Here’s the conclusion of my conversation with author, Mara Purl, about her upcoming book, What the Heart Knows:
Linda Naylor: What personal life experiences or travel have spun the thread that will bind the Milford-Haven novels? Please discuss how the novel might represent some of your own experience.
Mara Purl: Well, like Miranda, I transitioned into a new life. I was a journalist in New York City, working for the Financial Times of London, and then freelancing for Rolling Stone, the Associated Press and other publications. I was just beginning to develop a solid name as a journalist, and getting fantastic job offers and excellent writing assignments. I lived on Park Avenue, had a widening circle of friends and acquaintances I respected, lived in a city I adored. Life was good! Yet I packed it all in, left New York and headed to Los Angeles not only without a job, but with a complete career change in mind. My parents thought I’d lost my marbles and so did most of my friends. My mentors and employers thought they needed to do an intervention and rescue me from myself. But something was calling me. It had nothing to do with logic and everything to do with intuition. I got to L.A. and found temporary work to pay the bills. But I began auditioning for theatrical and television productions. I landed the lead in a play that took me to Cambria for the first time. And soon thereafter I was offered a role in Days Of Our Lives. A whole new world opened for me. The process was uncomfortable, and I’ve come to recognize this particular kind of discomfort as a signal to grow.
Romance is another area of connection between my life and my books. Traditional romance has a particular structure: no matter how many obstacles, the protagonist and her man will get together in the end. Though my novels are sometimes categorized as Romance, they’re actually Women’s Fiction, a larger and more comprehensive genre. My stories have much more complicated romantic entanglements than traditional romances, probably because that’s the way my life was until I finally found and married my husband. So Miranda gets involved with a fascinating guy, but that doesn’t mean he’s “the one.”
I also chose to write some storylines that are as far away as possible from my own experience, but are based on observation and research. My character Samantha married the man of her heart as a young woman, but the marriage ended in a bitter divorce and resulted in a child she gave up for adoption. The “head” part of Sam’s life has always been on track, but her “heart” is seriously derailed. So this is another way to highlight my theme.
LN: What are your aspirations for connecting with your female readers? How do you hope their lives might be transformed through your writing?
MP: Oh, I’m so glad you asked this question! Connecting with my readers has become one of the most important and inspiring things in my life. And perhaps this is because connecting with my women friends has become so important to me.
Last year, to celebrate a birthday and a new publishing contract, I thought I’d invite my sister and some of my closest women friends to join me in Cambria for a long weekend. They’d heard about this place from me for years, but most had never been there.
Honestly, we’re all so busy, I thought perhaps only one or two would be able to come. Amazingly, they all said yes! I had to call back the rental company to find us a larger house. We gathered at this terrific home overlooking the ocean. We sat on the deck sipping and nibbling and talking, then we cooked and shared fabulous meals while we talked some more. We explored Main Street shops and walked along the sand. I took them on my favorite hike at the Cove and up into the Enchanted Forest.
But what made it really so extraordinary was that in that setting, with this special time carved out, we did some deep sharing. In this context there’s a level of trust, companionship and relatedness that allowed us to compare notes about many things: marriages, children, parents, careers . . . and eventually we got around to talking about life purposes and missions. What were the things in our heart of hearts that we really wanted to do with out time on the planet? Were we doing them yet? If not, how could we make it possible to really connect with our hearts and do what we’re called to do?
And this is the core message I have for my readers. The more I write the Milford-Haven Novels, the more I feel I’m having a heart to heart with them. Is there anything more important than making sense of our lives? Don’t we deserve to have that sense of reassurance and inclusion and progress? That’s what I want for every single reader.
So on one level, my books are pure escapism—a trip to Milford-Haven where a reader can stick her toes in the water, inhale the fresh coastal breeze, curl up with cup of tea, and take a deep breath. But on a deeper level, my books are an invitation to the reader to value herself enough to listen to her heart.
LN: What the Heart Knows is a delectable synthesis of the best qualities of women’s fiction. It’s a book that reels the reader in… to immerse, to imagine, to fantasize into the Milford-Haven mystery, and then, to want more.