Last week I reviewed and adored The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers. Today she is stopping by Smexy for a little chat.
Who is Mary Ann Rivers. Give us the low down.
I am a 38 year old woman. I was a first generation college student from a difficult background who managed in music and English and then went on to grad school to study poetry. I did all of that on fellowships, side jobs, music gigs, and support and love from unexpected corners. Later in life, after a stint in academia directing programs for first generation college students and editing literary journals, I went back to school and became a pediatric nurse practitioner. I work as a PNP and it is awesome. I’ve been married for 14 years to a guy who can’t keep his hands off me; it’s very distracting. We have a 6 year old son with long red hair and spectacles who reads all day. I really like to hold hands with people I’m fond of–not necessarily in a romantic way, it’s just nice. I haven’t had a TV for more than ten years.
In The Story Guy, Carrie answers a personal ad to meet Brian on a park bench for kissing only. Brian and Carrie share something simple – loneliness. Yet, there is nothing simple about this story at all. What inspired this idea?
I had been thinking about the Carrie character for awhile, knew that I wanted to write about someone who if nothing changed for her, her life would still basically be okay, but she would continue to have periods where she drifted and was frustrated and dissatisfied. I could hear her voice–this was a woman with a lot of resources like education and friends and a loving family and a job she loved. But. She just didn’t have a stake in her own life.
The plot, I think, is very simple, really. It’s a very romantic one, where there are grand gestures on both parts, and I wanted that too, I wanted to write about that kind of pure romance. Brian is a character that like Carrie, understands what love is, though unlike Carrie, who knows she’s missing something but hasn’t precisely put her finger on it (though she misses the lushness and intimacy of sex), he knows what he wants. He wants love. He wants passion. He wants a partner. However, at this point in his story, he’s completely without resources to make that happen. All he can do is manufacture an escape for himself, a substitute for what he really wants.
I knew that I wanted Brian to put limits on a kind of compartmentalized relationship, but these floating ideas came together reading Craigslist personals. In my big city, there are ads for lunchtime affairs–though this didn’t feel right for Brian, that level of anonymous intimacy, but I started thinking about kissing. About how even as adults kissing and making out can be so evocative of passion and still cozily safe. How it can be something we miss, either because we haven’t dated in awhile, or because we’re not taking time for that kind of intimacy in our long term relationships. Also, how a smart yet restless woman like Carrie may not answer an ad for near-anonymous lunchtime sex, particularly when she’s never answered one of the ads before, but may take a risk on kissing.
If the ad was wistful, romantic, or seemed to have some kind of possibility, or story, and of course, had a picture of a man who looked like he had a story.
While this is a romance book with a beautiful love story, there is also this profound sadness with what happens to Brian’s sister and the life they both must live now. Tell us more about Brian and what drives him to reach out to anonymous people for intimacy.
Brian understands love. He does. When we find him, he’s been in his situation for a long time, and his situation has deteriorated, but he loves his sister and we also know there was a time he had other relationships, even as they didn’t work out. He tells Carrie that he imagines whole lives with women that he has had more casual relationships with, and that the reason he limits their meetings to kissing is because it’s painful, to have that yearning and longing come over him within the deeper exchange of sex. Kissing a stranger is this kind of last resort for him, a shadow or echo of what he wants, but he wants it so badly he can’t resist. He thinks he can keep the stakes low for himself and for another person. Also, at this point in his story, it’s become his very last sort of indulgence, and until Carrie, that’s all it’s been, a semi-successful indulgence. That he continues to place ads, even when this lunchtime kissing hasn’t been, we learn, all that great, also tells us that at some level he is looking for more. He has hope.
There was some part of him that always thought he might find a Carrie.
There comes a time in the story where Carrie realizes how fragile Brian’s situation is. That she needs to give him more than he can give her for the time being, and she might be deceived by it or their relationship may not evolve, but she knows she must do this for him. "I can give him what he thinks he needs, even if he may deserve better, Even if I don’t know if he actually does."
What drives Carrie to this point? For a man she meets on a park bench who keeps such secrets from her, she is willing to give him so much.
She’s really protesting her own life. She got herself into a long stretch with very little change happening. She enjoyed the privilege of a great family, a good education, an interesting job, cultivated lots of friends, and so yes, her life should be full–with or without a Brian. However, her restlessness and her perception that her life isn’t full comes from what she sees as her lack of risk–at the beginning of the story she has a kind of breakdown at her job telling her co-worker and friend about going on a vacation with her parents and realizing she’s just going along with it, and it will be nice, but there aren’t any stakes. She becomes interested when Brian’s ad arrests her. Interested, a little apprehensive, a little unsafe feeling–that’s the kind of thing that she’s been missing.
Later, she grows to understand that Brian gives her an opportunity to uncover parts of her that are fierce. She subverts the passive action of waiting on a man into a choice for herself. If he doesn’t have choices, well she does. She can do with them what it is she wants to do with them. No one has to understand her, or help her with them. She might be hurt, in fact, she probably will be. But she can live her life however she wants to, and if she wants to wait for this man and give him love and see what will happen, then she can do that, she can sustain heartbreak. If her heart breaks or she finds love, either way, she will change. She will lose something. Often, loss is a powerful catalyst in our lives, something necessary for perspective and change.
Can you give us any hints on what is coming up next from you?
I’ll have a holiday novella in an anthology that explores some similar themes of unexpected love, ability difference and choices individuals make facing changes in their physical abilities, and relationships that evolve from technology. I know it doesn’t seem Christmassy put that way, but the holidays are a time that a lot of our anxiety comes from evaluation of our lives over the year, and also a time we have a lot of hope and anticipation for the future. I wanted to explore these ideas more because I work with them all the time, closely, both in my personal life and also in my work as a pediatric nurse practitioner working with families. I wanted to write a holiday story that featured great change and sexy and exciting new love, and I admit to a little bit of a fascination with how the internet has connected so many of us, romantically and erotically.
In January, my first novel will debut, a standalone contemporary that is part of a series of standalones about a working class family in the large midwestern city THE STORY GUY is set in (as well as the holiday story). It’s different in tone and scope–third person alternating POV, for example–and features a middle sister of this big family locating her identity outside of her familial obligations, her neighborhood, and everyone’s else’s expectations. Her hero is a man who’s seen the world, but gotten stuck in a rut of his own making. Oh, and he’s Welsh.
Oh, I am so ready! Thanks so much Mary Ann!