Pen Pal Interview with Lisa Unger

Lynne Constantine:
First of all, your book is AMAZING! I loved it so much that I didn’t want it to end. The characters were so well-drawn and the tension! So, for my first question:

In THE STRANGER INSIDE, Rain struggles with what she sees as two conflicting desires: to be a good mother and to successfully pursue a career. Is this a struggle that you’ve had as a mother and successful author, and do you think society still puts unfair pressure on women to be the primary caregiver in the family?

Lisa Unger:
Thank you so much for all the kind words about THE STRANGER INSIDE! I’m so glad you loved it. I’m deep into THE LAST MRS. PARRISH and it’s twisty, smart, and totally engrossing. I’m hooked.

Rain Winter is a former investigative journalist, turned stay-at-home mom. She left her career behind for a number of reasons—she wanted to be present for her child, the injustice she saw in the world was grinding her down, and it was an agreement in her marriage that someone should be a full-time parent. But the work she chose was meaningful to her; it defined her. And she chose it because she was looking for answers to dark questions from her own childhood trauma. So, when the work calls her back, she finds it impossible to resist. However, her adoration for and commitment to her daughter Lily has not diminished. So, she engages in a fairly chaotic—and in her case dangerous—juggling act.

Of course, nothing in fiction is autobiographical—and everything is! I do relate to this struggle, as I’m sure will any mom who has an involving career. Before my daughter was born, nothing ever rivaled my desire to write. But when she was small, the conflict was painful. When I was with her, I was often worried about deadlines, and the pressures of the publishing world. When I was writing, I often just wanted to be with her. But, with the help of my husband, I found my way, learned to work around her schedule, be present when she needed me, be present for the work during the scheduled time. I have always been a writer. And I love being a fully-engaged mother. Those are two big, all-consuming, creative enterprises. So, even though the juggling act can be quite stressful, I feel blessed to have two things that I love so much. (And my poor husband! I love him, too! And he’s my partner in this and in all things.)

I think there is external pressure—this idea that not only can we have it all, but, in fact, we MUST have it all. I know I put a lot of pressure on myself, as well, holding myself to impossible standards and then face-planting. I think it’s all slowly changing. Women are making choices. Leaning in, maybe, or choosing to stay home, if they have that option. Finding balance, supporting each other, relying on spouses, if they’re fortunate enough to have that kind of marriage. At ALA last year in New Orleans, I heard Michelle Obama speak and she said something that made a lot of sense to me: You can have it all, just maybe not at the same time.

In THE LAST MRS. PARRISH and THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU, you dive in deep to twisting, complicated female relationships. (And I know you write with your sister, which must be twisty and complicated—at least some of the time!) What fascinates you most about the dynamics between women?

Lynne Constantine:
Female friendships have always been emphasized in my family. I remember my mother admonishing me to never lose touch with my girlfriends and stressing the importance of these close relationships. I think in some ways the intimacies we share with our close women friends can be at times even greater than those we share with our partners. Women have such an amazing capacity for supporting and empowering each other while at the same time, the ability to do the complete opposite when rivalry is at play.

In THE LAST MRS. PARRISH we wanted to explore the ways in which the lack of a close female friendship could make someone vulnerable to a predatory female while at the same time turning the idea of the man being the prize on its head. Daphne has a great void in her life—the loss of her sister who was her best friend. When Amber comes on the scene and pretends to have also experienced the same loss, it bonds the women and makes Daphne blind at first to Amber’s manipulations. In THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU we delve into the dynamics of a broken friendship and how those wounds never fully heal, exploring whether or not you can truly forgive someone who has deeply hurt you and if a friendship can be repaired and restored. The relationship between Kate and her mother Lily is also one the book examines and how that foundational relationship influences the way Kate sees herself as a mother.

My sister Valerie and I are extremely close even though fourteen years separate us. Fortunately, the most complicated aspect READ MORE

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