I'm already getting questions about DEAR HEART's backstory, so I thought I might as well cover them here. WARNING: THERE MAY BE SPOILERS AHEAD.
WHERE DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR DEAR HEART?
It just came to me, as if from the ether that dances around fate.
IS THE STORY BASED ON A REAL-LIFE EXPERIENCE?
Not really. Some of the characters have traits of people I know, but no character is based wholly on any one person.
IS DEIRDRE YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER?
Surprisingly, no. My favorite characters are Denise, who is most like me, Bill, who is just an all-around good guy, and Lee, whose persistence and devotion appeal to me.
OF THOSE, WHICH IS YOUR FAVORITE?
Lee. I got to really know him when I was writing the companion book, Sweet Heart, and I just like everything about him. Plus, even though Deirdre is telling the story in Dear Heart, it is Lee who moves it along. If Lee hadn’t decided to send those records for 38 years, there wouldn’t be a story.
IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE THAT DEIRDRE IS NOT YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER OR EVEN IN THE TOP THREE. WHY IS THAT?
That’s a good question. She should be, right? But you have to realize that the difference in the depth of my affection for the characters is just a matter of degree. I like that Deirdre was brave enough to have the affair at a time when it could have destroyed her life. And I like that she stayed with Bill because she couldn’t bear to hurt him, and that she loved Frank from the moment she knew he was growing inside her. I also think it took courage for her to sit down and write out the entire story, and I absolutely love the way she speaks. Maybe it’s just that I see her more as the architect of the story than as a character.
ARE YOU ANYTHING LIKE DEIRDRE?
Not at all. Deirdre is much more refined and articulate than I am.
WHICH CAME FIRST, THE STORY OR THE CHARACTERS?
The first chapter came first. I just sat down one day and wrote it, but I didn’t really know what came next, or who the characters were. I had to take a month to figure out who was going to be in the story and how they would move it along.
WHICH CAME FIRST DEAR HEART OR DEIR HART?
The book title came first. It was just fortuitous that I came across ‘Deirdre’ when I was looking for names for the characters and made the connection with the title. The only problem was that I thought the name ‘Hartley’ was too formal for Lee’s character. I struggled with that until it finally dawned on me to give him a nickname.
HOW MUCH OF THE PLOT DID YOU KNOW WHEN YOU STARTED THE BOOK?
Very little. I knew the beginning and the end, but I had no idea what happened in between. That flowed naturally as I was writing.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE TITLE FOR THE BOOK?
My mother had a record called Songs for Lonesome Lovers by the Ray Charles Singers that I used to listen to as a girl. I got nostalgic and started playing it one day, and rediscovered ‘Dear Heart.’ The rest is history.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT WRITING THE BOOK?
Finding the right voices for the characters and keeping the timeline straight. I finally had to map it out to insure the events happened in the appropriate years. I started all the way back when Deirdre married Bill and Lee married Jean and moved forward. Everything that is mentioned in the book is on that timeline, including the birthdates of Lee’s daughters and the freaking history of the San Francisco 49ers.
DID YOU ALWAYS INTEND TO USE SINATRA’S MUSIC IN THE BOOK?
I knew I wanted to include music as a key element, but I started out using songs from different artists; then I wanted to use only music by Michael Feinstein, but he wasn’t around during the early days of the book’s time frame. When I did a search to find out which other artists recorded ‘Embraceable You’, I found Sinatra, and when I discovered the breadth of his catalog and the fact that he recorded ‘Dear Heart’, I knew he was it.
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO CHOOSE THE MUSIC REFERENCED IN THE BOOK?
Months. Wikipedia has a fairly extensive discography of the songs Sinatra recorded, and it was a good jumping off point. I went through it and selected songs I thought would advance the story, then I had to listen to them all to make sure they were recorded in the right tempo to fit the mood of the plot point I was working on. Some song titles were promising but the lyrics weren’t right. Some songs advanced the storyline if it was being seen as a movie but didn’t really fit the plot of the book. That’s when I started to think of Dear Heart as a movie. Then I had to create a spreadsheet to keep all of the titles straight and make sure that they were recorded before they showed up in the book. Sometimes it took me days to find a recording of a particular title so I could listen to it and determine if it fit. As far as I can tell, Sinatra recorded 1,267 song titles in his career, and I bet I listened to at least half of them. Like I said, months.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE SONG?
‘If It Takes Forever I Will Wait for You.’ I like the tempo and the fact that it encapsulates the storyline.
DID YOU ALWAYS PLAN TO USE ‘I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS’ AS A MAJOR PLOT POINT?
No, it came as a complete surprise. I was listening to a Johnny Mathis Christmas album when we were driving to a shopping mall one day, and as soon as that song came on, all of the pieces fell into place. I couldn’t access iTunes fast enough to see if Sinatra had recorded a version of it.
DID ANYTHING ELSE IN THE BOOK COME AS A SURPRISE?
Frank, the character, not the singer, was a big surprise. I was in the shower, listening to the soundtrack, and trying to figure out how to transition to the next part of the book when the idea for Frank came to me.
When I’m writing it helps me to be embroiled in the world I’m writing about. For Dear Heart, the music made that happen. I created a playlist in iTunes of all of the songs referenced in the book and played that constantly. Over time, I culled that list and created a much shorter one of the 30 titles that I think should be used in a movie.
THE BOOK SEEMS TO BE DIVIDED INTO TWO PARTS: THE STEAMY STUFF AND THEN EVERYTHING ELSE. IS THAT HOW YOU PLANNED IT?
Actually, when I got far enough along to know what was coming up, I saw the book in three parts, with the first part ending when Lee leaves and the second part ending when Bill dies.
BASED ON THAT, DO YOU FAVOR ONE PART OVER THE OTHERS?
Oh, yeah, I favor the first part, even though most of my friends like the other parts better.
WHAT OTHER FEEDBACK HAVE YOU GOTTEN ABOUT DEAR HEART?
Universally, the audience wanted more of Denise and Bill. I tried to add more flesh to the bones of those characters while I was querying the manuscript, but by that time I had given Denise a larger role in Sweet Heart. As for Bill, as much as I liked him, I ultimately decided that it wasn’t his story, and I felt that beefing up Bill’s character would detract from what was going on with Deirdre and Lee.
WHY DO YOU THINK LEE WAS SO DEVOTED TO DEIRDRE FOR ALL OF THOSE YEARS?
Seriously? Do you think there’s a man alive who could forget the woman who was the source of his mind-blowing orgasms? Plus, as Lee says in Sweet Heart, he was an unremarkable guy, about as ordinary as they come; but with Deirdre he was his best self, and a little like the Clark Gable she always thought him to be.
EVERYTHING OF IMPORTANCE HAPPENS IN THE BOOKS ON SEPTEMBER 25th AND DECEMBER 24th. ARE THOSE DATES IMPORTANT IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE?
CARE TO TELL US HOW?
ARE THERE OTHER SUBTLETIES IN DEAR HEART THAT YOU THINK READERS MIGHT MISS?
The fact that Fate is an actual character. I never knew what it meant when I read that New York was a fourth character in the Sex and the City franchise. Now I do. And, of course, there’s the flip side of the underlying theme.
Well, if the theme is ‘love endures,’ the flip side is that it is probably impossible to sustain passion for 40 years while navigating the currents of everyday life. Life chips away at romantic love and turns it into affection. That’s what Deirdre had with Bill. What kept the flames of romantic love alive for Deirdre and Lee was the very fact that they were separated for most of that time.
YOU’VE TALKED ABOUT SEEING DEAR HEART AS A MOVIE. ANY IDEA WHO WILL PLAY THE LEADS?
Boy, are you going to be sorry you asked that!
LEE.........................................................Harry Connick, Jr.
SOPHIE PALASKI.................................Marion Ross
LANCE CORPORAL LEN CIONI.........Ray Romano
WOW! YOU’VE GIVEN IT SOME THOUGHT.
You have no idea. Seriously, though, at one point it became a necessity to ‘cast the movie’ so I could picture the characters in my head as I wrote about them. That was another month away from writing as I scoured the internet for the perfect cast.
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO WRITE THE COMPANION BOOK, SWEET HEART?
Shortly before I finished Dear Heart. By that time, I was obsessed with seeing it as a movie and I knew that the story had to be fleshed out to be successful on the screen.
LET’S TALK ABOUT SWEET HEART. WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT IT?
I like what it tells us about Lee. If you think about it, he is something of a tragic figure, yet he is full of optimism. Lee’s life is much harder than Deirdre’s. She had Frank to dote on, a confidant in Denise, and a loving husband in Bill. Lee had no one. I also like the fact that we get to learn more about Denise and Florentina and Frank, and about Jean, who is surprisingly three-dimensional for a secondary character.
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE THE BOOKS?
It took me two years to finish Dear Heart, but it only took me a week to write Sweet Heart. There was a lot of research that went into Dear Heart and it took me awhile to figure out the backstories of the characters. Since Sweet Heart is generally set in the same fictitious world, and I knew who the narrator was and how he spoke, it was a lot easier. Plus, I wrote twenty hours a day during the week I was working on Sweet Heart and only slept by taking several catnaps during the day.
DO YOU LIKE ONE OF THE BOOKS MORE THAN THE OTHER?
That’s like asking if you like one of your children more than the other. The official answer is no. The real answer is that I’m partial to Sweet Heart because I love Lee’s character.
WHO WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO READ DEAR HEART?
@ROBREINER so that he’ll fall in love with the story and make it into a movie.
WHY ROB REINER?
For the longest time I thought I’d want Robert Redford to produce and direct the movie, but then I realized that the story needed a light touch, and I think Rob Reiner is more suited to that. I liked what he did with The American President and When Harry Met Sally.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF EACH BOOK?
In Dear Heart it’s when Denise tells Deirdre that she wants ‘to raise a pussy’. In Sweet Heart it’s when Lee says that if he had known that Deirdre was wearing thigh highs instead of pantyhose it would have brought him to his knees. Those passages defined the voices of the characters and brought them to life.
NOW THAT IT’S PUBLISHED, IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD CHANGE IN THE BOOK?
Not really. Don’t forget, I’ve been living with Dear Heart for four years and have had plenty of opportunity to tweak and perfect it.
DO YOU MISS WORKING ON THE BOOK?
Just before Dear Heart was published, as I was filing away everything for the last time, I was suddenly overcome with sadness. Even though I had a new book to work on, and another one on the drawing board, Deirdre and Lee had become a big part of my life and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to them. It was crazy. I was all but inconsolable until it occurred to me that I still had the screenplay to work on. Thank God, because I would have probably been holding a memorial service instead of a launch party when the book came out.
HAVE YOU EVER WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY?
ASSUMING YOU FINISH THIS ONE, DO YOU REALLY EXPECT TO SELL IT?
You bet! Listen, almost no one thought I’d ever find a publisher for Dear Heart, but I never doubted it for a moment. I feel the same way about the movie. It might take ten years, but sooner or later I’ll see that story made into a movie.
WHAT WILL YOU DO IF SOMEONE WANTS TO BUY THE MOVIE RIGHTS TO THE BOOKS BUT DOESN’T WANT YOUR SCREENPLAY?
I honestly don’t know. I have a very clear vision of how the story will look on the big screen and I think I would be hard pressed to let go of that. However, I think I’d be okay with using someone else’s script as long as I had final script and casting approval.
IF IT CAME RIGHT DOWN TO IT, WOULD YOU RELINQUISH CREATIVE CONTROL FOR A REALLY BIG CHECK?
I hope not, but I guess it would depend on how much money you’re talking about. My mother would say, ‘don’t be an idiot, take the money,’ so I guess I’d give it some serious thought.
DO YOU HAVE ANY REGRETS?
Just one. That my good friend, John Singer, didn’t live to read the book.