A Conversation with Michelle Richmond and Dani Atkins
Michelle Richmond is the bestselling author of The Year of Fog, No One You Know, Dream of the Blue Room
, and the award-winning The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress
. A native of Alabama’s Gulf Coast, she makes her home in Northern California. Her newest novel is Golden State
Michelle Richmond: I can’t believe this is your first novel! The tension and pacing here are remarkable. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Dani Atkins: Even as a child I was always scribbling away at short stories and poems, so I guess the dream was always there. As a young adult I wrote a few short stories and a couple of very lightweight romances. They weren’t published, and with good reason: They weren’t very good. Not that I realized that at the time, of course. There were huge gaps between my literary endeavors, where I wouldn’t write anything more challenging than the weekly shopping list. However, when my children were older I once again felt the urge to write. Then and Always
was different from anything I had attempted before. When it was done I felt confident it was the best thing I’d ever written. (Of course, bearing in mind what had come before, some of my earlier shopping lists could also have claimed that title!)
MR: How did you get the inspiration for the novel?
DA: I’ve always enjoyed novels or films that keep you guessing and make you question what you believe to be true. I’m also a fan of thrillers and books with a supernatural twist. But most of all, I adore a good old-fashioned love story. Then and Always
is a blend of all the genres I most enjoy reading.
MR: The novel’s ending is sure to cause discussion. Did you know how the novel was going to end when you started writing it?
DA: Yes, I did. From the moment I sat down and wrote Chapter 1 on the first page, I always knew how the final chapter of Then and Always
would end. What I didn’t know—what I never seem to know when writing—is the journey the book will take me on before I get there.
MR: Did you have any hopes for what the reader might take away from the novel?
DA: I think if I had to choose just one message, it would be that you should make the most of every opportunity in life. Seize the day. Your whole world can be irrevocably changed in the blink of an eye, and if someone is important to you . . . you should tell them, because you never know when it might be too late. We’re not all lucky enough to get Rachel’s rather unique second chance.
MR: What are your writing habits?
DA: I truly don’t know if I can say I have been doing this long enough to have a normal writing routine or habits just yet. When I began, I had every good intention of making writing my nine-to-five job. I learned very quickly that it doesn’t work like that. In reality, I seem to achieve very little in the mornings and am much more productive in the mid- to late afternoon and evening. I do find that I get most of my ideas for plot and dialogue when I am walking our dog (a two-year-old border collie). He is benefitting enormously from my new routine. My husband, who now seems to have taken on all cooking duties—otherwise neither of us would eat an evening meal—sadly is not.
MR: Who are your favorite authors?
DA: I like many different genres and authors, with my personal favorites ranging from Stephen King (love him) to Sophie Kinsella (want to be her). I also enjoy many young adult titles, and am not ashamed to admit it, and loved the Between the Lines
series by Tammara Webber, and the Hunger Games
trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I have recently “discovered” and am really enjoying reading the novels of Paige Toon.
MR: Are you working on something new? Can you share anything with us about your next project?
DA: My second novel is well under way. It is a powerful love story that is told from the point of view of Emma, the main character, and covers many issues, including friendship, family, loyalty, trust, and betrayal.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Three accidents seem to shape this novel. To what extent is Rachel’s future affected by events outside her control?
2. Why do you think Rachel feels so responsible for the outcome of the restaurant accident? Do you think she would feel differently if Matt had died in Jimmy’s place?
3. Would you feel differently about Rachel if the book began as she woke up in the hospital? Why do you think the author chose to begin the novel where she did?
4. What did you think really happened when Jimmy showed up in Rachel’s hospital room? Did you question your logic throughout the novel?
5. The characters encounter mirrors and reflections at several points during the story. Do you think the idea of mirror images relates to the way the author organizes the novel?
6. Which of Rachel’s relationships do you think is most important to her in her personal life and in her career? Does that change over the course of the book?
7. How do you interpret the seeming intersection between fate and free will in this novel? Do you believe in fate? Or do you believe we control our own destinies?
8. Rachel has deep feelings for Jimmy even when she is with Matt. Do you think it’s possible to be in love with two people at the same time?
9. Despite their imperfections, did you feel any sympathy for Matt or Cathy by the end of the novel?
10. Were you surprised by the ending? Do you think there is more than one way to interpret the events at the end of the book?
11. Did you pick up on any of the specific clues in the novel that foreshadow the ending? What were some clues that you noticed?
12. Did you ever come to a crossroads in your life when you felt the choice you made impacted your life in unimaginable ways? If you could go back, would you choose differently and why?