I was in a weird place when the idea for Beautiful Lies struck me. I was very mindful of my own past and how it had shaped me, trying to decide what I wanted to take with me and what I wanted to leave behind. I had been married just a couple of years; my husband Jeffrey and I were thinking about starting our own family, calling into focus a lot of issues from my childhood. I was really deep in thought about who I was and who I wanted to be as a parent.
During this time, I received one of those mailers … it had an advertisement or something on front and, on the back, there was a picture of a missing girl. It was one of those terrible age-graduated photos. Those images always make me so sad, always make me stop and think: Someone’s child is missing and has been for years. Someone had to imagine what their child might look like five or ten years later. What could that possibly be like? What kind of questions must they ask themselves every day? I was standing in my kitchen and this time, as I was looking at it, I had a strange thought: What if I looked at this mailer and recognized myself? That was the germ for Beautiful Lies, the place from which the plot evolved.
I had been away from New York City for about three years, living near the beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida. When I left New York, I was tremendously burned out on the city … everything about it seemed like an assault on the senses; I felt as if the day-to-day of living there … the subways, the homeless, the odors, the noise … was taking everything I had. I felt separated from nature, from myself. Financially, I was on a treadmill … always doing okay but never getting ahead. So Florida – though it seemed insane to everyone I knew that I would actually move there – felt like paradise to me. Palm trees and white sand, the beach a quick walk from my house on the Intracoastal Waterway, a blue, blue sky that I could actually see. I felt like I could breathe again. But you know what they say: You can take the girl out of New York City …
New York City was the natural setting for Beautiful Lies; I know it so well. I mined the memories of my life there. Everything from Ridley Jones’ (my main character) East Village apartment, to Five Roses Pizza, from Van Cortlandt Park to the Brooklyn Bridge, were all big parts of my life, had tremendous personal meaning. I know the sights and sounds and smells of that city. If I close my eyes, I’m there. I think it’s the distance that makes it possible for me to write about it well. Sometimes we need to step away to really see.
Ridley Jones inhabits that old life but she’s not a past version of me. I see her as somewhat naïve, someone more comfortable in denial that in reality, someone who’s life has been fairly idyllic – until a single event changes everything. And personally, I don’t connect with those things about her … but I really love spending time with her. She’s funny and stubborn; she’s deep, a thinker. A great deal of her observations on family and what binds us together, on love, and most especially on the idea of choices, the paths we choose in our lives, are close to my own … without being exactly me. She’s her own person, fully evolved and independent.
If you asked me what Beautiful Lies is about, I could give you a run down of the plot … but other people might do it better. For me, it’s about family, what binds us and what tears us apart from the people we know best … and the impossibility of shifting off those relationships even under the most desperate circumstances. It’s about choices, how the tiny decisions we make affect the course of our days and our lives and have consequences we could never predict. And it’s about identity; when everything that defines us is stripped away – our family and relationships, the past events of our lives – what’s left is the true self. We are more than the sum of our parts. There’s something victorious about that … don’t you think?