Valerie Joan Connors, Author


Discussion Questions - A Promise Made

1. To what does the title refer?

2. This novel was inspired by the author’s mother’s first marriage. Did that knowledge change how you read this book?

3. What historical information did you learn in this book that surprised you?

4. In what ways is Eva a strong person?

5. What do you think gave Eva the strength to get out of her marriage? To pursue her dreams? To try to love again?

6. How does this novel present families and family life?

7. Mothers (and fathers) play a critical role in this novel, but so do friends. Discuss.

8. What has changed for women since the 1950s? What hasn’t?

9. Homes play a large part in this novel. Doors are forced open, rentals are required, refuge sought. Discuss what home and the concept of home mean.

10.How does the author use Eva’s own writing to tell the story?

Author Interview - Summer 2015

1 .  Why did you write this novel? 

I had to. As I grew up, I learned bits and pieces about my mother’s first marriage. I knew that her husband drank, and I knew that he was mean to her. When I got older, and realized what that actually meant, I was furious. Because of that, I developed an intense dislike for bullies and have zero tolerance for them in my life. Eight years after my mother’s death, when I was finally able to open a box of her letters and personal journals, I found the letters between her and her mother during the time my mom had spent in New York in 1953. I knew immediately that hers was a story that needed to be told. Although the majority of the book is fiction, many of the scenes were derived from stories my mother shared with me over the years. I wanted to raise awareness about domestic abuse and hoped to encourage other women who may find themselves in an abusive situation to find a way out. In my mother’s day, it was rare for women to leave abusive husbands, and I always thought she was very courageous.

2 .  You originally self-published this novel.  Why did you decide to pursue publishing a new edition through a publisher? Why did you decide to make some changes to the book?

 When I wrote the original version that I called Give Me Liberty, I was new to novel writing and more or less figuring it out as I went along. I made most of the mistakes a new writer makes, most unfortunately, not letting many other people read it before I flung it out for the world to see. After quite a number of edits which I thought were thorough, I published it after only letting two other people read it. I was able to upload a revised version with many of the errors corrected, but after I joined the Atlanta Writers Club and began learning about craft as well as the publishing process, I realized that I hadn’t given my story its best chance in the world. So after the traditional publication of my next two books, I wanted to give my first book a second chance. Before its re-release as A Promise Made, I spent several months editing the manuscript, as did my publisher. We added a few scenes, and smoothed out the rough edges. The story is the same, but now it has a lot more polish.

3 .  This is a novel, but it is inspired by your mother's first marriage. Was it hard to write? Did your mother ever know about the book?

I sat at my keyboard crying through the more difficult scenes, particularly the violent ones. Most of that was fictional, with the exception of some small kernels of truth based upon what my mother had told me during her life. But she had never shared the details. Still, writing those scenes and imagining my mother as the victim of abuse was very difficult. On the flip side, the ability to re-write her history was fun.

In my version of the story, living well really is the best revenge, and she gets the opportunity to confront her abuser from a place of power. The letters that inspired this book came to me in 2001, and I didn’t have the heart to go through them until eight years later. So mom didn’t know about the book, or the books that have followed, but I like to think she would have been proud.

4 .  This is your first historical fiction novel.  How was writing historical fiction different than writing contemporary fiction? 

I had to do a lot more research, of course, and I had to remain aware of things like the lack of technology in that time period. Though it was only sixty years or so ago, things were very different in terms of behavior, expectations, and point of view, having just seen the end of World War II. With contemporary fiction, the majority of the material comes right out of my head, but with historical fiction I had to learn about a whole other way of life. And, I had to put myself in that mindset each time I sat down to write. The history is fascinating, though, and I plan to write more historical fiction as soon as I finish the three manuscripts on my to-do list.

5 .  What kind of research did writing this novel require? 

I researched everything from train and subway schedules to baseball scores. Writing in a different time period was challenging for many reasons. One of the things I ran into was that communication took so much longer than it does today. A letter could take a week to travel from Michigan to New York, so I had to allow for these longer gaps in the story. I also realized that I didn’t know a lot of details about what life was really like for Americans during and after the war, so I spent a lot of time reading about it. Thanks to Google Earth I was able to “stand” on the street in front of the buildings in New York where my mother stayed. And, thanks again to Google, I was able to find a train schedule from 1952 that told me how long it took to get from Brooklyn to the city, and a picture of what an incubator looked like in 1949.

6 .  All of your novels to date feature women who are dealing with family situations and/or some kind of loss, but none of the plots in the books is the same. What about his theme compels you to revisit it? How do you come up with your ideas? 

I suppose that like many writers, I’m working through some of my own issues. For example, the protagonist in my novel, In Her Keeping, is unable to have children. With A Promise Made, I had the opportunity to express my distaste for bullies. In fact, all my novels have a character who is a bully. The reason I revisit the themes of women who are dealing with family situations and loss is partially a result of the “write what you know” advice, given to beginning writers. Also, the audience for my stories up to now is primarily made up of women, and these themes resonate with them. With my next book I hope to widen my horizons a bit and write something that both men and women will enjoy reading.

7 .  Do you have any tips for other writers who are working in historical fiction?

It’s very easy to get lost in the research. One answer leads to two more questions, and if you’re not careful, you can spend hours being dragged down a rabbit hole that eats up your writing time. Some authors do all their research before they start the writing. As fiction writers, we are only able to use a small fraction of our research in the actual manuscript. So I tended to do the research as I went along, whenever I came upon something I needed right then. Still, I ended up with tons of information that didn’t make it into the book. It’s amazing how much information is at our fingertips.

8.  What's next?

 I’m working on a psychological thriller that I hope to have published in early 2016. It’s a new genre for me, so I’m researching that at the moment. It’s about a woman who has a breakdown when the pressures of her manic lifestyle finally become too much for her, and she tries to find tranquility in a small town in North Georgia. Naturally, her troubles follow her. It's still a pink and featherless thing at the moment, so I’ll have to see what kind of bird it grows into.