Joy marries a widowed bank executive caught in an ethical dilemma. She misreads his obvious frustration while at the same time, struggles to integrate into her new family. This novel explores the challenges of second marriages and dealing with stepchildren during the crucial years of puberty and teenage angst. A college professor coming up shortly for the huge tenure decision, Joy finds herself falling apart as her career and her home issues deteriorate and collide. The truth about Ray’s relationship with his first wife hovers in the background adding to Joy’s difficulty in adapting to her new life.
Targeted Age Group:: 25-60
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I have always admired the writing of Daphne du Maurier, who wrote Rebecca among others. I've read Rebecca more than once, and the idea of being a second wife captivated my imagination, even though I've only been married once.
My husband and I recently watched the movie, We Bought a Zoo. Although I wrote the first draft of my novel, Joy after Noon, before seeing the movie, one aspect resonated with me. Benjamin Mee, the character played by Matt Damon, is grieving the death of his wife. At one point he remarks to Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) that a love like his for his first wife only comes along once in a lifetime. By the end of the movie, Benjamin and Kelly have not exchanged more than a kiss. Still, the question comes to mind: What would it be like to be the second wife to someone who had loved that deeply?
On the one hand, you might think he’s capable of great love and would make a wonderful husband. On the other, you might fear you would never be able to live up to his expectations. How can you compete with a ghost? I have not experienced this situation myself, but some of my readers undoubtedly have. I would love to hear of your experience.
In my novel, Joy is the second wife of a widower. Not a great beauty, Joy lacks self-confidence, especially in the domestic realm. Much of the plot hinges on her failure to express her fears and Ray’s failure to articulate his feelings. Like many men, he assumes she knows how he feels, and she’s not secure enough to tell him that she needs to hear it from his lips.
This type of communication problem isn’t limited to second marriages but extends to many first marriages (or even third) as well. Nor is it limited to one sex or the other. Too often we assume our partner knows our needs, or knows how we feel; and, too often, they do not.
Another complication that often arises in second or third marriages is the relationship between the children and their new step-mother. Ray’s step-daughters resolve to bring Joy down, and for a time their plan seems to be working—until it backfires with dire, unforeseen consequences.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
There’s always a bit of myself in each of my characters from the least likable to the most. Here’s how I relate to the characters in Joy After Noon.
Joy is a college professor who has never been seriously in love … until she meets the gorgeous widower Ray Jenkins, single parent to two teenage girls. In the novel Joy struggles to adapt to her new family at the same time that she’s coming up for tenure as a college professor. I’ve been through the tenure process (with a husband and two kids at home), and I’ve seen a number of others struggle to balance career and family during this stressful process.
Ray, seemingly successful banker, finds himself facing ethical dilemmas as his associates negotiate a dubious merger and then try to hide the undesirable financial consequences. I’ve taught bankers, and I have coauthored a textbook on mergers and acquisitions. I’ve also seen former students caught in ethical crises at work.
Marianne has aspired all her life to please her demanding perfectionist mother, even after that mother’s death. She cannot live up to her own standards of perfectionism, either as a ballerina or as a cheerleader longing for popularity. I have not studied dance or cheerleading, but I remember being a perfectionist as a child taking piano lessons. I wanted to play a piece with no errors, and I rarely succeeded.
Jenny, the younger daughter, knows she could never come near to the example set by Marianne, so why try? Jenny plays clarinet in band. As she practices for tryouts, she has a loose pad, causing her horn to squeak rather than play properly. I was a clarinet player, and had this exact experience myself. Jenny becomes friends with a wild girl named Claudia, who leads her to trouble. I had a similar friend as a teenager, and she was even named Claudia. Claudia is a tragic figure in the novel, but not an unsympathetic one.
August 6, 1983
Joy opened a cabinet door to gaze at the rows of hand-painted spices— little bottles labeled in delicate, loopy cursive and decorated with yellow daffodils, each flower unique. What kind of woman would take the time to transfer store-bought spices into handcrafted containers? The same woman who painted the daffodils? As a teacher of finance, Joy would question whether she could sell the hand-painted jars for enough cash to compensate for the materials and labor.
In this new marital universe, the question was altogether different.
What was the question? Joy felt lost.
The jars appeared to be aligned in alphabetical order, and she checked to be sure. Coriander seed, cumin … tarragon, turmeric. They probably hadn’t been used since Carolyn died. Either that or Carolyn had trained Ray and the girls to keep them in their proper sequence.
The ring of the phone startled her, unaccustomed as she still was to her new setting. She recognized the voice at once. Her colleague and co-author Natalie. Yes, the honeymoon was wonderful, Joy told her. She elaborated on the brilliant turquoise of the water, the amazing world she and Ray explored together beneath the sea. She couldn’t tell Natalie the real wonder—to be held, to be nurtured, to feel cherished for the first time in so many years. She flushed at the thought of confessing as much at her age. “I haven’t forgotten our paper,” she said instead.
“I know I’ve been negligent lately. I’ll get on it. Right away.”
Natalie assured her that wasn’t why she called, but Joy wasn’t certain she believed her. Joy had no close female friends, and she often wished a different personality for herself. If she could choose, she’d be someone who could chat easily and draw people to her with the effortless warmth that had exuded from her mother. She imagined confiding to Natalie how overwhelmed she felt in Carolyn’s house, looking at Carolyn’s cookbooks, trying to fit into Carolyn’s life.
Hanging up the phone, she returned to surveying the meticulous organization of another woman’s kitchen. Joy pictured the haphazard contents of the cupboards in her own apartment—or what used to be hers. Tins of pepper and cinnamon sat side-by-side with cans of beans and peaches, crammed in wherever she could find space. Sometimes a box of salt would topple out if she opened a door too abruptly.
She pulled a drawer out, looking for a spoon to stir her coffee. Instead of silverware, the drawer was filled with linen placemats and matching napkins, crystal napkin rings, and silver place card holders. She opened cabinet after cabinet, absorbing the foreign contents. Joy could not bring herself to touch a single item, reminding her of the freeze that sometimes occurred as she struggled to write a research paper. She’d find herself unable to write the first sentence even though she had completed the analyses and assembled all the necessary tools and references. Still, she’d always managed to move past the freeze. She could do so now.
She lifted a Betty Crocker cookbook from a drawer filled with an assortment of cookbooks—desserts, hors d’oeuvres, soups, starters, main courses, crock-pot meals, low-fat meals, and on and on. She flipped through the well-worn pages, some faintly wrinkled as if someone had tried to wash them. Her gaze fell on a yummy-looking recipe for an ultimate chocolate cake. Could that be a cocoa smudge on this page? She tried to envision the woman whose fingers once moved through these pages—beautiful, clever, adept, the perfect homemaker, the perfect wife.
Though today was Saturday, Ray had gone in to work anyway, saying he had a lot of catching up to do. Joy resisted the urge to flee to her own office, where stacks of papers and unread journals piled high, not to mention the project with Natalie that needed to be finalized. How much easier to tackle the tasks she knew rather than the unfamiliar. She plopped into a chair. Her thoughts drifted to the sequence of events that had brought her here. Their whirlwind courtship was so romantic, so fairytale-like that
Joy had not questioned her feelings. Swept into Ray’s arms, literally and figuratively, she dared imagine a lifetime with him and his daughters. She’d tried to warn him she was an incompetent cook. Perhaps he hadn’t taken her light-hearted confession seriously. When he suggested they elope, she was ecstatic. Of course she’d met the girls but never really interacted with them. Facing hard facts now, she knew she had been afraid of losing Ray because of her lack of finesse with kids and zero domestic skills. She’d been glad—so glad—to be romanced and cherished. Had she made a huge, irreversible mistake by not being more candid?
The lurking fear pushed into the forefront. Did Ray want a wife—or a homemaker and a mother for his girls? Although he’d been raising them alone for nearly four years now, the girls had reached those troublesome teen years where a good mother would be invaluable. Was Joy, inexperienced as she was, capable of providing that sort of guidance? By avoiding the questions, she might have done a huge disservice, not only to herself but to Ray and his daughters. She had tried to discuss her fears more than once, but Ray had dodged her indirect queries about his first marriage as well as his expectations for a second one. Both topics always seemed to turn his good humor into a sour one. So Joy had caved—much too easily.
Ray was gorgeous, with his long, rangy body, his face tanned and creased from years of Sugar Sands’ sun. His eyebrows and eyelashes were inky black, a startling contrast to the bright caramel hair on his head and faint stubble on his chin. Joy couldn’t help feeling—both then and now— that he was out of her league. Dating him, much less marrying him, had seemed too much to hope for. Yet, here she was in these beautiful, sun-filled rooms that were about to be jarred from their history of perfection.
With the vast expanse of glass that overlooked the Gulf of Mexico and the vaulted ceilings, the rooms seemed designed for entertaining. The pastel chintz couch and chairs, however, barely appeared to have seated guests, much less two growing girls. She’d been a rambunctious child and imagined she’d have certainly knocked over and broken the huge matching urns. Most likely Ray’s kids didn’t do somersaults inside the house.
The dining room was done almost entirely in white, the least practical color Joy could imagine for a room where food was served or eaten. The very thought of making this display of elegance and wealth her own both thrilled and terrified her. Even the girls’ portraits intimidated Joy. Original art in outdoor beach or park settings—paintings, not photographs.
Joy knew she was blessed. Why, then, was she acting like she’d been struck by misfortune? Misfortune had struck Joy once, struck her hard, and this was its exact opposite. Overcoming the lethargy that threatened to paralyze her, she pushed herself from her chair, almost toppling it.
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