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Camille Pagán is the author of several novels, including I’m Fine and Neither Are You, Life and Other Near-Death Experiences, which was recently optioned for film, and Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties. A journalist and former magazine editor, Pagán has written for the New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine; Parade; Real Simple; Time; and many other publications and websites. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with her family.
Get to know Camille as she discusses writing contemporary fiction, inspiration behind key storylines, a sneak peek into her next novel and much more! (FYI, light spoilers for I’m Fine and Neither Are You).
What are some of your favorite novels?
It’s so tough to pick favorites—but some of the novels I’ve read repeatedly are Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, Laurie Colwin’s Family Happiness, and Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer. And The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis were childhood favorites that wowed me as an adult, too.
When did you know you wanted to become an author?
As soon as I understood that someone had actually written the books I loved as a child, I decided I wanted to do that one day, too. It was a dream I shelved for a while, though; I was the first in my family to attend college, and I became a journalist because it allowed me to write and still pay the bills. In retrospect, that was great training—I learned to find a good story and always meet deadlines (even if they were self-imposed). But I didn’t start writing fiction in earnest until I was in my late twenties, just before my oldest child was born. Once I finished my first novel, I kept writing and didn’t look back. That was just over ten years ago.
Where do you draw your story inspirations from? What do you like the most about writing contemporary fiction?
I find inspiration everywhere—in my journalism stories, from the news, and during conversations with friends and family. Often times I’ll have a spark of an idea for as long as a whole year before the characters for that story appear and an actual novel plot is born.
I love writing contemporary fiction—especially in first person—because it allows me to get deep into the minds of my protagonist, which (for me, at least) leads to bigger revelations. It’s also a nice way to connect directly with the readers; many have told me they feel my books are like having a conversation with a friend.
I’m Fine and Neither Are You tackles tough questions about honesty and authenticity. Can you talk about the idea behind the title?
I typically come up with my titles spontaneously after writing a few chapters of a new draft. That was the case with this one, too—I was writing a scene between Penelope and her husband Sanjay, and she was about to tell him she was fine when neither of them were. I immediately thought, “I should call this novel I’m Fine and Neither Are You.”
Can you talk about the decision to address the opioid crisis in this novel?
As a health journalist, I knew the opioid crisis was a widespread and devastating problem—but it was hearing stories in my personal life that inspired me to write about it in fiction. I kept hearing about women with seemingly perfect lives who suffered from opioid addiction; not all of them survived their struggle. Interestingly, in many cases, even these women’s closest friends and family had no idea they were grappling with addiction, because this particular addiction is often invisible. I wanted to spotlight that in this book, as well as the way that social media, in particular, makes it so easy to think someone else’s life is all roses—when really, you’re only seeing the side of their life that they want you to.
What do you hope are some of the key takeaways from the novel?
I think it’s always good to remember that everyone, no matter how seemingly put together, is fighting their own battle. Likewise, writing this novel reminded me that a happy marriage takes a lot of work—and with few exceptions, both partners play a role in any given issue a couple is having.
Can you give any hints regarding your next novel? (No worries if not, I can leave this question out!)
Yes, definitely! My next book is This Won’t End Well, and it’s the story of a cynical scientist who swears off new people after her fiancé takes off for Paris without her—only to find herself entangled with her glamorous new neighbor and the amateur detective investigating the neighbor. It will be published in February 2020.
What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read)?
I just finished Kelly Harms’ The Overdue Life of Amy Byler, which was such a delight, and am now in the middle of Amy Impellezzeri’s Why We Lie, which is a riveting and smartly-written page turner. Next up is Delia Owen’s Where the Crawdads Sing.
Click here to order I’m Fine and Neither Are You on Amazon.