Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them.
This is the fourteenth post in the series. The author is Molly D. Campbell and the book is Keep the Ends Loose. It's available in Kindle, and in paperback as of today. (Hooray, book birthdays!)
Me: Molly, please tell my readers, in your own words, a little about your novel.
Molly: Keep the Ends Loose started as a character study of a woman who lived alone, happy in her little cottage. But it ran away with me as I began, and it morphed into a book about family secrets, the wisdom of youth, and the idea of forgiveness—what is it, really, and how do actual people deal with forgiving those whom they feel have wronged them. I wrote it in first person, through the eyes of a very precocious fifteen year old girl. Mandy Heath is an amalgam of all of the youthful protagonists I have read and loved through the years, especially Anne Shirley, Holden Caulfield, Jo March, and Flavia De Luce. Mandy is able to talk about her family crisis as a member not directly “hit over the head” with the debacle, but as a somewhat objective observer. And, of course, the book has a humorous and ironic tone, as I am a humor writer at heart.
Me: I first planned to ask you for a little bit more of a plot synopsis. But then it hit me that your book is very character-driven. There’s plot there, but it’s the quirkiness of the characters that’s really your stylistic signature. So instead would you please tell my readers a little about your major characters and what makes them each such individuals?
Molly: I have always been more interested in characterization than plot. When a book has both fascinating characters and a brilliant plot, I am amazed. Here are the people that drive Keep the Ends Loose:
Mandy Heath is fifteen, very smart, and a wry observer. She sees herself as boringly average, and when she compares herself to her mother, Winnie, Mandy feels a bit inferior. Mandy clings tenaciously to childhood, because she fears all the things that adulthood offers: college, career choices, leaving home, and of course, sex. Mandy has no idea how mature and competent she really is. She has a keen sense of irony, and her story telling ability is what sets Keep the Ends Loose apart from other novels about teens. I have always been drawn to precocious narrators, since I read Anne of Green Gables as a child and completely identified with Anne Shirley.
Barley Crowder is Mandy’s best friend. Barley and Mandy are complete opposites. Where Mandy plods, Barley glides. Mandy is overwhelmingly average. Barley is a junior-high superstar. Barley has gleaming blonde hair, a perfect complexion and figure, and she is wildly popular at school. Mandy enjoys life safely in Barley’s shadow. Barley is a take-charge type who is the catalyst for much of the plot resolution—she is a lot like Winnie, actually.
Roy Heath is the kind and gentle pharmacist who is Mandy’s dad. Mandy sees him as saintly, in compared to her mother. I modeled Roy on my husband, who is the definition of unconditional love.
Adam Heath is a typical teenaged boy. Mandy’s older brother is, of course, portrayed through her lens, and so we see him as very one-dimensional: the way most siblings view one another. He is annoying, stupid, and monosyllabic. Until he isn’t.
Iris Heath is Mandy’s aunt. She is another complete opposite--of her sister Winnie. She is willowy, beautiful, musical, and graceful. But, as Mandy reports, there just isn’t much in there…Iris is bland. I invented this bland woman around whom the entire plot revolves, because once again, I like the contrast between the two sisters, and I also wanted to focus the plot around Mandy and her immediate family without too much complication from Iris. Iris, of course, is not what she seems, because once again, she is portrayed only as Mandy sees her. As the plot unfolds, Iris gains dimension, and we see how Mandy’s view of her aunt, and actually her entire family, evolves as the book progresses and as Mandy matures.
Winnie Heath is the chubby dynamo about whom Keep the Ends Loose swirls. She is determined, bossy, and she doesn't have one bit of impulse control once she has made her mind up to do something. The book is in large part about forgiveness, and in Winnie, we see a woman who is obsessed with "tying up that one loose end" that has hounded her for years. That is all I can say without spoilers, but I have often wished I had a little more of her dogged determination!
Mandy is able to tell the story of her family’s debacle through a wry and slightly detached lens. She is really me—I have always been a watcher. I wanted to tell this story through a humorous and slightly innocent viewpoint, and this is how Mandy is. She can be both upset and hilarious at the same time.