Q&A with Marlene Hauser, author of #OffIsland @mhauser_author @matadorbooks #RandomThingsTours

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Off Island by Marlene Hauser. I have a Q&A with the author where she chats about her main character Krista and reveals a little about what she’s working on now.

How did you approach revealing your characters honest truth and the compelling realities of facing a choice, which is still being debated in modern society as whether or not a woman has the right to choose?

The “honest truth” was a slow unraveling, and it was difficult not to sugarcoat or swing to what some might consider political correctness. The “honest truth” was an amalgam of some women’s experiences, but not all. I think the main character had to stumble towards her truth and her own healing in that organic sort of way that life influences us all—primarily through other people, past and present, who love us or at least extend kindness to family and strangers alike.

How did you want to show Krista’s coming of reckoning moment where she has to also choose how she wants to heal and how she can move forward even though life wasn’t going in the direction she wanted it too?

The two influential characters in Krista’s “reckoning moment” are obviously her grandmother Ilsa, especially Krista’s awareness that her grandmother, without the right to choose, had had an illegal abortion and that had influenced a sort of isolation (on-island) for the rest of her life and of the female cleric who slowly guides Krista in understanding her personal pain and the healing found in sharing that pain. Another dimension to this is Michael’s mostly relentless effort to reach her, to love her. The title “Off-Island” represents Krista’s healing—she doesn’t remain in isolation with her pain. She heals.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing Krista’s story and what touched you the most about breathing life into her character’s story?

The most challenging aspect of writing Krista’s story (originally entitled “Krystal”) was bringing it to publication after it had been turned down for the following reason:

“As you know, an important factor in the decision against KRYSTAL was the question of audience. KRYSTAL couldn’t be marketed as a feminist novel because it is likely to be perceived (note that I’m saying perceived, not is) as anti-abortion. It’s kind of like PMS: there’s a strong impulse to deny its existence because it could be used as a weapon against women. So could this frank admission that abortion can be emotionally painful…”

What do you think fuelled her choice to distance herself from her boyfriend? Was it strictly due to the anxieties and fears she had conjured in her mind or was it something deeper than that?

Krista had such a cocooned life that left her immature, or perhaps just an immaturity due to age. The emotional pain was so great that she fled to find her grandmother, who had really been a safe harbor for her during her lifetime—even if that just meant an empty house. So the distance was not just a running away but a running towards finding or hoping to find comfort, even if only self comfort. She was running due to the shock of the unexpected physical and emotional pain, as well as all the anxieties and fear—real or imagined—that that entails. This “wound” opened up the “wound” of having lost her beloved father. Hence, we have the shell imagery at the open and the shell with a hole knocked into it at the close of the novel.

How did you choose the setting for this story and what do you love most about Martha’s Vineyard as a setting?

The setting was an easy choice. I love NYC and I love Martha’s Vineyard, and reliving the geography in the writing was pure fun! NYC of course has a buzz unlike any place else, especially for dance professionals, and Martha’s Vineyard has such natural beauty that it made Krista’s healing almost a given. That beauty gave her strength to get a grip on her pain and her future. Of course, the historic summer house was also a place of solace and reflected her grandmother’s presence.

As the back-story eludes there are hidden secrets within Krista’s life – how did you set the foundation for the reader to take this journey with Krista? What did you want the reader to feel most about the revelations, which would be coming in Krista’s life both past and present?

The two important aspects of the back story would be the horrendous impact of her father’s disappearance and presumed death on her as a young child that she never dealt with and of course her grandmother’s illegal abortion.  This journey is made first through Krista’s naiveté and failure to grow up—remaining immature as if that might bring her father back, and then her discovery that Ilsa had truncated her life by staying on the island with her hidden pain.  These threads ultimately influenced Krista’s healing.

What is the centre of focus in your next story “Juicy Fruit” and what can readers expect from “Poetry of Life”?

 “Juicy Fruit” is about survival against the odds in a family where the main character Lily must make critical decisions for self over others. In “Poetry of Life” the reader can expect a journey of joy—motherhood when least expected.

When your not researching and writing stories what uplifts your spirit the most?

Friends and family uplift me most, and just the sheer beauty of life, of humanity—ever surprising, ever amazing. Obviously, good books, cinema, theatre and music tie it all together.

Thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of the tour. Off-Island is available now in paperback and as an ebook. At the time of writing, the Kindle version is just 99p (though please do check before ordering.) You can order a Kindle copy here: Off-Island

From the back of the book

Lost, Resilient, & Coming of Age

Krista Bourne has always been surrounded by the strength, love and wealth of her family and their homes in New York City and Martha’s Vineyard. She has never had to think for herself. Living with boyfriend Michael and her elderly grandfather, she can also summon up the comforting ghosts of her beloved father and grandmother. In vivid dreams she flies with her pilot father, and when awake remembers idyllic childhood holidays spent with her bohemian grandmother. 

When Krista impulsively walks out on her career as a professional dancer, it is the beginning of a new chapter in her life. She feels unsettled and excited by the sense of imminent change around her. 

This feeling turns to panic, then fear when she realises that she is pregnant and is uncertain whether or not she wants to keep the baby, bringing her and Michael to a crossroads in their relationship. Adamant that she alone must deal with the situation, Krista rejects all offers of support from him, isolating her at a time when she most needs help. 

Krista’s journey and emotional upheaval take her back to her summer home on Martha’s Vineyard, where she is surprised to find out that she does not know her family history quite as well as she imagined.

About the author

Marlene Hauser is a professional writer who lives in Oxford and a member of the Society of Authors. She has edited The Writer’s New York City Source Book and served as Associate Producer on Under the Influence, a CBS TV movie. She also holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University.

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