An Interview with Deborah Doucette

The plot of The Forgotten Roses seems to focus on the generational relationships between women. Is that something that you think about a lot?

What I think about often, is my Italian heritage.  It was such a rich and important part of my life.  I was steeped in its comfort and blessings.  Initially, I wanted to write a story about the Italian immigrant experience, generations past – my grandparent’s story – which I find utterly moving and compelling.  But The Forgotten Roses was the story that fell onto the page.  I believe that there are layers of the story that do reference my family’s experiences but it is about so much more.  The Forgotten Roses has many layers: family connections, the paths women take, the importance of place and the place of women in society; all elements that unfold amidst the backdrop of the mystery of Rose.

I wanted to explore the ways in which one generation’s experiences influence the next.  How the overwhelming challenges that immigrants faced impacted their children in both good ways and bad.  Eva’s experiences produced a fearful woman tethered to the responsibilities of family; the man she married, the choices she made were all tied to how and where she grew up.  And subsequently all those factors set Rebecca on a particular path, and so on.   How does someone finally realize they are on the wrong path.  What does it take to step off, move forward?    Those are all elements I tried to explore.

How did you go about imagining the character of Dietzhoff?

When I began writing,  certain characters were crystal clear to me, some characters loosely drawn and some popped up unexpectedly well into the story.  Harold Deitzhoff was one that was loosely drawn at first and came to life as other circumstances came to light.  He was one of those “what if” characters.  As the story is unfolding and coming together I ask a series of what ifs.  What if such and such happened, what kind of a person would do this or that.  A logical line of sight forms leading to where I need to go, and what kind of person would be likely to produce certain outcomes.  Once the Deitzhoff character was set, I could get into his head.  When characters are thoroughly drawn, they often fill in their own details and lead me where they want to go.

When you start writing a male character, do you take a different approach to character development? Do you imagine it from the perspective of anyone you know?

My process for developing characters is always the same whether its male or female.  Sometimes I use compilations of various people I know.  Sometimes the “what if” questions reveal a character.  In my next novel, for example, I know who my main character is and what her issues will be, I know who one of the “supporting” characters will be and I know I need at least a couple of others, two male and one female.  But until I begin writing, I can’t envision them thoroughly and I can’t even imagine all the “what ifs” yet.  I trust the process.  I trust that all will be revealed in its own time and in ways that I cannot predict initially.

In the book you also examine complex relationships between men and women of various ages. Do you think that the form a relationship takes varies based on age?

All relationships evolve over time.  The choices we make in our youth and the reasons we make those choices can absolutely alter as people mature and new experiences develop.

When did you began writing seriously?

I made a conscious decision to concentrate on writing, or at least begin to focus in that direction when I turned forty.  I had two teenage daughters and a two-year-old son – one of those surprise later-in-life babies – and I remember clearly sitting on the edge of my bed, thinking, “What do you really want to do?”  The answer was, write.  I took some courses at a local college and started writing for local newspapers.

What part of the writing process do you find most challenging?

Then, as now, the most challenging part of writing is finding time!  When I started writing professionally, the only time I had was when everyone was asleep.  I’ve continued that pattern and write primarily at night.  But life does get in the way on a regular basis.  Its hard not to let other things intrude.  Quiet, private time is a precious commodity, difficult to come by.

When you write, do you sketch out a rough draft?

Deborah: One of my recent blogs for the Huffington Post was about the writing process.  In it, I revealed that I don’t have one.  I know writers who develop detailed outlines, have bulletin boards covered with three by five cards, and/or set goals of writing a certain amount of words a day.  That is not me.  When I’m working on a story, it simmers at the back of my mind all day, and at night I let it all out.  I think about it constantly, sometimes words bubble to the surface at odd times and I write them down.  Sometimes something so perfect comes to me that I am certain to remember, and so I don’t write it down, and, of course, it has all vaporized by the end of the day. I do have a notebook – and various scraps of paper –  that I jot things down on as they come to me.  I like what writer Neil Gaiman has to say about the writing process: “This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and put one word after another until it’s done.  It’s that easy, and that hard.”

How much research do you  do for your books?

I do research whenever it’s necessary. There was one plot element that I needed to do research on for The Forgotten Roses which I can’t say here – spoiler alert!  I also researched the history of women’s incarceration and the prison system as it relates to women.  That research took me to the story of the Magdalene Asylums – in existence between 1800’s to 1990 – in which women were systematically incarcerated for “moral reform” sometimes based on as flimsy an issue as being too pretty, or merely an unmarried mother.  On the other hand, my non-fiction book, Raising Our Children’s Children, was entirely based on years of comprehensive research, taped interviews and meticulous transcriptions.

What writers, books, or ideas have most influenced you?

I spent a lot of time as a child playing and reading in a tiny unfinished room (used for storage, destined for a second bath) on the second floor of my home; a little refuge..  I found a stash of my mother’s books when I was around eleven and read Gone With the Wind, Wuthering Heights, The Wake of the Red Witch, Jane Eyre and other “grown up” books.  Those books really catapulted me into a major love of reading.

The first book that spoke to me as a writer, was Margaret Atwood’s Cats Eye.  I can’t say why exactly, only that the urgency of her words drew me in and a light clicked on in my head.  My favorite author is Alice Hoffman.  I love beautifully written prose, carefully chosen words and imagery.  Done right, it transports.  There are lots of good books and good authors out there, but I always look for that compelling, lyrical voice.

I am passionate about women’s issues, the importance of heritage and culture and family, social justice, income disparity.  I try to answer my own questions regarding all those issues in my writing.  Each of my books have been explorations and have been about journeys of one kind or another.  I imagine that I’m taking the reader on a journey, drawing them in so that they feel they are living the journey themselves.  I once read an author’s quote – I’m sorry to say I don’t know who it was – which stated, “It’s the job of the writer to help the reader sink into the dream of the story.”  That sums it all up for me.

What are you reading now?

I just finished Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean At The End of The Lane and loved it.  It was the first of his books that I’ve read and am looking forward to reading more.  I don’t usually read that kind of fantasy genre, but Gaiman’s books have a depth and meaning to them that is rare.

What other projects do you have planned?

I’m still blogging for the Huffington Post and just beginning another novel – no working title yet.  It will be about re-invention, healing and love of course, sprinkled with magic and set in a coastal New England town – one of my favorite places.

To find out more about Deborah Doucette’s work, visit