Randy Susan Meyers’ ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE deals with the emotional and verbal abuse that takes place inside a marriage. I read the novel last fall and the characters and story have stayed with me ever since. I still wonder how the family is doing!
Read my interview with Randy and leave a quick comment to WIN a signed copy.
“Meyers puts a Boston family overwhelmed by a tragic accident under the literary microscope. Beautifully written, poignant and thought-provoking.” (Kirkus (starred review))
“The premise is familiar—a couple raising a family and accumulating grievances about marriage as they reach middle age. But this novel’s unsparing look at emotional abuse and its devastating consequences gives it gravity and bite, while a glimpse into a physically damaged mind both surprises and fascinates.” (People)
“A complex, captivating tale. In Accidents of Marriage, Randy Susan Meyers explores a marriage undermined by one partner’s rage and the other’s complicity. Her painstaking description of both emotional abuse and brain injury are impressive.” (Boston Globe)
Bio: Randy Susan Meyers is the author of The Comfort of Lies and The Murderer’s Daughters and a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award. Her writing is informed by her work with batters and victims of domestic violence, as well as her experience with youth impacted by street violence.
RS: Accidents Of Marriage explores the verbal abuse that takes place in a marriage. I always expected Ben, the husband, to become physically abusive to his wife Maddy, but that never happens. Was there a reason not to take the conflict of the narrative one step further?
RSM: Yes! Emotional abuse and verbal abuse is rarely treated with an import matching the harm it causes. While certainly physical abuse engenders serious damage on all levels, emotional and verbal abuse cause insidious injury in similar and different ways. I didn’t want to have to “up the ante” to illustrate increasing harm. All abusive behavior comes with huge costs.
RS: What just floored me about your novel was that I found myself understanding and sometimes even caring about the abuser–Ben–as much as Maddy. I still think about the entire family, actually, months after having read the novel. What’s your strategy when writing? I guess I mean to say, how in the hell do you write such great characters?
RSM: I worked with abusive men (in a Certified Massachusetts Violence Prevention Program) for almost ten years. I learned to differentiate the sinner from the sin. (Not an easy task!) Abusive men are no more cut from one cloth than any other group. It’s important to portray people in their fullness. Rarely is anyone all good or all bad—even when we’re bent towards one side. My strategy when writing point-of-view characters is to a) write from inside these characters, b) remember we all tell ourselves stories to let ourselves do less-than-admirable things, c) take the reader I most fear (family, husband, etc.) off my shoulder and let it rip, and d) remember that in fiction, as in life, we are the stars of our own show. Thus, good guys or not, my characters believe in themselves as fully realized people. I should present them no less.
RS: Accidents of Marriage also deals with brain trauma. Unlike Hollywood movies which might show someone experiencing an accident and then a week later the person is up on her feet and perfectly fine save for a patch on the forehead, your story, and I don’t want to give too much away, takes us through all the struggles and hardships people who have experienced traumas go through. Was there a particular reason you wanted to write about this issue?
RSM: I chose an outcome from the accident that illustrated collateral damage of unchecked anger. We rarely think of the next possible result (throw something at a wall, it can careen back and whack someone). Neurological problems, including brain trauma, gripped me by the throat. After reading many memoirs on the topic, I knew I had the passion to explore it.
RS: I wanted to talk about fear. You started writing later in life, and your first novel, The Murderer’s Daughters, was published when you were in your forties. Did you have to deal with self-doubt? How did you overcome any self-doubt or fears that maybe you’d started too late? I learned that you also never earned an MFA. Did this cause any self-doubt?
RSM: I only wish I first published fiction in my forties—in fact I was 57 when The Murderer’s Daughters came out. My age, my lack of schooling, all of it added weight to my already cracked ego. On the other hand, reading has been my passion (top passion) since I first learned the alphabet, so though life circumstances conspired against higher education, I thoroughly self-schooled myself. And I co-authored a nonfiction book in my late twenties (under my former name, Randy Meyers Wolfson: Couples With Children.
Attaining an MFA never made my bucket list. Reading novels written by those with or without, one is hard pressed to lobby for either. I do have a hard-nosed writer’s group, a warm close group of writer friends, and book shelves sagging with wisdom on writing. Educating oneself on writing technique and best practices is necessary; however, like many art forms, many roads lead to that education.
RS: You’ve written three novels so far. Do you find that there’s any difference in your process? Do you write with an outline?
RSM: It never gets easier! I do use an outline and have with all three published books. I teach at the Grub Street Writer Center in Boston and I find that helps sharpen my own writing. I do find I am quicker to pick up on when my work is not up to par—which actually makes it more difficult to barrel through first drafts.
RS: You’re about to have the ultimate dinner party. What artists and/or writers, living or dead, would you invite?
RSM: Meaning no offense to men, I’d make it women-only, past and present, to compare notes on the patriarchy. (And to make it fun and to limit posturing). I won’t name names of the current writers, but suffice it to say they’d be buddies who wouldn’t be afraid to be honest (including, of course, my entire writer’s group.) The dead women would include Olivia Goldsmith, because her sly writing was far more subversive than she ever received credit for, Belva Plain, because she started much older and published into her eighties, Bebe Moore Campbell, because I loved her writing and wonder how she fared as a Black, as well as woman writer. (And because I love her quote: Discipline is the servant of inspiration.) I’d bring in Betty Smith for a look at the further-back machine.
RS: Can you tell us about any books or types of books you read that might surprise your readers?
RSM: I read an enormous amount of fiction—mainly that which weds great writing with a moving plot. I think the more you write and edit, the less patience you have for drab books. The surprise might be that I read almost an equal amount of nonfiction. My taste is eclectic, but I have a weakness for books exploring events, history and politics in the recent and not-so-distant past, such as Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919, Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime. I absolutely love books about mountain climbing, despite having zero interest in participation.
RS: If calories didn’t matter, what foods would you pig out on?
RSM: Easy question! My homemade stuffing. Bagels with cream cheese. Grilled cheese. Mac and cheese. I have a carb problem!
RS: Describe your perfect Sunday.
RSM: Waking up in a perfectly ordered house. Reading two Sunday papers (Boston Globe & New York Times.) Gardening. Reading an entire novel. Having my kids over for dinner with my husband and me. (And that dinner being mac and cheese made by my son-in-law.)
RS: Are you working on anything now?
RSM: Yes, my next novel. But if I talk about it I’ll jinx it!
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