Author Jennifer McMahon recent interviewed Emily about Miss Me When I’m Gone:
JM: Miss Me When I’m Gone features excerpts from a fictional memoir Tammyland, that is described as a “honky-tonk” Eat, Pray, Love. I’ve never been much of a country music fan, but the way you write about the music made me feel like I was missing something. You inspired me to start watching YouTube videos of these amazing classic country singers. I’m seriously going to add some of their music to my iPod. Why did you choose to write about country music?
EA: Admittedly, I used to turn my nose up at country music when I was younger, but I got into classic country about ten years ago. Now I’m seriously never happier than when I’m listening to George Jones and Tammy Wynette singing “We’re Not the Jet Set.” For me, it’s not just about the music, but the personalities of classic country. Ever since I saw Coal Miner’s Daughter in my early twenties, I’ve been inspired by Loretta Lynn’s life. When I began to branch out and learn more about her female contemporaries, I found that they all had fascinating personal stories: Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Dottie West. It is easy to dismiss someone like Tammy Wynette, for example, as meek and old fashioned with her “Stand By Your Man” type songs, but I find the story of her life very compelling. For the book, I liked the idea of a modern liberal, intellectual-type character drawing inspiration from these admirable women and their music—despite some obvious surface differences in her life from theirs. So I started with that.
JM: You must have done an amazing amount of research to get all the Tammyland details in there. What was that like? Did you go touring around the south visiting all these places yourself? And, what I really want to know, did you ride a rollercoaster in Dollywood?
EA: Well, you caught me—Dollywood is the one place featured in the book that I didn’t go to (although I watched people’s vacation videos of Dollywood—including the roller coasters—on Youtube). I took a “research trip” to Nashville and other places in Tennessee, as well as Tammy Wynette’s hometown of Red Bay, Alabama. I didn’t quite have the time or budget for Dollywood, plus I have an old friend (also a big Dolly fan) who I’ve long promised I’ll accompany to Dollywood someday. I didn’t want to go back on that promise by going there without her. In any case, most of my research was from listening to classic country over the years, reading all of my favorite musicians’ biographies, and watching interviews and old footage. Most of my information came from those sources. The research trip was just a fun tax-deductible bonus. And by the way, I hate roller coasters. I’m a wimp.
JM: Like your first book The Broken Teaglass, Miss Me When I’m Gone features a book-within-a-book. What do you find intriguing about this narrative device? And what was the process of writing it like – did you go back and forth or write all the fictional memoir bits at once?
EA: I find that having multiple narratives helps me stay motivated. When I get stuck in one narrative, I switch to the other. (This was the case for my second book also. It didn’t have a book-within-a-book, but the narrative alternated from past to present.) With The Broken Teaglass, I wrote the draft of the book-within-the-book before starting the outer book. With Miss Me When I’m Gone, I switched back and forth.
JM: We’ve both written mysteries set in New England. What about the place inspires you?
EA: Except for the two years I lived in South Africa, I’ve never lived anyplace else besides New England. I feel very out of place anywhere else—in life as well as in writing.
JM: You’ve worked as a lexicographer, an English teacher, a children’s librarian, and a Peace Corps volunteer. How has your diverse background influenced your writing?
EA: That’s a good question. I don’t think I was necessarily any good at any of these jobs. In all of these capacities (except maybe English teacher, when I was too harried most days), I was usually daydreaming half the time I was supposed to be working, making up stories and dialogue in my head. Does that count as “influence”?
JM: I’d love to know about your writing process, particularly since you’re a new mom! When I was pregnant, I had these fantasies of being able to write for hours while my little cooing baby napped or played contentedly by my feet – Ha! So how are you managing to juggle writing with being a mom?
EA: I’m very lucky that my husband works at home several days a week—and that I live a three-minutes’ walk from two different coffee shops. So lately, my husband kicks me out for a few hours a week to go to a coffee shop and write. I’ve heard a lot of people say they became more disciplined about using their limited free time effectively once they became parents. I’m hoping that’ll happen to me. We’ll see. It’s too early to tell. My daughter is only two months old.
In general, I have a pretty sloppy process. I typically start with a scene or character that interests me, then slowly build a plot around that. I don’t plan ahead much. About 2/3 through most rough drafts, I usually change my mind about the ending and have to go back and do a significant revision. This is very frustrating, because I never think that will happen. Just once, I’d like to know my ending for certain and get all the way there without changing my mind. Hasn’t happened yet. Maybe when that parental discipline kicks in?