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Questions for Discussion: Come Away with Me (warning: spoilers ahead!)
- Tegan carries a lot of anger toward Gabe after the accident. Did you feel she was unfairly holding Gabe responsible, or was she justified to blame him for what happened?
- Grief has many stages, including denial, anger, depression and acceptance. Discuss Tegan’s experience of these stages along the course of her journey.
- Do you think traveling and the experiences helped Tegan accept her loss and deal with her grief, or was it simply having time away from the spotlight of her family and friends that helped her heal?
- By the time Tegan meets Kai, she and Gabe seem to be getting back on track. Before the truth about Gabe is revealed, how did you feel when Kai’s character showed up? What did you think it meant, if anything, for Tegan and Gabe’s future?
- Tegan struggles with her mental health throughout the story. How did you feel when you realized the truth about Gabe, and understood what Tegan had fabricated in order to cope with her grief?
- While it was an incredibly difficult thing to do, Tegan is eventually able to let go of Gabe and their baby during a beautiful moment out on the ocean in Hawaii. How did you react to her dropping the necklace in the water? Have you ever experienced a similar moment of letting go?
- Do you have a wish list or bucket list for things you’d like to do or places to travel? What’s at the top of your list?
A Conversation with Karma Brown (Come Away with Me)
Come Away with Me is as much a story of grief and loss as it is about hope, healing and love. What inspired you to write such an emotional story?
So many stories focus on the experience of falling in, or out of, love, and I wanted to explore what can happen to a great marriage when tragedy strikes—does it pull people closer, or force them apart? Also, I was inspired by my cancer diagnosis at age 30 to write a story about how to move forward, and how to find happiness again, when your life changes overnight.
The love between Tegan and Gabe is palpable form the early pages of this story, and their journey is heartbreaking to follow. Were they based on real people, and did you find yourself more attached to any character in particular as you wrote?
My husband will definitely see parts of himself in Gabe, and some of the scenes between Gabe and Tegan are fictionalized versions of experiences we’ve had. But while I fell hard for Gabe, probably because he reminds me of my husband, it was Tegan who stole my heart. I put her through a lot in this book, and at times when I wrote scenes I’d whisper a quick, “I’m sorry” for where I was taking her story. After spending months with these characters, they feel like people I know in real life. That’s one of my favorite parts of writing.
Tegan goes through an extremely emotional journey throughout the course of the novel, and by the end she’s managed to face her loss and begin to build a new life for herself. What do you hope readers will take away from watching the evolution of her character?
That the uncertainty of life is not something to be afraid of, and that the best way to not be crushed by the bad stuff is to always keep moving forward. One of my favorite quotes is the famous one from Winston Churchill: “If you are going through hell, keep going.” It’s simple and direct, yet says so much about resiliency and determination, both strong themes in Come Away with Me.
Throughout the novel, the exotic locals Tegan visits truly come to life. What made you choose Thailand, Italy and Hawaii? Have you traveled to any of the places described in the novel?
I wanted the travel aspects to feel authentic, so I chose places I’ve traveled to, as well as ones that have an emotional connection for me (for example, my husband took me to Amalfi for my 40th birthday!). It was so much fun, reliving my travels through this story, and I think the added elements of culture, food and setting truly enrich the journey Gabe and Tegan are on.
Can you describe your writing process? Do you outline first, or dive right in? Do you have a routine? Do you let anyone read early drafts, or do you keep the story private until it’s finished?
I have a young daughter, and deadlines for my freelance work, so I get up at five o’clock nearly every morning when I’m working on a book. It’s usually quiet (as long as my daughter doesn’t get up with me, which she often does as she’s also an early bird), and armed with a pot of coffee I find it the most creative time to write. I also write every day when actively drafting a book, and stick to a daily word count. As for sharing my work, I have done it both ways (sharing as I write/holding off until the first draft is complete), and for me it works best to share in chunks with my critique partners—a few chapters at a time. I find it helps keep me on track and accountable to getting the story down.
What was your greatest challenge in writing Come Away with Me? What about your greatest pleasure?
The most difficult part was dealing with the emotions while writing Come Away with Me—there are dark themes in the story, and I had to absorb those fears and get close to them to write them well. The easiest was getting the story down—it was one of those books that just flowed out of me. I wish it always happened like that!
Questions for Discussion: The Choices We Make (warning: spoilers ahead!)
- Hannah is desperate to become a mother, but she is extremely hesitant to consider adopting. Do her concerns seem valid to you? Why do you think surrogacy appeals to her as a better option?
- Hannah and Ben have a number of difficult and tense conversations over the years as they’ve dealt with infertility. For a long time, they seem at odds when it comes to deciding on an alternative option, and it puts obvious strain on their relationship. What do you think of the way she and Ben handle these conversations?
- While Kate is lucky enough to have two healthy daughters, she’s also experienced difficult loss in her life. Discuss the role of her parents in this novel. How do you think the death of her mother affects the decisions she’s making? What do you think about the way her father is attempting to reenter her life at this late stage?
- When Kate first broaches the idea of being Hannah and Ben’s surrogate, David is not only firmly opposed but furious at the suggestion. Discuss his reaction, and the way Kate handles it.
- What do you think of the characters’ decision to go through with a surrogate pregnancy? Have you or anyone you’ve known used a surrogate, and what was that experience like? If not, what do you imagine the most challenging part of the process would be?
- Lyla, at first, seemed the perfect solution for Hannah to become a mother. How did you feel when Lyla backed out of the surrogacy because of racial discrimination?
- After Kate’s aneurysm and coma, Hannah and David struggle to find common ground. Did you think Hannah handled things appropriately by pushing back so strongly against David? Do you think Hannah did the right thing by pushing to continue the pregnancy after Kate’s collapse?
- Was David unreasonable when he kicked Hannah out of Kate’s hospital room? Did Hannah and Ben have a moral obligation to support David’s decision?
- What do you think Kate would have done, if the situation were reversed? Put yourself in Hannah’s shoes—what might you have done differently?
A Conversation with Karma Brown (The Choices We Make)
1. is a very personal story for you. Can you explain where the idea for this story came from, and how it relates to your own experience?
I have always wanted to write a story about surrogacy, and in fact, one of my earlier “practice” (read: never to be published) books focused on a similar theme. was inspired by my own story of becoming a mother (my sister was our surrogate after cancer left me unable to carry a pregnancy), as well as a news story about a pregnant woman who became comatose, and the heartbreaking battle that raged for months between the hospital and her family about whether or not to continue the pregnancy.
2. While you drew on your own emotional experience when writing this book, the details surrounding the surrogacy process and the complications are completely different. What kind of research went into creating this story?
My sister was our gestational carrier, meaning we provided the bun and she provided the oven. So my daughter is biologically ours, whereas in , Kate is the biological mother as well as the surrogate mother. Despite not having personal experience with traditional surrogacy, much of the process is similar to gestational surrogacy (where the surrogate mother carries an embryo created by another couple)—especially the fertility procedures and emotional aspects. In terms of the medical and legal research, I was fortunate to work with knowledgeable and highly skilled fertility law attorneys and physicians, who all generously answered every question I asked (there were many).
3. Much of the novel is told in dual perspective, giving the reader a glimpse into the hearts of both Kate and Hannah as they embark on this incredible journey together. Can you talk about what it was like to write about these women and the bond they share?
In some ways this novel is a (very long) thank-you note and love letter to my sister Jenna, who carried our daughter for us. While most people assume our journey was simple—easy because of our close relationship—there were challenges along the way and moments when we both struggled. It’s not easy to carry a baby for someone else, nor is it easy to be the one unable to experience pregnancy firsthand. So I wanted to capture both sides of that, to show it as the honest, challenging, heartwarming and miraculous experience it is.
4. Like your previous novel, , is a heart-wrenching, emotional story about love and loss—exploring themes of grief, healing, motherhood and intimate relationships between lovers and friends. Can you discuss the significance of these themes in your writing?
I keep telling people I’m a very happy person who writes heartbreaking stories! But if I dig deeper, the truth is I write about things that scare me, make me weep and keep me up at night. I’m fascinated by how people rebound from tragedies, how they get on with the business of living even when the life they know crumbles around them. That’s a kind of courage I’m incredibly drawn to, and I love exploring it through my writing.
5. What was your greatest challenge in writing ? What about your greatest pleasure?
The hardest part about writing this book was how emotional it was for me—while our situation was completely different, much of what happens to Kate and Hannah and their families came from my fears when we were doing our own surrogacy. The thought of something tragic happening to my sister—however remote—was for me almost a deal breaker. The greatest pleasure was the opportunity to tell a story that’s been trying to burst out of me for a long time. I hope, as they turn the pages, readers feel the emotion that went into writing it.
6. Do you read other fiction while you’re doing your own writing or do you find it distracting?
I’m always reading—whether I’m drafting my own story, or deep into revisions, or between projects. And I’m often reading more than one book at a time, something my husband thinks is one of my superpowers—the ability to keep track of three or four plotlines and sets of characters all at once. But I wouldn’t be able to write a single word without reading. It provides great inspiration and motivation for my writing, and is, in my opinion, one of the greatest luxuries of life.