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Rebecca Land Soodak is a wife, mother, artist, and writer. Her debut novel Henny on the Couch was released in late March and so far, it has received praise for being relatable and marked as a must-read novel.
Toonari Post (TP): How does being a former psychotherapist influence your writing and why did you choose to turn to writing?
Rebecca Land Soodak (RLS): Aspects of my personality that led me to pursue psychology have served me well in writing fiction: namely, I’m interested in people. I consider myself perceptive about human emotions and family relationships and tend to be fairly sympathetic—meaning I rarely view people (or characters) as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
For example, when I wrote the scenes involving Kara’s mother (Juliet), I wanted to depict her nurturing, maternal quality rather than only her unraveling. Certainly there are some relationships which are only detrimental, but more often, even when difficult or disturbed people are involved—there is a range of experience. Those are the kinds of stories I want to tell.
TP: Kara, the main character of Henny on the Couch, seems to be receptive to the intricacies of human behavior. As a child she was particularly perceptive of her mother’s actions and the true meaning behind them. Do you think most children are this perceptive of their parents?
RLS: I think most children are keyed in to their parents’ emotional states like little barometers programmed to track parental equilibrium. And some people are particularly (and innately) perceptive to the spoken and unspoken cues of the people around them.
However, circumstances can foster a sensitivity that borders on obsessive, as was the case with Kara. When we meet her as a seven-year-old, Kara tries to make sense of her mother’s encounter with Mrs. Adler, by adolescence she’s learned to suppress herself in an attempt to keep her mother calm.
TP: How did you create the characters, especially the dynamic Kara, throughout your first novel?
RLS: When I set out to write Henny on the Couch I had several goals in mind. I wanted to depict a long term committed marriage that had a problem that wasn’t necessarily fidelity. I knew I’d set the story in New York City and I hoped to portray the ways in which women influence and inspire one another even when there’s an unequal balance of power—like in the mother/nanny relationship. But mostly I wanted to tell the story of what it takes to declare oneself an artist—particularly for women.
I didn’t want to reduce that struggle to a prescription about setting boundaries (If she would just get the proverbial room of her own, she’d be able to make art…), so I created pivotal influences and time periods in an artist’s life that fueled or thwarted (and in some cases both) one’s artistic quest.
TP: When you were first writing Henny on the Couch did you run into any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
RLS: When I wasn’t sure how to resolve a particular plot problem or character struggle, I found walking (alone) to be restorative. Also, stepping away from the computer and journaling possible scenarios longhand was useful. Rarely did I find solutions by brainstorming with someone. For me, grappling was best handled solo and on the page.
TP: What sort of reaction did you expect from readers of your novel?
RLS: This may sound like semantics, but I did not expect any specific reaction. I’m a new novelist and there’s a lot of terrific work competing for readers—when I allowed myself to think about a potential audience, my fantasies focused on having one rather than what their reaction might be.
That said, I adore the experience of being captivated by a well told story and I hope readers will find Henny on the Couch absorbing. It’s nice to hear that Henny has made someone reconsider their assumptions about ‘those women’ (by which I assume they mean wealthy, white, Upper East Side mothers). I also enjoy hearing people comment about appreciating the mother-nanny relationship because I’ve long thought the usual portrayals have been, at best, simplistic.
But ultimate success for me is if I’m able to provide what many writers have given me—characters that I return to in my mind the way one would an old friend (pre-facebook) where for a fleeting moment affection merges with curiosity, before it’s replaced by more pressing matters like our here-and-now lives.
Image Courtesy of Rebecca Land Soodak