Author Q&A: Teri Emory - Second Acts

From the streets of Manhattan to the suburbs of Florida, from Savannah, Georgia, to Rome, Italy, the interwoven tales of three lives unfold in the voices of Sarah, Miriam, and Beth. Their unshakable friendship takes root in a college dorm in the late nineteen-sixties. Fueled by the optimism and bravado of that era, they charge into adulthood with lofty ideals and high expectations.   They were, as Beth would later observe, “the first generation of women who felt entitled to interesting lives.” They remain friends for decades—trading secrets, sharing joys, and shepherding each other through loss and heartache. Little by little, they come to terms with a disconcerting postscript to the Age of Aquarius: Life—inevitably, unsparingly, repeatedly—demands compromise.  

In the year leading up to 9/ 11, the three women, now middle aged, are tested by unwelcome drama at home, unforeseen challenges at work, and unresolved conflicts about decisions made long ago. Sustained by their abiding friendship, Sarah, Miriam and Beth confront hard truths about themselves and the choices they have made. They must let go of past regrets and make peace with present circumstances as they begin the second acts of their lives.

 

Second Acts is a story of love, loss, and renewal, and a testament to the enduring power of female friendship.

In Second Acts, debut author Teri Emory is the master of weaving together the lives of three lifelong friends, Sarah, Miriam, and Beth, through time and distance. Readers will feel like they're sitting down with an old friend as they experience the heartache, loss, and renewal alongside the characters Teri has flawlessly created. In our exclusive interview with her, Teri opens up about her time abroad, writing process, and which pieces of her life experience show up in her characters.

  AJ: Can you share with us your inspiration behind these three friends, Sarah, Miriam, and Beth? Are they based on any of your real-life friendships? TE: Throughout my life, my friendships with women have inspired me, comforted me, and enriched me. I wanted to create characters and stories based on these experiences. Sarah, Miriam, and Beth have traits I see in my friends (and myself), though none of the characters matches exactly any one person I know in real life. Having come of age in the 1960s, as I did, all three have views of the world and of relationships—above all, between men and women—that were shaped by the values of that era, especially feminism. As Beth, the psychologist, might say: Friendship is the big main idea of their lives. That is certainly true for me.   AJ: In regards to your writing process, how much of your story did you already know when you began writing? Did anything surprise you about how each woman’s story took shape? TE: Second Acts began as a short story I wrote when a couple I knew experienced the death of their college-aged son. The husband chose to handle his grief quietly, mostly in solitude. The wife wanted as many people around her as much as possible. I was struck by the difference between them and by the ways the wife’s friends, from near and far, and from the many chapters of her life, rallied to help her through her sorrow. A friend who read my story said that it seemed incomplete, as if it were part of something bigger. I understood immediately that he was right, and I went to work on the novel. The three women’s voices came to me clearly and distinctly, and the structure—having them speak for themselves in turn, three times each—fell into place right away. Tying in the events of 9/11 came as a surprise, but once the idea struck me, I knew it was right.   AJ: How has your own time spent abroad influenced the development of Second Acts and its characters? TE: Traveling and working abroad changed me forever. I was a French major in college and studied psycholinguistics in grad school, so I’ve always been interested in language. Refining my French during long stays in Paris and then learning to speak Italian when I worked in Rome deepened my cultural understanding of both places. It’s fascinating to me how much of a country’s culture is reflected in its idioms. As for Sarah, Miriam, and Beth, the places they dream about or visit are more than backdrops; they are characters themselves who influence, inspire, tempt, disappoint, instruct, obstruct, hinder, and haunt these women.   AJ: Tell us about your favorite city that you have traveled to. TE: I will never tire of visiting Paris or Rome. Just thinking about those two cities makes me smile and want to pack my bags.   AJ: In what ways do you resonate most with each of these women? TE: All three of the characters are NYC-raised, as I was. In many ways, Sarah’s résumé is most like mine: Like her, I was divorced and raised a daughter, and I endured mind-numbing corporate jobs and contemptible bosses, all the while dreaming of writing fiction. Like Beth, I lived in Rome for a bit, fell in love with the city for keeps, and remain drawn to all things Italian. And like Miriam, I once had a dashing Southern boyfriend with a big sailboat and a small grasp of emotional maturity.   AJ: As someone who has achieved her writing dreams by publishing your first of many novels, what encouragement do you have for aspiring authors? TE: Though Second Acts is my first novel, I have published essays (print, online, academic, trade, instructive, humorous—you name it) and poems for decades. I have also collected enough rejection letters to line the walls of Buckingham Palace. My words of encouragement are these: Read as much as you can. Write every day. Share your work with other writers who will give you unbiased, helpful criticism. Submit your work for publication. Don’t let rejection or criticism dampen your spirits. Save only the rejection letters that contain errors in punctuation, diction, grammar, etc. (I promise—there will be many like this), as they will make you feel superior. Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep sending out your work. If you know that you have something to say and a compelling way of saying it, do not give up.

 


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