[SWP: Behind the Book] Eden
Contributor
Written by
Jeanne Blasberg
January 2017
Contributor
Written by
Jeanne Blasberg
January 2017

My debut novel, Eden (May ’17), is a family saga.  It is clearly a work of fiction, but it is also a kaleidoscope of experiences, memories, and characteristics I’ve witnessed firsthand.  Before I explain some of my inspiration for the book, let me give you the synopsis:

 

Becca Meister Fitzpatrick, wife, mother, grandmother, and pillar of the community is the dutiful steward of her family’s iconic summer tradition… until she discovers her late husband squandered their nest egg.  As she struggles to accept what is likely her last season in Long Harbor, Becca is inspired by her granddaughter’s boldness in the face of impending single-motherhood, and summons the courage to reveal a long buried secret: the existence of a daughter she gave up fifty years earlier.

 

Eden is the heartrending account of the days leading up to the Fourth of July weekend, as Becca prepares to uncover her secret and her son and brothers conspire to put the estate on the market, interwoven with the century-old history of Becca’s family, her parent’s beginnings and ascent into affluence, and her mother’s own struggles in the grand home her father named “Eden.”

 

 

In the span of four generations, between 1920 and 2000, so much changed in the United States.  There were enormous industrial and technological advancements, economic shifts, and the impact of world wars, but my book shines a spotlight on the additional changes women faced.  My characters, women from the same family, have lives that span a century and experience extremely different education and career opportunities, and especially different choices when it came to their reproductive rights. 

 

Their summer home, EDEN, connotes permanence and inheritance, bringing generations of Meister’s together. It was built to be a haven, a place of comfort in a chaotic world, but it has unintended effects as well.  For my characters, Sadie, Becca, Rachel, and Sarah, the evolution of social mores cause mother and daughter to clash summer after summer.  And yes, their names allude to the biblical matriarchs to accentuate the timelessness of that theme.

 

I first set out wanting to compare two scenarios: one where a woman gives a baby up for adoption in the 1940’s, and the other where a woman keeps her baby, entering into a bad marriage (albeit in the 1970’s) in order to “do the right thing.”  I took it another step, thinking about the world we live in now where a nuclear family unit can come in all shapes and sizes, and portrayed a character in the 1990’s who decides to have a baby as a single mother.  Then I thought backwards to the 1920’s when even the most affluent and privileged women in the country had little access to birth control.

 

I planted all of these women in the same family, one that kept secrets, resulting in them looking forward and backward with a clouded lens of envy and misunderstanding.  Mothers and daughters and mothers and daughters, some things never change.  I also decided to make theirs a once wealthy family (one that was now losing its shine) in order to emphasize the burden of keeping up appearances. For example, her mother secretly sends Becca to a maternity hospital in Kansas City to have her child, while everybody else is told she is attending finishing school.

 

The novel is one woman’s story, echoing four women’s’ stories, and is, at the same time, all women’s story.  It creates a collage of female experience around the drama of introducing Becca’s long lost daughter and her impending financial despair. I wrote the story from multiple points of view, and wove together the past and present in alternating chapters.  It has biblical allusions and mystical references.  Undoubtedly an ambitious structure for my first novel, but I was determined to write the type of book I enjoy reading.

 

Some readers ask if the characters in Eden represent people in my family. While my family is replete with stories of adoption and hasty marriage to serve as inspiration, my characters are a definite departure from real life.  Nonetheless, some of my family members have been surprised the novel contains personal and painful topics. To them, I constantly affirm this is a work of fiction.  There is no doubt, my main inspiration was the compassion I feel for the women who came before me, both in my family and beyond, to tell the narrative so many of them were forced to keep secret.  I also wrote the book for younger generations of women so that they may better appreciate their choices and have empathy for their mothers.

 

Although there have been multiple derivations of this maxim, “Write what you know,” it was my first invitation as an aspiring novelist.  I was fortunate because I had this story taking shape inside of me, and I had to get it out.  It burned strongly, staying with me while I slept, staying with me for eight years of writing, and through at least a dozen revisions.  It pushed me to keep trying when I thought several times it was a lost cause, to find an agent and a publisher and then it pushed me to find advanced readers and seek out blurbs.  

 

Just like a baby turns a woman into a mother, Eden has turned me into an author, a woman with a new vocation.  I’m so proud to share this story and to have my matriarchs spark conversation and continue pushing me on this journey.

 

 

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