Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Book Giveaway: The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson

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Author Seré Prince Halverson's first novel, The Underside of Joy, recently published by Dutton in January 2012, is sure to not disappoint.

The Underside of Joy is an emotional roller coaster about two mothers who are forced to deal with uncovered secrets and lies that threaten to tear their worlds apart.

Seré Prince Halverson lives with her husband and four children in Sebastopol, California. For twenty years she worked as a freelance copywriter while writing fiction. You can learn more about Seré at her website, her blog, and her Facebook page.

At the end of this interview, there will be instructions to participate in her book giveaway.

While writers do draw from their own experiences to infuse their writing, some feel like there are certain experiences they cannot convey because they do not want to offend their loved ones by sharing something too close to home. How did you handle writing about stepparent-stepchild relationships while managing your own real life relationships?

My experience is very different from Ella's or Paige's experience. I wasn't interested in writing this as a thinly disguised memoir. The characters appeared in my head, and I followed along with my pen and keyboard. I don't know where they came from, exactly, but I didn't borrow any of them from my real life. I'm a mom of two boys and a stepmom of two girls. The girls' mom has always been present in their lives and I've always been present in my boys' lives. That said, I did pour my own emotional truth into this story. I know what it's like to lose someone suddenly, to feel towed under by grief. I know what it's like to love children deeply and have to accept the fact that another woman loves them too--and to understand that's not a bad thing.

But did some of the mothering moments come from my life? Yes. For example, my son loved to freeze his action figures in Tupperware containers. And then there's the poop all over the crib story. I think most mothers have experienced that one!

You said you wanted to explore the question, "How could a loving mother leave her own children?" How did you explore it? Did you seek out people who have chosen this path and talk to them, read memoirs or fiction, or let your characters lead the way?

Yes to all of the above. My characters led the way. But I've been haunted for years by other characters, such as Laura Brown in the gorgeous novel, The Hours, and Julie in the devastating but beautiful novel, A Mouthful of Air by Amy Koppelman, which is about postpartum psychosis. One of those characters saved herself, but left her child. The other character didn't save herself. My own mother wasn't very present during some of my early teen years, and though her story was quite different, I understand now that she needed to save herself. And I'm extremely grateful she did.

I was very intrigued by your comparison of wars and custody battles, that "the innocent always suffer." Do you see your writing as partly driven to simply give the innocent a voice, or perhaps to instill a feeling of community obligation to end this suffering of the innocent?

I don't think there's a way to end it completely. Divorce isn't going to go away. Divorce hurts children. I was hurt, and my own kids were hurt. But children are also scarred by parents who stay together. Most parents fail their children in big ways or small. My own parents messed up on some things. I certainly haven't been a perfect mom or stepmom. Honestly, who is? But my mom and dad and stepparents did their best and loved me deeply and I knew this every day of my life. I have a lot of wonderful memories from my childhood and a few I'd rather forget. And I believe that's all true for my kids. I did, however, learn some lessons from watching my parents, and I'm hoping, raised the bar for the next generation--as I'm sure my kids will also do. In a way, each generation has the ability and the opportunity to do better than the last. Maybe that's why the line, "Do what I say, not what I do," is so popular among parents!

On that same line, why did you choose to address this theme through fiction instead of nonfiction?

I'm a novelist. I live to make stuff up. I'm definitely not an expert on these issues, but an observer of human nature and a partaker in the human experience. I like to dig into all that through characters and story.

What is the highest compliment you can imagine receiving from a reader of your book?

For so long, I shared my writing with only a handful of people. Since the book came out, I've been overwhelmed by the kindness of readers. Many have taken the time to not only read the book but to write or tell me what it meant to them. That, to me, is the highest compliment. To know that it touched someone, that they connected with it, were moved by it, stayed up late reading it, reconsidered some aspect of their own lives because of it...now I'm the one with tears in my eyes.

What is your writing schedule?

When I was a young mom with toddlers, I began getting up ridiculously early in order to get my writing done. Often I'm sipping my first cup of coffee by 4:30. Now that I have an empty nest, you'd think I might wait until a respectable hour to start writing. But I love dark, quiet mornings when everyone else is asleep. It's my favorite time to write. Usually, by afternoon, the brain fog sets in. I'm a firm believer in the 20-minute nap, followed by a cup of tea. And I try to walk in the afternoon so my body doesn't get stuck in a permanent hunched-over-the-computer curl.

What recommendations do you have for starting writers, or writers who have been at it for a while but have yet to make it past the slush pile?

I mean this in the most sincere way: Do not give up. Easy to say, right? But I can say it with authority, because I am somewhat of an expert on this. It took me over two decades and three-and-a-half novels before this one was published. As thrilled as I am about The Underside of Joy finding its audience, I'll tell you something else: Even if it hadn't been published, I would not think of those years as wasted. If you love to write, it's a good way to spend your time no matter the outcome. Yes, the odds for getting published (at least in the traditional sense) aren't great. But they're a lot worse if you quit. So keep writing. And when it's time to find an agent, research like crazy. All the information you need is out there now.

Is there any question you've always wanted to be asked, but haven't been?

Are you Angelina Jolie's identical twin?

Thank you, Ms. Halverson.

If you are interested in receiving a copy of Ms. Halverson's The Underside of Joy, leave a comment below telling us why you're looking forward to reading her novel!

***UPDATE: Congratulations to Cath @ Constance Reader, who won a free copy of The Underside of Joy. You will receive an email in the next three days to obtain your mailing address for a copy of the book to be sent to you. Thanks to everyone who commented!***


Jessica DeVoe Riley, MS, is a special educator in rural California. Her writing has won the South West Writers competition and is published in Thema and Marginalia. She currently writes for the Council for Exceptional Children’s Reality 101 blog for new teachers. You can reach her through her personal blog, All Rileyed Up, or follow her on Twitter.


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I just read and loved this book (and returned it to the library), so I'll say why I'd love to own it, read it *again*, and share it with friends. It's a page-turner full of lovable, heartwarmingly detailed characters, with lots of earthy, natural beauty woven into the story. Great interview, too! Thank you both.
Reading and writing about mothers and the difficult choices they make, or are thrust into, are obsessions for me. This book sounds right up my alley!
I'd love to win a copy of The Underside of Joy because I'm longing to read about the subject matter. I too, have been intrigued by Laura from the hours and relate to her far more than I care to admit. Great, inspiring interview answers.
being a mother myself I can relate at least in some way to the mothers in the novels Thank you for hosting this giveaway Louis pumuckler {at} gmail {dot} com
I love reading stories about mothers and their children, and this sounds like a captivating read—thanks for the opportunity to win a copy of the book! skkorman AT bellsouth DOT net
Because I've recently begun to make time to read novels for pleasure again, and it's a wonderful thing!
Would love to win! Thanks for hosting this giveaway. constance.reader@gmail.com
I've been reading so many heartwarming reviews for this book. I find the exploration of motherly lover (or the lack of) is ery touching. I find it surprising that these characters sprung out of nowhere, but yet wove themselves together into a wonderful story, the power of creativity right here.
oh yes, and I forgot to include my email: lilianxcheng AT gmail.com
I am interested in the theme of a mother leaving behind her children. It sounds like a very interesting read.
I love to read. Motherhood is foreign to me. Thank you.
I really enjoyed reading the interview. My husband has just finished writing his very first book and I think this advice would be perfect for him. nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net
The book sounds good, and she won me over with the Angelina Jolie question. :)
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