Interview with the Author
Celeste Messer-Part II
This is a continuation of an interview with Celeste Messer focusing specifically on the story behind Imperfect Rose, book one in the Patrick's Garden Series.
(While limited, please be aware there may be mention of something from the book in the interview that may give away some of the storyline in Imperfect Rose. It may be better to read this after reading the book )
QUESTION: You’ve talked about your writing style in general so let’s talk specifically about this book and series. Why did you choose the overall name or theme of the series, Patrick’s Garden?
ANSWER: I’m new to the writing thing so I can’t tell you that it started with the idea of a series of books that was going to be called Patrick’s Garden. I was almost done with the book before I decided it would be a series and that was because I fell in love with each of the sisters and wanted to do them justice and couldn’t do that in one book so I pulled out some chapters and put them aside for later books. The garden theme came because I love the metaphor of a garden and life. How you tend a garden, planting, watering, weeding and watching the flowers grow is much like tending a garden. I also love the idea that you shouldn’t compare one flower to another. A rose is beautiful and a daisy is beautiful, to say one is prettier than the other makes no sense. Each is exactly as nature intended, much like siblings. We tend to compare sisters, or women in general saying one is prettier than the other when we should stop and each the essence of each. So I went with the theme and Patrick, though not alive in the story, is very much a part of it as he had a strong influence in the women that the MacRae sisters became.
QUESTION: Why did you choose to write a story about a mother and her four daughters?
ANSWER: They say write what you know and write something that even if no one ever reads it, is something you enjoyed writing, reading or thinking about. So when I decided to write again I looked at what I liked to read or what kind of shows I liked to watch. The ones I am drawn to are stories about families. I’m also a sucker for happy endings. For me the ending can ruin a perfectly great movie or make me love a movie that was only so-so.
Then when I thought about what kind of family I’d want to write about, I thought about the fact that something that always fascinated me was how different siblings can be from one another. I grew up in a family of seven kids, four girls and three boys, and we are all very different in personalities. Then fast forward a few decades and I got married and had four daughters of my own.
I noticed from the day they were born they all had distinct personalities and because of that they related to me and to each other differently. So I wanted to explore that a bit in a storyline.
QUESTION: Well you mention that you do have four daughters. So when we see that the main characters in Imperfect Rose include a single mother who is a realtor like yourself and who has four daughters, would we be accurate to see the book is your story?
ANSWER: I’ll start off by saying that the story of Imperfect Rose is definitely fiction. As I do have four daughters and three sisters and I hoped all of them would read the book, I made a conscious effort not to make any single characters too much like any one of them. In fact in an effort not to hurt feelings or make one daughter ‘nicer’ than another, I probably self edited too much. But when all was said and done and my daughters read the book, each of them did identify with a different sister and to be honest that surprised me a little. But I was pleased that regardless of what others might think when they read the book, it appeared to my daughters anyway that the characters were defined enough that each related, and liked, a different character.
While the story is fictional, many of the struggles or relationships are based on true situations, at least true from my perspective.
QUESTION: How closely does the character Maggie relate to you personally and her struggles of accepting the fact that she has aged thirty years literally over night?
ANSWER: While in the storyline Maggie loses her memory so she just doesn’t remember the thirty years passing, in my real life I remember the years but it does seem like they passed awfully quickly and in my head I’m still the young woman of 22, or at least I remember her very clearly and I wonder sometimes how I got where I am. I’m not the woman I thought I would be. My life didn’t turn out as I planned. So I can definitely relate to that. And I can also relate to looking in the mirror and seeing new lines every day that weren’t there before and I find the aging process somewhat depressing. So it seems trivial maybe that she hates what she sees, but I hate what I see and I try to avoid looking in mirrors. I’m not a real fan of the aging process in general.
QUESTION: How close does the relationship issue between mother and daughters resemble your own relationships?
ANSWER: I think there are some definite parallels in particular I think it’s fascinating that sometimes we don’t look at our mothers or daughters outside of their relationship to us. I mean that you don’t think of your mom as a woman. How does she feel about getting older? Do you like her? I know many women who love their kids (or their mothers) but don’t like them. They don’t consider them a friend. I love the idea that Maggie got a chance to meet her daughters without the ‘motherhood’ filter. She was able to get to know them as individuals. On the flip side they got to see a different side of their mom when she was young and had dreams. They were able to understand why she became the woman she became. And then when all was said and done there was a healing that took place and they all came to realize the importance of family.
QUESTION: You mentioned in another interview that you almost went back and changed the character of Rose to make her more ‘likeable’ and then decided not to. What was that all about?
ANSWER: When the first few readers read the book there was a question of whether Rose was too unlikeable. Even I wondered as I thought back on it, why would Lucas fall for her of all of the sisters? I didn’t set out to make her unlikeable that is just how she came out. I thought about going back in and softening her a bit. Then I went out to dinner with one of my daughters to discuss her thoughts about the book and I was surprised by how strongly she identified with Rose. She totally related to Rose’s reactions to situations and felt they were spot on to how she’d react. She hadn’t yet finished the book at the time and she was afraid I was taking it down a certain path. I don’t want to give it all away but she made it clear she had a strong opinion that if I took the storyline a certain direction it would ruin the book for her. I was actually surprised by how strongly she felt but I knew that she’d like how the book ended so I wasn’t concerned but I walked away from the dinner with a little more insight to my daughter.
I think also I could relate personally to Rose. I spent twenty years in a corporate job where clothes were a big part of my armor and I felt like a different person when I was in my suits and my high heels. I was also considered very intimidating at work, yet inside I felt I was anything but…. In those twenty plus years I was living a life with a split personality, one person at work and one person at home. I think that was part of the reason my life wasn’t working. So anyway I left Rose as she was in the book. She is who she is and the readers can accept her or not.
QUESTION: You said that one of the reasons you love to write is that your writing surprises you sometimes and you learn about yourself and your feelings. Can you expand on that?
ANSWER: For many years I was not in touch with who I was and what I felt. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life; I just knew I was really happy. I had a successful career and a great family but something was missing. I think I had built such a wall around my feelings I didn’t know what I felt or what I was supposed to feel. Writing helped…and continues to help…me process my feelings. When I write I sometimes get into a state of flow that I honestly don’t know where it comes from. There is an opening of my heart, an editing process finally turns off and through my characters and storyline I can process how I feel about something yet the process isn’t a conscious one. It’s not till I go back and read the book later that I can see what I was thinking or feeling at the time. That was evident in the children’s book series I wrote called the Adventures of Andi O’Malley. Even if no one ever reads them, they were the first opening I had into who I was and what I was meant to do in my life.
QUESTION: On the subject of surprises, did you look back and see anything come up for you in Imperfect Rose that you weren’t expecting?
ANSWER: (spoiler alert) As a matter of fact yes. One of the women who was nice enough to read an early draft of Imperfect Rose commented that she thought it was great how I was able to incorporate the loss of my child and how I dealt with it into the storyline. As crazy as it sounds until she said that I hadn’t realized that I had. I had worked with her over twenty years ago. I’ll try to keep this short, but my first child was a still born, it was a boy. I pushed it down and never spoke of it. I went on to have four lovely daughters. Then seventeen years passed and I was on the Oprah show as a reader in one of her book clubs. We’re sitting in her home at dinner and Toni Morrison was the author that program and she is asked to read a scene from her book. The scene that is picked is a funeral scene of a child. Long story short Toni Morrison has a drum beat voice that hits your heart…and she’s reading this heart wrenching scene and I lose it. I mean really lose it. I start sobbing like an idiot there at Oprah Winfrey’s dinner table.
I had been forced to come face to face with the fact that I lost my child and never mourned him. I had gone on with life pretending it never happened. I never allowed myself to think about it. Any time the memory came close to the surface, like that scene in the book, I would skip it. I didn’t go to funerals. Now I didn’t realize I was doing this until after that day…it was a real ah hah moment. I had to deal with a lot of emotions after that night, sadness, anger you name it. Anyway when I stuffed down the pain of losing my child, I also closed off the other end of the emotional spectrum. I don’t think I felt joy either. I was like Maggie. In order to protect myself I put a wall around my emotions, not as much as she did, but I definitely did it.
So when Karen pointed it out to me that the storyline was ‘my’ storyline I went back and looked at it. Sure enough Maggie loses her son, pushes it down, has four daughters but though she loves them part of her still mourns the son she lost. Then a funeral triggers it and she gets the memory back and realizes what she lost and has to deal with the realization and pain. It’s so obviously my story and yet I totally missed it. It wasn’t a planned part of the storyline it just bled through and that is the magic of writing for me.
QUESTION: You mention that you put a lot of ‘Messerisms’ in the book. What do you mean by that?
ANSWER: Do you ever see those puzzles where objects are hidden in the drawings and you are to look for them. Someone not looking for them doesn’t see them but once you see them it’s hard not to see them. Anyway when I wrote this book, or any book for that matter, I don’t know if anyone will ever read them and if they do read them I have to face the fact they might not like them. So I know that going in. Therefore knowing how I reveal a lot about myself in my books I consider them a diary of sorts and if my kids or grandkids go back and read them they will see a lot of things about our family or family traditions sprinkled throughout.
QUESTION: Can you give a few examples?
ANSWER: Other than the obvious, I’m a realtor, single mother, four daughters, there are a ton of family snippets that my kids and some day my grandkids can find throughout the book. Here are a few that come to mind. Crapadonia…that is my word, the word I used when I had to keep from saying ‘shit’. I used to say ‘shit’ all the time before the kids were born…all the time. So I’m not sure where it came from but I switched to crapadonia. I mutter it to myself more than out loud but it worked for me keeping me from using my favorite cuss word in front of the kids.
The real estate part of the story has a lot of basis for truth. I ‘stage’ my listings, meaning I will bring in furniture and accessories to make the house look good. During the ‘Selling Season’ as I call it, there are times I run out of furniture in storage and the kids will come home and find the living room furniture is gone. I took it to use in a listing. And the fact that while one of my daughters works for me full time, and the others all have at one time or another when they were growing up, they have no desire to be in real estate. They do resent the seven day week schedule and the client calls that can come all hours of the day or night. So those feelings made their way into the book.
I also have family member names sprinkled throughout the book, for example; Adrienne Louis came from my third daughter’s name. She is Adriana Louise named after her two grandfathers. Another similarity between the MacRaes and the Messers are the MacRae family dinners. When we get together for dinners it will almost always be an informal buffet and when it’s just family the conversations can really get getting, one sister will talk over another as they did in the story and there seems to be a rhythm that an outside might not be able to keep up with. Granted if we have company the girls tend to be more polite, but when it’s just family the gloves are off. It’s a hoot to watch. I often will sit back as Maggie did in the story and listen how the conversations ping pong around the table and think…these are my girls.
QUESTION: You said this is Book One in the Patrick Garden Series. Can you tell us what we can expect?
ANSWER: Imperfect Rose is the first in the series. My plan is to write a book focusing on each of the MacRae sisters. This lets me delve into a bit more about what makes each of them tick. Book Two is well underway and it is Daisy’s story. Book Three is Violet’s story. Book four is Lily. I am trying to decide if I am doing a book on Maggie or not and I have one laid out for Cleo. Cleo was only mentioned in the first book but I love her character and her feistiness and wanted to bring her to the forefront down the road.
QUESTION: What do you hope the readers get out of the story Imperfect Rose?
ANSWER: I guess first and foremost I hope they enjoy the read. I love to read and watch movies for the sheer fun of it. This may sound shallow of me but I don’t always want to think or learn something. Sometimes I just want to escape and be entertained with something light.
Now if they walk away from reading Imperfect Rose thinking a bit more about their family relationships or thinking of their mom or daughters in a slightly different light that would be great. If they look forward to learning about the other MacRaes a bit more I’d love that as well. But I’d be happy if someone told me they enjoyed reading it for what it was…a story of a family.