Today we have part two of our interview series with Cynthia Swanson and Bridget Foley and can I just say one word: WOW. This is why we love this series so much. It’s more than getting at the heart of a great novel, it’s getting at the heart of an amazing person. And I’m certain this interview will leave you amazed and eager to read both THE BOOKSELLER (if you haven’t already) and HUGO & ROSE. I know that I won’t ever view dreams the same way again.
Cynthia Swanson: What an intriguing concept you tackle in “Hugo & Rose.” I was immediately drawn into the idea that a recurring character from one’s dream life could make his way into one’s actual life. Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
Bridget Foley: It’s so cheesy. I had a dream.
It’s funny to me, because I consider myself to be a very grounded, practical person. But one morning in 2008, I woke up after having the most vivid dream. I was talking to a man in a small, enclosed space playing with a wet chain between my feet. The way we were talking, it felt like we had known each other our entire lives. We were so comfortable and happy in each other’s company. (His name by the way was not Hugo.) Just as I was waking up, he asked me to follow him out of the ceiling of the room we were in and just before I woke up I got a glimpse of a pink stretch of beach and glowing city in the distance.
After I woke up, I sat with my husband and son having coffee. I kept thinking about how real the man in my dreams had been and what it would mean for me to meet him in real life. And my first thought, sitting there, happy with my family was, “how inconvenient!”
It occurred to me that there are times in your life when you are open to meeting the man in your dreams, but after a certain point meeting such a man could only serve to mess up your whole world.
Cynthia Swanson: I love the metaphor this story creates – that when dreams come face to face with reality, the result often falls short of our expectations. This generally happens with a “daydream” sort of dream. We speculate that if we were richer, thinner, smarter (or whatever else we most desire), our lives would be complete. In Rose’s world, the idea of being a better version of herself (and of Hugo being an improved Hugo) occurs in her actual, sleeping dreams; reality happens when Rose and Hugo are awake. And yet — without revealing too much — wide-awake Rose does indeed become a better version of herself by the end of the story. How do you feel Rose’s experience of meeting and getting to know the real-life Hugo shapes her transformation over the course of the novel?
Bridget Foley: It’s the greener grass phenomenon, isn’t it? While HUGO & ROSE takes it into a more metaphysical direction, I think everyone experiences emotions akin to what Rose goes through.
While I was working on the book, it came out that the word “Facebook” is in a great majority of divorce papers. People fall prey to wondering about the path not taken, and now that technology has allowed us access to our old crushes current (but carefully curated) lives I think there are a lot of people who are contrasting their reality with the fantasy of “what might have been.”
But just like when you actually meet-up with that old boyfriend you’ve been flirting with a bit too much online, the reality doesn’t stack up to the fantasy. You see the wrinkles and the fat roles, the depression and the alcoholism. I love what Rita Hayworth said about this, “They go to sleep with Gilda, and they wake up with me.” Nobody can ever live up to anyone’s fantasy of them.
Cynthia Swanson: As you’ve noted, both of our books take place in Colorado. I know you live in Washington State now. What compelled you to set HUGO & ROSE in Colorado, rather than in your current state?
Bridget Foley: There was a passage in the book, that needed to be cut sadly, but which describes one of the reasons I set the book in Colorado:
… unconscious millions respirating in their beds, faces pressed into pillows, mouths open, freeing small slicks of drool. They may be alone or coupled, under a thousand thread count or atop a dirty towel, but at 2 AM mountain standard time most of what makes the citizenry of the western hemisphere of the world is asleep.
At 2 AM, the blanket of night is draped across the spine of the Rockies, covering the reaches of a sleeping nation.
Half-a-world of dreamers dreaming.
In large part the book is about what happens to people during the third of their lives they spend sleeping, and postulates that our minds are reaching out while we dream. Colorado, in the center of North America, seemed to me to be a hub for dreaming minds.
Colorado’s dryness is also a fantastic contrast to the Hugo’s lush green island, which supports the juxtaposition of Hugo and Rose’s physical and fantasy selves.
Plus, and this is just as good an answer as any, I grew up in Colorado and I want to read more books that take place there. It is a wonderful place.
Cynthia Swanson: I’m often asked if THE BOOKSELLER is autobiographical. It’s not, though the seed of something small that happened to me gave me the inspiration to write this book. On that note, is there any part of “Hugo & Rose” that’s autobiographical?
Bridget Foley: This is a difficult question for me. Since I’m a screenwriter, I constructed Rose’s character to serve the plot. Her disappointment with herself and her struggles were built out of what I felt would be the result of having such an inescapable image of what her best self might be.
However over the past year and a half I have come to understand Rose in a way I didn’t think would ever be possible. In 2013, just as HUGO & ROSE was heading to publishers, I had identical twin girls. Sadly my daughter Giddy died when the girls were only 19 days old.
By very sad happenstance HUGO & ROSE found a home at St. Martin’s Press only three days later.
Grief has drawn me closer to Rose than I could have ever imagined. Just like Rose I will now watch someone grow up in my dreams.
Child loss is a difficult subject- it makes every one uncomfortable, those who have lost children most of all- but I’ve decided to talk about my loss publicly because it is also very isolating.
Just like Rose, parents who have survived their children also have these palpable shadow lives in which accompany them every day. “What would it be like if she were here?” The “could-of-been” is unshakeable.
So I guess the answer to question of if it is autobiographical, is no… but it has become more so.
Cynthia Swanson: Do you identify with Rose? Even if (I’m guessing!) your dreams haven’t taken you on as wild a path as Rose’s?
I am blessed with a pretty rich dream life- at least the ones I can remember. And I would have to say that my dreams are actually wilder than Hugo & Rose’s (which means they’re pretty wild) but real dreams are pretty difficult, not to mention boring, to convey to other people. I sometimes wish dreams had as clear a narrative structure as Hugo’s island.
* * *
Rose is disappointed with her life, though she has no reason to be – she has a beautiful family and a perfectly nice house in the suburbs. But to Rose, this ordinary life feels overshadowed by her other life – the one she leads every night in her dreams.
After a childhood accident, Rose’s dreams take her to a wondrous island fraught with adventure. On this island, she has never been alone: she shares it with Hugo, a brave boy who’s grown up with her into a hero of a man.
But when Rose stumbles across Hugo in real life, both her real and dream worlds are changed forever. Here is the man who has shared all of her incredible adventures in impossible places, who grew up with her, even if they aren’t what either one imagined. Their chance encounter begins a cascade of questions, lies, and a dangerous obsession that threatens to topple everything she knows. Is she willing to let go of everything she holds dear to understand their extraordinary connection? And will it lead her to discover who she truly wants to be?