Juliette Fay is the award-winning, bestselling author of no less than six novels. Her latest, Catch Us When We Fall, is a poignant story filled with humor, compassion, and forgiveness. When the story begins, we meet Cass Macklin, determined to stop drinking when she finds herself pregnant and alone. Desperate, she turns to the only sober friend she has—Scott McGreavy, who happens to be her dead boyfriend’s brother and third baseman for the Boston Red Sox, a man with a temper and problems of his own.
Dead Darlings is pleased to welcome back Juliette Fay.
You’ve not only written six books that have all met with success, but you’ve written in two different genres. You started out writing three contemporary novels (set in the present day), then two historical fiction novels (set in the 1910s and 1920s), and then back to your new novel, set in present day. Authors are often pigeon-holed once they write in a particular genre. How do you think you were able to make the switch back and forth? Do you like writing one better than the other?
Honestly, after I’d written my third contemporary, I was struggling to find a subject matter for my next book, and I was kind of in a panic about it. I’d never had trouble coming up with a story I wanted to pursue before. Then my dad came over for lunch one day and tried to convince me to try some historical ideas he had for me, none of which I was terribly interested in. But while we were talking, I remembered that his grandfather had been in vaudeville and the idea really appealed to me.
As much as I wanted to write this story, it was not an easy transition in terms of the business side. I ended up switching both my agent and editor, and I wasn’t sure if my career would stall out in the process. But The Tumbling Turner Sisters was well received, so the bumpy journey was worth it in the end. Switching back to contemporary was easier, because I’d already written three of them, and because I had more faith in myself for making that journey.
I really enjoy writing both contemporary and historical. I love all the learning that comes with prepping to write something set in another time. However, I will say that by the same token, it’s much more work. My next novel is also contemporary, but if I find myself gripped by a historical idea at some point in the future, I wouldn’t shy away from it.
So, I’m really curious about how the story of Catch Us When We Fall came to you? Were you interested in writing about addiction or baseball or was it something else?
I always knew I would write about addiction at some point because it’s played such an important role in my life. My father’s been in recovery for over 30 years, but he was drinking all during my childhood. His recovery fascinated me—it’s about so much more than just not drinking. It’s really about the personal growth you missed out on, the lessons you didn’t learn while you were distracted by your relationship with alcohol. And it’s about forgiveness, both from others and from yourself. Forgiveness is one of the truly great life lessons—I’m a sucker for a good forgiveness story.
Baseball was—pardon the pun—a throwaway. I made Scott a baseball player as a temporary thing and assumed I’d change it at some point. But when I realized that baseball was Scott’s drug of choice, and that it was just as much of a coping mechanism for him as booze was for Cass, I decided to keep it.
You are so good at creating real and flawed characters we shouldn’t root for, but we do. How do you keep Scott and Cassie, and so many other characters in this novel who make bad decisions from being unlikeable?
I always hated Cinderella. She was so good and kind and hardworking, even the rodents loved her! Perfection is a fairytale and it’s boring. Imperfection is where things get interesting. Sometimes in my early drafts, my characters are so flawed that I have to sprinkle in a redeeming act here or there to keep the reader with me. I do love making unlovable characters strangely lovable; we’re all strangely lovable.
This is a heavy story, covering addiction, abusive foster care, homelessness, dysfunctional families…and yet, there are some very funny moments. What’s your method for finding the right balance between humor and despair?
One of my kids once told me, “I love funny stories where someone dies. It’s like sweet and salty.” I wondered if I had a budding sociopath on my hands! But then I realized that he had a point. Of course, each reader has their own tolerance for doom and destruction, as well as for humor and fun. I tend to like a lot of both, so I guess I suit myself and hope most readers will be okay with that.
Red Sox fans are going to love this book! All the behind the scenes baseball stuff is fun and interesting, even for us non-sports people. How did you research all that?
I’m lucky to have as my in-house consultant my dyed-in-the-wool, Red-Sox-loving husband. We spent a LOT of time at Fenway that year (for him it was probably a usual amount), and I was able to find people in the know to talk to. I got a very chatty longtime usher one night who gave me wonderful tidbits. I was also able to interview a flight attendant on Red Sox away game flights. So helpful. I was never able to convince an actual player to talk to me, unfortunately, but I think I got enough for it to be realistic.
Six books later, what has your publishing journey been like? Have you had the same agent, editor, and publisher all along? I think that’s how lot of aspiring authors imagine publishing is going to be.
I don’t know any writers who have the same agent and editor as they did when they started, unless it’s very early in their careers. I’ve had three agents—the first one barely counts, as I never even met him. (Beware the agent who says it’s not necessary to meet in person!) And I’ve had three editors. In part that was because of the genre switches, but also I think that as a writer’s career changes and grows, sometimes relationships necessarily change. It’s a little like breaking up with your partner when you move to a new city.
In keeping with our blog name, were there any “Dead Darlings” left on the cutting room floor after your latest book went to press? What was the hardest one to kill?
I had a plot thread in which Cass was being stalked by a loan shark who was owed money by her dead boyfriend. My editor thought it was one thread too many, and I was beside myself. How was I going to pull it and not unravel the whole thing? But it turned out not to be as impossible as I thought, and now I see that it was a very good call. It would have been an unnecessary distraction.
What’s your best advice for aspiring novelists who read Dead Darlings?
Don’t wait for the muse, and don’t write for the marketplace. (A little Grub Street humor there.) There is no muse. There is you and your chair. Sit down and get to work. And writing for the marketplace is like writing in the sand at low tide. By the time you write it, the next wave will come in. Write about what speaks to you, what intrigues you. Write about what you want to live with for at least a year, because that’s the minimum of how long you’ll have to stick with it.
Where can we buy your books?
If you’d like a personally inscribed copy of any of my books, you can order them from Belmont Books, and I’ll go to the store and sign them to you them myself. Otherwise, they’re all available in print, ebook, and audiobook on any online site. Bookstores either have them on the shelves or can order them for you, which is a great way to support independent booksellers.
About Juliette Fay
After receiving a degree in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Juliette worked at the state child abuse prevention agency and ran a parenting education program. While all of these jobs gave her even more fodder for ruminating on the state of humanity, none of them paid very well, and she waitressed a lot to shore up her often-laughable income.
Juliette’s first published novel, Shelter Me, was designated as one of the ten best works of fiction in 2009 by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Library of Congress. It was named to the Indie Next List of the American Booksellers Association, chosen as one of six novels for Target’s 2009 Bookmarked Club, and was a Good Housekeeping featured Book Pick. Deep Down True was short-listed for the 2011 Women’s Fiction Award of the American Library Association. The Shortest Way Home was named to Library Journal’s Top 5 Best Books of 2012: Women’s Fiction. The Tumbling Turner Sisters was a USA Today bestseller and the Costco Pennie’s Book Club Pick in January 2017. City of Flickering Light was published 2019. Her work has been translated into Polish, German, Portuguese (Portugal), Portuguese (Brazil), Hungarian, Italian, Turkish, and Slovak. Follow her on Twitter @juliettefay.