Lindas Book Obsession INTERVIEWS Lynne Hugo, Author of “The Testament of Harold’s Wife” For @Suzy Approved Book Tours , Kensington Sept. 2018
What was your motivation in becoming an author and writer? What did you do before you were a writer?
- I’ve always loved to write. Maybe I should also say I’ve always needed to write. It came naturally, my way to give shape and meaning to my world. I love the musical sounds of words and especially how something out there that makes no sense can be word-wrestled into a “maybe this is how it is” or “maybe this is why it is” or “this is what this beauty or this horror was like at the moment I experienced it.” I had a number of teachers who encouraged me, too, who saw something in my work, and I’m forever grateful to them. I majored in English and psychology in college, but didn’t have the courage then to think I could make a living as a writer–and also both my parents would have collapsed in panicked dismay at such a crazy notion–so, after graduation, I taught high school English for three years in Chicago’s south side while I went to grad school in social work and psychology. That didn’t exactly leave a lot of time for writing–or much else. Later, when the kids were little but I’d finished school and was working, I started again, short pieces, and many were published in literary magazines, which was very encouraging. I got several grants, which were huge confidence boosters. As the kids grew and I could steal more time, I tried longer work and have been writing novels ever since. My education and work experience combine to hone me in on the subtle complexities of human dynamics, how people think, talk, mess up, love and grieve, what lines they’ll cross and why, and I think that has helped deepen my work as a novelist.
What motivated or inspired you to write?
- I was inspired to write THE TESTAMENT OF HAROLD’S WIFE by a number of unrelated experiences that stuck in my mind—they must have kind of smashed together like atoms and exploded into an insistent story. First, my sister, to whom I am very close, was nearly killed by a driver who crossed center line and hit her head on. He was unpunished by the law (even though he was driving an unregistered, uninsured car). She was in the hospital and we never found out if he was drunk or on drugs, but that was our impression at the time. The second experience occurred when I was at a traffic light one slushy December twilight. I saw a decal on the back of a big black SUV. It was white, in the shape of angel wings, had a name, “Nicholas,” dates of birth and death—which told me he’d been a teenager—and said, in stylized script, “A Grandfather Never Forgives.” I was so dumbfounded by that last part that I abandoned my trip to the grocery store and followed the SUV. Not for long—I don’t know what I thought I was going to do! Interrogate the driver and demand an explanation? (What a creative way that would have been to get myself arrested!) But I so wanted to know what that grandfather couldn’t forgive. I guess writers find their stories in the world by seeing things that intrigue them, but don’t worry, I didn’t stalk the SUV more than a few blocks; I came to my senses and went on to the grocery store. Then, in the spring of that same year, the third experience started: a friend of mine who’s a university provost (we live in a college town) lost her mind and brought home four baby chicks. Yes, live ones. No, she doesn’t live on a farm, and no, she didn’t know anything about raising chickens. Well, the learning curve was steep and it was hilarious to watch all the mistakes she made (for one, mistaking the chicken that was actually a rooster for a hen–it’s illegal to have a rooster within city limits for the obvious reason, and she wanted hens anyway because she likes eggs!). I couldn’t let all that accidental learning I’d done go to waste; I had to use my new expertise about chickens in a novel. Although I was smart enough to make the setting something sensible, like a farm. If you read THE TESTAMENT Of HAROLD’S WIFE, you’ll be able to see how subtly each of these real-life events got transformed into story.
What are your goals for readers to take away after reading?
- I would like my readers to feel uplifted and hopeful, to have laughed heartily, and to have experienced what the Booklist review called “a blend of humor and heartbreak” which is what I think we need to find to get through life with sensitivity and compassion.
What is a typical day in your life?
- A typical day in my life includes going to the gym for water aerobics, working on the next novel for most of the day, a late afternoon hike out in the forest with my yellow Lab, Scout, throwing a tennis ball ahead so that he runs probably ten miles to my two miles hiked. A fabulous retriever, he also specializes in finding disgusting things to roll in so that I will have to get him down to the little singing river that runs through our woods and throw the ball in six or seven times; he loves to swim for it, which gives him a de factobath. After the hike, I come home and have a glass of wine with my photographer husband—who by then will have come home from his studio. He may or may not have done the hike with the Scout…and then one of us will make dinner and the other does the clean up. (My standards on the clean up are, shall we say, somewhat higher than my husband’s since they include actually washing the pots and pans. And–imagine this–putting leftovers away and cleaning the counters!)
What are your hobbies or things you do in your downtime?
5 .In my downtime, I read–mostly literary fiction. I watch the news, because world affairs are important to me and I’m particularly concerned about the environment. I love to get together with friends for dinners and movies, and lively discussions. My husband and I enjoy the hikes in the woods with the dog; they refresh my spirit, and I love the water aerobics especially since the instructor plays songs from the seventies. I hate to admit how many of the lyrics I can sing. Not well, but I sing them anyway. I’m definitely a nature-lover (especially my home turf,Cape Cod but natural settings in general) and I’m sure that shows in my fiction. And I love, love, love, spending time with my kids and grandchildren, the lights of my life.
What can you tell us of any new writing projects that you might have?
- What’s coming next–in 2020–is a stand-alone follow-up to THE TESTAMENT OF HAROLD’S WIFE. What that means is it’s not a sequel, so you don’t need to have read TESTAMENT first, but it has the same characters and setting. The working title is THE BOOK OF SMALL GRACES and it takes place two years after TESTAMENT ends. My Lab, Scout, is disgusted to report that Marvelle the tuxedo cat is still in residence, but wants you to know that his relentless nagging paid off and a yellow Lab has been added to the farm, along with a goat and a couple additional chickens. CarolSue is there in person, and she, Gary, Gus, and Louisa get embroiled in, of course, one gigantic mess.
How would you like the readers to connect with you?
- If readers would like to get in touch with me, they can connect via my website, LynneHugo.com. (I’d love to invite subscribers to my very infrequent blog posts, too!) I’m on Facebook, Lynne Hugo Reader’s Page. Also Twitter @LynneHugo and Instagram, LynneHugoAuthor, although that latter always seems to updating. But I love to hear from readers and am very good about responding. Thank you so much for being interested and caring.
The Testament of Harold’s Wife,
” Hugo’s latest is a sweet, sad, funny, meditation on the nature of aging and grief…a novel that would fit right in on the shelf next to novels like A Man Called Ove and similar books that balance humor and heartbreak.” —Booklist
FB: Lynne Hugo Reader’s Page