A Conversation with Julie Mars, author of Anybody Any Minute
(St. Martin’s Press, June 2008)

SMP: Was Anybody Any Minute inspired by events that actually occurred in your own life?

JM: The actual inspiration came from a classified ad I saw in a tiny local newspaper in upstate New York. It said: “For Sale: Beer can collection and set of motorcycle leathers, size 46.” I thought it was hilarious, and I began to imagine who might place such an ad—and who would respond to it. The story grew from there. The house in the novel is the very house my husband and I lived in in the Adirondacks while I was writing the book. And truthfully, some of the events from Ellen’s hippy past are perilously close to mine!

But beyond that, I was very inspired by getting older. I began to think about making transitions from one stage of life to the next—how to do it with courage and a sense of adventure. Then Ellen, my main character, arrived, and she did it for me.  I call this book a “coming of a certain-age novel.”

SMP: Your last book, A Month of Sundays, is a memoir and your first book, The Secret Keepers, is a suspense novel.  Have you taken lessons from writing in both of those genres to craft the novel, Anybody Any Minute?  

JM: In The Secret Keepers, I wanted to create a page-turner that was as much about the psychological dimension as it was about physical jeopardy. To do that, I had to learn about timing—how to hold certain things back in the interest of suspense. In A Month of Sundays, I learned a fascinating lesson about the importance of the imagination in non-fiction—and, in a ricochet effect, I learned that fiction needs to be primarily truth. In Anybody Any Minute, I relied heavily on both those lessons. I wanted to enter the mind and life of the main character, Ellen, so completely that nothing is held back from the reader (which is like memoir), and, at the same time, I wanted her predicament to lure the readers in and keep them guessing (which is like suspense).   

SMP: The term “middle age” doesn’t always have the rosiest connotation and it’s something Ellen has mixed feelings about. What can readers learn from Ellen’s experience?

JM: I don’t want to sound glib, but how about “Lighten up!” I think middle age is disconcerting because it seems that so many things are being taken away and not much is arriving, but Ellen’s experience shows that that’s not actually true. She comes into her own in many ways during her Eagle Beak experience, and her openness to everything that happens and her willingness to throw herself full-tilt into it all—including what she might not understand and can’t control moment by moment—is the secret of her success.  Ellen’s goal, which she states early on, is simply to be herself, to be who she is, which is not something our culture, with it’s “Who do you want to become” focus,  encourages. By being exactly who she is, Ellen finds her personal power, which is what makes getting older great. Her message is, “Go ahead with your bad self,” and see what happens. I think readers will agree that is a healthy and possibly joyful way to take on the complexities of middle age.

SMP: Readers, especially women, will really root for Ellen and identify with her thoughts and feelings.  How strong is your connection to this character?

JM: I felt, and still feel, totally connected to her. No matter what I’m looking at, or thinking about, or doing, it’s always more fun if I invoke the spirit of Ellen Kenny. I think of Ellen as my co-conspirator. Together, we’re attempting to make some sense of the world, relationships, and ourselves…and hopefully have a little fun and gain a little wisdom along the way. I consider it a lucky break that I’ve had Ellen as an inner figure for the years I worked on this book. And I’m hoping she works her magic on readers, too.

SMP: Ellen gets through difficult moments in her life by finding underlying humor in almost any situation.  How important is her ability to laugh at the ironies of life to the connection readers will have with her character and this novel? 

JM: It’s crucially important.  Being able to laugh at a situation doesn’t diminish its significance, but it allows us to take ourselves less seriously, which can only be good. Ellen reminds us of that as she careens through her life. It’s all about freedom. When Ellen laughs in the face of disaster, she steps outside of the rote, run-of-the-mill response and finds a new perspective. But it’s important to say that she cries, too. In an odd way, though she’s frequently accused of being inappropriate, she always responds genuinely, and therein lies the freedom. My dream is that readers will laugh and cry with her because both have their healing aspects.