Sere Prince Halverson talks about her debut novel The Underside of Joy and being both a mother and a stepmother.

What led you to write The Underside of Joy? 

I could see a woman curled up in a bed, under a blanket, feeling that she had once had everything she’d ever wanted and had now lost it all.  But I didn’t know anything else about her, so I started writing to see what she had to say.

What were your ideas or inspirations? 

There were quite a few ideas swirling around in my head at the time. I walked into a family grocery store in the little town of Occidental, and I felt something. An Italian-American family’s history, a struggle to keep the store going — a store that had probably once been the heart of the town.

I also kept hearing about people swept away by sleeper waves. It happens every year here, which I found both surprising and terrifying, especially because I so love this part of the California coast.  But that huge wave coming out of nowhere is an apt metaphor for many kinds of loss and grief.

I was also thinking a lot about child custody and stepparent issues. I am a mom and a stepmom, and I have a mom and a stepmom. And while Ella and Paige’s stories are nothing like my own, I wanted to show both sides of a relationship between two women who love the same children.

I also wanted to explore a woman leaving the children she loves. It’s seen as the unforgiveable sin in our culture. And yet, sometimes leaving can be an act of love, within a struggling mother’s limited capacity.

So all of these things swirling in my head, along with my absolute love for Northern California, collided into each other and eventually came to be The Underside of Joy.

What were your personal experiences like growing up with both a mother and a stepmother? 

I loved them both very much and still do. They’re both named Jan, if you can believe that. (And to further stretch your capacity for belief, my mother-in-law is also named Jan. I might need to write a book called The Three Jans!)

What is your life like now being both a mother and a step-mother?

I have two sons and two stepdaughters. My experience being a stepmom is different from Ella’s, because the girls’ mom has always been in their lives. All of our kids are pretty grown up now, ranging in ages from 18-24. I love talking to them, hearing about their unfolding lives, more as a friend now than someone who has to ask them about homework. Still, my mind often echoes with the wonderful, messy, fleeting chaos of a house full of kids.


Find out more about Sere and her work at http://www.sereprincehalverson.com, her blog http://www.whomovedmybuddha.blogspot.com or on Facebook.

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