Open Book Society, reviewer Andra W has a great interview for all of our readers. Author Molly O’Connor made a visit to Andra’s book club where they discussed her book WHILE SHE WAS GONE, being a writer, new projects, fun facts and more. Enjoy!

About While She Was Gone: 

She left a beautiful home, a handsome husband and three adorable children, and didn’t return for seven years.

Stacey, opts out of her life in Ottawa to escape from a verbally abusive relationship. She is convinced that getting an education will help her self-esteem and make her husband appreciate her. The plan is to disappear long enough to return to school (she left school at 17, pregnant) and get enough credits for college. Her husband (yes, he married her) is less than supportive; in fact, he is the reason she suffers from debilitating depression. Stacey moves to Sudbury and changes her name to Lois Brenton-Douglas. She works as a nanny while she attends night school. As the story unfolds, she has an accident, while visiting Manitoulin Island, that results in amnesia. Instead of being away for months she is gone for seven years. During that time, she becomes a successful partner in a construction company. The story opens with her return—then takes the reader back to the beginning and her departure. The author weaves the story through Stacey come Lois’s new life but delves into her inner thoughts (shown in italics). The reader follows her through the seven years she is gone, meets her acquaintances and shares in life-changing events (some traumatic, some fun) and her successes. The reader meets characters from diverse cultures, and shares the protagonist’s love of cooking and even encounters a famous ghost. In a surprise turn of events, she faces rejection, finds love and gains support where she least expects it. 

Stacey is a meek, timid young woman who lacks self confidence. She changes as she becomes a new person, Lois. She becomes a strong independent business owner and capable decision maker.

Describe your book in one or two sentences:

Molly O’Connor: While She Was Gone is a fast-paced novel that takes the reader on a journey with the protagonist in a life-changing course of events. Stacey becomes Lois, mild Stacey becomes strong Lois. Heartbreaking in places, and emotionally charged, the story introduces interesting characters and some true Canadian adventures.  

What makes your book different than other books in this Genre?

Molly O’Connor: The protagonist not only changes her name, but becomes a totally different person. As her story progresses, her inner thoughts are revealed in separate chapters so the reader can to understand how she is coping with new challenges.

What part of your message are you most passionate about?

Molly O’Connor: I am an avid believer that women are limitless in the roles they choose to play. I place my female characters in non-traditional professions challenging the alpha male dominance factor. I also undertake to highlight mental anxiety and depression. That being said, my work is about story-telling, not about presenting or preaching my views. Subtly, I bury the issues in the story. 

How would you sum up your message?

Molly O’Connor: If my novel enlightens one person and brings awareness to the message, then it is a success

What are the most controversial aspects of your message?

Molly O’Connor: The fact that a mother can become so distraught as to walk away from her life leaving three children and a husband, was a difficult choice. The reader will likely not sympathize with the protagonist in the beginning

List FIVE key talking points or personal quotations that pertain to your message: 

  • Criticism can be very demeaning
  • Love can be one-sided
  • Outward appearances can be wrong
  • People can change
  • It is vital that each individual have friends and family that care for them, love them

Andra W: Tell us a little about yourself.

Molly O’Connor: I studied creative writing at Carleton University and Algonquin College and worked with a mentor from UCLA.  I have published a collection of short stories, Fourteen Cups, a creative memoir, Wandering Backward and a children’s book, Snow Business. My stories appear in five Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, NYMB, OIW anthologies, magazines, ezines and newspapers. I just finished recording the audio for While She Was Gone and can’t wait for it to be ready. Currently, I intend to publish another children’s book and another collection of short stories later this year. In my spare time I hike the byways with my camera strung around my neck all the while thinking where my protagonist is heading next.

Andra W: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Molly O’Connor: I always wrote. Even in high school, I earned pin money by writing other kids writing assignments. But to be a writer per se—when my children were young, I started writing children’s stories. 

Andra W: Where do your ideas come from?

Molly O’Connor: Likely some incident will trigger a thought or I mull it over and over. Sometimes in the dead of night, I waken to find the answer. There is really no definite answer to this question.

Andra W: How did you come up with the idea for While She Was Gone?

Molly O’Connor: I am trying to brand myself by having all my titles start with ‘W’s” so kept trying different words until they fit.

Andra W: Why did you want to write about Stacey (Your Subject)?

Molly O’Connor: This is a difficult question to answer. I guess I can relate to how she felt when Randy constantly put her down. 

Andra W: Did you have any mentors who helped you along the way?

Molly O’Connor: Mentors, no but I did reach out to my son-in-law, a medic, for input.

Andra W: What do you think it takes to create a good story?

Molly O’Connor: Creating a character that the reader can love or hate—one that they need to know what will happen to them so they continue reading and hopefully recommend the book to others. 

Andra W: Was it difficult to write this style of book?

Molly O’Connor: Difficult? Trying and hard work are more like it. Once a concept takes hold then the turn of events must be believable. In order to know how Lois felt maneuvering an excavator, I actually drove one. I had never been to Sudbury or Manitoulin Island, so I went.

Andra W: How long from start to finish did it take for you to write the book?

Molly O’Connor: Off and on over a two-year period.

Andra W: If you could give any advice to beginning writers, what would it be?

Molly O’Connor:  Just get your story down on paper then question every little thing.

Andra W: What other (articles, books etc) that you have written have been published?

Molly O’Connor: When Secrets Become Lies was my first novel, published in 2015. Previously, I published a collection of short stories, Fourteen Cups; a creative memoir, Wandering Backward; and a children’s book, Snow Business. My stories appear in five Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, three OIW anthologies, NYMB, magazines and newspapers.

Andra W: What’s your next project?

Molly O’Connor:  I have several on the go. I am going to do audio books of the two novels and am going to compile a sequel to the collection of short stories. I have also made a start on a new novel.

Andra W: Who is your favorite author?

Molly O’Connor:   I don’t have one favorite one. I devour books looking for that perfect phrase. Michael Ondaatje never lets me down.

Andra W: With your protagonist walking away from three young children, how did you expect the reader to react?

Molly O’Connor: I knew the reader could be hostile to the idea so it was definitely a challenge to construct the story in a way that the reader still liked Stacey.

Andra W: Why did you choose to have Randy, Stacey’s husband, belittle his wife.

Molly O’Connor: I have witnessed this very thing and the tension it created.

Andra W: Why Sudbury?

Molly O’Connor: Not to insult the good people of Sudbury, but I thought it likely the last place Randy would look.

Andra W: When you chose to have Lois knowledgeable about heavy equipment, were you personally involved in construction?

Molly O’Connor: No, but I did find an excavator operator who not only let me get up in one of those humongous machines but let me operate it. Great fun!

Andra W: You take the reader to Manitoulin Island. Was this for any special reason?

Molly O’Connor: None other than it was a destination that offered a different prospective to Canadian folklore.

Andra W: Are your characters based on real-life people?

Molly O’Connor: No. They just wander around in my head.

Andra W: Lois has an accident and loses her memory. How did you research this particular type of amnesia?

Molly O’Connor: Thank goodness for Google

Andra W: When you had Lois deeply ingrained in her new life, how did you come up with the concept of how she recovered her memory?

Molly O’Connor: I knew it had to be dramatic and believable and it also had to be about her children.

Andra W: You are Canadian. How does this impact your writing?

Molly O’Connor: I am true to our language and love to insert Canadian stories.

Andra W: Are you working on a new novel?

Molly O’Connor: Maybe.

Andra W: Ending your book with ‘The Beginning’ does this mean there will be a sequel?

Molly O’Connor: No. It is just a way of saying life is now taking a new direction.

Website: mollyoconnor(.)ca

Molly’s blog: mollyswanderings(.)blogspot(.)com

Thank you to author Molly O’Connor for an amazing interview!