Today I’m delighted to have Eva Lesko Natiello author of The Memory Box pop by The Book Review café to answer some questions about her book. I must say the book description sounds very intriguing and I’m hoping to get around to reading it sometime in the not to distant future.
Hi Eva can you tell us a little about yourself, and your novel The Memory Box?
Let’s see, I grew up in New York and went to school at SUNY Albany where I studied psychology. After I graduated from school I moved to the Bahamas for my first job as a singer. Eventually I moved back to New York and worked for Estee Lauder as a Communications and Public Relations executive. It was never in my master plan to write a book. But some things just happen in life. When I had my second child and moved out of New York City to stay at home with them, that’s when I started writing.
The Memory Box is a story about an at-home suburban mom of two (that sounds familiar!) who Googles herself and discovers a past she doesn’t remember. (By the way, that’s where the similarities end…)
What was the inspiration for your story?
The impetus for THE MEMORY BOX came from an article featured in The New York Times years ago about when people started to Google themselves. It mentioned that a 17-year-old boy who was living in Los Angeles, Googled himself and discovered he was on a missing persons list in Canada. He had no idea until he Googled himself, that he was a victim of parental abduction. The fact that someone could find out something so personal about himself from a Google search was a fascinating concept to me.
The Memory Box is a dark, twisty psychological thriller. Where does your desire to write this type of fiction originate?
Well, I’m fascinated by misconceptions. When things are not as they appear or seem. We make all sorts of judgments about people based on how they look, what they wear, how they talk, where they live, etc. And these assumptions in many cases can be wrong. I also am fascinated with the idea that bad people are not all bad and vice versa. I like to explore moral dilemmas. And I love to write suspense and thrillers because they are essentially literary puzzles. I guess I am a natural problem solver, so I do like to figure things out.
Usually writers like to read in the same genre that they write. What are some of your favorite books and genres to read?
Okay, this is going to sound very strange. I do not like to read in the genre I write. I get nightmares very easily and have trouble sleeping normally, so I cannot read thrillers or watch those types of movies. I can only write them. I can’t explain it. I think I know my characters so well, that I am never scared of them. As screwed up as they are, they do have redeeming qualities! One of my favorite books, and the one I credit for being my Do-It-Yourself MFA is White Oleander. I think it’s beautifully written, while tackling some dark subject matter. I also like to read historical fiction and humor (and I love to write humor, too!). Some recent books I enjoyed are: Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Lucky Us, The House We Grew Up In, Uninvited Guests, Midnight Circus, Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Paris Wife, The Kitchen House.
What was unique about the setting of the book and how did it enhance or take away from the story?
There are a couple of reasons I chose Farhaven, a suburban town which is loosely based on a New Jersey town. I’ve always been intrigued by stories which have beautiful, upscale settings which juxtapose a dark, subversive storyline. The Stepford wives introduced me to this idea. It provides the first misconception to the reader, that only upstanding people could live in a place like this. The other reason it seemed right for the story was when I started to write The Memory Box, I was relatively new to the suburbs. I had just moved to New Jersey from New York City. It presented an instant learning curve. With my young children starting school, I was plopped into a new social circle of suburban moms. There is a definite way things are done in the suburbs that’s different from the way they’re down the city. I knew instantly that I wanted to set this psychological suspense in a bucolic, upscale suburb where the community of stay-at-home moms, a sub-culture all its own, would help highlight the juxtaposition of conformity and deception.
Do the characters seem real and believable? Can you relate to their predicaments? To what extent do they remind you of yourself or someone you know?
It was important to me that the characters were real. I hear from many readers who live across the globe from me, that they know the “suburban moms” from THE MEMORY BOX because they live in their own town. I certainly wanted the reader to identify with what Caroline goes through in the beginning of the book. This is very important if they are going to empathize with her plight. One common denominator I believe we all share is memory loss. These days, no matter who you talk to, people are either dealing with some amount of their own memory loss or that of a loved one. Memory loss is not just connected to one’s age anymore. Fuzzy memory can occur during or after pregnancy, during early motherhood, menopause. Geez, those are many stages of womanhood!
What is your method for writing a book? Do you spend a certain amount of hours every day writing?
I’m definitely not that organized. When I started to write The Memory Box, I knew the beginning and the end. I was always certain of those two things. And after the many years it has been since I started writing it, they have never changed. I did utilize an outline very late in the game, when I had to keep track of the sequence of things. When you write suspense and there are plot twists, it’s important to stay organized with timing especially. I actually drew up many versions of calendars for September 2006 and October 2006, the two months during which most of the book takes place. I also have many sketches of the floor plan of Caroline’s house. It’s very important to note that if a character walks down a hall from the den and made a right into the kitchen in Chapter 3, that she doesn’t walk down the hall from the den and make a left into the kitchen in Chapter 7. Most readers are very visual. Even if they don’t realize it, they see the book unfold as if it were a movie. They would pick up on a wrong turn in a heartbeat.
If The Memory Box was made into a movie, who would you like to play the main characters?
My muse for Caroline was Julianne Moore. However, I started to write THE MEMORY BOX many years ago. While she could definitely play the role of Caroline, I could also see Amy Adams in the role. Perhaps Jennifer Lawrence for JD. My muse for Dr. Sullivan was the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman, I’m still too heartbroken to re-cast that one.
What made you want to become an author?
I must admit I never wanted to be a novelist. At different times of my life I wanted to be an astronaut, an actress, a singer, a sitcom writer, a cupcake judge and, according to a third-grade personal essay I wrote, a baseball player. I am not one of those people who claim that from a very young age they knew they wanted to write a book. I started to write THE MEMORY BOX as a way to channel my creativity and myself into something. It was very soon after I had taken a sabbatical from my career as a communications executive in the cosmetics industry and I moved with my family from NYC to the NJ suburbs. I was experiencing the culture shock of a new career and a new town in which I knew no one. The suburbs as a stay-at-home mom, was very new to me. Writing THE MEMORY BOX was my way of staying creative, strategic and communicative, even if it was with a book!
How do you come up with character names?
For THE MEMORY BOX, I asked my kids. It’s great dinner conversation when they were in grade school.
Name one of your all-time favorite books?
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
My thanks to Eva for taking the time to answer my questions.
About the author
Eva Lesko Natiello is the award-winning author of the #1 bestseller THE MEMORY BOX, a psychological thriller about a woman who Googles herself and discovers the shocking details of a past she doesn’t remember. She is a speaker and essayist whose work can be found on her blog, Writing from the Intersection of Oops, Yikes & Awe at evanatiello.com where she writes about writing, creativity, parenting, food, fashion and humor. Eva is a former Estee Lauder communications executive and graduate of the University at Albany.
Links to Author
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What would you do if you Googled yourself and uncovered something shocking?
In this gripping psychological thriller, a group of privileged suburban moms amuse themselves by Googling everyone in town, digging up dirt to fuel thorny gossip. Caroline Thompson, devoted mother of two, sticks to the moral high ground and attempts to avoid these women. She’s relieved to hear her name appears only three times, citing her philanthropy. Despite being grateful that she has nothing to hide, a delayed pang of insecurity prods Caroline to Google her maiden name—which none of the others know.
The hits cascade like a tsunami. Caroline’s terrified by what she reads. An obituary for her sister, JD? That’s absurd.With every click, the revelations grow more alarming. They can’t be right. She’d know. Caroline is hurled into a state of paranoia—upending her blissful family life—desperate to prove these allegations false before someone discovers they’re true.
The disturbing underpinnings of The Memory Box expose a story of deceit, misconceptions, and an obsession for control. With its twists, taut pacing, and psychological tenor, Natiello’s page-turning suspense cautions: Be careful what you search for.
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what reviewers are saying about The Memory Box
“be prepared to toss that suburban fairy tale away, grab on to the steering wheel, and hope that you get through this obstacle course with all your mental faculties… Eva Lesko Natiello shows tremendous talent and courage in her creation of a powerful dichotomy, reaching beyond boundaries…” – San Francisco Book Review
“THE MEMORY BOX is a literary rarity–a story of high imagination cast with characters who seem as authentic as they are complex. From the moment Caroline Thompson dares to Google her own name, the stakes and suspense develop, treating the reader to a can’t-put-it-down mystery.” –Sidney Offit, author of Memoir of the Bookie’s Son
“In her impressive first novel, THE MEMORY BOX, Eva Lesko Natiello tells the fascinating story of a woman whose memories piece together a self-portrait she doesn’t recognize–until those memories yield to the terrible secrets they conceal.” –John Biguenet, author of Oyster