To help celebrate release day, Ruthie Knox has been kind enough to give Amy and Jen a more in-depth look at her thoughts and feelings while writing some of the scenes in Making It Last. There are some pretty poignant moments and we wanted to pick her brain on how/why they came about. So take it away, Ms Knox!
Scene 1: When Tony travels to Amber he finds her talking to another man. Why? For Tony to come after her, for him to make that effort and then see her with someone else, even if it was nothing, I felt his pain. That was a blow. Why not make Amber see him with another one in that same light? You know, to shock her back to her senses?
Ruthie: “That was a blow” — right! Because Tony needed more than one blow to start seeing Amber again, instead of the-woman-he-married-who-occupies-his-bed-and-takes-care-of-his-kids-and-packs-his-lunch. The first blow came when he found out she’d spent most of the wedding reception crying. He hadn’t noticed, because he was on the phone. During a wedding. Like a complete tool.
I know — man doing Important Business Work, and also he loves her, he’s such a good guy, yadda yadda. I know. But it was the weekend. They were in Jamaica. At his brother-in-law’s wedding. And he spent three hours on the phone. He is not a blameless darling sweetheart being attacked by his barracuda wife, is my point, here. Tony has some issues that require addressing, and one of them is his tendency to forget about Amber as a human person with needs and feelings except when it is convenient for him. Which is hardly ever.
Yes, he is worried about her, but worrying is passive, and it is also Tony’s favorite mode of existing. He worries about everything. The question is, what is he doing? What he’s doing is working eighty hours a week. Which is not, let me be clear, in any real sense, necessary. There are other options.
What he’s doing for his marriage, for his wife, before he starts getting smacked around by the action of the book, is precisely nothing.
So, yes. The crying was the first smack. The way Amber looked—lost, alienated—when he left her behind in a foreign country rather than talk to her about what she needed, was the second. The third came from his mother-in-law, and the fourth when he saw his wife as a stranger and realized how close he was to losing her. Smack, smack, smack, smack. I’m nothing if not cruel to my characters. When they need it. Which he did.
As for why I didn’t do the same thing to Amber—well. She required different sorts of smacking, in my view. Amber hasn’t lost track of Tony as a person or forgotten he’s valued as a sexual being by people other than herself. She has, in fact, just recently laid by the pool and overheard two twenty-year-olds discuss how hot her husband is, and it didn’t surprise her, because people are always telling her how hot her husband is. Amber’s problem isn’t so much that she takes Tony for granted as it is that she’s lost the capacity to believe he can change. That anything in their relationship can change. And that’s understandable, because their relationship has been stuck in a bad place for a long time. But it’s another form of cowardice, and one she needs to be smacked out of. And she is—she’s smacked out of her complacency with alienation—but by other means, and later on in the story. There’s an arc, you see. For both of them.
Scene 2: We both had questions about the role play scene once Tony arrives back in Jamaica. I don’t believe it would have been an issue if they were in a healthy place but both believe their marriage is falling apart and neither one knows where the other is at emotionally or their level of commitment. In many ways the “Jennifer/Steve” roles they played felt like they were just avoiding reality. The fantasy of playing another couple did not lessen their insecurities, if anything it exacerbated them. I kind of wanted to smack them both during that scene but especially Amber during her internal dialogue:
“If you want me, win me over, she thought. Make me believe in you. In us. Make me believe in myself.”
Ruthie: Right! They were avoiding reality. The fantasy of playing another couple heightened their insecurities. It was stupid, and they both knew it was stupid. What they really needed to do was talk to each other.
The thing is? Talking is scary. They didn’t know how to start. Both of them are afraid to have this conversation, for basically the same reason. Tony is afraid that whatever is wrong with Amber, he can’t fix it, so he doesn’t want to even open the door to the Scary Thing. He thinks once they start talking, he’s going to lose her. Amber is also afraid that whatever is wrong with her, Tony can’t fix it. She thinks once they start talking, she’ll have to start looking at options, and the options are all too bleak. Tony can’t change, so she’ll either have to stay in this place where she’s miserable in the marriage forever, or she’ll have to leave him, and she doesn’t want to do either.
They’re afraid. And I think for readers, that’s uncomfortable. Staying with characters in this place of fear—ugh. We want to see our “heroes” and “heroines” be brave, always. We want to see them be smart and awesome, all the time. But that’s not the way people are. We get stuck in our fear. We have to lever ourselves out. If we’re lucky, our spouses help with the levering. Both Amber and Tony find their way to bravery, but that’s the journey, not the origin point. Here, at this bar, they’re still floundering.
The thing with the role play is, yes, it’s dumb, and total avoidance behavior. But it also gives Tony and Amber a way to talk to each other that is different from their usual modes of talking to each other. They need that, because their usual modes aren’t working. It gives them a way to seduce each other, which is also stupid, because oh my god, TALK ALREADY. But sex is a form of reassurance for both of them, and so is the stranger game—a way to open the door to intimacy and trust, a reminder that they are fundamentally on the same team, connected, together.
As for the line that made you want to smack Amber, I can only say that’s genuinely how she feels. She needs proof that her husband still wants her, still loves her, still sees her. Maybe she should know, already. Maybe we should all know, all the time, that we’re loved and wanted and desired. How many times do they have to tell us? One? Fourteen? Seven thousand? We should know. But sometimes we don’t. Sometimes years go by—sometimes it’s been six years since we went somewhere alone with our husbands—and we’re not so sure anymore.
Is Tony’s arrival in Jamaica one form of proof that he loves Amber? Sure. But on the other hand, he hasn’t said a word to her about why he’s there. He’s introduced himself as Steve and taken off his wedding ring. He’s being just as opaque as she is, really, and since they’re both afraid, they both require reassurance.
Also, if we’re not allowed to be petty even in our thoughts, God help us.
Scene 3: Another scene that stood out for me was when Amber finally has the revelation that Tony believes she’s going to leave him. I had a difficult time with this part because it took her so long to realize it. I gave her more credit in knowing that his greatest fear was he would fail in their marriage and would lose her.
“He thinks you’re getting divorced, you dope. He thinks you’re going to leave him. That’s why he flew back to Jamaica. That’s why he looks so damn scared.”
During this part of the book I kept thinking, this couple needs to read Gary Chapman’s, The Five Love Languages because the problem here is they both express love and need love in different ways. Communication is the key and it takes the entire book for them to realize that is their biggest issue.
Ruthie: Heh. Yes, they aren’t such great communicators. But I think that’s pretty easy to understand, given where they are in their lives. Not just because they have three kids, although my personal working theory is that children exist for the sole purpose of disrupting parental communication, but also because of the way that Tony works. They literally have a small handful of hours, spread over each entire week, that they spend alone together. And in that time, they have to talk about all the things you have to talk about when you’re married with three kids—whether the middle kid should go on Focalin like the pediatrician recommended, what’s up with the youngest’s screwed-up sleep, the funny thing the oldest said, what in the effing heck happened with the power bill last month, that stupid thing your mother-in-law wants us to do, oh and Katie’s got a new boyfriend—everything. Everything. So to bring up their problems in these stolen moments of time they have together, when they’re both afraid their problems are shapeless, unfixable, too big—they should. I agree that they should. But I sympathize so much with why they haven’t.
And as for the other part of the question, about why Amber doesn’t realize Tony thinks she’s going to leave him—why would she realize that? She’s not planning to leave him, or even considering it. They’ve been together for almost fourteen years. They have children together. She loves him. She’s only stayed in Jamaica because he asked her to. She’s sleeping in his bed, having sex with him, taking care of their boys, cleaning their house. As far as she knows, she seems fine. Except for that one time when he saw her cry, which she doesn’t intend to repeat.
Amber thinks, as many unhappy people do, that no one can see how unhappy she is. She thinks the problem is her problem, the solution her solution to find, the mental adjustment to be made her adjustment alone.
She also isn’t pondering conversations they had fourteen years ago. For readers, How To Misbehave has an immediacy that it doesn’t have for Amber. She’s living in the present of their marriage, and she honestly believes Tony has no reason to think she’s going to leave him. Her own unhappiness has given her these blinders that, heh, yes, require smacking off. So for Amber, just finally understanding where Tony’s coming from—that he’s afraid, that all of his behavior in Jamaica has been motivated by fear—smack.
Scene 4: Finally, can we talk about part of the book that just gutted us? Heh, cause there was just one (not). It was when Tony had the conversation with Janet, Amber’s mom. For most of the book, my heart hurt but I was holding it together. Once I hit this scene, all bets were off. This conversation summed up most of the book, for me. Can you tell us what made you think of writing this book and in essence this conversation?
“Love is mean like that,” she said. “It doesn’t give you good choices. You think it’s going to free you- that you’ll get married and turn into a butterfly or some such silly nonsense. But marriage makes everything harder.”
Ruthie: Oh, Janet. Let’s talk about Janet, because I love her so much. She’s one of the reasons I wanted to write this book—I just didn’t feel like I was done with Janet, after How To Misbehave and Along Came Trouble and Flirting with Disaster.
Janet is a pain in the ass. She is. She’s just not all that good at loving people in a way that doesn’t drive them crazy. She’s pushy and interfering, judgmental, passive-aggressive. She holds grudges. But she’s not a bad person, for all that. She loves so hard. She loves her husband, she loves her kids, she loves her grandkids. She loves so much that it hurts her, and so she feels like she has to defend herself, which is why she can be all prickles and spikes. Poor Tony is mostly on the receiving end of her spikes, because Janet has to be on her daughter’s side, and she’s afraid Tony is going to break Amber’s heart.
I needed this conversation to be in the book because I wanted readers to think about family and love and vulnerability. I wanted them to get a deeper slice into Janet, this woman who made this whole family the series is about, and to what it’s meant to her to love the way she does. How she thinks about love.
But it’s really Tony, for me, whose view of love is the one I want to embrace. Tony and Amber, together, who decide that maybe love isn’t mean, but that maybe life is mean, and love gives you the strength you need to deal with it. But—and here’s where Amber comes in—love will do that for you only if you take risks, set aside your fear, communicate, be brave in love.
Because love alone isn’t enough to sustain a marriage or make a marriage into a place of strength and happiness. You need more than love. You need trust, dialogue, empathy, and you need to be willing to work at it. Not once. Over and over again, forever.
That’s what happily-ever-after looks like to me.
Making It Last by Ruthie Knox
Camelot series, book 4
Releases July 15, 2013
In a brand-new eBook original novella, RITA finalist and USA Today bestselling author Ruthie Knox takes her spectacular Camelot series to new heights with a tale of desire reinvented.
A hotel bar. A sexy stranger. A night of passion. There’s a part of Amber Mazzara that wants those things, wants to have a moment — just one — where life isn’t a complicated tangle of house and husband and kids and careers. Then, after a long, exhausting “vacation” with her family, her husband surprises her with a gift: a few days on the beach . . . alone.
Only she won’t be alone long, because a handsome man just bought her a drink. He’s cool, he’s confident, and he wants to take Amber to bed and keep her there for days. Lucky for them both, he’s her husband. He’s only got a few days in Jamaica to make her wildest desires come true, but if he can pull it off, there’s reason to believe that this fantasy can last a lifetime.
E-book. 136 pp. ISBN: 978-0-345-54929-7.
USA Today bestselling author Ruthie Knox writes contemporary romance that’s sexy, witty, and angsty—sometimes all three at once. After training to be a British historian, she became an academic editor instead. Then she got really deeply into knitting, as one does, followed by motherhood and romance novel writing. Her debut novel, Ride with Me, is probably the only existing cross-country bicycling love story. She followed it up with About Last Night, a London-set romance whose hero has the unlikely name of Neville, and then Room at the Inn, a Christmas novella—both of which were finalists for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award. Her four-book series about the Clark family of Camelot, Ohio, has won accolades for its fresh, funny portrayal of small-town Midwestern life. Ruthie moonlights as a mother, Tweets incessantly, and bakes a mean focaccia. She’d love to hear from you, so visit her website at www.ruthieknox.com and drop her a line.
Ruthie has generously offered up 10 copies of Making it Last to Fiction Vixen readers. This is a one day only giveaway so spread the word and enter today! To enter, use the Rafflecopter below.
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