Finalist Spotlight

Annette Haws

I’ve been a stealth people watcher from an early age. I grew up in a small college town, and I’m convinced large metropolitan settings have nothing on small towns when it comes to intrigue, comedy, and quixotic romance. I graduated from Utah State. I did honors graduate work in American Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa and the University of Utah. I raised four children whose life experiences I have shamelessly mined, and I have an affectionate, indulgent husband who has become an excellent editor.

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Annette Haws on her Whitney Awards Finalist novel,

Maggie’s Place

What was the inspiration for your Whitney Awards finalist novel?

Not long after her eighty-third birthday, my delightful Aunt Maedae moved into the Eagle Gate Apartments in the absolute heart of Salt Lake City. Every time I visited, I met her interesting friends on the Seventh Floor who kept their doors open and their visits frequent. They took institute classes, exercised in the pool, volunteered on Temple Square, ordered pizzas, and generally cared for one another. Of course, people are their stories, and I was intrigued by what I learned about this interesting group of women.

 

When I was in my mid-thirties, a prominent family in our neighborhood in Bountiful, Utah was involved in a scandal of epic proportions. A Ponzi scheme. The husband, an upstanding member of our religious community, went to prison. Not only did that family lose their home, other people in the neighborhood lost homes and savings also. My interest in Ponzi schemes was piqued. Utah has more Ponzi schemes per capita that any other state in the union. Why?

 

Years later I was beginning to cook up the plot for the ladies at the Eagle Gate, when I saw a small article in the Salt Lake Tribune; the former neighbor was finally being released from prison. What happened to his wife and family in the intervening years? What effect did his crime have on them? Maggie was born.

What was the tipping point that turned this novel from “just an idea” to a project you HAD to complete?

I was about sixty-thousand words into the manuscript when I set it aside for several years. For a variety of reasons, it just didn’t jell. I completed another novel, The Accidental Marriage, and was working on a couple of short stories when my Aunt Maedae died. I suppose her death was the tipping point. I needed to bring those ladies at the Eagle Gate to life.

How did this book evolve into the final story? Did it end up the way you thought it would, or did the plot or characters change along the way?

I firmly believe that we are our stories. I am constantly doing the “what if’s” in every problem and situation in my own life. I mentally wander down one path, come back, and try another avenue. Every situation is a narrative; that seems to be the way my mind works.

 

My characters mirror that behavior, Maggie is plagued by what her life could have been. Of course, characters evolve; but occasionally, they jump fully formed into my head. Some are loosely shaped by people I know. Rose is a portrait of a generous friend who is very much alive and well. Sue was inspired by a delightful member of my writing group. There are bits and pieces of me in Maggie’s character. I become very attached to my characters; I think about them when I wake in the night, and I’m framing sentences. However, when a book is completed, the characters vanish into the ether. It’s similar to the end of a school year when vibrant students leave, but a teacher knows other equally interesting students will arrive the next fall.

Who is your favorite secondary character, and why?

Ed Johnson, the mastermind of Maggie’s disaster. As a much younger man, Ed betrayed his friends to negotiate a shorter prison sentence for himself. Now he’s approaching the end of his life, and he’s consumed with the hurt he’s caused. He’s a complicated character who’s shaped by his mistakes but is also seeking redemption.

If your book was made into a movie, which scene would you want to be a background extra in?

I’d like to be one of the police officers who arrives on the scene, unsure of who is innocent and who is guilty. In the hallway off the lobby, he finds Carly immediately after she’s defeated–with a burst of pepper spray–the villain who punched her in the face and tried to take her hostage.