"You're lovely," Noah whispers, lifting his head to kiss her on the mouth. This kiss is deeper and warmer and saltier. But the word lovely spins in Elinor's head. Isn't lovely just short of pretty? Three rungs below beautiful? Grandmothers are lovely. She should just relax and ulp--"When Noah said it to Elinor, he meant it as the highest compliment, that amalgamation of delightful and enjoyable and beautiful. While I can't speak to Lolly's physical beauty via email, I can tell you that she is just as warm and delightful and fun as her writing. She is, in a nutshell, lovely. Which is to say that even emailing with her a few times you realize that she could be a heroine in one of her own stories--kind to the bone and thoughtful and smart.
Lolly excels at writing female characters who are likable, intelligent, and always find the right words at the right time. While they find themselves in unenviable situations--the loss of a husband or infertility--they are the best friends every woman needs to have. The ones who would show up at your doorstep with ice cream and know how to walk that fine line between unconditional support and tough love.
For the seventh tour of the Barren Bitches Book Brigade, we read her latest novel, Happiness Sold Separately. Elinor, immobilized by infertility and failed treatments, discovers that her husband is having an affair with a personal trainer. Ted loves his wife, but infertility has driven a wedge between them and he doesn't know how to connect with her anymore. Throw in a 10-year-old boy, an alcoholic ex-lover, your friendly neighbourhood cleaning man, and a tree doctor and you have the colliding of universes and the aftermath of those connections.
Participants in the book tours can ask the author their questions as they read. A very public thank you to Lolly for delving deeper into the world of Elinor and Ted. Here's what she had to say about her book, writing, and infertility in general:
I was both captivated and unnerved by the character of Ted and wondered how you came up with his story, emotions, behaviors and motivations. How did you research him? Is he based on a single personality or is he an amalgamation of several male personalities and how they might of reacted to personal crisis?
I just wanted to redeem Ted. I wanted him to be lovable, despite being flawed and making big mistakes. The men in my writer’s group made suggestions whenever his thinking or dialogue didn’t ring true to them. Also, I have a friend whose husband is a podiatrist. He’s very funny and warm and smart and I asked him questions about his job for Ted (a podiatrist).
Did you set out to write a novel with infertility as a theme or did it evolve that way? Did you mean to "educate" your mainstream readership in any way through your deft weaving of the pervasiveness of infertility and the lasting impact it has on couples?
I just wanted to write about a couple struggling, and infertility happened to be something that I was familiar with. I do think it was under-covered in the media until the last five years or so, perhaps. I was glad when infertility became more talked about in magazines and on TV shows, because I think my age group was led to believe we could easily have babies in our forties and that’s not statistically the case.
What is/was your personal experience with infertility or pregnancy loss? If you had no personal experience, what tools did you use to craft an accurate portrayal of the effects of infertility on a woman and her marriage?
Like Elinor, I’m unable to have children and did a number of infertility treatments. I started trying to get pregnant on my own at 37. At 38, my OB sent me to the in vitro clinic. I did three IUIs with shots and two IVFs, with no luck. The first IUI worked, but I lost the pregnancy at 12 weeks—after seeing the heartbeat twice. Bah! I think it was probably the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, after my dad dying when I was in my twenties. Fortunately, my OB ordered a pathology report and we learned that the pregnancy had been a trisomie that never would have made it to term. This is the case with almost all miscarriages. But you don’t know that. I started to drink a little tea once I was nearly in the second trimester, and I honestly thought I’d killed my poor baby with Earl Grey. After the pathology report, I had another test and learned that I have this rare chromosomal anomaly called a “balanced translocation.” The doctors said this diminished my chances even more, but nobody seemed to know by how much. So I eventually called it quits.
I actually went through my own dang medical files to make sure the chronology of events were accurate for the book. I had already done so much research while going through the treatments that I didn’t have to do any more, really. (I’m sure you guys have bought all the books too.) I just had to dip back into that dark personal experience. But I do know about a dozen women for whom in vitro has worked. So I’m very optimistic for others. Sometimes, like anything in life, it can just be a matter of persistence.
Also, I enjoyed the steady pacing of the novel. What is your strategy for maintaining a good pace in your novel?
I think structure helps maintain the pace of a novel. I had a great writing teacher who said that good stories begin when the characters are on the cusp of change. I like to structure things so that they begin with the characters right in the thick of things, with action at the opening. Then of course we need some back story to establish the status quo, and then conflict, with the story moving forward, followed by climax and a resolution, although without a too-tidy bow. This sort of structure is as old as Aristotle. This book was a bit of a challenge for me because I wanted to tell it from multiple points of view, yet not have events overlap, and keep things moving forward. At one point I pages spread across my office floor because the big picture was making my head hurt.
Can you explain the meaning behind the title? I know what it means to me, but I'd like to know what it meant to you.
Happiness Sold Separately is a play on “batteries sold separately.” To me the title just means that love and marriage don’t necessarily guarantee happiness. Couples get married at the end of many stories—such as at the end of Jane Austen’s novels. You imagine that they live happily ever after. But of course we know there are all sorts of sad, difficult events in life that make us unhappy, even after people are married.
I'm assuming you went through treatments yourself—do you think being a writer and having that flexible schedule (not having to go to an office, for example) was helpful when undergoing treatments or did work still get in the way of treatments (okay—or treatments get in the way of work?)?
Working at home when you’re having any sort of health issue is a welcome luxury, I think. It gives you flexibility and you can work in your sweats and lie down for a while if you’re not feeling well. I was doing rounds of in vitro while I was writing my first novel, Good Grief. In vitro was such a drag that it made me look forward to my work—the book felt like a refuge. Also, the novel was something I could control, while the outcome of the in vitro, and the roller coaster of news we’d get at the 8 zillion doctor’s appointments, was completely out of my control, and thus driving me crazy. Because I was writing a book with the theme of grief, I think I just poured the grief that goes along with failed treatments and lost pregnancies into the story.