It’s difficult for me – and I suspect, for most writers – to pinpoint the inspiration for a novel, because so much of that chemistry takes place in the subconscious. For me, a novel comes from some question that’s haunting me, even if I don’t know what that question is, exactly. It’s like a nagging feeling in my belly that I suddenly start paying more attention to. It takes an entire draft to figure out the question, and another draft or two to figure out the answer. Not very efficient! With this book, I was mostly thinking about love, how for some people it seems easy to nourish even as people age and life changes, but for some people it’s not so easy. I wondered why. The same goes for forgiveness. I was also thinking about how much we owe our partners and ourselves within a relationship that’s tested. Who do we protect first, and most fiercely? Ourselves? Or the person we’ve committed ourselves to? What does forgiveness actually mean, in practice?
When I started Ask Again, Yes I’d been working on another novel but wasn’t getting very far. Friends and family around me were struggling with old demons and new ones: addiction, infidelity, divorce, depression, estrangement. Mental illness is like a ghost that haunts my extended friends and family – that’s probably true for most people – but when I stood back and really looked through the generations, I began to see the scale of the tragedy that results from not getting the help one needs. There was joy, too–people having children, finding love, doing well at work, but in many cases the joy seemed tempered by what came before.
In these past few weeks, while we’ve all been stuck at home, I’ve been remembering more about how I began Ask Again, Yes, the small moments I noticed within families, and what they told me about our connection to one another. We’re all feeling afraid and anxious right now – if not for our health or the health of our loved ones, then for our livelihoods going forward. As my younger son asked me recently, “will the world be the same after?” It’s a good question.