What if an unhappily married middle-aged couple were forced to handle a health crisis? Could their marriage be saved?
That was the story idea simmering for 10 years in the mind of Valerie Taylor, whose debut novel What’s Not Said plays on that theme, with a number of delectable storylines. She introduces Kassie, whose plans to divorce her abusive husband take a sharp turn when she learns Mike has a serious illness. (Read our full review of What’s Not Said here.)
“I wrote What’s Not Said hoping some small portion of the 75 million mature women looking for stories with relatable characters would take pleasure reading it,” she says. “When I was pitching the book, one agent remarked that if Kassie was so smart she wouldn’t have stayed in the marriage as long as she did. I totally disagree. I believe women, and it’s mostly women, stay in their relationships well past the marriage’s expiration date for many personal reasons.”
The novel is picking up a lot of buzz, including being chosen as one of the Top 3 Best Books of 2020 by Canadian Book Clubs.
Taylor revealed more about her book and its themes in this recent Q&A:
Q: What gave you the inspiration and idea for writing What’s Not Said?
A: Overall, what inspires me is reading, reading, reading. Before writing What’s Not Said, often when I’d finish a novel, I’d say, “I could do that.” With an overabundance of confidence, I challenged myself to either write the novel or give up this cockamamie idea.
I tried on numerous occasions to kick-start the writing process, even participating in NaNoWriMo (the challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days) several times. My output was beyond embarrassing. I almost gave up, but then decided to give it one more college try once I retired.
Q: Your two main characters, Kassie and Mike, each have secrets they’ve kept from the other. Readers may find themselves shifting their allegiances as the novel unfolds. Who do you, as the author, feel more empathy for and why?
A: As publication date neared, reviewers began weighing in with their insightful opinions. One suggested I should have given Kassie the option of not being with either her husband or her lover. I’ve filed that as food for thought as the series progresses.
Nevertheless, I identify with Kassie. Hard for me not to. Those who know me best would claim they hear me in her words. Yet I sympathize with Mike even though some readers don’t see him as a sympathetic character. Mike had it in his power early in their relationship to steer the marriage down a beneficial path, but it took a personal crisis for him to realize he was on the brink of losing everything important to him.
Q: What’s Not Said is your debut novel. What did you learn during the process?
A: NaNoWriMo taught me one important lesson: Writing a novel isn’t magic. You can’t just put pen to paper, or twitch your nose, and expect a manuscript to appear.
So I enrolled in an online novel writing program where I learned there’s an actual formula most novelists follow. Like most plays, there are three acts. There’s an inciting incident in the first chapter. Middles are muddled. And there’s a climax near the end.
Throughout my career, I wrote and edited mostly boring financial and investment copy. I know how to simplify complex ideas. As my draft of What’s Not Said took form, I discovered I enjoy developing characters and creating dialogue. Whereas, I need more practice with settings and descriptions. More reading is in order.
Q: If the book were made into a movie, who would you cast?
A: Imagine this. An older Lady Gaga playing Kassie. Like Kassie, Lady Gaga is small, smart and sassy. She demonstrated in A Star is Born that she could be both strong and vulnerable. I’d insist she write a theme song for the movie, of course.
Mike would be played by Pierce Brosnan. Tall, dark and handsome with “piercing” blue eyes. And what do you know, his first wife was named Cassandra, with a C.
With Lady Gaga as Kassie, the only choice for Chris is Bradley Cooper. Their chemistry already is legendary, and if I were the director, I’d let them ad-lib, especially the bedroom scenes.
Q: Which was your favorite scene to write? Which one was the most difficult?
A: There’s a scene where Kassie is at a cemetery conversing with her dead mother. Constructing a one-way conversation was fun. Later, there’s a scene in a restaurant among three people where Kassie is just about ignored. Most of us can relate to situations like these.
Hands down, the most difficult scene is the opening chapter. It’s said readers give a book 50 pages. If they’re not hooked by then, they’ll be off to the next book. I revised the first 10 pages multiple times and worked with a developmental editor before I felt it was ready for prime time.
Q: You have a sequel coming out late next year. What can you tell us about it?
A: In What’s Not True, to be published next August, Kassie shifts her attention to reviving her stalled marketing career. But that goal gets complicated when she unexpectedly rendezvouses with Chris in Europe. After a chance meeting and a stroll along Pont Neuf in Paris, Kassie receives two competing proposals. Can she possibly accept them both?
She flies home to Boston when Mike has a heart attack. There, she confronts Karen, Mike’s college sweetheart, who wants more than a ring on her finger — she wants everything belonging to Kassie. In a battle to protect what’s legally and rightfully hers, Kassie discovers sometimes it’s what’s not true that can set you free.
I also have a third book in the series under development.
Q: What do you hope readers will get out of What’s Not Said?
A: That it’s never too late. Whether it’s to get out of a failed marriage, a dead-end job, write your novel or pursue a lifelong passion, let it be said, you did it your way.
Visit Valerie Taylor’s BookTrib author profile page.