Interview with Jennifer Handford, Author of The Light of Hidden Flowers
02 Dec 2015
My main character, Missy Fletcher, never grew out of her father’s shadow—on purpose. Risk-averse and book-smart, she leads a perfectly safe and predictable life as a financial analyst and partner in her father’s financial firm. Yet, on her thirty-fifth birthday she mourns for the dreams she let slip away – a high school boyfriend whom she vowed to never not love, and a life of travel and charity work. When her father dies unexpectedly the constancy she had grown accustomed to is shaken at its very core. A cryptic letter he left behind challenges her to be brave and pursue a larger life, which propels Missy on a perilous journey seeking both love and adventure. Desperate to finally cast her own shadow on the world, Missy finds herself risking all that she has in impoverished India. Meanwhile, the love of her life, Joe, reemerges leaving Missy lost in memories and questioning her future. But time and experience has changed Joe, a veteran who lost a lot more than his innocence in the war. He’s an amputee and his marriage is falling apart, leaving him to pick up the pieces as his three daughters struggle with yet another major life change. Pursuing a future with Joe and his three daughters would be an adventure all its own—one that Missy couldn’t have ever imagined. As Missy learns to embrace uncertainty and thrill, she sheds her safe and stable life for one of bravery in order to chase the ultimate boon.
You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?
My writing idols are Wally Lamb, Sue Miller, and Anne Tyler. I’d love to spend an evening with any one of them, just to hear them talk. They are all very different writers but share the unique ability to capture the natural dialogue and the everyday ordinary that makes life extraordinary.
What makes your world go round? Why does it bring you joy?
I’m a mother of three daughters and my world revolves around them. We’re busy to the point of insanity with schoolwork, and sports and music, and many other activities, but it’s a fun time, and as two of my girls are now only years away from college, I am keenly aware of how fast time passes and how valuable it is.
What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?
I could read Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper over and over and not tire of it. I think that book was her masterpiece as she skillfully developed characters in a plot-rich, page-turning story. I also think fondly of Pat Conroy’s body of work. I read his books when I was a young adult and they had quite an impression on me. I could pick up The Prince of Tides or The Lords of Discipline and enjoy those over and over. In the last few years I have found myself re-reading Orphan Train and Sarah’s Key because I’m very much interested in this format of writing where the narrative alternates between a modern day story and a historic story. My next book will employ a method like that.
If you had an extra hour each day, how would you spend it?
I should say “exercise” but I know that would never happen so a more realistic goal for a newly found hour a day would be to read more. I’m a slow, deliberate reader and thus, I don’t glide through books as quickly as others. I pause on the page, think, mull. In a sense, I’m studying the craft of writing as I read. So if I had extra time, I’d like to get more books under my belt.
What’s your favorite quote or scene from The Light of Hidden Flowers?
At the end of the story, my main character, Missy, is saying goodbye to the life she has made in India. She is torn about leaving. She wants to return home but has become fond of her new world and the clarity she has found is enlightening. Missy says, “Here I was, nearly as far from home as was possible without leaving the planet, with less certainty and safety than I had ever known, and I saw myself and my world with the clarity of a crystal.” This was the point of the book, of Missy’s quest, to understand that finding herself in this very real way meant that she had to leave the safe life she was comfortable in.
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
“Less you, more others.” That’s what I tell my kids every morning and it’s how I try to live my own life. To put others before myself, to not take myself too seriously, to keep perspective on what really matters. I’m wound pretty tight and tend to stress myself out easily with a running tally of to-do items, but I try to remember that none of it really matters much.
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