‘Herself When She’s Missing’ author Sarah Terez Rosenblum visits Charis

But now, let’s find out about her novel. The GA Voice emailed some questions to the author who gladly answered them on her flight to Atlanta.

Characters in the novel include Andrea, the protagonist, a 20-something teacher who loves making lists and who falls for Jordan, an early-40s perpetual undergrad who is a “criminal mastermind” and believes her own lies. There’s also a folk duo included as part of the storyline, but, no, the band is not based on Atlanta’s own Indigo Girls and absolutely not based on Maroon 5.

How did you come up with the title?
Readers have asked me to explain the title, indicate who the ‘she’ is, clarify what exactly is missing. I’m reluctant, because for me the title’s purpose (and really the purpose of fiction in general) is to invite the reader to find meaning. I will say that Andrea, the novel’s protagonist, is a list-maker and an obsessive thinker, unable to cultivate her own sense of calm. Her relationship with Jordan takes her out of herself in a way nothing else– not religion, not fandom, not an eating disorder– can. At one point I write, ‘what Andrea misses is herself when she’s missing, that particular way Jordan frees her from the white walls of her mind.’ But that’s only one interpretation. Yours is as valid as mine.

Is Cry Wolf, the band in your novel, really modeled after the Indigo Girls?
I’m a huge Indigo Girls fan so absolutely not. Unlike the Indigo Girls, Cry Wolf ultimately lacks longevity; they’re quite limited in terms of their relevance and musicality. Like, probably after the book ends Peter goes off to divinity school and Adrienne embarks on an unsuccessful solo career.
Here’s how that misconception came about: In Herself When She’s Missing Jordan incorporates a line from an Indigo Girls song into conversation without citing the source. For Andrea this is more proof of her general untrustworthiness. Coincidentally, my agent is also an Indigo Girls fan. She recognized the line and started referring to my book as ‘The Indigo Girls Book.’ At some point that got misconstrued and my publisher ran with it. It could be worse. People could think Cry Wolf is based on Maroon Five.

How long did it take to write the book?
The book started in 2008 as a text message I sent to myself involving the phrase “Criminal Mastermind,” the moniker Andrea pins on Jordan in order to get a humorous handle on Jordan’s lawlessness. From there, it took me maybe two years to finish; texting yourself a whole novel takes a serious amount of time. My thumb joints are still swollen. That’s a joke. I didn’t actually text the whole book to myself. I faxed it, cause I’m retro like that.

Is it based on fact or all fiction? As in, these characters sound interesting — are they people you know (including yourself) or maybe compilations of people you have met?
This question is always so interesting to me because it implies that a believable character is a fact-based character. To me, fiction is a fast-track to the sort of truth with which facts interfere. That’s a fancy way of saying, I’m glad it felt real, but I made it all up.

Elizabeth Anderson of Charis believes this is going to be the “IT” lesbian book of the year. Do you believe this book has something to offer that you have not read yourself in other books?
First let me say I’m flattered and that would be an honor. In a broader literary context, I’m certainly not the first to examine a haunting, dysfunctional relationship; Janet Fitch did that with great lyricism in White Oleander; James Joyce used the inner workings of a character’s mind to structure a novel’s form long before I was born.

Many valuable books have been classified as ‘lesbian’ because of society’s impulse to pigeonhole and the publishing industry’s understandable need to identify a market in order to sell to it. While I’ll count myself lucky to appeal to a lesbian readership, I’m also blessed to write and publish in a time during which definitions matter maybe incrementally less — in fiction and in life. So I guess my hope is that because I’ve taken care to render complex characters with sympathy and attention to detail, and because of the book’s timing, it will break genre boundaries and speak to a broader audience: Those who define themselves not just by their sexuality but by the fact that they’ve completely fucked up their lives for something they mistook for love.

Check out the book trailer:

Photo: Sarah Terez Rosenblum reads from her debut novel ‘Herself When She’s Missing’ on July 6 at Charis Books & More. (Photo by Patty Michels)