Maureen Joyce Connolly - Every Mother's Nightmare
Maureen is a former owner of a consulting firm that helped specialty drug companies to develop medications for ultra-rare diseases. Maureen received her Bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and her Master’s degree in Liberal Studies from Wesleyan University. Her background in science and love of the natural world informs and inspires her writing. LITTLE LOVELY THINGS is her debut as a novelist. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about it.
Please give us a short introduction to what Little Lovely Things is about.
The plot goes like this – a woman, Claire Rawlings, encounters every mother’s nightmare when she, as a medical resident, rushes off to work with her two girls in tow on their way to the hospital daycare. As they drive she suffers a life-threatening allergic reaction and is barely able to pull her car to safety. After doing so, she passes out cold. And when she awakes, her girls are gone. Stolen. The underlying story, the larger theme, is what happens after this tragic circumstance. Through four different point of view characters, the theme of self-rescue is explored. How on earth do you find ways to continue? Whether it is an abduction, a natural disaster, most people somehow cope enough to keep living. External help and support are crucial during tragic times, but the real event takes place internally – we must change in some tangible way in order to survive. This is true in both good ways and bad and is based on both personality and choice. This is why I make my characters complex because humans are complex and are faced with making decisions every day that craft us into who we are.
Was there something in particular that made you want to tackle this?
I had two children when I was fairly young which was followed by a gap of almost ten years before I had my last child. I think partly because I was a late-in-life, more experienced, mother, I had a more sensitive understanding of how fragile life can be. I was consumed with the safety of my baby and seemed to see abduction stories everywhere on TV and in print media. It was actually a bit maddening. I think I needed to embrace this story so that I could explore how people keep moving forward after tragedy. Perhaps somewhere deep inside it has been a way to stifle my own fears.
Tell us more about Claire Rawlings. What makes her tick?
Claire is so complicated! She is an over-achiever for certain which can be tied to the loss of her parents at an early age. She is also a career woman in the nineteen-nineties - a time when women were entering the workforce in droves and hadn’t quite figured it all out yet (not that anyone has still!). She has a voracious love for her family and the devastation caused by her loss falls, in her mind, squarely on her shoulders. While she is clearly very brave, I find it interesting that the best way she originally finds to deal with her circumstances is to bury herself in her work, essentially an act of cowardice. I am a little tough on her for sure, but I think she handles herself in a very relatable way.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
In addition to writing fiction and poetry, I am an amateur painter and photographer. I also cook a pretty mean chili from time to time and have to be surgically removed from my garden when my perennials are in bloom. Because I have been on a dragon boat team for over five years, I am assuming I’m a pretty decent paddler as well!
Please tell us about the cover and how it came about.
My cover was designed by the best graphics team in the publishing world at Sourcebooks. I had heard horror stories of authors not liking their cover art and working for months to get it right. I took one look and was bowled over. I responded immediately with my approval and appreciation and remain grateful for that experience.
You are a former owner of a consulting firm that helped develop medications for ultra-rare diseases. How did your work experience influence your writing?
First of all, I love science, always have. Even if it is not always evident, or at the forefront, it is present as an underpinning in all of my work. I frequently return to the natural world for inspiration whether it is outdoors or reading. Additionally, as a business owner, I learned to be very disciplined and priority focused. It can be very easy as a writer to lose perspective. Fortunately, the main lesson taken from the success of my previous career is; hunker down and just plow through – even when I feel a lack of confidence or am not sure of where my story is leading, I just keep going.
Little Lovely Things is your debut novel. What has the experience been like so far?
Compared to the very staid industry pharmaceutical research industry, this experience has been like riding a teeter-totter on steroids - and I’m super grateful for the ride! There are so many elements of the process that were previously alien to me; the endless editing cycles, the demands of promoting, the wonderful interactions with readers - it’s all almost surreal and yet makes me feel super alive. In the beginning, after I received a publishing offer, I was frequently told by authors and editors that there would never be another experience like the release of my debut novel, and boy - were they right!
Why did you pick Chicago and the small towns surrounding Lake Michigan as the backdrop for your book?
Oh, thank you for asking that!!! When you hail from Michigan (as I do) the Great Lakes are almost sacred to you - Lake Michigan particularly so. It is essentially a character in my book. I wanted the human characters to explore their experiences from literally different sides of the lake, and their reaction to this stunning body of water are as varied as their personalities.
Is there something that compels you to write? And do you find that writing helps you achieve clarity about yourself or ideas you've been struggling with?
I think it is an act of total submission to be a writer. By that I mean you must desire it above all else because it makes no sense otherwise – it’s simply too time-consuming and difficult! Writing indeed helps me achieve clarity, usually through the themes I’ve chosen. For example, as mentioned earlier, I am intensely curious how people manage to ‘go on’ after tragedy, and the theme of self-rescue in Little Lovely Things (which all of the characters do in some shape or form) has helped me satisfy that interest.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
Oh, I have so many interesting writing habits!!! Sometimes when I get stuck, I write a list of questions directed to my characters on pieces of colorful paper. I then toss them into a bowl, close my eyes and pull one out – like a little game. The only rule I set for myself is that I have to sit down immediately and answer that question. It helps me loosen up and stimulates my imagination. My average writing day involves warming up at the computer as soon as my home clears in the morning, by putting on noise-canceling headphones and thinking about my characters. I usually can work for several hours only and then need to take a break or tend to things like grocery shopping etc. I have found that if I focus too long, my brain comes dangerously close to exploding.
What are you working on right now?
I am actually working on several things, my second novel, and a collection of poems. I am not it the position to breathe a word about novel #2 because I am superstitious about my writing and am afraid to jinx it. Even my editor has no idea!
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Please interact with me – I love to hear from readers! My website and social media links are as follows:
Website: https:// maureenjconnolly.com
Author Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/maureenjconnollyauthor
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Maureen-Joyce-Connolly/e/B07P15B7RH