Interview with Jenni Ogden, Author of The Moon is Missing

25 Aug 2020

What can you tell us about your new release, The Moon is Missing?

It is a family drama, a book club read, a tale of family secrets and mother–daughter conflict set in London, New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, and on a remote island off the coast of New Zealand. It draws on my knowledge of things medical and especially neurosurgery, my psychology training, three locations I am familiar with and love, and my own experience of being a mother of four. I was somewhat surprised when I discovered from reading the cover blurbs written by two superb authors that it was a domestic suspense! This is what they said:

“Jenni Ogden is a beautiful writer. In her newest, a tale of domestic suspense, Ogden tells the story of a neurosurgeon bedeviled by her own sophisticated brain and the memories of a long-ago tragedy that still has the power to destroy her and her family. Pick up The Moon is Missing. You won’t put it down.”— Jacquelyn Mitchard, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Deep End of the Ocean, the book that began Oprah’s Book Club.

“With gripping scenes set during Hurricane Katrina and on a remote New Zealand island, this tightly-woven family drama—fueled by long-buried secrets and a daughter’s desperate need to answer the question, ‘Who am I?’ —is ripe for book club discussion.” —Barbara Claypole White, bestselling author of A Perfect Son

What or who inspired you to become an author?

Before I wrote fiction I was a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist and published non-fiction books of cases of my own patients (Fractured Minds and Trouble in Mind, similar to the cases of Oliver Sacks). These have been long-time best sellers for me and I believe their popularity as college textbooks as well as for the general reader is due to the real-life stories and the emotional connection the reader forms with the patients and their families. This emotional connection, of course, is why we read fiction. I have always been an avid reader of fiction and wanted to have a go at that, so I retired from my university position early, moved with my husband to a spectacular off-grid island off the coast of New Zealand, and begun the long and involving journey that is writing fiction. My debut novel, A Drop in the Ocean, turned out to be a success, won four awards including the Nautilus Award for Fiction, Large Publisher (won most recently by Barbara Kingsolver), and has sold over 80,000 copies. Since then I have completed three more novels, one currently in the bottom drawer(!), one which I hope will be published in 2021, and my current new release, The Moon is Missing.

What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?

Good grief, impossible to choose five… and of course there are always those childhood favorites to include! In many cases authors rather than specific books are easier…

Those authors no longer writing (ie: no longer in this world)! Rumer Godden (China Court, In this House of Brede), Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights), P.D. James (her Adam Dalgheish seres), L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables), Gene Stratton-Porter (Freckles), Gerald Durrell (all his books), Oliver Sacks, Pat Conroy, Rosamunde Pilcher (Coming Home), Bryce Courtenay (The Power of One), Colleen McCulloch (The Thorn Birds).

Best books I’ve read in the last few years: The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance during the Blitz, by Erik Larson, Richard North Patterson (all his books), Lionel Shriver, Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver, Anna Quindlen (especially One True Thing), Chris Cleave (Everyone Brave is Forgiven), Colson Whitehead (The Underground Railroad), Sebastian Faulks (all his books).

Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask

Sebastian Faulks. He is a superb writer, a giant intellect, an engaging speaker and a very charming man! I think I would begin by asking him: “You write so many different types of books, from satire to drama, novels set in the World Wars, and even a James Bond novel, ‘impersonating’ the writing style of Ian Fleming. Which of all your novels is the one you consider your best, and why; which was the hardest to write, and why; and which, if any, do you now wish had never seen the light of day?

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

Being able to enter a world I am fascinated by (and perhaps could never experience in real life), and being able to spend a year or longer immersed in it (and not feel guilty about leaving the vacuuming for another day!)

What is a typical day like for you?

Avoiding vacuuming. Also depends on whether I have a book coming out (like now!) or I’m revising, or writing a new book. Marketing does rather take precedence around a new release, which can be fun, but outside of that, I write most days for varying periods depending on how sunny it is and whether the sea is inviting or I have a good book (by someone else) I can’t put down. I don’t rise at dawn to write, but usually write during the day, and read or watch Netflix in the evenings. I consider the hours (and hours) I spend on the beach also part of my writing time as that’s when I dream up characters and scenes and plot twists… Our very spectacular beach is a few minutes walk from our house, and usually, I am the only person on it. And yes, I know how lucky I am!

What scene from The Moon is Missing was your favorite to write?

I can’t think of a specific scene but Part Two, set during Hurricane Katrina, is my favorite part, and everyone who has so far read the book, whether an editor or a reviewer, has said they were gripped by that part and couldn’t tell it from real-life stories of Katrina. I did a lot of research for this section, as although I have been to New Orleans many times, I wasn’t there during Hurricane Katrina. It is interesting to me that that section wrote itself once I’d done the research, and I have changed nothing major in that part since the first draft, unlike the rest of the book which has had major revisions.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

I am the eternal optimist, and I tend to like almost everyone and trust people I have formed a relationship with (including students I taught, trades-people who have worked for me, as well as acquaintances, colleagues, friends, and family). I have rarely been disappointed. I think that New Zealand’s ‘motto’ during these COVID times is a good one: “Be safe and be kind.” And to that I add “and you will be more likely to be happy.”

Jenni Ogden is the author of the new book The Moon is Missing.

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