An Interview with Mary McAvoy,
author of Love's Compass
Q: Is Love's Compass based on your own life?
A: Love's Compass was an interesting exercise in writing. I had no preconceived thought for a storyline - no plot whatsoever in mind. I was practicing writing, just seeing if I could put a story together. Each day I'd read what I'd written the day before and wait for inspiration for what came next. Early on, my characters started to dictate to me the movement of the story. Often, as I wrote, I felt as if I were in a trance, in a headspace that spilled out thoughts and musings woven through the scenes. I know it's said that writers write what they know. I feel as if Love's Compass is not so much what I know but what I am. I wrote the book two years before my own 25-year marriage ended. I think I saw my future on a subconscious horizon and I was perhaps analyzing what my reaction would be. And, my greatest sorrow in my own life - just as it is for Liv - is that my family is fractured. But the storyline of Love's Compass is completely fictitious.
You know - after a while I became aware that the thoughts I was expressing in the book were coming from someplace in my subconscious. That awareness led me to writing Orin's new path in art around the idea of creating art from the subconscious, which is primitivism in art (not to be confused with "primitive art"). So, when I say that I've written what I am more than what I know, this is how I mean it. I wrote into the story a very real thing that was happening to me.
Q: How much of Love's Compass is fiction and how much of it is at least inspired by fact?
A: None of the storyline is true. But the thought process that Liv expresses is at times like thoughts I have mulled over. I don't hold all of the same opinions or conclusions that she does, but many of her thoughts have crossed my mind.
Q: Why did you set the story in Boston's South End?
A: Because I love Boston and I love the South End! I lived there briefly - I had a tiny condo at The Norcross. Scenes in the book of rooftop parties are drawn from that time. Boston is an intimate city - it's small, it has neighborhoods where you cross paths repeatedly with neighbors who easily become friends. Love's Compass is an intimate story. It fit perfectly with the South End as its backdrop.
Q: Do you think marriage will survive as an institution? If not, what do you think will replace it? If yes, do you think it will change -- or has already changed -- in some way?
A: You'll note that I don't draw conclusions to the question of the sustainability of the institution of marriage in Love's Compass. I present the question, but I don't have an answer. I do think the marriage commitment has changed - it's not the ironclad absolute it once was. And I believe some people make their vows with the thought in mind that divorce is an option - which can't be a healthy sign for the survival of marriage.
Q: How do your views of marriage and divorce fit with your own upbringing and your own religious beliefs? What's changed?
A: Like Liv, the main character in the book, I have a family history - in prior generations, anyway - of marriages that lasted life-long. And I was raised a Catholic - eight years of Catholic grammar school and four years of Catholic college, and traditional Catholic parents. I was a strong Catholic for half of my life. And then "the troubles" came along in the Church and I couldn't any longer support the Church or attend Mass. I felt physically ill if I entered a church. In my late 20's, when I married, I was strongly Catholic and I fully expected my marriage - which for a Catholic is a sacrament - to last until the death of one of us. When my marriage ended - and still - I struggled with the morality of divorce. I can't help it. A funny thing, though - so many things in my life have not turned out as I expected. In recent years especially, I feel so at the mercy of the fates. It's hard to hold on to constraints when your life is in a mini tornado. That the word "disoriented" appears repeatedly in the book, and that the compass theme plays prominent, pretty well foreshadowed my reaction to divorce.
Q: Do Liv and the artist eventually marry? Or does she lose faith in the institution and just follow her heart's instinct?
A: I honestly don't know! Maybe that's why the book ends where it does!
Q: About the husband - you haven't even given him a name, he is not fully revealed, what becomes of him?
A: In many ways, the book is about the husband. To my mind, he's a tragic character. In his life, he's done exactly what he thought he should do. He followed the cultural expectations of our times - he made an outward success of himself. But his focus on that was so intense, he now, in mid-life, feels like a drone. He is detached from his inner self and from his personal reason for being. So, no he doesn't have a name nor is he fully revealed because he's not whole. And, let's hope that he lives long enough to become what he was intended to be.
I think of Love's Compass as a story that asks question of us - questions about marriage, questions about love and behavior within love, questions about divorce - and throughout it all, questions about self-actualization. Like, can marriage interfere with a person's becoming fully the person they were meant to be?
Q: Do you believe a new love can be found after love is lost?
A: Well, not a replacement love. I think "new" would be the right word - as in new and different. I don't think any real love can be replaced.
Q: Would you like to see Love's Compass made into a movie? Who do you envision playing the main characters?
A: I would love to see Love's Compass made into a movie! I think it's a very visual story and would translate well into a screenplay. As for the actors...well, actually, I enjoy films that don't have big name actors. I find the story can be better positioned - the story can be the star! Often I'm distracted by known actors in a film - as if their history of roles or a tabloid story is making distracting noise. But, if I had to (or were lucky enough to!) pick known actors for my characters, I'd pick Gwyneth Paltrow for Liv - if she could be made to look mid-fortyish - and Colin Firth for the husband. Actually, I think Colin could play either male role. I'll think more on who might play Orin. What's needed is the slim, fit look of Kevin Klein or James McAvoy for the husband - but one's too young and the other too old! - so someone middle-aged with that look. And then Colin would be free to take the role of Orin! And let's just go for the gold and get Meryl Streep for Rose!
Q: Would you consider writing a sequel to Love's Compass so readers can know what became of Liv and her new love?
A: No, I don't think there is more of the story in me - yet, anyway. And, I think they've reached their destination - they are together.
Q: Are you working on another book?
A: Yes, I'm always writing. I have books going simultaneously all the time it seems. As I am actively writing one, I'm formulating another in my mind! I'm excited about my next novella. It tells the story of an elderly woman who is attending the funeral of her husband. During the course of a single day, she reflects back on her life, and their life together, in the mill city of Lawrence, MA. I'm researching and including historic fact about the founding of the city. The story is inspired by two relatives who were born in 1898 and grew up in Lawrence. It's a story of true, life-long love and devotion.
As soon as that's finished, I have an idea for an enchanting story about the infectious nature of love!