Interview: Kim Wright, Love in Mid Air

| 10 May , 2010 | Reply

Kristy McCormick

Be warned there is a spoiler ahead:

I loved reading Love in Mid Air – and in fact read it in two days flat! It is an accurate and confronting look at a marriage and the steps one woman takes to try and save hers. The thing that really stuck with me though – and I believe it is what Kim set out to achieve – is that it is not clichéd. She has avoided the ‘happy ever after\’ that so many novels termed ‘chick-lit\’ strive for and instead given us a believable and yet thoroughly enjoyable story. I am definitely looking forward to the next instalment and can\’t wait to see what Kelly especially has done in her life in the intervening ten years!

Kim graciously agreed to answer some questions for us and, who knows, one day soon we might see her here in Australia on a book tour.

1. You have an extensive, and successful, career in feature writing. Was writing a novel a natural progression for you?

I think most non-fiction writers feel they have a novel in them somewhere, and I was no exception. My non-fiction work had included a lot of essays and first person writing – I was predominantly a travel and food writer so I was always talking about my own experiences. So writing a first person novel wasn\’t that much of a leap in terms of style. Getting it published was another matter. It\’s much harder to find an agent and get a novel into the marketplace than it is to write features. It took me three years and I count myself lucky.

2. The women in the novel are all part of a book club. Have you participated in book clubs in the past? What is your experience?

Yes, I was in a book club during my marriage and shortly after. At one point it was my turn to choose the next read and I wanted us to do a book about divorce – I was the only divorced woman in the circle – but couldn\’t find one I thought was realistic. So many of the books implied that the whole goal of divorce is to replace one man with another. You know, you get the mean old husband out and the wonderful new boyfriend in and everything\’s fine. There\’s so much more to it than that.

Divorce is a whole rite of passage and it affects every aspect of your life, including your friendships. When Elyse begins to question her marriage it upsets her friends, forces them to look at their own lives differently. One of the characters in the book says at one point “We\’re all in the same boat” and I think women who are married and in the suburbs might feel that way. So when one character, Elyse, suddenly stands up, the whole boat lurches and everyone loses equilibrium for a minute. They all have to scramble around finding a new type of balance.

3. Although fiction, Love in Mid Air is inspired by real life events, including your own divorce. What was the moment that made you think you wanted to use this experience in your writing?

I\’ve always kept journals and after my divorce I kept them even more religiously, writing down my thoughts and also the stories of other women. Because one of the strange things about being divorced is that all of a sudden people begin telling you their secrets. It\’s like you\’ve publically failed so you\’re a safe person to talk to. They know you won\’t judge them. So I had this pile of journals that\’s getting taller and taller and originally I thought it was a nonfiction book.

About two-thirds of the divorces in both American and Australia are initiated by women but somehow these stories are never told. My original thinking was that this would be an interesting premise for a nonfiction book – i.e., what is driving all these women to walk out the door? But I knew that I was too close to the material. So I walked away from it for almost three years. When I came back and started looking through the journals again it was like someone else had written them and it hit me all at once that this wasn\’t nonfiction, it was material for a novel.

4. There are loads of books out there based around women of a certain age, and certain stage, who are asking ‘what now?\’ How did you manage to write this book and avoid it becoming clichéd?

That\’s exactly the challenge. How do you say something new about a middle age crisis? I tried to do this by going inside Elyse\’s head and spreading out all of her thoughts to the reader, really pushing the first person POV to the extreme. And, as I said earlier, I was careful not to fall into the “romantic triangle” trap. You know, the woman has a husband and a lover and the book is about which one she\’ll wind up with in the end. That\’s been done to death. I concentrated on pulling out the aspects of a midlife affair that have been less explored – like how her choices affect her friends, especially Kelly, her best friend.

5. Which character in Love in Mid Air do you think you relate most to?

Thanks so much for asking! People always assume I am Elyse but actually I relate a lot to Kelly as well. I think it\’s telling that I gave Kelly my own initials without realizing it at the time.

6. You stuck to the suburbs (a place that we can all identify with even in Australia) in this book – as a travel writer do you see a novel set in a more exotic location in the future? If so, where would it be?

You know, because my background is travel writing, I was a little worn out with describing exotic places. I\’d written about Iceland and Korea and South Africa and Peru and it actually seemed exotic to me to pick apart the suburbs of my own home town. But whether you\’re writing about a far flung place or the house next door, the challenge to the writer is the same – selecting and highlighting the right details. (And I must add that I\’ve never been to Australia, but always wanted to go! Now I have fantasies of a Love in Mid Air book tour.)

7. I have to admit I felt a little cheated when Phil hit Elyse – some part of me felt she had just had her hand forced (as horrible as that sounds when put in context of what he did) Do you think it gave her an easier way to get out of the marriage in the end?

I\’m sorry that the ending disappointed you. I wasn\’t trying to give her an easy out, I was trying to show that no one really ever knows the exact path their life is going to take. Early in the book there\’s a scene where Elyse thinks that the only social sanctioned reasons for a woman to leave a marriage is if the man drinks, or cheats, or hits her and Phil would never do any of these things. Elyse is a little smug – as the character Nancy points out, she thinks she\’s a bit smarter than everyone else – and she is quite sure she\’s going to be able to handle it all without getting hurt or getting caught. But one of the themes of the book is that no one really knows anyone else and we might be quite shocked by the inner thoughts of our neighbours or even our best friends. So I wanted something to happen at the end that Elyse never saw coming…in fact, something that she had earlier stated would never happen. So that when Phil does the unthinkable and hits her, she\’s as shocked as the reader.

8. What\’s next for the women in Elyse\’s book club?

I\’m presently working on the sequel of Love in Mid Air but this time it\’s told from Kelly\’s point of view. And I\’ve accelerated Kelly and Elyse ten years into the future, so that now they\’re turning fifty. That\’s another big birthday for women, another point where people stop and take stock of their lives, and now our girls are in a whole different kind of trouble.

About Kim Wright

Kim Wright divorced from her husband 12 years ago. Living in a small town, the divorce impacted on the community and Kim suddenly became the person that women confided in about their bad marriages. The notes she kept as repository for women\’s secrets became the basis of Love in Mid Air.

She has been writing about travel, food and wine for more than twenty years for many magazines including Wine Spectator, Self, Travel + Leisure, and Vogue, and has twice won the Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing. Love in Mid Air is her first novel. Kim lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Available now:  Allen & Unwin RRP$29.99

You can read my review here.

Photo credit of Kim Wright, Michael Church

Kristy

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