“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”
― John Lennon
What better time to talk about a great love story than Valentine’s Week?
It is my pleasure to feature author Susan Weidener in this Valentine week interview about her upcoming novel, A Portrait of Love and Honor. Susan wove a fictitious love story around her late husband’s unpublished memoir…his years as a West Point cadet during the Vietnam War…his battle with impersonal systems. Part fiction, part memoir, Susan felt a novel based on a true story was the truest and most creative way to tell her –and John’s love story.
Please join me in welcoming Susan as she shares what she calls the last book in a trilogy, the common thread being the love she and John shared.
What Wife Writes Her Husband’s Story? One Who Loved Him
KP: How long has it been since John wrote his story?
SW: SW My husband, John M. Cavalieri, wrote his memoir in 1990 when he was home on disability after his 2nd cancer operation. He and I worked on rewriting parts of it, turning it into a novel in hopes of better marketing it since it had been rejected by several publishers as a memoir. It was John’s dream to see this published . . . and so it would become mine. John died in October 1994. In 2012, I decided to excerpt his memoir as the basis for a novel.
KP: What made you decide to take his memoir and turn it into fiction?
SW: What makes a wife want to write her husband’s story? One who loved her husband as much as I loved John. That is the simplest answer. Of course, I believe his story is beautiful and meaningful. I felt his story had a better chance to sell if parts of it were excerpted and others not – and build a love story around Jay and Ava, the two main characters in the book who meet in 1993 when Jay has been out of the United States Military Academy for over two decades. Great stories sell books and I had in mind how to turn this into a really good story, a page turner.
KP: What was the biggest challenge in taking his memoir and incorporating it as a novel?
SW: Writing it took a lot out of me . . . imagining “Jay and Ava’s” love affair. At times, it seemed as if John were in the room. It also involved rewriting to rid John’s writing of its overuse of passive verbs. Perhaps, the biggest challenge . . . how to answer so many unanswered questions in John’s memoir – questions which I never thought to ask him. Why did he keep coming back to West Point year after year even after he saw how the system often tore down the individual spirit and soul? Was he trying to please his parents? His father was a World War II veteran, his mother an Italian immigrant who desired her son commissioned in the U.S. Army to realize her own dreams.
Writing about Ava presented another challenge. She is a divorcee when she meets Jay, yet Ava is based on my life. That said, I have never been divorced. I met John in my mid-20s, not in my early 40s as Ava does when Jay first walks into the library and asks her to edit his memoir. John and I never traveled to Tucson, Arizona. This is all pure fiction.
KP: How did you decide on the title A Portrait of Love and Honor?
SW: The more I wrote and reflected I saw that the theme of honor was prevalent, as was love; both enable Jay and Ava to survive disappointment, loss and cynicism and find a reason for living. And the word ‘honor’ was in John’s original title. Since there was already a movie with the title Love and Honor, I added the words “A Portrait of.”
KP: What advice would you offer other writers who want to publish the memoir or journal of a loved one?
SW: Tread gently and treat with respect, dignity and love.
Here’s a peek…
She poured the coffee with a hint of hazelnut and handed him the steaming mug. She poured a cup for herself. The large kitchen window looked a bit dirty as sunlight reflected gray streaks on the glass. She hoped he didn’t notice.
“Please,” Ava said, indicating the beige leather sofa in her family room, a step down off her kitchen. At least this room looks tidy and clean, she thought. A painting of a sunset over mountains graced the wall above the brick fireplace.
“Is that the Southwest?” Jay asked.
“Yes, a local painter spends his summers in Taos. I love the colors of the sky out there.”
He nodded. “So do I. It’s why I’m heading to Arizona soon.”
So he wasn’t staying in Pennsylvania. She didn’t probe but felt disappointment, the silly hope she harbored that she might see more of him dashed.
“I like your house,” he said, settling easily onto her couch. “It’s cozy, has a lived in feeling.”
“Thank you. How about you? Where are you living?”
He told her he rented a cottage about twenty miles up the road. “I never stay in one place too long,” he admitted. “I guess you could say I’ve become a bit of a wanderer.”
Trying to appear nonchalant, she sipped her coffee. “Were you ever married?” she asked.
“No, although I came close once. It seems women aren’t always thrilled with the kind of guy I am.”
“And that would be?” she asked, leaning forward slightly. She wanted to hear what he said although she already guessed the answer, or at least part of it, after reading his book.
“I’m not willing to play the game, office politics, that sort of thing.”
“So you still feel like a man who never fit in?” she said
(An excerpt from Chapter 3, A Portrait of Love and Honor)
Synopsis of A Portrait of Love and Honor
Newly-divorced and on her own, 40-something Ava Stuart forges a new life. One day, at a signing in the local library for her novel, a
tall, dark-haired man walks in and stands in the back of the room. Jay Scioli is a wanderer – a man who has said good-bye to innocence, the U. S. Army, and corporate America. His outlook on life having changed, his health shattered by illness, he writes a memoir. In his isolation, he searches for an editor to help him pick up the loose ends. Time may be running out. He is drawn to the striking and successful Ava. Facing one setback after another, their love embraces friendship, crisis, dignity, disillusionment. Their love story reflects a reason for living in the face of life’s unexpected events.
Based on a true story, A Portrait of Love and Honor takes the reader from the halls of the United States Military Academy at West Point during the Vietnam War to a moving love story between two people destined to meet.
Susan’s bio: A former journalist with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Susan G. Weidener is the author of two bestselling memoirs: Again in a Heartbeat, a memoir of love, loss and dating again, and its sequel, Morning at Wellington Square. In 2009 she founded the Women’s Writing Circle, a support and critique group for writers in suburban Philadelphia. A Portrait of Love and Honor is based on her late husband’s memoir. Susan lives in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.
Website: Women’s Writing Circle
Happy Valentine’s Week!
How about you? How will you share your love story?
We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below~
Saturday, 2/14/15: “One Day at a Time,Tell Me About It: Strategies for the Writing Life by Alice Orr
Monday, 02/16/15: “Our Chincoteague Retreat: Memoir Magic”
Thursday, 02/19/15: “Aging Gracefully with Psalm 23 by Dr Sharon King: Book Tour”