A Conversation with Sandra Harper, Author of Over the Holidays
What was your inspiration for writing this novel? Do you have special memories of Christmas? Growing up, was the holiday as chaotic for you as it was for some of the characters in this novel?
I like to write comedy and the holiday season is delicious material for that! There’s so much pressure and everyone goes a little crazy. My parents were divorced so when I was a girl we had to celebrate twice: once with Dad and once with Mom. That could be pretty chaotic.
Vanessa and Thea have a tumultuous relationship. How did your own relationship with your sisters influence your portrayal of Vanessa and Thea?
No one can love and fight like sisters! It’s just the nature of the relationship. I was the oldest so I was the terrible bossy one.
Like some of your characters, you also live in Los Angeles. Do you prefer spending Christmas in sunny L.A. or have you ever tried spending the holiday in the snowy setting of New England? Where is your favorite spot to spend Christmas?
There’s no question that New England is absolutely beautiful at Christmastime. But my holiday fantasy is to book a lovely little hotel in Paris, have café au lait and that wonderful french bread for breakfast, and then stroll along the Seine to Notre Dame. Please inform my husband.
The characters in your novel all struggle with the expectations of the holiday season. Do you see yourself more as Vanessa, frazzled and stressed out, or as Patience, focused and intent on having the best Christmas ever?
I sympathize with both characters. I myself have given up on the holidays but I understand the need and the desire that women have to create something meaningful. With any luck, no one will ask me to do them again.
Thea has an interesting and very personal relationship to her art. Do you feel the same way she does about being “married” to your art? Are you “married” to your writing?
Thea is my hero!!! I wish I was as focused as she is—I’d be so much more successful!! I love that she’s bold and unafraid to give herself over to her art. Plus the idea of living alone and not having to compromise is so seductive, isn’t it?
Is there any character you feel particularly close to in the novel, and if so, why?
I love all my characters for different reasons. When I begin a story, I sit down at the computer and wait for the characters to show up. I really enjoy getting to know them.
How do you see Vanessa’s character evolving through the story? Do you relate to her on any level?
Vanessa struggles with the stuff of ordinary life: marriage, motherhood, and work. And because regular life can be tedious, it’s a miracle that all of us aren’t running away every day of the year.
A major theme of this novel is the importance of family and the need to communicate with one another. Do you think relatives come with certain requirements and expectations?
I’d probably need a Ph.D. to answer this. I can assure you that I’m highly unqualified.