Since her debut novel, Starlight, was published in 1983, Debbie Macomber’s books have sold in the tens of millions, turned into the popular TV series Cedar Cove, and become an annual event for romance readers everywhere. With her latest book, Macomber continues to explore the experiences of women whose lives take an unexpected turn. In A Girl’s Guide to Moving On, Nichole has discovered that her husband, Jake, is unfaithful, and so she has sacrificed material comfort for independence with her young son. Emboldened by Nichole’s courage, her mother-in-law, Leanne, leaves her own husband, who has been unfaithful for decades. The two women rent apartments across the hall from one another and find that starting anew has its challenges, but also its gifts. Macomber answered questions via email in advance of her appearance at the Nashville Public Library on February 24.
Chapter 16: In A Girl’s Guide to Moving On, you introduce a Ukrainian character, Nikolai, who exhibits phenomenal patience in waiting for the woman he loves to be ready for him. Is there a person in real life on whom this character is modeled?
Debbie Macomber: Nikolai isn’t based on any individual per se, but through Nikolai I was able to honor all four of my grandparents, as they all emigrated from Ukraine.
Chapter 16: Without giving too much away, this novel gives the character Leanne an extremely difficult choice between her own happiness and making a sacrifice for someone else. It’s a very realistic situation. Did you ever waver on what decision Leanne would make?
Macomber: At the end of the day I did waver. I hadn’t plotted the book the way it came out. I’d made one decision and decided I couldn’t do it, and the plot took off in an entirely different direction. This is something interesting about the writing process. What feels right in a synopsis doesn’t always work out as well on paper, once the story takes root on the page. Things change and often for the better.
Chapter 16: One of the most vivid characters in the book is Shawntelle, a woman whose humor and zest for life shine through on the page. The comic relief she brings helps to balance some of the serious undertones of the story. Was it fun to write this character?
Macomber: I did love writing the character of Shawntelle for the very reason you mentioned. She was an excellent contrast to Nichole. A woman who spoke her mind and told it like it is. Big, bold, brassy. In fact, I enjoyed her so much she’s making an appearance in the next book.
Chapter 16: You must hear lots of stories from the readers who attend your events. Are there signing line stories that you’ve used, or would like to use, in your work?
Macomber: Generally, the stories the readers tell me at signings have to do with how my stories have helped them in one way or another. It’s all very encouraging and humbling. That said, readers will often send me an idea. I’ve used them, too. The idea for an apprentice angel named Will came from a reader who reminded me that the verse in the twenty-thrid Psalm reads: Surely goodness and mercy will follow me….
Chapter 16: One of the biggest predictors of a relationship’s success or failure in real life is class difference, and yet you seem to be the rare author who tackles that issue head-on. What’s your take on the role class plays in a real-life relationship?
Macomber: First off, thank you for the compliment! However, I’m not completely sure I understand the question. What I can tell you is that I was raised to accept everyone equally no matter what class, race or religion and that’s the way I tend to write my stories. In regard to A Girl’s Guide, both Leanne and Nichole had been married to successful, wealthy men but it didn’t bring them happiness.
Chapter 16: Do you ever hear from male readers? What kinds of things do they say about what you get right and wrong in your books?
Macomber: It comes as somewhat of a surprise to hear from male readers. Most often, it seems, they find me through their wives or at the recommendation of a librarian. A fair amount of the time they tell me they’re surprised by how much they enjoyed reading a book that was meant for a woman and seemed a little shocked that I got the way a man thinks so accurately. Guess that’s due to living with my husband all these years.
Chapter 16: How does your personal faith inform your creative decisions when writing? Are they ever in conflict?
Macomber: My faith definitely influences my writing. It’s an integral part of who I am. It isn’t easy to separate me, the woman, from me, the author. My characters don’t live perfect lives, but then I only know of one Man who ever did. When my characters stray, there are consequences, and that’s what brings conflict into a story. Oh, the messes we get ourselves into while we attempt to finagle our way out of trouble! It’s what makes my stories real.
Serenity Gerbman has served as Director of Literature and Language Programs at Humanities Tennessee since 2001. A recipient of the Malcolm Law Award for Feature Writing from the Tennessee Press Association, she lives in Murfreesboro.