Welcome to this week’s guest, fellow 2019 debut author Maureen Joyce Connolly!
Maureen Joyce Connolly is a former owner of a consulting firm that helped develop medications for ultra-rare diseases. While she misses her old career, she loves being a full-time writer. Maureen received her bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and her master’s degree in liberal studies from Wesleyan University. Her background and love for science and the natural world informs and inspires her writing. She is also an award-winning poet, published in diverse outlets such as Emory University’s Lullwater Review and Yankee Magazine.
Maureen’s debut Little Lovely Things is available now, and you can win a copy from the Deb Ball too! Keep reading for giveaway details.
Talk about one book that made an impact on you.
I just finished Ocean Vuong’s On Earth we are Briefly Gorgeous. I lean toward literary as my ‘go to’ genre for reading and have read plenty of stunning books, but this one! Shot through with beauty and pain Vuong tells his story of young Vietmanese immigrant man coming of age as a gay man. Written in the form of a letter to his unstable mother, Vuong captures the trauma and outsider status of a small immigrant family decimated by war and the emotional wounds that only grow deeper in their new home. The mother and grandmother struggle with English amid the immense cultural divide and the social stagnation of poverty in Hartford. As Voung makes his way through childhood and into the realization of his gay adolescence, he guides us along as if holding our hand. We are there through the raw experiences of the mother-son relationship and the tender horrors inflicted by broken souls. His first gay relationship is fraught with the pain of his love and desire for another boy-man who is filled with self-loathing due to his own family circumstances as well as denial of his sexual orientation. Vuong is a survivor and I felt stronger as he carried me through his life story in prose that the word gorgeous does not do justice. This is writing from the deepest and mysterious places in the heart. As with all books that I ‘feel’ are important to me – this one will marinate in my soul and its influence will emerge at surprising times when I am writing or daydreaming about writing. I know it has taken hold somewhere in my consciousness which is what I welcome about simple yet complicated stories and broken yet triumphant characters.
The road to publication is twisty at best–tell us about some of your twists.
Aarggh! The road to publication for a debut novelist is simply fraught. This is partly because publication in general is difficult but mainly because I was a naïve little virgin in the distinctly unique and overwhelming business of publishing. Some background here – I spent my entire prior professional career in the pharmaceutical industry – first in discovery and then development of medications for rare diseases. As you can imagine, the field is very high tech with carefully crafted and very aggressive timelines and highly focused on problem solving. My role was to lead teams of scientists and engineers to a common end goal which was approval by the FDA. When I entered publishing, I felt like I had slipped to the other side of the word and was now working in the antipodes.
Since there is no pre-set road map associated with the launch and release process, I found myself floundering without the context to even ask relevant questions. I didn’t understand the importance of getting advanced reader copies out to reviewers with plenty of time for them to, well, review. So when my ARCs were delayed, I didn’t know enough to freak out. But my publicist did. Once I realized we might lose key review opportunities her job became to keep me calm. Fortunately, it all worked out. But in hindsight I see that every step has the potential for the ball – or the book as it were – to be dropped. I’ve heard horror stories from other debut authors and I am just grateful that I have a terrific publishing team that remained focused and helped smooth the way as best as possible.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Early on in the writing process, I recognized that since I was running my own consulting firm and managing my family, I had very little time to learn the key components of developing a novel much less actually write one. I decided to invest in a developmental editor to help see me through the process and identify areas I should focus my energy. A lot of writing is simply decision making – every time you put pencil to paper, you are determining the next line of dialogue, the next description or action that contributes to whole ‘movement’ of the story. It can be exhausting and defeating without someone who can ask basic questions to help you envision the big picture. An example of this might be the following; the way I read this character’s response to this event they seem to be leaning in this direction emotionally – is that what you want? While it was an investment for sure, I cannot say enough about the impact of my development editor, Jane Ratcliffe’s, input and mentoring. It is the best money I have ever spent.
What does literary success look like to you?
Prior to publishing my debut novel, I would never have considered this to be a difficult question. But now, in the aftermath of the launch of Little Lovely Things, it is, and it changes as I move forward. I initially thought that having book reviewers take my efforts seriously enough to issue a positive review would be enough. But once on the ‘inside’ of the business, I realized that sales numbers matter. To everyone. Aaargh. How naïve. I then put in place a complicated weirdly derived algorithm to balance the two – critical acclaim offset by sales numbers. Now after several months, the most satisfying element of having a published book out in the world is hearing what readers say. When someone approaches me at an event or book club and I see in their eyes the same emotions I experience when I fall in love with a book, am blown away, gobsmacked with happiness, and fulfilled beyond anything that critics or sales numbers can provide.
If you could have any fictional character over for dinner, who would be?
For sure it would have to be Aunt Polly from Tom Sawyer. I mean, first of all she would most likely actually cook the meal and clean up! Being such an avid fan of Twain and the adventuresome spirit he captures, I would certainly niggle her to hear her perspective on Tom and Huck’s antics and whether they were extreme as Twain presents I would also pick her brain on what it would be like to be a woman in her era – what were her dreams? How did she feel about taking in young Tom when his parents died – was it simply an expectation placed on her or was it a conscious choice? I would explore whether she was the type of woman to recognize constraints based on gender or did she live her life without questioning the cultural norms of her time. While she is portrayed by Twain as pretty rigid – I think I could loosen her up with a pre-dinner martini or two and see what unfolds!
Retweet this post (make sure you follow @DebutanteBall too!) or share it on Facebook for a chance to win a copy of Little Lovely Things! We will contact the lucky winner on Friday, August 30th (US Only).
A mother’s chance decision leads to a twist of fate that is every parent’s worst nightmare
It is the wrong time to get sick. Speeding down the highway on the way to work, her two little girls sleeping in the back seat, medical resident Claire Rawlings doesn’t have time for the nausea overtaking her. But as the world tilts sideways, she pulls into a gas station, runs to the bathroom, and passes out. When she wakes up minutes later, her car―and her daughters―are gone.
The police have no leads, and the weight of guilt presses down on Claire as each hour passes with no trace of her girls. All she has to hold on to are her strained marriage, a potentially unreliable witness who emerges days later, and the desperate but unquenchable belief that her daughters are out there somewhere.
As hopeful and uplifting as it is devastating, Little Lovely Things is the story of a family shattered by unthinkable tragedy, and the unexpected intersection of heartbreak and hope.