I’m a huge fan of what Julia Cameron calls morning pages -— journaling first thing in the morning. Not Journaling with a capital J that other people might someday read. But scribbling down the first thoughts that come into my head, maybe it’s a to-do list followed by a rant followed by hopes followed by something I’m grateful for -— it all comes out. If I’m in the middle of a novel, this is my warm-up tool, and often, before I realize it, I’ve slipped back into a scene. I’ll write something like, “So, I left Ella up at Clem’s house and they were talking about the river ... ” and then I’m back there. At some point, I’ll type that scene into the computer and then I’ll just keep typing. When I get stuck, I’ll move back to pen and paper. I revise a ton.

But when I looked back recently at old journals, I was surprised to find how many paragraphs and even whole scenes from my notebook appear almost word-for-word in the final novel. Many were cut. Many were added. More were revamped. But there are a lot that held up, including the opening paragraph, the very first thing I wrote, which I kept moving around before I finally stuck it back at the beginning where it stayed.

BlogHer: It could have been easy to make either Ella or Paige be the bad guy in your novel. You created two very human characters that had flaws but they were balanced by good qualities. Was it hard to find that balance while writing the book?

Seré Prince Halverson: Yes and no. I’m a pretty empathetic person, sometimes to a fault. I can usually -— not always, but usually -— see everyone’s side, even if I don’t agree. That comes in handy when you’re writing fiction. However, it took many drafts to find the balance in their behaviors, allowing them to be authentic and have faults without alienating the reader entirely.

BlogHer: During the time in which this novel was set, I was still in college and much more absorbed in things like when my history paper was due than topics like post-partum depression. While I had my own personal blinders on at that time, I feel like we're more open to talking about it today than we were in the 1990s. When do you think we opened it up as a topic that could be discussed? Do you think that Paige would have made the same decision in today's environment that she did then?

Seré Prince Halverson: I don’t think Paige would have made the same decision, nor do I think Joe would have acted as he did. Everything was lumped under baby blues back then, and there wasn’t much medical or psychological support for women suffering from postpartum depression. Several things helped shed some light: Brooke Shields’ book along with Tom Cruise’s slam for her use of an anti-depressant helped get people talking. And tragedies such as the Andrea Yates case increased awareness of the horrific dangers of postpartum psychosis, a rare, even more severe illness.

BlopHer: Picnics played an important part in both Ella's memories of Joe and her financial future. When's the last time you went on a picnic? What's your favorite picnic food?

Seré Prince Halverson: One of my favorite picnic foods is the stuffed sandwich mentioned in the book. It was my dad’s recipe. You hollow out good French or sourdough bread and layer with all kinds of cheeses and meats and veggies and make this yummy sour cream dill sauce. Not exactly healthy. But I also love quinoa salads and eggplant spreads and ... What am I saying? I love anything and everything, with the exception of liver and lamb. Fortunately, my husband is a great cook.

We had an indoor picnic for the book launch party last week, but before that? Christmas day. We went to the beach with kayaks and dropped some crab pots and had a picnic. We have a blenderized family and we celebrate Christmas with our kids a few days later – so the picnic included my husband and me and some of my in-laws. Who are Norwegian/Swedish, by the way. Not Italian. :)

Thanks so much for these great questions!

Can't get enough of Sere? Head on over and discuss The Underside of Joy with us in BlogHer Book Club!

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