an interview with v. diane woodbrown      

photo of v. diane woodbrown

Bold Type: So, this is your first novel. How did you come to write it?

Diane Woodbrown: Well, for many years I was writing short stories and after a time it dawned on me that most of my stories were about the same group of people and that I wanted to organize the characters' lives in some larger way. I wanted to spend much more consistent time with them in a longer work which would address what had happened to these characters before their existence in my stories and then what was to become of them later on. The novel was the way I did that.

BT: When did you first develop your interest in writing?

DW: I've always loved writing. Since very early on, it was my way of organizing my feelings and channeling my anger. Even as a child, I used to write long, long letters (some as long as a dozen pages) to people with whom I was angry. I never sent them, not until I was older, but just spilling out my point of view on paper always made me feel justified and a little powerful, like it was a record of the truth. I still do that. Writing stories was something that grew out of that passion for putting things down on paper, I think.

BT: When did you first decide to commit yourself to writing fiction seriously?

DW: It was after four or five years of more conventional work. I've always been very interested in politics; in working for the election of good, smart people who want to hold political office. So, after college, I moved to Boston and did that sort of work and eventually ended up as a Legislative Aide to a State Representative -- and I really did enjoy it, but when I looked at my future continuing along in that direction -- and writing fiction only in the evenings or on weekends -- I knew I would never really feel fulfilled. So for a while I started to work only part-time, and less than a year later I left the State House altogether.

BT: What's the novel about?

DW: It's about overcoming worthlessness. It's about an adolescent girl's and her single mother's struggle to overcome feelings of worthlessness -- and about their attempts to be more that what they've been told they can be. It's about the importance of seeing yourself as worthy of being taken care of by yourself -- because, more than likely, no one else is going to do it; especially if you're a woman.

It's also about aspirations, rejection, individual limitation, hope and love; and about being tender with yourself and with those around you who are doing their limited best -- and about how those two things are not in conflict with one another.

The book also addresses the serious hazards of ignoring a mother's needs outside of the home. I was really shocked when during the Louise Woodward "Nanny Trial", many people expressed outrage that the mother (of the eight-month-old who was killed) worked outside of the home as a part-time physician. It is ludicrous, and very dangerous, to expect women to be totally fulfilled by their roles as mothers. Many women, some more than others, also need to feel a more direct connection to society. It can be very isolating and overwhelming to be with a small baby every day all day for months on end. And that's not good for anyone involved. Not for mom, and especially not for baby. It takes more than one person to raise a healthy, happy child.

BT: How did the idea for your book originate?

DW: I'm intensely interested in issues which affect women's lives and particularly in their quest for personal fulfillment as they struggle with issues like commitment to family and societal expectations.

I think that in preparing to have my own family it was important for me to process what went wrong for my own unhappy mother and women like her in the 1960s, before feminism took root in the suburbs; and what she did, or tried to do, to make her life work.

Also, the book is loosely based on my own childhood and young adulthood and is about young womanhood and how very strained it can be to come of age as a female. I think it was important for me to process what happened to me and why I, and so many other young women, struggle with depressed feelings.

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Photo of V. Diane Woodbrown copyright © Elegant Images Photography by Jeanette