Eileen Goudge has come a long way since struggling as a young welfare mom in California. After helping launch the Sweet Valley High young adult series, she wrote 32 adult novels that touch women's hearts. The first scored a total of 16 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, in hardcover and paperback. In her RTR interview, she shares the inspiration for her April novel, The Diary, which could redefine how women celebrate Mom's Day.
If there were a contest for the perfect gift for a woman to give her mother for Mom's Day, The Diary would certainly be among the top choices. What inspired you to write this deeply emotional story?
Ultimately, The Diary asks the question, "How well do you really know your parents?" especially your mother. I asked myself that question when I learned that although my parents were happily married for fifty-some years, my mom had had a lover before she met and married my dad. I was intrigued, and I wanted to know more about this man, about that relationship and why it didn't work out. But when I posed these questions to my mom, she was reluctant to tell me much, other than the fact that he was an older man and that it had been "serious."
You know how it is with authors. When we don't have the answers, our imagination can really get carried away. I wondered who this other man was in my mom's life and why she didn't marry him instead of my father, and voila! I had the seed for a story, for The Diary, in which Elizabeth is faced with a difficult choice of her own, an impossible choice of the heart.
Although The Diary begins in the present day, when two sisters discover their mother's diary in her attic while she lies in a hospital, unable to communicate after a stroke, most of the action takes place in the early 1950s, through Elizabeth's poignant diary entries. Why did you choose this time period for your story?
I purposely chose to set The Diary in a more conservative era, because much of what conspires in the novel would not cause the uproar in today's world that it did then. (Then, for example, a woman's reputation was everything, a lesson that Elizabeth learned all too well.) Also, I was a child of the fifties, so I know what it was like back then. Mostly, what I remember was wearing a hat and gloves to church. That says it all.
The keeping of a diary (or journaling, as many call it in today's world) is central to this story. Do you keep a diary?
I kept a diary as a teenager. I still have it, in fact. I think it's a wonderful way to get in touch with one's emotions, because often we don't know what, exactly, we're feeling until we have to put it into words.
Do you think that those who journal or keep a diary anticipate that someday their entries will be read by others? Would you want your children or grandchildren to read yours?
I would have no problem with my children or grandchildren reading my girlhood diary, though I think it would probably put them to sleep. I was the quintessential "good Catholic girl," so my life didn't get exciting until I went away to college. My offspring would learn more about me and my life by reading my novels, most of which are based on real-life experiences!
In The Diary, AJ is from the "other side of the tracks," and, because of one particularly ill-advised choice he made as a youth, is considered to be the "bad boy" by Elizabeth's mother and others in the town where they live. What role does AJ's background play in the story, other than providing the bad boy character so many "good girls" fantasize about?
AJ's reputation is mostly based on hearsay and innuendo. Once Elizabeth gets to know him, we see through her eyes that he's really a good guy, a hero in fact. With AJ, I wanted to illustrate that you can't always judge a book by its cover.
What function does writing serve in your life?
Other than paying the rent, it's what I love to do most. I don't feel complete without it.
Other than a good, engrossing read, what's the takeaway from The Diary
I truly hope women (and the good men who also read The Diary!), will be inspired to sit down with their parents and get to know them as people. In fact, my wonderful publisher, Vanguard Books, has created a fabulous website, BetsDiary.com, where readers will find the tools to enable them to do this, with the focus on the upcoming holiday of Mom's Day. Readers will find free, downloadable Mom's Day cards, along with verses that invite their Moms to sit down with them and tell them about their early years. There are questions to ask, a menu and recipes for a lunch with your mom. And some early reviewers have told me that they're going to give The Diary to their moms as a gift.
The Diary is a powerful love story with a spectacular ending. What treat may readers anticipate finding from you next?
My next novel is titled Once In A Blue Moon, a juicy tale about sisters separated at a young age who reunite in their adult years, only to find that they are polar opposites. How they learn to get along and eventually bond, while each falls in love with an unlikely man and sorts out her individual crises, is a journey with more than a few bumps and bruises along the way. It's also a territory I know well, being one of five sisters myself.
To learn more about Eileen Goudge and The Diary, and for a chance to win goodies baked by Eileen and a personal phone call from Eileen to you and your mother, visit BetsDiary.com, and the author's website.