Thursday, July 7, 2016

SRPS Bookshelf: Lunch in the Park

The weather in Sonoma County (California) in June and early-July is quite variable -- it can be blazing hot and sunny one day and gray and drizzly the next. We call it "June-uary" and just take it as it comes.

On a recent gray day, I was feeling a bit blue, and treated myself to a couple of hours off from working on blog stuff or hanging out online, and snuggled up with a comfy blanket, a cup of tea, and a good book. I usually pick something new to read, because there are just sooo many books out there, but this time I went with a beautifully written book I've already read through several times.

Lunch in the Park by Jennifer Thorson has been out for a couple of years now. She sent me a copy to review on this blog when it was first released, and while I read and enjoyed it, it was autumn and I was busy with school stuff at the time and I never got around to writing up a review. Still, the book stayed with me. The characters lingered in my mind. Their struggles and hopes and dreams kept coming up, sparked by talking with friends going through something similar.

The next autumn, I read it again, renewing my friendships with Kate and Jeff. They had become friends with whom I shared a cozy cup of tea on a windy, gray day. So, I guess it's no surprise why I'd feel like visiting with them again on what may likely be the last cold and dreary day we're likely to have for a while.

I have a lot of sympathy for Kate. She's a young woman growing into herself, and that's rarely easy. Especially when she's been so very good at taking care of everyone else around her at the expense of her own desires. She takes care of her niece, she takes care of her father. She takes care of the other teachers at her school, her friends, her neighbors, and even her troubled sister who's 2000 miles away. But who takes care of her? She's so busy being strong, holding it all together, she doesn't dare open up to the vulnerability required to let someone else care for her. That would break her wide open.

Lunch in the Park is what I usually refer to as 'a quiet book.' It's a window into the life and mind of one woman as she figures out the key to -- not having it all -- but having what she desires most: love, in all its glorious and scary forms. And learning how to loosen her grip on things a little to let someone else share her burdens. It is beautifully written. Jennifer's style is wonderfully evocative -- drawing you into the scene as though you were sitting next to Kate as she works through her own thoughts.

While I began re-reading this book on a cold and gray day, I finished it on a warm, quiet afternoon sitting on my patio enjoying a cool breeze and a glass of iced tea. This is a perfect book for spending a few stolen moments of calm during the busy-ness of summer.

Jennifer Thorson has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about herself and her writing. 

SRPS: First of all, can you tell me a little bit about yourself? What's your background? What inspires you?

JT: I grew up in Annapolis, MD, with my parents and older sister. We were all readers. I remember my father and sister discussing Jane Austen. I read a lot, and often re-read books many times over. I always want to know what happens after the end of a book so I love series and if I can't read more about characters I can at least read deeper into the book and try to be inside it. My favorite book growing up was Anne of Green Gables and it's still a book I can dip into when I need a comfort read. I also read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy because it's what all the best nerds were reading when I was in junior high.

SRPS: You're a grade school teacher? How does writing fit in with your schedule? Do you have a writing routine? 

JT: I was a science teacher, middle and high school, before my children were born, so I know a bit about teaching, which is why I made Kate a teacher, but at the time I wrote Lunch in the Park I was working as a birth doula, a job that has hours of hard labor but also leaves plenty of free days, or at least as free as days can be when you have young children. I don't have a writing routine, which is why I don't have a second novel to talk about right now. I should have a writing routine, of course. Instead I have about half of a novel and outlines of several more. I'm going back to classroom teaching in the Fall, and I'm hoping that having a little more structure to my working days will help me get some more structure in my writing.

SRPS: Where did the story for Lunch in the Park come from? Are the characters based on anyone in particular?

JT: Lunch in the Park was a story that had been kicking around in my head for quite a while. Kate isn't me, but she's a better, smarter, more driven version of me. At first it was just a snippet, girl, and boy, and dog meet cute in a park and fall in love with something in the middle to keep them apart for a bit of drama. One of my biggest complaints about modern relationship novels is that the characters are kept apart because one or both of them acts in ways that a real human wouldn't, or at least not a real human I want to spend time with. When I read novels I want to like the characters, which is why I like Pride and Prejudice so much more than Emma. I think you need a real reason to keep characters apart when they so clearly care about each other: religion, class, geographic distance. That's how Kate's niece Priscilla came into existence. Kate's friends came about because I was deliberate about LiTP passing the Bechdel test so I wrote that first scene of Kate and one of her coworkers talking about school. Once that was done, adding more coworkers and then other friends just came naturally. 

SRPS: When you started writing, did you have any idea where the story would end up? How the characters would resolve their issues? 

JT: As for how the story would play out, I didn't really know what was going to happen outside of the broadest outlines. There were several crucial points that came to me as I was writing. I started out publishing short sections, about a thousand words each, on a blog I shared with friends. You can see that in the finished novel, the chapters are still really short. My readers were finding out about things almost right after I did, and somethings changed and I'd have to swerve a bit. 

SRPS: I know some authors feel their characters living inside them. Do you still have Kate and Jeff and Priscilla living on, past the ending of the book? Or is that too weird?

JT: I do have Kate and Jeff living in my head. I know what they did after the novel ended, at least for the first year or so, and Lins, too. I pondered a sequel, up to the point of having a framework for it and a title, but I never got more than a page or so of it on paper. I wrote a short story as part of a class I took that showed us a bit of Kate's life before she met Jeff, that's on my blog.

SRPS: Are you working on anything new?

JT: I have a very different novel that I'm working on called Touch. Maggie is a massage therapist who discovers she has special abilities.

SRPS: Oooo! That sounds fascinating! I can't wait to read it. In the meantime, where else can people find you and your writing online?

JT: They can read a short story about Lunch in the Park on my blog, and folks can like my author page on Facebook. And, of course, they can find the book on Amazon and SmashWords.

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