Posted on May 21 2017
Everyone in Watch Hill is talking about Eden, a multigenerational family drama set in a Rhode Island estate by my friend Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg. I just finished it and I think it’s a perfect beach read.
I met Jeanne when our children were young and just learning to sail. We became close and have celebrated many occasions together as our children played, grew up, graduated, gone off to College and now are entering the working world. We've celebrated milestones with each other and spent many afternoons reading on the beach!
Jeanne started her career in finance. A few years ago she decided to change course and enrolled in a creative writing course at Grub Street in Boston.
Eden is her first novel, and it’s getting raves. Bestselling author Anita Shreve called it “a masterfully interwoven family saga with indelible characters, unforgettable stories, and true pathos.”
It’s set in a fictional summer resort community that reminds me of my beloved Watch Hill. Grandmothers, mothers and daughters struggle with relationships, secrets and changing times.
I talked to Jeanne about publishing her first book, changing careers, and what inspires her (since she’s one of the women that inspire me!) Jeanne is a true force of nature, and I am enormously proud to see her follow her dream!
My Interview with Jeanne Blasberg, author of Eden
How difficult was it to leave behind a successful career in finance for the creative life?
I’ve always seen myself as a creative type rather than of a finance person, even though I am good with numbers and have strong analytical skills. But, coming out of college, an investment-banking job offer seemed like a great opportunity since it would allow me a move to Manhattan with financial independence. I don’t regret it at all; my time on Wall Street and later in strategic planning taught me important skills and life lessons. Later, I was able to turn my deep knowledge of the retailing landscape into a job at Harvard Business School as a case writer for the professor of retailing. This was my first professional writing gig and when I left HBS after my third child was born, I knew I wanted writing to feature prominently in my life.
So to answer your question, it wasn’t difficult at all! Twenty years later, I’m embarking on a new career as a novelist after raising three terrific children and devoting most of my spare time to serving on non-profit boards. I was able to hone the craft while in the trenches with the kids and am now ready to direct my energy toward my books. I’m absolutely delighted to be writing full time and to be talking about EDEN with readers. It really is a dream come true.
Where did the idea for Eden come from?
I’ve always been fascinated by how, in the matter of 1 or 2 generations during the 20th century, women’s reproductive rights changed dramatically resulting in chasms of experience between mothers, daughters, and granddaughters. I wanted to examine a set of women all having different choices when it came to unplanned pregnancy, and I thought it would be fascinating to put them all in the same family. Patterns repeat themselves from one generation to the next, but because of secret keeping, my characters are not aware of what their mothers went through.
The book begins with the main character, Becca, deciding to introduce the daughter she gave up for adoption fifty years earlier to the rest of her family. There was a similar scene in my own family, where my husband met a long-lost brother. In addition, my parents were forced to marry because of my mother’s pregnancy. The circumstances around these two scenarios stuck with me for a long time and developed into a story I really needed to tell.
Eden is set in the fictional summer resort of Long Harbor. How much is it based on Watch Hill?
My family has spent the past twenty summers in Watch Hill and I absolutely love the place. It’s the type of summer community where families have returned generation after generation to grand, shingle- style, summer cottages. It’s the type of place where people give their homes names. The grand summer home in which my novel is set is named EDEN and Becca’s family gathers there every summer. The village of Long Harbor was also the perfect setting for EDEN because its social expectations mounted additional pressure on the women in Becca’s family.
So, yes, Long Harbor is a fictionalized Watch Hill replete with the positive, supportive aspects of a small town as well as its shortcomings. The landmarks are not located in precisely the correct places and Watch Hill was not developed by a consortium from Pittsburgh, but rather from St Louis and Cincinnati.
Tales of the 1938 are ever-present in Watch Hill and I have been moved by accounts of that tragedy. I wanted Becca’s family to experience the hurricane in the manner I imagined the upper crust of Watch Hill did.
What’s your next project?
I’m currently working on a coming of age story about a boy attending a New England boarding school who uncovers a crime. It’s also about the journey his family takes when he disappears into the all-consuming world of sleuthing, secret-societies, and high-octane academic stress.
Who are your favorite authors?
My favorite authors are Mary Karr, Barbara Kingsolver, Joyce Carol Oates, and John Irving.
What will you be reading on the beach this summer?
The first book I’d like to dig into is Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I’ve heard such rave reviews and it recently won the PEN / Hemingway award.
You can find the book here.