Bestselling author, Jane Green, takes time out of her busy life to chat with SheKnows. She’s a mom to 6 children and an author of 13 books, including her most recent, Another Piece of My Heart (Mar. 13). She talks to us about everything from the behind the scenes writing of this novel to motherhood — and because she’s also a culinary wiz and loves playing hostess, she even gives us a delicious recipe.
SheKnows: How personal is this story?
Jane Green: I’ve always drawn from the themes of my life, and with a blended family myself, I started to look at other blended families, particularly the ones that came with real challenges. I remember reading that once you marry someone with children, you are destroying the myth carried by all children of divorce: that their parents will reconcile. Of course we have had our own challenges. Life is complicated enough without the additions of steps, halves, exes, etc. — and it isn’t always easy, but when problems arise, we work through them, which Andi and Ethan, sadly, aren’t able to.
SheKnows: Why did you write Another Piece of My Heart?
Jane Green: I wanted to explore these issues on a personal level. The more I read about stepparenting and what it is like to be a child of divorce, and the more people I spoke to, the more I realized how universal the themes are, even down to the language. Not all stepchildren scream, like Emily, “I hate you, you’ve ruined my life,” but so many confessed that if they hadn’t actually said the words out loud, they had thought them. As a stepmother myself who is trying to find her way, it seemed to make sense for me to tackle some of the issues that seemed so universal — although I will confess to being nervous. Luckily, all the characters emerged as their own people, particularly Emily.
SheKnows: Have you been involved with blended families?
Jane Green: For the past 5 years, but I have long had friends who have had issues with steps, be they mothers or children. I was fascinated by a couple of things I read. One is that nobody wants to have a stepmother, and nobody wants to be a stepmother either. The other is that by marrying someone with kids, you are not only destroying the fantasy that the biological parents will reconcile, but you are also taking more of that parent away from a child who has already experienced serious loss.
SheKnows: How do you feel about blended families?
Jane Green: Clearly they are becoming more and more the norm, yet they are so much more challenging than people think. So often it seems women enter into blended families with huge naiveté. I heard countless women talk about how bemused they were that they had such a difficult relationship with their stepkids. They all walked in thinking they were good people, all they needed was to be loving and kind, and all would be well. And of course life is never that simple. Then there were the women who felt their husbands, or fathers, had to make a choice — with resentment setting in each time they felt he had chosen the other. I have discovered that it is essential that couples work together to form and present a solid bond and a united front to their children.
SheKnows: Did you do any specific research for the book? What did you discover?
Jane Green: I mostly read, talked to friends and lurked endlessly on stepparent forums. The stories I’ve come across are endlessly fascinating. Some stories are heartbreaking — others are wonderful and uplifting.
SheKnows: What message would you like your readers to take away from this book?
Jane Green: The quote at the beginning about happiness being wanting what you’ve got, is something I hope people take to heart. We all expend so much time and energy resenting people, places, and things we want to change, but of course the only person that ever needs to change is ourselves. Part of the Buddhist philosophy is that life is suffering, but the second, unspoken part is that pain is optional. How you react to the external things that happen to you dictates what kind of a life you have. Emily’s pain was not about Andi, it was about Emily, and the same was true for Andi.
SheKnows: How do you decide on a subject or theme for your books?
Jane Green: Usually by looking at what’s going on around me — in my life and the lives of my friends. Often there is something that fascinates me, which drives the story of the novel. A recurring theme seems to be that people show you who they want you to believe they are — yet how do you know who to trust? I’m working on a book now that has a husband who seems to be the all-around great guy, but who is harboring a secret that is about to destroy everything.
SheKnows: Was this book easy or hard to write?
Jane Green: It was easier than some of the others, but these days it is never as easy as it was in the beginning, before children, husbands, and life got in the way. The book took off for me once I took my editor’s suggestion and started writing in Emily’s voice — it gave me such understanding and empathy for her character. If anything, I think I ended up preferring Emily to Andi, which I hadn’t expected at all.
SheKnows: Did you work on any alternate endings?
Jane Green: I never work on alternate endings. I may have a different ending written down on paper, but once I’m writing, and particularly toward the end of the book, the characters are so real to me they tell me where the stories will go.
SheKnows: Do your characters determine the course of your plot? Or vice versa?
Jane Green: Every time I’ve tried to focus on plot rather than character, I’ve got myself into terrible trouble. I have always found that if I have drawn my characters correctly, they will tell their own stories, sometimes creating far more work for me. But as horribly pretentious as it sounds, once a character has spoken, you can’t ignore it, unless you’re prepared to live with the guilt for the rest of your life.
SheKnows: What does “motherhood” mean to you?
Jane Green: Intensity. The most intense joy, and pain, and happiness, and frustration, and sweetness, and hardship. I adore being a mother, and it has also forced me to face every aspect of my character, even those of which I am not so proud. I have the patience of a fruit fly, and motherhood brings out the best and the worst in me. But mostly it brings such a huge amount of wonder.
SheKnows: You have a passion for cooking and decorating — and you have a love of making a house a home. Can you share with us your easiest, best ideas for making a family room a wonderful space, and can you share with us some of your best recipes for feeding a crowd?
Jane Green:I do love everything about the home, it’s true, and I built my house around the fact that because it is always filled with kids and friends, it needed to be a place that everyone would walk into and feel instantly comfortable. My easiest tricks are: lots of soft pillows (they make even a hard sofa look inviting), throws over the back of the sofa (so kids can curl up), stacked books on the coffee table, and in between groupings of things you love (shells from the beach, candles, cute boxes, anything looks great when it is a collection), trays that can turn stools and benches into tables (then be easily removed for extra seating), different textures with natural elements (sisal rugs/stone pots/wood candle holders), baskets for storage — and my favorite is to cover sofas you hate with white canvas slipcovers.
As for recipes, for a crowd you want something that’s easily prepared in advance so you can enjoy your guests. My fallback at the moment is a slow-cooked onion chicken. My father has been making it for years, and I just added paprika and garlic to give it some more flavor, but it’s the easiest thing in the world. The onions brown, bringing out the sugars, turning the chicken a rich, sweet brown — and the chicken cooks to what is basically pulled-chicken, retaining all its moisture. This is what I cook for family and the friends who feel like family. For a more gourmet version I would probably add a bouquet garnish (at the beginning to give it a more delicate flavor) — such as a bunch of parsley stems, whole black peppercorns, thyme and a bay leaf or two — and might serve it with a spoonful of sour cream or yogurt mixed with scallions and garlic. Serve with rice or orzo.
SLOW-COOKED ONION CHICKEN
- 1 tablespoon oil, either vegetable or olive, but NOT extra virgin, which should only be used for dressings
- 7 or 8 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
- 10 to 15 pieces of chicken, including dark meat (e.g., thighs and/or drumsticks), preferably with the bone (for flavor)
- 1-1/2 teaspoons paprika
- Salt and pepper
- 3 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
Place oil in a large heavy pot over high heat, and add the onions, stirring constantly. Keep the heat high until the onions soften and start to brown — you want them to burn slightly. Meanwhile, season the chicken with paprika, salt and pepper to taste. Add the seasoned chicken and garlic to the onions and stir. Cover and simmer over low heat for 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally.