Well it’s no secret how much I loved The Push by Ashley Audrain and I have been talking a lot about it! I had to talk to Ashley Audrain about The Push. She joined us in our Behind the Pages Goodreads group for a Q & A and gave us her insight to her story. I am excited to share the Q & A with you today.
Brenda: Lets start with how did you come up with the idea for The Push?
Ashley: I came up with the idea for The Push when my son (my first child) was six months old. I had been thinking a lot in those days about the expectations of motherhood, and how for so many women I knew, various aspects of motherhood turned out to be quite different than what they expected. I wanted to explore the journey of one woman for whom motherhood was particularly challenging in this way—I was interested in the idea of a child not being who the mother wanted her to be. The characters fo Blythe and Violet came to me quickly from there
Lindsay: I found your book very thought provoking. It challenged my way of thinking and opened up opportunity for discussion among fellow mothers. Did you want to encourage women to be more open about discussing the messiness and “bad days/weeks/months” of motherhood? Was that a goal for you when you started writing this book?
Ashley: That is very meaningful to hear, thank you. It wasn’t something I intentionally set out to do when I began writing The Push, although I have always been interested in the things about motherhood that people don’t speak about. I wanted to write about motherhood and expectations—but I didn’t know where the story would go or what kind of impact it would have for the reader. Now that the book has taken this shape and is in the hands of readers, I am very grateful to hear that it’s being received in this way.
Brenda: As Lindsay mentioned you opened up a few questions on motherhood for us. Did you have a few questions in your mind before you started writing you wanted to address or did the questions come as you were writing?
Ashley: I did want to explore some of these key questions: what are the expectations of motherhood that society reinforces, and what happens when the reality is different? What do we owe our children, especially in the context of nature vs. nurture and what shapes them? Can we always feel unconditional love? Some of the other questions and themes bubbled up as I was writing. I didn’t have much of a plan when I started to write The Push, other than my interest in these “unspoken” parts of motherhood and the darker realities of what it can be like
Lindsay: Did you know how the story was going to end when you started writing? Or did you start writing your book and simply allowed the characters take you where they wanted to go?
Ashley: Hmm, it was a bit of both! I started the book without much of a plan at all—it was just scene by scene, exploring Blythe and Violet and Fox. The backstory and the other generations of women came to me a bit later. I didn’t know exactly how the novel would end or what the last scene would be. That developed more in the revision process. But once the novel started to take shape, I knew clearly how I wanted the reader to feel about Blythe at the end (I’ll keep it at that so I don’t give anything away! :))
Brenda: You defied gender roles here by opening up questions on motherhood and marriage and created a strong female character with Blythe. How important was that to you? How did you go about creating Blythe’s voice and character?
Ashley: Thank you very much. I don’t know that it was such a conscious choice; it more evolved that way as I was writing. It’s interesting how sometimes as a writer you can’t really see what’s on the page until much later (and often not until other people read it and reflect back to you!). Blythe’s voice was always very clear to me from the beginning and I really enjoyed being in her mind.
Brenda:The story is told in second person narrative- Blythe to Fox. Why did you decided to write the story this way?
Ashley: It’s funny, I didn’t really realize I was writing in a second person hybrid narrative at first. Blythe’s voice was always in this “you” form, always speaking directly to her husband, and I didn’t consider it any other way. But I can’t imagine writing her voice now in a different form! In the novel I’m working through now, there are multiple characters in the third-person, and so it feels much different to me (although I’m enjoying it!).
Brenda: Let’s talk about the men in the story. The men through the generations are different from each other but have that expectation that their wives will conform to Motherhood, and we see how that affects each of the mothers. I loved that you didn’t write them as “bad men” who shaped the women instead, we see how their expectations affected them and their daughters. Why was this important to you, and how did you go about creating those dynamics?
Ashley: Thanks, Brenda. I worked on the male characters, especially Fox, quite a bit through the revisions of the book. My editors had some insightful feedback about him, in particular that we needed to understand why Blythe loved him, and what his views were shaped by. As you’ve alluded to, he has every intention of being a good husband and a good father, but his understandings of that are shaped by both society and the house he grew up in (much the way that Blythe is shaped by those same influences). And yes, we see that in Seb and Henry as well, certainly. They have strong expectations of the women they love, and there is very little room for anything outside of that expectation.
Elizabeth: Ashley, thank you for writing The Push–it is such a thought-provoking look at motherhood! Given Blythe’s anxiety and ambivalence about being a mother due to her fraught relationship with her mother, and her mother’s own harrowing childhood, do you think Violet felt this? Also, given the ending of the book, do you think that, in sharing her story the way she did, Blythe was hoping that Fox would finally see in Violet what she saw (and that he dismissed so casually and cruelly)?
Ashley: Hi Elizabeth—thank you! I do think Violet could sense a certain anxiety or fear in Blythe, just as Blythe could sense in Cecilia, and Cecilia could sense in Etta. I think we can have a deep understanding of our mothers in that way, although so much often goes unspoken in a mother/daughter relationship (which is perhaps why I find them so complex and interesting).
And yes, I think in sharing her story in this way with Fox, she is hoping to convey her side of what has happened (why she is the way she is given her history, what the reality of motherhood was like for her even though he never wanted to understand it, and as you’ve said, her detailed perspective on their daughter). I think she also knows that there’s a good chance Violet will read this someday, too, which is important to her.
Brenda: We talked a bit about the title and thought it had a few different meaning that related to the story. How did you decided on the title?
Ashley: Oh yes, the title! The whole time I wrote this book, it was titled “Untitled” on my computer (original!). I just couldn’t commit to anything, until just before it was time to share the book with agents. I wasn’t trying to think of a title at the time, but The Push came to me quite randomly, and right away it felt perfect to me. It applies on many levels (labor, physical actions within the book, having to push through emotionally, etc.). I’m so pleased the publishers loved it too, because I know that titles are often changed.
Lindsay: How long did it take you to write The Push?
Ashley: The Push took me about three years to write before it was ready to send out to agents. In the beginning, I only worked it on for a handful of hours each week. There were periods within those three years that I wrote a lot, and periods when I didn’t touch the manuscript at all (like when I had my second child!). I found it very difficult to write every day with young children. Instead I made it a point to think about the book every day…to contemplate scenes I could write next, to work through the character development in my mind. I found that helped to keep the creative energy alive, even when I couldn’t sit down at my laptop to make progress on the page. (After it was acquired by publishers, I worked on revisions and edits for about nine months before it was “done.”)
Lindsay: What do you want readers to take away and think about after reading your book?
Ashley: I have been thrilled to hear from readers that they’re flying through the book quickly, that it’s been a welcome distraction to get lost with these characters during this challenging time we’re all facing. Providing that escape is important to me as a writer. But I also hope that readers take away an understanding of how important it is to listen to women’s truths, and to make space for women’s experiences that fall outside of the typical norm. I hope this book helps a reader to ask different questions to the mothers in their life, or to start a different kind of conversation about motherhood than they might have before.
Lindsay: Are you working on a new book? Can you share any information about what you’re working on next?
Ashley: Yes, I am! The next book has a title, actually…The Whispers. I’m in the revision process now. I was lucky to have a long stretch of time between the acquisition of The Push and it’s release date, so I was able to get a start on the second novel. It’s still taking shape in some ways, but I hope it will be for the same reader of The Push. It’s emotionally suspenseful, and focuses on some of the same themes: motherhood, marriage, and female friendship. I have had a lot of fun writing it and love being in the minds of these new characters. Pandemic life has made my writing schedule tough—like so many working parents!—but I’m plugging away!