Anita and I are trying something new (to us). We are interviewing each other so that you, dear readers, get two authors for the price of one read.
Full disclosure, I don’t actually know Anita in the real sense of the word; I know her through the wonderful 2020Debuts group we both belong to (which is run by the equally fabulous Alison Hammer), and I know her through our writers group, Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) and I know her from reading her book, Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters.
So this is what I can tell you: Anita is generous and kind and adorable; she has written a beautiful story about the secrets that bind mothers and daughters together. If you have not read Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters, I recommend that you do. You can thank me later.
So! On to the interview.
BC: What would you like our readers to know about you?
AK: I’m a friendly Canadian with a background in socio-cultural and environmental research, who always wanted to be a writer, but took the long way of getting there. When I’m not reading or writing, I love being outdoors, walking, running, hiking, cycling, or being on the water. Baking and napping are also among my favourite pastimes. I live in Ottawa, Ontario, with my husband and cat, Noodles. We’re expecting our first child in March. And it’s a girl! For now, we call her Bean.
AK: Tell us a little about yourself.
BC: I love the reference to ‘Little Bean’ in your book!
I’m old. Let’s start with that. I’m a 70-year-old 2020 Debut who always dreamed of writing a book and finally did. I’m a mother and grandmother who writes about dysfunctional families with loads of secrets.
BC: Tell me a little about Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters.
AK: I would love to! Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters is a mother-daughter story told in alternating timelines. The story kicks off with a prologue where we’re introduced to a young couple who are moments away from meeting their adopted daughter for the first time. During that meeting with the social worker, they discover that their daughter has come to them through tragic circumstances. Her birth mother died under mysterious circumstances, and her birth father wasn’t able to raise her alone. By the time we reach the first chapter, that little baby, whose name is Asha, has just turned eighteen. She’s on the cusp of adulthood and excited about the future. However, it’s at that time her parents reveal to her the truth about the adoption secret they’ve kept from her until then. The revelation rocks her to her core, and she starts asking the big questions: Who am I? Where do I come from? Can I ever trust my parents again? What else are they keeping from me? And, of course, what happened to my birth mother? Why didn’t my birth father keep me? Was it my fault? These are the questions that propel Asha through her storyline and a tumultuous year that follows.
From there, we’re introduced to our second protagonist, a young scholar named Mala, who has just returned to her doctoral studies after a period of bereavement leave following the sudden death of her beloved father. As Mala struggles to get her life back on track, her mother has other ideas about what is best for her future. Mala finds herself caught between duty and desire, torn between following her heart and balancing the cultural expectations her mother places upon her.
The two storylines weave together, and I promise it all comes together in the end!
AK: What’s the premise of Nowhere Near Goodbye?
BC: A female oncologist, Emma Blake, is compelled to fulfill a childhood promise by creating a surgical procedure to cure glioblastoma (GBM), and in doing so, forfeits everyone she loves.
Synopsis: A mother’s love vs. a doctor’s oath.
Oncologist Emma Blake has dedicated her life to finding a cure for a rare brain cancer. Twenty-five years ago, Emma’s childhood friend Kate died of glioblastoma, and Emma vowed to annihilate the deadly disease. Now, Kate’s father, Ned, is pushing her to work harder to fulfill that promise.
When Emma discovers she’s pregnant, she’s torn between the needs of her family and the demands of her work. While Ned pressures her to do the unthinkable, her husband, Tim, decorates the nursery. Unwilling to abandon her research, Emma attempts to keep both sides of her life in balance.
Emma knows she needs to reconcile her past with her present and walk the fine line between mother and physician. But Ned has a secret, and when Emma discovers what he’s been hiding, the foundation of her world cracks.
Nowhere Near Goodbye is a story of family, failure, and second chances.
BC: Where did the idea for Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughter come from?
AK: There were a few different points of inspiration. I wanted to write a book that explored arranged marriage from various points of view, both positive and negative. I’ve also always wanted to write a tragic love story and there’s plenty of heartache in the novel, haha. I also have a great love of Victorian feminist literature, the Brontë’s in particular, so finding a way to weave my love of Jane Eyre throughout the story as a point of connection and meaning between the protagonists was important to me. I also write about bereavement and mental health quite a lot in my work, as a way of combating stigma and inspiring empathy.
AK: What inspired you to write Nowhere Near Goodbye?
BC: I also loved your references to Jane Eyre (you and I and Finola Austin, author of Bronte’s Mistress, should do an in-person meetup as soon as it’s safe).
A friend lost a loved one to glioblastoma (GBM) twenty years ago. It made me so angry at the time to watch my friend suffer her loss, and I didn’t know what to do with my anger, but I knew one day I would write a book where the tumor didn’t win, even though the reality is that the tumor almost always wins.
Since that time, two things have remained the same: my desire to write this story and the utter destructiveness of GBM.
BC: How long did it take you to write Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters?
AK: Oh, wow, a long time! I think about six years? It’s changed a lot from that first draft way back whenever!
AK: What are you most looking forward to this debut year? And conversely, what are you most nervous about?
BC: At first, I never thought past seeing the book published. Then I began to imagine a book signing in my favorite local bookstore. Of course, the pandemic struck long before my book released, so it soon became clear that there would be no public anything.
Honestly, the thing that made me most nervous was realizing my book was out in the world for people to read and criticize, and I just wanted to pull it back into me so that no one could see it.
BC: Why were you compelled to write Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters?
AK: I’m interested in exploring the social and cultural pressures faced by South Asian girls and women and inter-generational conflict, that is, how the lives of women and the expectations they face differ between generations and how that impacts the kinds of choices they have available to them overall. There are three different generations of women in this story, and their lives have very different outcomes based on the kinds of choices available to them, as well as the social support around them. I started with Mala’s story, wanting to understand this young woman living with grief, who wants nothing more than to return to her studies but, at the same time, struggles to make her mother happy. She struggles to be a “good daughter” while also pursuing a life of her own, a dilemma I know many daughters, regardless of background, can relate to.
AK: What authors do you admire and/or have influenced your development as a writer? Please feel free to add specific books; we love recommendations!
BC: I like books that are straight-forward, but with maybe a hint of religion in them. And to tell you the truth, I don’t know where that comes from since I’ve never considered myself much of a religious person. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, and Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger and The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni are all books that have influenced my writing. They are all books that I love.
BC: What are you working on now?
AK: After Secret Lives, I finished two manuscripts, both sisterhood stories with lots of drama and family secrets. My agent is reviewing them now, so fingers crossed she likes what she reads! While I wait to hear back from her, I’ve recently started my first foray into historical fiction. A contemporary retelling of an ancient Indian myth in desperate need of an update.
AK: What are you working on now?
BC: I’m working on the prequel to Nowhere Near Goodbye. There’s a character in Nowhere Near Goodbye, Miss Maggie, who originally made only a brief appearance. Then through editorial revisions, she became a little more fleshed out so that she caught my attention. By the end of the editing process, I needed to discover the connection between her and Emma, my protagonist in Nowhere Near Goodbye.
BC: Tell me a secret. Something not many people know about you that you wouldn’t mind sharing.
AK: Perhaps I’ll share a little known fact about the novel! The first draft of Secret Lives was actually linear. It was an agent who asked me to do a revise and resubmit that suggested I consider two timelines. At the time, the thought of undertaking such a huge structural change blew my mind and felt very daunting. But it was an important change and has made the book what it is today.
AK: What question do you wish I had asked and answer it!
BC: There’s a subplot in Nowhere Near Goodbye about beagles and how they are used for medical and product testing. It’s real; the association I am most familiar with is the Beagle Freedom Project, which is an organization that rescues beagles, rehabilitates them, and finds forever homes for them. So, I wish you had asked me about the beagles.
To answer my question, I would explain that beagles are the most trusting of dogs – and that is why this breed is popular with testing facilities. It’s a horrific situation for the animals, and it’s a situation I needed to put eyes on. And yes, of course, I have a rescued beagle. I don’t think I can write about something I don’t care about.
Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters
Indie Bound: http://bit.ly/2OSSHuV
Social media links:
HarperCollins Canada: http://bit.ly/2rGoHcm
Nowhere Near Goodbye
Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/dp/1948051575
Barnes & Noble - https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/nowhere-near-goodbye-barbara-conrey/1137609443?ean=2940163049929
Apple Books - https://books.apple.com/us/book/nowhere-near-goodbye/id1523182318
Google - https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=A-D7DwAAQBAJ
Kobo - https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/nowhere-near-goodbye
Bookshop.org - https://bookshop.org/books?keywords=Nowhere+Near+Goodbye+by+Barbara+Conrey
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Publisher’s website: Red Adept Publishing https://redadeptpublishing.com/