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Interview: September 30, 2016

In THE LIFE SHE WANTS, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr delivers yet another moving story that will leave readers laughing and crying, about two friends who must confront their pasts in order to move toward their futures. In this interview with The Book Report Network’s very own Rebecca Munro, Carr explains why she loves to write about women’s friendship and why women’s issues will always be at the foreground of all her novels. She also opens up about why she has moved on from historical fiction and what readers can expect from her next.

The Book Report Network: In THE LIFE SHE WANTS, you have taken the popular theme of female friendship and rivalry and examined it in a fresh and original way. What drew you to this particular theme?

Robyn Carr: Women’s friendships are so complicated and delicate, always fraught with so much emotion, and yet are the most important relationships in women’s lives, sometimes as valuable to women as their marriages. But understanding them, creating and maintaining them, is so often misinterpreted. Our conflicts with the women we love can be filled with challenge and heartache, and our successful friendships filled with great comfort and joy. I love looking at the many ways in which women relate to each other. I think how women relate to each other, how they treat and value their friendships, is defining.  

TBRN: Your main character, Emma, loses everything when her financier husband’s white-collar crimes come to light, leading to his suicide. Although Emma was totally innocent, she slowly begins to accept that she was purposefully naïve, choosing to see her husband as a busy, wealthy man, rather than the conniving criminal he was. Why do you think women do this, ignoring what may be in front of them and choosing to see what they want to see?

RC: This can’t be limited to women; all humans are capable of denial --- it’s a survival instinct in many cases. In Emma’s case, she wants to protect her nest, her marriage, by not seeing the ugly side of it. Ultimately, she can’t keep her eyes closed any longer, but trusting our gut instincts is very, very hard --- we’re filled with self-doubt. She wondered if she was overreacting, if she was just jealous and petty, or were those vague suspicions on target. Denial isn’t just a female failing. Men are pretty good at it, too. 

TBRN: In the aftermath of Emma’s husband’s arrest and suicide, Emma herself becomes the target of vicious gossip and tabloid rumors. Although your account of Emma’s demise is fictionalized, it certainly has that “ripped from the headlines” appeal. Why do you think we as a society are so quick to lash out at those who are peripherally related to crime, even if they are proved innocent?

RC: Sadly, I think it’s human nature for us to look for someone to blame. Some people don’t want the facts, either --- they just want someone to blame for their hurts. 

TBRN: While Emma has lived through her fair share of tragedies, the life of her former best friend, Riley, was not exactly easy, either. In addition to becoming pregnant at 18, Riley was often unsupported by her child’s father and forced to endure 80-hour work weeks while raising a child and attempting to build her own business. Throughout it all, however, both women stubbornly hang on to their teenage feud even when it complicates their own lives. Why did you think it was important to look at the subject of arguments between friends that carry such weight and lingering feelings of betrayal?

RC: It’s about trust. Once betrayed, how do you turn back the clock and erase it? Is it a grudge if it’s a matter of not being able to trust that person who betrayed you? And who betrayed whom? Each of them has a very valid position. Emma lost her boyfriend and her best friend, but hadn’t she ignored them and moved on to greener pastures? And Riley took her best friend’s boyfriend, but would she have done that if her best friend had at least been in touch or acted like she cared for their friendship or for her boyfriend at all? So much had to happen in order for them to forgive each other, and I honestly didn’t know if it was possible. In fact, I wasn’t sure it was the best idea for them to try friendship again. That depended entirely on the strength of the foundation of their friendship, something only the two of them could decide. 

TBRN: Although Riley and Emma share many of the same values, including a fantastic work ethic and drive to succeed, they present themselves very differently and have vastly different interests. Who would you say you resemble most? Do you have a good friend who acts as your counterpart the way Riley and Emma do for one another?

RC: I definitely resemble Riley more --- I’ve always been a hard worker, and it took years to figure out how to work smarter rather than just harder. And I’ve never possessed that kind of grace and beauty Emma had, the kind that probably made her rich husband choose her because she fit the part so ideally. I’ve had many good friends over the years, some who seem to have been around forever and some I’ve passed my time with --- or they passed their time with me! But even in the best friendships, there are ups and downs. And all friendships are not created equal. We’ve all been dumped by a girlfriend, and the pain is extraordinary! We’ve all had the experience of finding we’re not compatible with a girlfriend we love --- equally painful. And at the end of the day, the kind of loneliness of not having a close, trusted girlfriend is just awful.   

TBRN: Emma and Riley’s feud, though complicated and consuming, is not the only issue in their relationship. Each woman also bears a lot of guilt and poor self-esteem. It was important for each to learn to forgive herself before she could look at the friendship. Do you have any ideas to share about how people can let go of ongoing resentments? Is there a time in life when you just let it all go?

RC: It’s a learning process; it’s maturity and eventual wisdom. There’s no question about it, some people will take their pettiness and anger to the grave. Others will keep trying until they learn how to accept others as they are, move on from past mistakes and hurts to self-acceptance and a sense of peace. That doesn’t mean all past offenses are forgotten --- there are people in my past I’d be a fool to trust again. But I’m not mad anymore. I’m just done. 

In the case of Riley and Emma, we have two good, well-meaning women who never meant any harm and deserve a second chance if they can forgive and accept their own failings and those of their friend. 

TBRN: There is, of course, also an element of romance in THE LIFE SHE WANTS; but, in a truly refreshing twist, the romance plots are secondary to Emma and Riley’s friendship and personal issues. How did you maintain this balance while allowing your male characters --- especially adorable Adam --- to shine?

RC: Ah, lovely Adam! Well, it was easy --- the story wasn’t about the men. Adam wasn’t part of the overwhelming conflict; Adam, and his love for Emma, weren’t the focus. The conflict was Emma reinventing herself after a devastating loss and Riley recovering after years of hurt and the disposition of their wounded friendship. One thing you can always count on with a Robyn Carr novel --- if it’s romance, there will be important women’s issues present as the romantic plot is being resolved, and if it’s women’s fiction there will always be a romance present. Women are often in charge of relationships --- in friendships, family and love. In the beginning, it was the women who kept the peace and negotiated relationships, while the men were out killing the woolly mammoth.

TBRN: Growing up, Riley and her family were more welcoming and loving to Emma than her own stepfamily, who were greedy and manipulative. Similarly, Riley’s daughter, Maddie, was raised mainly by her mother, grandmother and uncle as opposed to a typical nuclear family arrangement. Why did you choose to represent these different varieties of family? Was one easier to write than the other?

RC: That’s the world we live in! There are so many variations on family there’s hardly an average one. Even the nuclear man and woman and children might look typical from the outside, but I guarantee that under the surface there are many unique challenges and issues. 

TBRN: You have written both contemporary and historical fiction over the course of your career and are no stranger to research. Beyond research, what is the difference for you in writing a contemporary work such as THE LIFE SHE WANTS compared to writing one of your historical works?

RC: Simply the difference between doing historical research and studying current events and contemporary issues and practices. But I haven’t written a historical since 1990. I kind of lost my passion for them and found my contemporary voice. 

TBRN: What are you working on now, and when can readers expect to see it?

RC: I just finished the second Sullivan’s Crossing book, ANY DAY NOW, which will be available in April 2017, and I’m at work on a new women’s fiction novel. It doesn’t have a title yet, but will be out in the fall of 2017.