Julie Buxbaum, the author of The Opposite of Love, spent some time answering a few of the Huggies Reading Group questions. Below is a transcript of the Q & A session.
You can review questions that Julie has already answered below.
Thanks, Georgia! Maybe one day!
Hmm, that’s a tough one. Emily names her baby Charlotte in the book, after her mother. I have a Sophie in my new book, and I really love that name. (Maybe because I love the character?) I do have a fondness for Lucas for a boy. (Though my brother did recently remind me that it rhymes with mucus, which may be a tough thing to do to a kid.) And feel free to steal. I also like Sadie. Wow, who knew? I could go on all day on this one…
No. Grandpa Jack is pure fiction. But I do love him as a character, and Ruth too, come to think of it. I would love to have a Ruth or a Grandpa Jack (or both!) in my life. I could use a bit of their wisdom…
I don’t know, but I hope so! (I am one of those strange writers who like to believe their characters exist in some alternate universe. Living their own lives, doing their own thing.) The prologue to the novel shows Emily happily married to an un-named man and pregnant, and they certainly seem destined for a happy future. At the same time, Emily—despite all of the character growth she undergoes during the novel—is still Emily, and while her husband sleeps, she still stays up late at night and worries about what’s going to happen. I think she says something like she rides the line “between excitement and fear.” So, I’m not sure exactly where they’ll go from the prologue, which of course, takes place after the events of the rest of the novel. Maybe one day, I’ll get the pleasure of revisiting them.
My first novel was a surprisingly organic process. It flowed in a way I never could have expected. I had a clean draft that I felt was ready to start sending out in about eight months. (I should say during those eight months, all I did was eat, breath, live the novel. I thought of pretty much nothing else.) With my second book, which I’m working on now, I am having a much harder time. It is sort of getting second child treatment—a lot of my attention and time is still wrapped up in THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE, and I’m having trouble focusing the way I did the first time around. I may have to lock myself in a room, get rid of my internet access, unplug the phone—drastic measures for me!—and buckle down. I think I need to be completely obsessed with what I’m writing to do my best work, and my current schedule hasn’t really allowed that yet. Hopefully, I’ll find that focus soon. I am sort of looking forward to lock down mode!
Mum of 2
With THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE, I’ve always known my beginning and ending. I had a very clear picture in my head of how those scenes were going to play out. My middle, not so much. With my second novel, which I am working on now, I’m still struggling to figure out how to end the story. I have painted my character into a corner—which was necessary for the plot—but I’m now struggling myself how to figure out how to get my character out of that corner. Or maybe I should just leave her there and take the easy way out? Leave it unresolved. Let the reader do my dirty work…
Reading from Rowville VIC
Thanks! I am so glad you enjoyed it. I think my natural writing voice is in the first person. (I hope this doesn’t say terrible things about my character and mean I am self-centered.) But I’ve always felt more comfortable with the first person perspective, and its limitations. (For example, you can only see things from that character’s viewpoint.) When writing Emily, it felt a lot like acting. I had to constantly remind myself to think like her, to make my words sound like her (and not me), to allow her to make the mistakes that she would make. (And admittedly, she frustrated me at times. But you have to allow your characters to do what they want/need to do.) One more thought—I think when choosing which perspective to write in, you have to think about what best serves the story you are going to tell. With Emily, so much of her story is internal, or the internal contrasted with the external, I think first person was the only (or best way) to show that.
Wow, that’s such an interesting question. I do think Emily, at a very young age, abandons the idea of God. I believe in the scene when she is describing her mother’s death, she says she shouts at God, “though by then I had already stopped believing.” (I may be misquoting here…) Since she looks to her father for her own model of grieving, and since her father is not the type to be a true believer (at one point in the novel he says grace only for show at the country club), I didn’t think Emily would be a believer. But as she undergoes this journey to start dealing with her loss, I think you are right, that she would like to believe in something beyond herself. I am not sure Emily would be comfortable articulating that as God, necessarily—she may have too much agnostic twenty something cynicism to put it that way—but definitely as something outside herself. In the scene you are referring to, she does start out feeling like she is talking only to herself. But then she reforms her position on bringing flowers. She wishes she had; She thinks the gesture would have meant something. This is a tip off to the reader: If she truly believes she is only talking to herself, why would bringing flowers matter?
I grew up in a suburb of NY called Rockland County, but I lived in NY for a few years after law school. I think New York is very much like how Emily described it in the novel, though I do think it is a place that changes based on who you are. I picked it as a natural place for Emily to choose to live, because it is an atmosphere where it’s very easy to lose yourself—not hear your natural voice—and where you can be completely anonymous. Since Emily begins the novel sort of numbed by the loss of her mother (and maybe even more so, by her not having faced any of those feelings), and NY provides a natural place for her to hide from herself.
No plans for a sequel yet, but maybe one day. I feel like I left Emily in a really good place, and I should let her be for a while. But I can see in a few years wanting to check back in with her. I too would be interested in seeing how she fares as a mother herself. I will say this though—my second novel involves the family of a very tangential character in THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE.
I do think so! (I hope so, at least.) If I had switched the characters, made Emily a man, and Andrew a woman, I’m not sure we would think to question whether she would have stuck around for him. And I like to think those stereotypes don’t always hold in real life. From the experiences of my friends and family, I don’t see them holding up. I think that’s the most interesting part of Andrew’s character—that his pride doesn’t keep him from happiness.
Hibiscus Coast (visit New Zealand!)
I did want her to be a modern woman, and to not necessarily fall into the traps of stereotypes. Often women’s fiction involves women obsessing about how they look, and whether they will ever find a man. With Emily, I wanted to flip that on its head. I wanted her to undergo an internal makeover—I intentionally left out any external insecurities (probably the only way in which she is an aspirational character)—and to be afraid of commitment (something ordinarily left to male characters). I hope that makes her a little bit more recognizable to gen X and gen Y.
Thanks so much! No, I didn’t base them on anyone I knew. Instead, I started with images in my head, and then spent a lot of time getting to know them more fully before I started actually writing. I think that’s the most important part of the process—really understanding the strengths and flaws, motivations, fears, etc, of your characters. Once you do that, the cliche is absolutely true: They do write themselves.
I am currently at work on Novel #2. It involves the daughter of a tangential character in THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE, but is in no way a sequel. I am not sure when the book will be out. (I’m still writing away.) Hopefully, sometime next year? Wow, I need to stop procrastinating and get to work!
Thanks! As of now, the book has not yet been optioned, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. To be honest, though, I can’t really imagine seeing Emily on the big screen. It would be beyond surreal. I have spent so much time with this material, and these characters, that it would be bizarre, and absolutely fascinating, to see them reinterpreted in a film.
I would have loved to explore them more, but I do think it would have distracted the reader. This was supposed to be Emily’s story and her journey. But maybe in another book? I would love to get to know Ruth better, to see her in the first person, and not through Emily’s rose colored glasses. I am also curious about her family and her husband, and the amazing life she has led thus far.
Thanks! I answered this question in another post, so won’t re-answer here. But will say I hope to be writing till I’m really old too! I’m completely hooked.
I think she would have faced some of the same issues, though I do think her choice of profession (and her willingness to keep doing it for much of the novel) was an intentional choice I made about her character. She seeks refuge in the mind numbing nature of her job. She’s running away by working 80 hour weeks. This one of the many ways in which her grief plays out in a subtle and day to day way. So, I guess it was important for her to have an unsatisfying and monotonous job; and the law provided an easy fit.
Very drastic changes. To be honest, I was bored to death as a lawyer, and completely unsatisfied professionally. I had always dreamed of writing a novel, and one day I just got fed up. Basically, I quit as part of a New Year’s Resolution, and so far, it has turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. (And one of the few resolutions I’ve ever kept, come to think of it.)