Photo: © David Leyes
About the Author
“I love hearing that someone stayed up all night to finish one of my books.”
Now a New York Times bestselling author of popular psychological novels, Joy was eight years old when she sent her first story to a magazine. She wrote plays that she and her friends performed for their parents during summer vacation at the cottage. “As a child, I played with cut-out dolls until I was fourteen years old, long past the age when my friends still played with them. I made up elaborate stories with my paper dolls, letting my imagination run wild.” In her last year of high school, her English teacher announced to the class that she was going to be a writer. She loved writing and was a good student. Her mother told her there was nothing she couldn’t do well if she really wanted to do it.
At the University of Toronto, however, Joy decided she wanted to be an actress. She performed in campus productions and starred in the student movie Winter Kept Us Warm. When she graduated in 1966 with a BA in English Literature, she went into acting full-time, played the lead in CFTO’s Rumble of Silence and appeared in Twelfth Night at Stratford; she moved to Los Angeles and landed a role in an episode of Gunsmoke. She also travelled to Las Vegas where she got to kiss Elvis Presley. She stayed there almost three years, acting, working in banks, and starting a novel; but eventually returned to Toronto and her first love, writing. The acting background enriches her novels. “I approach the heroines as if I were a Method actress.” Her theatre training taught her to see scenes, build structure, and “go for the drama”.
Her first novel, The Best of Friends, was written at her parents’ kitchen table within the first five weeks of returning to Toronto. Publishers in both Canada and the U.S. saw potential, and it was published in 1972. Less than ten years and several novels later, Kiss Mommy Goodbye, called a ‘knockout’ by the New York Times, was published all over the world. In 1995, her novel See Jane Run was adapted into a television movie and sold 1.5 million copies in Germany alone. With the publication of The First Time, a love story, and Grand Avenue, which follows the lives of four women over the course of twenty years, she allowed herself the luxury of focusing more on how human relationships develop over time.
She still lives in Toronto but has a house in Palm Beach, where she spends as much time as possible. “I think I have a fairly American sensibility, although this is very much tempered by my Canadian upbringing.” She works on her golf handicap, plays bridge, and travels when she has time. She has been married for 30-plus years and has two daughters, one an actress and the other working behind-the-scenes in film.
She usually writes for four hours each day, after letting ideas percolate in her subconscious for a while. She starts with the characters and a theme, then writes an outline; halfway through, the book usually has its own momentum, although there can be surprises, such as when a minor character ends up having a key role in the book. “That’s always part of the fun: being surprised.” Readers find it easy to relate to and identify with her characters, so developing their background, why they act the way they do, is the most important thing. In spite of their different situations, she tries to put herself into their shoes and thus sees a lot of herself in her main characters.
Fielding’s terrain as a writer is the day-to-day problems facing modern women. Often, her characters are forced to face their worst nightmares, when sudden discoveries change their seemingly untroubled lives. In the suspenseful Don’t Cry Now, a woman with a rewarding job, happy marriage, and large suburban home finds her secure world crashing around her when her three-year-old daughter’s safety is threatened. A destructive ex-husband leaves a woman in terror when he kidnaps their children in Kiss Mommy Goodbye. Seemingly fragile heroines face the challenge of a lifetime, and often fight back ferociously.
Although her primary concern is telling a good story, she consciously tries to raise awareness of issues that affect women’s lives, such as domestic violence and sexual harassment, disease and infidelity. “Occasionally, I get letters from professional social workers and doctors, telling me that they’ve used or recommended my books to their patients.” Showing how a character deals with a situation is often more effective than giving people advice on things they’re afraid to confront. As a popular author she would like to help show people why they do things, understand each other’s fears, and become more compassionate.
She is also committed to creating more believable female characters in commercial fiction. “I think I’m successful at depicting real women because I understand women, mostly because I understand myself quite well… You can tell a pretty fantastic tale, but if you populate it with real people feeling real emotions, your readers will follow you anywhere.” She appeals to people of all ages from teenagers up, and though set mostly in American cities, her books are sold in more than twenty languages all over the world. “It strikes me increasingly that as long as one is writing about the basic human emotions we all share, then it doesn’t really matter where one is from.” Although most of her readers are women, she recommends her books to men – especially if they want to understand what women want.
Publishers Weekly has regularly called her books perceptive and affecting. Of Whisper and Lies it writes: “An ending worthy of Hitchcock rewards readers able to weather the false clues and emotional angst of Fielding’s latest page-turner. Once again, the bestselling author…tests the complex ties that bind friends and family, and keeps readers wondering when those same ties might turn deadly.” Of Mad River Road: “Packed with breathless twists and turns, Fielding’s latest set of women in jeopardy excite and delight.”
Her latest novel, Heartstopper, was released in 2007 to rave reviews. According to Booklist, “Fielding crafts a suspenseful plot, with a stunner of a twist, while giving her characters a depth of humanity not frequently found in formula fiction. Exciting and unexpectedly touching reading from the talented Fielding.”