Sitting Down with Kathleen McCleary, author of House & Home

Today I am happy to host an interview with Kathleen McCleary, author of House & Home, as part of her blog tour put together by TLC Book Tours.

Kathleen McCleary has worked for a variety of publications, including The New York Times, USA Weekend, Good Housekeeping, More, Health, Martha Stewart Living, and Ladies Home Journal. She was a columnist for several years for A 2004 job opportunity for her husband brought her reluctantly back to Virginia (which is a beautiful and friendly state that had nothing to do with her discontent other than the fact that it wasn’t Oregon). The move sparked the idea for a novel, and she spent almost three years writing House & Home, while also working as a freelance writer and as a barista at the local, independently owned coffee shop in her town.

House & Home is “the story of a woman who loves her house so much that she’ll do just about anything to keep it.” And it’s the book selected this month for our online book club, which will take place next week. I finished the book quite quickly and was surprised by how much I really enjoyed reading it. I hope some of you have already read the book. If not, perhaps this interview will peak your interest. Enjoy!

What was your inspiration for this book?

In 2004, I moved from Oregon to Virginia and had to sell the house we’d owned for 12 years. It was harder for me to give up the house than I could have imagined. I thought, “What if someone literally couldn’t give up a house?”

When you moved from Oregon to the East Coast did you face some of the same emotions as the main character, Ellen Flanagan?

Of course. Uprooting my kids from the only home they’d ever known was really, really hard. And I loved my house, in part because we had a close-knit neighborhood with many friends, and because so much of my kids’ childhoods were lived out in that house.

One of my favorite parts of this book was reading the children’s reactions to the move, especially Sara. When I was younger my family moved a lot and I have to admit I was a lot like Sara in that I fought tooth and nail to convince my parents not to move – every time. How did your children react to the big move when it happened?

My oldest, who was ten at the time, was completely opposed to the move, and of course her resistance was a knife in my heart. She even knocked down the “For Sale” sign on a couple of occasions! My youngest, who was seven then, was more accepting. I moved several times as a kid and just hated it, so the fact that I had to move my kids was very difficult. I think all kids hate to move. I got the idea for the little “I’ll be back notes” that Sara left around the house from taking a tour of the White House in D.C. The guide said that one of Eisenhower’s grandchildren had hidden little notes around the White House before his grandfather left office.

Why did you decide to set the book in Oregon, rather than your new hometown?

My heart—and my head—were still firmly entrenched in Oregon for quite a while after I moved. In many ways, the book is a love letter to Oregon. Writing it was also a way to help me process my feelings about the move.

In the book, Ellen says to Jordan Boyce, “This is the West Coast. You’re not supposed to ask what college someone went to here.” This is one of my favorite quotes in the book, not only because Ellen had the guts to say it, but also because it’s a difference I often notice when I meet East Coasters. Did you find it difficult to get used to this when you moved to the East Coast? What were some of the other differences you noticed between the East and West Coast?

I experienced real culture shock when I moved east, although I had lived in the East before and grew up in the Midwest. The pace on the East Coast is much quicker, for one thing. People drive faster, walk faster, even talk faster! I’m still not used to it. There’s also much more focus on what college you went to, or what college your kids want to get in to, even when they’re in middle school. People also always want to know what you DO and where you work. There’s a lot to love about the East, but I’ll always be an Oregonian and plan to return to Oregon full time one day.

Could you see any other way for Ellen to resolve her issues with her house and husband aside from the house burning down?

Sure. Ellen could have taken the time to really clarify her priorities before she rushed into selling the house and then regretting it. She might have decided she wanted to divorce Sam but also sell part of her business to keep the house. Or she might have decided she and Sam needed to reevaluate the way they worked together as parents and marriage partners, but still stayed together. I think Ellen, because she was so hyper-competent, really enabled Sam in some ways, contributed to his less responsible side. The fact that she finally had had enough did force Sam to mature. It also helped Ellen to let go.

How long was this book in your head before you put it down on paper?

It was a slow process that developed over several months. I finally wrote the first paragraph, then just let it simmer for a while. I kept thinking about it, so then I wrote a little more, and then it started to unfold.

Why the title House & Home? What’s the difference between a House and a Home?

I originally called the book simply “House.” My agent, Ann Rittenberg, came up with the title “House & Home,” which is perfect. A house, as Ellen comes to find out, really is just a house. It’s a vessel. A home is what’s inside the vessel—the lives that are lived there, the people who live them, how they care for one another.

What is your favorite part of your home and why?

It’s my living room and dining room, which open into each other. The rooms both have huge, multi-paned windows that let in sun all afternoon, and they’re where we spend the majority of our time together as a family—eating meals, doing homework, practicing guitar, folding laundry, reading, talking, entertaining friends. It all happens in those two rooms.

Do you have any other books in the works?

Yes! I’m currently hard at work on my second novel. It’s about a woman who gets so overwhelmed by what she perceives as the negative cultural influences affecting her school-age children that she decides to move them to a remote island off the coast of Washington state to live without shopping malls, cell phones, or traffic lights for a year. The novel follows Susannah Delaney’s quest to create a meaningful life for herself and her three children; her relationship with her husband, Matt, which has grown increasingly strained as they clash over how to best raise the kids; her confusion over a haunting love affair from her past; and finally the changes that take place during the family’s time on Sounder Island, which turns out not at all as Susannah expected.

P.S. I’m giving away my copy of House & Home since I’ve already finished it. If you’d like to win a copy of this book, please leave a comment below telling me why you’d like to read this book. The winner will be chosen on Sept. 30, so please enter by midnight on Sept. 29!

P.P.S. If you don’t want to be entered in the giveaway, you can still leave a comment below 😉

Published in: on September 24, 2008 at 1:00 pm  Comments (10)  

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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. no need to enter me, I already read the book (and LOVED it) …just wanted to say how excited I am about the NEXT book! If I recall, Ellen’s character often dreamed of running away to an island of the coast – it looks like this new character actually gets to DO it. I can’t wait to read it. 🙂

  2. I would like to read this book because I am from Oregon, and have lived here all my life. We are probably going to have to move in a few years (most likely to the East Coast) and I’m curious how our whole family will deal with it. I don’t think anyone will be burning any houses down though! 🙂akreese (at) hotmail (dot) com

  3. I’d love to read this book! The idea that someone could be so attached to a home she’d burn it down rather than sell it is very interesting. This was a great interview, too. I look forward to her second book!diaryofaneccentric[at]hotmail[dot]com

  4. I would like a copy…I find the subject matter interesting and your review made me want to give this author a chance…but hopefully the author is sending me a copy…she said she would and it’s on its way…but I haven’t received it yet. 😦

  5. I think the subject of the book is quite interesting and I would love to read it! Thank you for the giveaway!

  6. Oh I must read this book. I’ve been trying to buy a house in Brooklyn, NY for over a year! Prices of houses in Brooklyn are 800,000+ – there are no problems selling property in NYC or foreclosures here.

  7. I’d love to win this book! Please go ahead and enter me. 🙂

  8. I had a home burn down in my younger years and and I an still attached emotionally to that house more than any I ever lived in. So are my siblings. I want to know what this character feels about her home because I think I can understand it. Please enter me, thank you.

  9. I’ve been reading a fair amount about this book on book blogosphere and it looks great! please enter me.gweiswasser[at]gmail[dot]com

  10. Getting in just under the wire, but I’d love to entered in the giveaway. I’ve been reading so many good reviews of this one 🙂

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