Here Among Us
by Maggie Harryman
Publisher: Straight On True (Oct. 1, 2012)
Genre: Literary Fiction
When unemployed San Francisco attorney, Flynn O’Shea, and her teenaged daughter, Didi, are summoned to New Jersey for the Thanksgiving holiday by Flynn’s socialite sister, Maeve, she expects a fight.
After all, she has been battling Maeve most of her life. Disagreeing about the extent of their Irish mother’s creeping dementia and the fate of the family’s thriving restaurant business, named for their beloved, long dead father, Paddy, is surely a recipe for a world-class brawl.
What Flynn doesn’t expect is the fragile truce the sisters forge to save O’Shea’s from the clutches of Maeve’s scheming husband, Jeffrey. Flynn and Maeve are reluctantly aided by their forty-four-year-old brother, Osheen, a handsome Peter Pan still cruising the Jersey shore, getting high and dodging responsibility.
And while Didi tries to convince her mother that “everything is as it should be,” just when Flynn is sure she’s gained the upper hand on Jeffrey, her own mother’s shocking confession sends her into a wine-soaked tailspin and forces her to deal once and for all with the ghosts of her past. Devastated, Flynn must choose to save O’Shea’s or risk losing forever all she has left of her father.
In Here Among Us, the O’Sheas find themselves dealing with the very timely issue of Alzheimer’s, a disease that strips the victim's identity and wreaks havoc on the family left to pick up the pieces. But Flynn, Osheen and Maeve’s troubles began long before their mother started to “slip.” For the O’Sheas, much of their shared angst is rooted in the single most devastating event of their lives—the death of their father when they were young children. The novel explores not only how deep wounds can seem impossible to heal, but how refusing to let go of the stories the O'Sheas desperately cling to about who they are, threatens to hasten their demise.
1. How long did it take you to write Here Among Us?
I started writing the book when my son, Jack, was a freshman in high school, in the fall of 2006. He’s now a sophomore in college. In the interim, I took a few years off when my husband died in the spring of 2009. I mention that because I didn’t stop writing during those 24 months—I wrote a few short stories—which I realized later speaks to something in me that just has to write, likely to process the hard things in my life. Still during that time, the long form was just too overwhelming and going back when I did after that break, I felt like I lost my familiarity with the characters and the story, and I had to work hard to reacquaint myself with the O’Sheas.
2. Do you ever experience writer’s block?
I wouldn’t say writer’s block exactly. I would say that I get stuck sometimes when I have a great idea that I then realize has to go somewhere—has to mean something more than just what the action represents and it takes me a while to figure out that meaning. But I think that’s just part of the process; the idea that you have to think an awful lot about what you have—mine your action for meaning—before you can move forward. That’s not exactly writer’s block, but it’s a stoppage that’s always a bit jarring for me. I have to have faith that I’ll be able to start again and keep going. But then, writing is all about faith.
3. Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
I had planned to go the traditional agent query route and then have the agent find a publisher. I have a background in publishing and have writer friends who have gone that route so it seemed only natural. A dear friend was convinced her agent would take me on. Then I started doing some research on the changes that had taken place in the industry with the dawn of the Amazon self-publishing miracle, and I started to see that the industry was in a state of upheaval. I mean it’s always been hard to get literary fiction published and since I have no zombies, vampires or apocalyptic plot twists in my story (although there are twists!), even if I secured an agent, that agent might not find me a house that would take a chance on me—an unknown (without the dreaded and much hyped “platform.” The whole thing could take a few years and not come to anything in the end. What a waste of precious time!! So one day I decided I was just going to do it myself and I did.
It’s been quite a steep learning curve, mostly because of the marketing side of things—and of course, the formatting. But I have a very talented friend whose a graphic designer (Brenda Phillips at Beehive Design Studio) and together we’ve done what I think is a pretty good job on the book. She also did a wonderful job on my website.
4. What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
Well, so far so good on the book—it’s only been out since the 1st of October so I haven’t gotten any scathing reviews…yet. But once I had a creative writing professor in college tell me I should think about doing something else besides writing. Obviously, I ignored him.
What has been the best compliment?
Luckily and very, very gratefully, I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on the book. But I think the best compliment came from a woman in my yoga class who read it and really liked it. I don’t know her all that well so she didn’t have any preconceived notions about me or the book. She took it on a trip with her during which her elderly mother died quite suddenly and her family descended and she said the book saved her sanity. I guess the book closely mirrored her family dynamic in that situation. In any case, she said she couldn’t have asked for a better distraction.
5. Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Whatever you do, don’t give up—don’t stop writing. I’ve always told my children the story of Sam Maloof who was a famous furniture maker. The first chair he made was a complete disaster. The 2000th chair he made is in the Museum of Modern Art.
I wrote my first short story when I was eight years old. I published my first novel when I was 52. Now I’m not saying it should take anyone that long, but in the interim I raised kids (did the PTA stuff, directed school plays, coached soccer, worked in the classroom, went on every field trip and later, when the kids played traveling soccer, drove everywhere), worked as a copywriter, and wrote and wrote and wrote. Everything about my writing life had to do with getting better while I waited and to do that I had to work with gifted writers and keep writing, read poetry and keep writing, experiment with language and keep writing.
So many of the people I went to grad school with stopped writing because they felt it was hopeless. I feel so blessed that no matter what, I never stopped writing. If I had and I’d wanted to start when the kids had left for college, I would have been starting from square one. It would have been daunting and I probably would have given up.
But maybe not. I’m like a dog with a bone. Relentless….
Maggie Harryman was born in New Jersey and moved to San Francisco soon after college. She received an MA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and spent the ensuing years working as a copywriter in various industries including healthcare, tech and real estate/finance.
Maggie lives in Northern California in the heart of wine country, has two wonderful children in college and an old, faithful dog named, Humphrey.
Here Among Us is her debut novel. She also has two short stories on Amazon; Jesus, Mary and Joseph Michael Duffy Has Arisen and Cleaning Naked.
Amazon Purchase URL: http://www.amazon.com/Here-Among-Us-ebook/dp/B009LAW4M2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351356721&sr=8-1&keywords=Here+Among+US