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Mothers and Other Liars



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A Conversation with Amy Bourret

A Conversation with Amy Bourret

A question authors seem to be asked the most is what parts of their work are autobiographical. And your answer is?
That is easy. No, I have never found an abandoned baby, never given up a child for adoption. Probably the strongest link is Ruby’s Midwestern sensibility and sentimentality. My grandparents, to whom this novel is dedicated, were proud Iowans. And I have very fond memories of time spent with them, working in the garden, “helping” my grandfather refinish furniture, and partaking in family races to see who could eat the most corn on the cob. The tool chest made from wooden Velveeta boxes is real; it sits on my own workbench now. My grandfather died while I was in law school. A decade later, I received the honor and profound gift to be able to move into their home to be with my grandmother during her last months.

What was your inspiration for this book?
This sounds kind of wacky, but I was on a walk when a “what if” popped into my head: What if you built your whole life on a certain assumption and then years later discover that the assumption was wrong?  I am intrigued with exploring the personal past and discovering how it informs the present—the road not taken and all.

You have a background in child advocacy.  Is the novel based on an experience you had in the field or a case you may have worked on? 
Not any specific case, really. It’s more just the general experience. A child builds her own life from the foundation of her family environment life. If that environment is abuse or neglect or incest, when she is removed from the situation she faces reshaping her life with a new definition of “normal.” I think my experiences of working with scared and scarred children are wrapped into the reasons my protagonist, Ruby, makes the choices she makes. 

This is your debut novel, and you have created characters that are complex, believable, and ones the readers will really root for.  How did you come up with their stories? 
I’ve been told since I was a young kid that I have an “old soul.” I study people, try to figure out what makes them tick. I know the people in my own life very well, and my characters seem to be a patchwork of lots of different pieces of them and of me. That and pure invention from my arguably warped mind.  Writers are lucky; they can call the voices in their heads characters while the rest of the world calls them crazy.

I’m glad the characters seem believable to the reader, because they become very real to me. My friends tease me about the time I was shopping for Christmas presents and didn’t realize until I was up at the counter that I had picked out a gift for Ruby.

The subject of the book is very sensitive.  What are you hoping readers will take away from Mothers and Other Liars?
Ruby faces some choices that make readers think what they would do in that situation. People have strong feelings about her story, some telling me they could never make those same choices, others that Ruby’s path was the only one she could have taken. I’m thrilled that the story makes people think and engage in lively debate. In addition to their opinions about Ruby’s choices, I hope readers also take away a different sense of what makes a “family.” It is a privilege to be invited into peoples’ homes, to have them give my story a chunk of their own limited time. I’m honored when they feel that their reading time was well spent, that the story sticks with them after they finish the book. 

You were a partner in a law firm before you published this book. What made you decide to become a writer?
Oh, I’ve been a writer since before I could hold a pencil. Mothers and Other Liars is my debut novel but my first publishing credit was a poem called—I kid you not, but my family kids me about it plenty—“Where Buffalo Where.” It was a plaintive ode about the disappearance of buffalo due to overdevelopment of their land. I guess Lark gets her green streak from me. As a child, I also wrote short stories and kept journals. In high school and college, I was a writer for and editor of yearbooks and newspapers and I think there still exist somewhere out there beside my parents’ bookshelf a few copies of my college thesis, published by the university press. And in my law practice, I wrote lots of legal documents and articles. 

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but when my parents moved a few years ago, I went home to clean out my “stuff” and found notebooks full of my old writing. There were these journals entries from when I was like eight and nine where I wrote dreck like “I am a writer. It is who I am. It is the destiny of my soul.” I asked my mother if she had seen that stuff and when she said she had, I asked her why she didn’t get me into therapy!

At the same time, though, I’ve always been very analytical. “Dogged” and “Type-A” are some of the nicer ways I’ve heard friends and family describe me. Hence the law part. I guess I’ve just kind of lived in the middle space between my left and right brain, drifting back and forth from time to time. But my life-long love affair with words, as my eight-year-old self knew even then, is what defines me best.