Monday, August 31, 2020

Phoebe Fox Interview - A Little Bit of Grace


Photo Content from Phoebe Fox

Author Phoebe Fox has been a contributor and regular columnist for a number of national, regional, and local publications, including the Huffington Post, Elite Daily, and She Knows. A former actor on stage and screen, Phoebe has been suspended from wires as a mall fairy; was accidentally concussed by a blank gun; and hosted a short-lived game show. She has been a relationship columnist; a movie, theater, and book reviewer; and a radio personality, and is a close observer of relationships in the wild. She currently lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two excellent dogs.
        
  


What inspired you to pen your novel, A LITTLE BIT OF GRACE? 
This book has had the craziest journey to existence! It was literally the first full-length fiction I ever attempted, roughly fifteen years ago, but that initial version bears almost no relation to this one except for a single scene. Back then I just wanted to try my hand at full-length fiction—I’d been a journalist and short-story writer—and I motivated myself to finish by writing in parallel with a dear friend who also wanted to try a full-length fiction and is as fiercely competitive as I am. We exchanged chapters each week, not to critique but just for accountability and encouragement—and because we knew neither of us would slack off if the other one might get ahead in word count. J As all first-time novelists do, I then decided it was the best thing the publishing world had ever seen and proceeded to shop it around—to absolutely no fanfare.

Into the drawer it went, and I started another manuscript that became (after a similar Frankenstein-like transformation over years) The Breakup Doctor—which sold as a series, so it wasn’t until four books later that I came back to this one.

By then, though, I had decided to leave my publisher, so Grace was delayed yet again while my indefatigable agent, Courtney Miller-Callihan, shopped it around until we found the perfect home with Berkley. So here we are, fifteen years after the germ of this book first started to sprout, and it’s finally getting into readers’ hands. To say I’m eager for it would be heroically underplaying it.

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
I don’t know whether this is common, but what usually motivates or inspire me to write a story is a problem I want to solve, a knot I want to unravel. A lot of writers say writing is therapy for them, and I’m not sure whether they mean it the same way I do, but writing is literally where I analyze things I’m wrangling in life from every angle and try to find an answer, a path forward.

This story arose from two nuts I was trying to crack in my personal life: (a) how to forgive things you feel aren’t forgivable, and (b) what to do with rage, an unfamiliar emotion to me that was vexing me at the time as a result of (a).

Once I have the theme I want to examine, ideas start to come, and pretty soon characters come onstage and I start to get a sense of who they are, why they’re there, what journey they need to go on, and then I figure out how to take them there. But having that central question at the core of it is what makes me want to write that story. My husband jokes that I’m like a toddler with all the questions I ask, and I literally have question marks tattooed on my body (I’m not kidding…and I’m not really the tattoo type.)

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published. 

I’ve always thought art’s highest calling is to deeply impact someone’s life in some way. The most rewarding thing I’ve ever heard about any of my creative efforts (I also used to be an actor) was from a reader I met in person at an event once, who told me of my Breakup Doctor series, “Your books got me through chemo.” I can’t imagine, no matter how long I write, that I might hear anything more humbling and rewarding than that.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel? 

I hope they aren’t thinking at all! I hope they’re just riding the ride, carried fully away into the tropical paradise of Palmetto Key and the lives of Grace, Millie, and the rest of the characters. But afterward I would love it if the story provoked some thought about letting themselves have the freedom and courage to live their truest lives, and about accepting themselves—and others—for the person they are. Maybe a bit about forgiveness too, even when it’s hard. I struggle with that one and it was a big part of what I was trying to work out in my own life as I wrote this story.

Tell us about A LITTLE BIT OF GRACE.
Grace Adams is someone for whom family is everything—her mom must have said it to her a thousand times before she died. Before Grace’s dad ran off with an aspiring actress half his age. Before only-child Grace found out she was unable to have children of her own. Before Brian—the love of her life and her business partner—dropped a "bombshell" on her in the form of her stunning new replacement. And that means Grace now has…nothing.

When she gets an unexpected letter, she heads to a tropical paradise island to meet Millie Jenkins, a total stranger who claims to be family, and starts to uncover answers about the eccentric woman her family never mentioned: an octogenarian who writes a viral relationship-advice blog, a compulsive (and highly successful) matchmaker...and the keeper of an unimaginable family secret held for more than fifty years. As Grace gets to know Millie, the free-spirited woman teaches her how to start over when the happy ending ends, and to live her life on her own terms—not based on others’ expectations.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book? 

World events. As I’m sure a lot of authors can relate to at the moment. Fiction can be a wonderful escape—certainly on the reader end of things—but sometimes creating can be awfully hard when your mind and spirit are in a difficult place. It actually wasn’t until I was able to turn all that directly in toward the story and let it inform the characters’ journeys that this book really came to life, actually. Just like Buddhism (and Sheryl Sandberg) advises, sometimes you have to lean into the tough stuff to process and grow from it. This book was therapy for me in many ways.

TEN QUOTES FROM A LITTLE BIT OF GRACE

  • “Everyone needs the freedom to stretch their wings and find out what they’re made of.”
  • “Be a peacock, not a pigeon.”
  • “Oh, I know all about that Netflix-and-chill nonsense. Him calling you over late at night for oral relations on the sofa is hardly what I’m talking about.”
  • “You must hold out for more than what you’re accepting so little of now. If you don’t know to your soul that you are worthy of such a thing, how can anyone else?”
  • “Who doesn’t like music?” “Communists. Also, weirdly, cats, science has discovered. I saw it on PBS.”
  • “What does it even mean, then? If it isn’t actually ‘till death do us part’?” “I guess it means we did our best. All of us.”
  • “First time stripping the taco?...The lady portal. The bizniz. Sweeping the stairway to heaven. You know—waxing Madame Bovary. First time you got the full monty?”
  • “How do you do that? Not hate them? Hate all of us—me? How can you sit here with me and offer me your trust and your kindness and your honesty after all you’ve ever known from our family is complete rejection? How can you still be so open with anyone—with everyone? How do you go on in spite of all that unfairness—of someone not loving you anymore when you didn’t do anything to lose their love?”
  • “Great wrongs are done to us all at some point. The question is, do we use them as a justification—or an opportunity?”
  • “It doesn’t matter where you are. Just be there as fully as you can. If you have somewhere at home that brings you peace and joy, go there. But if not, close your eyes wherever you are and go there in your mind.”
What part of Grace did you enjoy writing the most? 
I have to admit it was Millie, Grace’s long-lost aunt who is an absolute original and lives her life from a place of total authenticity and joy—even amid incredible challenges. She is larger-than-life to me, and based in no small part on my real-life great-aunt Millie. Feisty, full of light, and frequently hilarious, Aunt Millie never married and was a model of living her life as she chose, social mores be damned: flirting outrageously with the men in her assisted-living apartment complex, drinking her “evening toddy” of rum right till the end, smoking till her eightieth birthday (when she abruptly quit and never looked back), and leaving a cache of titillating surprises behind for us to discover she’d lived even freer than we imagined. The real Millie was not imposingly tall, as the fictional one is—she was a minute little slip of a thing—she dressed like Jackie O until almost the day she died, and her secret was an epic tragic love affair in her past, but they share lovely translucent blue eyes, a similar joie de vivre, and an unapologetic, be-yourself approach to life. Both real and fictional Millie find the magic in every day, and their relish of life spreads to those around them. I’d love to be more like that, and it was fun getting to live inside fictional Millie’s skin for a while.

What chapter was the most memorable to write and why? 

There’s a pretty major reveal in the book that I don’t want to foreshadow, but there were so many moving parts to it that I had to make sure to orchestrate properly, for a lot of reasons: mostly because it was crucial to get this character’s backstory and journey right, truthfully and respectfully, as well as the other character’s reaction to it. I wrote this chapter very, very slowly, but I’m really happy with how it came out.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why? 

Oh, that’s a great question! I would be absolutely delighted to introduce Millie the meddling matchmaker to Brook Lyn Ogden, the Breakup Doctor in my series by the same name. I think those two would have a hell of a time together (service at both the front and back ends of a relationship, if you will). In fact I slipped a tiny little Easter egg to that effect into, I think, the last Breakup Doctor book, since the two women are in the same southwest Florida area. J

A question that is somewhat relevant to Grace’s situation in the novel - Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heartbreak or to have never loved at all? That’s an easy one to answer—don’t we make that choice every time we love anyone or anything? We could lose anyone at any time—especially our beloved pets, who we know we will more than likely outlive. But at the risk of dipping into cliché, better to have loved and lost… I’d choose love every time.

TEN FAVORITE BOOKS READ THIS YEAR

  • The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett
  • An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
  • The Fountains of Silence, Ruta Sepetys
  • How to Walk Away, Katherine Center
  • A House without Windows, Nadia Hashimi
  • Raphael: Painter in Rome, by Stephanie Storey
  • Rubyfruit Jungle, Rita Mae Brown (an oldie!)
  • The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
  • The Blue Zones of Happiness, Dan Buettner
  • Real Food, Fake Food, Larry Olmsted
  • Natural Meditation, Dean Sluyter
What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?
When I was the entertainment columnist for the Scripps-Howard papers in southwest Florida I was assigned to interview Edward Albee, the legendary—and notoriously prickly—playwright, Pulitzer prize winner, and Tony recipient (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Zoo Story, A Delicate Balance, etc.). I was so nervous (BECAUSE EDWARD ALBEE), but really pleased with how well the interview was going, when we got to talking about his writing process and I foolishly asked, “Can you tell me about your revision process?” And Mr. Albee—who was known for his drum-tight, razor-sharp scripts—went dead silent for a moment and then frostily replied, “I don’t do revisions.” Like of course this magic springs fully formed from his head and even he wouldn’t dare to correct it. I still can’t believe—having, as both an actor and a writer, long revered him—that I not only got to talk to him, but then apparently put my foot right in it. (But even so…EDWARD ALBEE!)



A heartfelt story about family, forgiveness, and starting over when the happy ending ends, and handling it all with a little bit of grace.

Family is everything--Grace Adams McHale's mom must have said it to her a thousand times before she died. Before Grace's dad ran off with an aspiring actress half his age. Before only-child Grace found out she was unable to have children of her own. Before Brian--her childhood best friend, business partner, and finally her husband--dropped a "bombshell" on her in the form of her stunning new replacement.

Which means Grace now has...nothing.

Until she receives a letter from a woman claiming to be a relative Grace never knew she had, sending her on a journey from the childhood home she had to move back into, to a Florida island to meet a total stranger who embraces her as family. There, Grace starts to uncover answers about the eccentric woman her family never mentioned: an octogenarian who is the keeper of a secret held for more than fifty years.

Praise for A LITTLE BIT OF GRACE

"Secrets, rejection, and betrayal are no match for the powers of forgiveness in this charming novel." —Kirkus Reviews

"A Little Bit of Grace reads just like the setting it so wonderfully invokes — sunny, warm, and bright, with healthy doses of adventure and wisdom thrown in for good measure. Phoebe Fox conjures delightful characters in intricate, unusual relationships who populate a story that feels like sifting sand between your toes and is the perfect book to read while doing so.” —Laurie Frankel, New York Times bestselling author of Goodbye for Now and This Is How It Always Is

“A Little Bit of Grace is a deeply poignant emotional journey punctuated with humor, warmth and an irresistible irreverence. A rare, feel-good novel that you'll urgently want to press into the hands of friends and family. I adored it." —Karin Gillespie, author of Love Literary Style

You can purchase A Little Bit of Grace at the following Retailers:
        

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you PHOEBE FOX for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of A Little Bit of Grace by Phoebe Fox.
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6 comments:

  1. My family is my passion nowadays.

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  2. Today I'm most passionate about getting my to do list done. Thanks for the giveaway!

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  3. Getting things under control.

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  4. I embarrassed to say, but I'm really focused on a video game, Elder Scrolls Online.

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  5. My garden full of plants were taking care of with this heat its not easy

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