Ivy Marshall, a savvy, determined woman, finds out her husband has cheated on her on the same day her sister’s perfect boyfriend proposes on national television. When Ivy’s mother asks her to return to her family’s beach home to plan her sister’s upcoming wedding, she decides to use the excuse to escape from the pain of her circumstances.
When her return to Sunset Beach, North Carolina, brings her face to face with her former fiance, old feelings rise to the surface and she wonders if there is a future for them. However, her husband has started tweeting his apology to her and doesn’t want to give up on their marriage. As she helps prepare the wishing tree for her sister’s wedding, she must examine her own wishes for the future and decide what love should be.The Wishing Tree by Marybeth Whalen (Zondervan; 336 pages; $15.99)
Jaime Boler: Thank you, Marybeth, for letting me ask you these questions. Your fourth novel struck such a chord with me—it’s incredibly moving, tender, and sweet. Did you always want to be a novelist?
Marybeth Whalen: Thank you! Yes, I have wanted to write novels for as long as I can remember. But the thought of putting myself out there, and possibly failing, terrified me. Of course, now I’m so glad I finally did!
JB: How would you describe The Wishing Tree in ten words or less?
MW: A story about wishes we make and power of forgiveness.
JB: What inspired you to write this story?
MW: In researching the history of guest books for my last novel (The Guest Book), I stumbled across information about the tradition of putting up a wishing tree at a wedding. I was intrigued and decided that would make a great element to wrap a story around next.
JB: I confess that, prior to reading The Wishing Tree, I had no idea what a wishing tree was. Can you explain what it is? Is it a regional practice? Is the wishing tree a tradition in your own family?
MW: It’s actually a Dutch tradition that I’d never heard of either before my research. But I loved the idea of starting off a life together with all these wishes from those you love. And then I thought how all marriages begin with wishes– and then those wishes change over time. And what a picture that is of marriage. I had the theme and element I knew would make for a great story.
JB: In The Wishing Tree, Elliott gets to know his wife, Ivy, all over again through social media sites like Pinterest, Goodreads, and Twitter. While reading that, I thought to myself: “How modern and how cute!” You have a presence on all these sites. Is this your love letter to social media?
MW: It’s my acknowledgement of how these sites have invaded our lives, for better or worse. They’re a part of our culture and I felt they should be included. I originally had the idea of a husband who apologized to his wife via Twitter because she wouldn’t talk to him and he was desperate to get to her. I put myself in that situation and knew that– if it were me– just knowing he was talking about me would compel me to peek, no matter how stalwart I was about my anger. That tension between wanting to know what he’s saying and wanting to keep her distance, creates a dilemma for Ivy in the book. Of course, it’s not her only one!
JB: Have you ever gotten to reconnect with someone through social media?
MW: Facebook has put me in touch with many people from my past. It’s been so fun! I was actually able to hear from the girl who took me to Sunset Beach, North Carolina, the first time. Without her I’d never know about this special place where 3 of my books are set. So it was so wonderful to be able to thank her.
JB: Ivy’s mother, Margot, says to her: “I didn’t even consider that something that was over could have a new life.” How does the wishing tree reflect Ivy and Elliott’s marriage?
MW: The wishing tree is a symbol of their marriage. Where do we hang our wishes? Is it right to hang our wishes on another human being? Can they withstand the weight of those wishes? And what happens if they can’t? The story that ensues is an examination of that.
JB: You choose not to show the reader the conversation between Ivy and Elliott near the end of the book, the talk in which they got back together. Why not feature it within the narrative?
MW: That conversation was so raw and personal and intimate I felt it was almost like a sex scene. Better to say it was happening, then leave the details up to the imagination. To try to hash it out line by line somehow cheapened the scene.
JB: How different were earlier versions of The Wishing Tree compared to the final version?
MW: Pretty similar except there were some character issues– motives, history, resolution– that had to be resolved.
JB: What was the most difficult thing about writing this novel? And did you learn anything new about yourself in the midst of writing and editing?
MW: Dealing with Ivy’s motives in pursuing Michael. It made me uncomfortable and I knew it would my reader as well. Also determining how the book should end. I didn’t know for most of the book what would happen. In some ways that was fun and in some ways unnerving!
JB: What are some of your favorite books and who are some of your favorite authors?
MW: Elizabeth Berg is probably my all-time favorite. I read all her work. She has a knack for noticing the little things that are actually poignant and preserving them in prose.
JB: You are a wife, mother of six children, novelist, and the director of She Reads, an online book club focusing on the best in women’s fiction. You are Superwoman! How do you do it all?
MW: I do the best I can every day, working my priorities, which vary according to the day. I try to be flexible and forgive myself when I fail, which is a lot. Somehow it all gets done.
JB: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
MW: Read. Hang out with my family. Watch movies or true crime shows. Now that it’s summer, we spend a lot of the time at the pool.
JB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading The Wishing Tree?
MW: The power of forgiveness– forgiving others, forgiving yourself.
JB: What’s next for you? Are you working on anything new?
MW: I just finished my fifth novel which, Lord willing, will be out this time next summer. It’s another Sunset Beach story with a symbolic element bringing two people together a la The Mailbox, The Guest Book, and The Wishing Tree!
JB: Thanks, Marybeth, for a wonderful interview! Good luck with the book.