This might be a first here at Sew,Mama,Sew! Today we’re giving away two copies of The Threadbare Heart by Jennie Nash, a fiction novel full of drama, interesting relationships and, of course, fabric! You can learn more about the book (and read the whole first chapter) at www.jennienash.com. Jennie is a writing instructor, and has two previous novels and three memoirs including The Victoria’s Secret Catalog Never Stops Coming and Other Lessons I Learned From Breast Cancer. Comment on this post to win your own copy of The Threadbare Heart, and enjoy our interview with author Jennie Nash.
SMS: Congratulations on the publication of your latest book, The Threadbare Heart. I didn’t know what to expect when I picked it up and I had a hard time putting it down!
Jennie: Thank you!
SMS: I really appreciate how you explored the relationships between Lily, the main character, and her mother, husband and children throughout the book. In looking at your website and reading a bit about your previous works of fiction it sounds like you’re returning to a theme of intense mother/daughter relationships. Can you tell us a little about this theme in your writing?
Jennie: I am fascinated by family dynamics of all kinds, but my stories do seem to always gravitate back to the mother-daughter relationship. It doesn’t actually come from any dramatic mother-daughter dynamic in my own life. My mom was a traditional housewife, who became a travel agent, and has a very full life of her own. We get along very well. My relationship with my own two daughters –- who are 14 and 17 — is fantastic. My tendency to write about mothers and daughters stems, rather, from a belief in “mother power,” which I felt very keenly when my kids were small. I can remember being hyper consciousness about my role as a “gatekeeper” in their lives. I used to literally think, What if they were meant to be a great dancer and I never take them to dance class? What if their great calling is to be an animator and I restrict them from watching too many Disney movies? I was aware that my attitude and my actions in any given moment could directly impact who they became. I was also aware of the flip side of this equation – that if I messed something up, I’d be to blame forever.
This directly relates to the creation of fictional characters. I get into my characters through their work or their hobbies – through the things that they do every day. That’s the window through which I start to imagine their life. I usually start out my research for a book thinking about a particular activity – photography, or fabric collecting, for example. As soon as I begin to consider how my character got into the activity, or why she quit it, or why she loves it, or why she hates it, I can’t help but think about mothers. Mothers are so often there for those defining moments of our lives – the first time we pick up a camera, or wander into a fabric store, or take a ballet class. They witness the spark that can ignite a passion – and they have the power to either fuel it or squash it down. Right there, you have so much room for drama! Because what if the mother never got to do the thing SHE loved? Or what if she did, but didn’t have the talent to do it well? Or what if she did and she DID have the talent, and she thinks such talent is the key to a good life?
In The Threadbare Heart, I began by thinking that Lily, the main character, was going to be a textile historian. Don’t ask me why – it’s just what I had in my head. I know nothing about textiles, so I set out to learn about it. I read a number of fascinating books, and ended up having Lily be a mathematician who collects fabrics instead of a fabric expert. As soon as I started thinking about WHY Lily loved to collect fabric, and where she STARTED this hobby, and what it means to her, I started thinking about her mother’s relationship to fabric, and to Lily, and before I knew it, I had a mother who was in the business of cranking out high end pure white sheets for four star hotels, and a daughter who liked to poke around flea markets and collect dusty old “rags.” And ta-da! – not only did I have a surface reason for conflict, I now had two women with two very different ways of moving through the world. Which is to say that I had a story.
SMS: The story includes a lot of sadness, but there’s also a lot of hope, growth and love too. What do you hope readers take away from The Threadbare Heart?
Jennie: Well, what you said above – that you had a hard time putting the book down – would have to be at the top of my list. I always hope my readers have a good time with my stories. Life is busy, and fast-paced and not always fun, and sitting down with a book should be a pleasure. Another thing I hope readers take away is an appreciation for the role love has played in their lives. Love doesn’t always last, it’s not always constant, but I believe it changes us for the better.
SMS: It was really clear to me from early on in The Threadbare Heart that you must have an appreciation for fabric and sewing. The reader’s glimpses into Lily’s life are richer through your use of the language of fabric. You even threw a little Anna Maria Horner mention in there! Does fabric and sewing play a role in your life?
Jennie: I have to admit that this question is making me laugh with joy – and also blush with a little bit of embarrassment – because the answer is no. I am not a seamstress or a quilter or even a fabric collector. I mean, I can sew. I can hem pants and make a simple skirt and I once made a Darth Vadar cape for Halloween. The thing is that I have a great respect for creative work and the people who do it, and I love every kind of store that serves these people – yarn stores and craft stores and fabric stores. My characters almost always have an artistic bent. One was a photographer, another was a painter. The character I am playing with for my next book seems to want to do something with music – which will be a whole new area to study. I happen to think there are universal constants of creativity – that if you know what it means to create with words, you can also know what it means to create with fabric. I love imagining through fiction the things that I can’t do very well in real life. And I really am very pleased that you think I captured something true about working with fabric.
I am honored to be hosting a blog about fabric, stories and life at www.thestoryofmystash.ning.com. It’s a fascinating way to explore the similarities between storytelling and sewing. If any of your readers would like to share the stories of their stash, I’d be happy to welcome them on the blog.
SMS: Do you have tubs and tubs of fabric like Lily (and many of us here at Sew,Mama,Sew!)?
Jennie: Are you going to make me confess again!!? In my garage, I have tubs of earthquake food (I live in L.A.), and tubs of camping equipment, and tubs of American Girl dolls my kid’s have outgrown, and tubs of children’s books we will never toss. But no fabric! What’s interesting, though, is my older daughter has just decided to go to school 3,000 miles away, and I keep thinking about making her a quilt. I’ve never made a quilt in my entire life, so it must be my fiction rubbing off on my life!
SMS: You’ve moved from writing non-fiction to fiction in recent years. What prompted that change in your writing?
Jennie: There were several motivations. One was that I got tired of being constrained by what was “true.” It didn’t feel as creative as I wanted to be. The other was that I finally gave myself permission to write fiction. This was a long, hard fight. My father was a college professor, and a brilliant conceptual thinker and a writer of textbooks that are still being used in the classroom forty years after they were first published. I always had it in my mind that a “real” writer is an academic writer – meaning that, before they put a word on the page, they go out and learn more than anyone else knows about a subject or they approach the material in a way that no one has done before. I wasn’t technically doing that in my non-fiction work (I was writing memoir, and magazine articles), but it felt closer in spirit to the work that was my model than writing fiction. It’s taken me all these years to believe that writing a story – a plain, old fictional narrative – was an acceptable thing to do. And to believe that I could do it.