By Hope Katz Gibbs
Be Inkandescent magazine
A bright June day. A split-second distraction. A family forever changed.
Life is good for Maura Corrigan. Married to her college sweetheart, Pete, raising three young kids with her parents nearby in her peaceful Chicago suburb, her world is secure. Then one day, in a single turn of fate, that entire world comes crashing down, and everything she thought she knew changes.
Walking beside her 9-year-old son, James, as he rides his bike to school, he darts into the street and is hit by Alex, a 17-year-old neighbor. What unfolds in the wake of the accident is an intricate web of relationships, secrets, and betrayals that ultimately create a story of resilience.
Maura must learn to move forward with the weight of grief and the crushing guilt of an unforgivable secret. Pete senses the gap growing between him and his wife, but finds it easier to escape to the bar with his friends than face the flaws in his marriage.
Meanwhile, Maura’s parents are dealing with fault lines in their own marriage. Charismatic Roger, who at 65 is still chasing the next business deal, and Margaret, a pragmatic and proud homemaker, have been married for four decades, seemingly happily. But the truth is more complicated.
Like Maura, Roger has secrets of his own. When his deceptions and weaknesses are exposed, Margaret’s love and loyalty face the ultimate test.
That’s the plot of the new bestseller, Those We Love Most, by journalist, broadcaster, and activist Lee Woodfuff.
She chronicles how these unforgettable characters confront their choices, examine their mistakes, fight for their most valuable relationships, and ultimately find their way back to each other.
It takes us deep into the heart of what makes families and marriages tick and explores a fundamental question: When the ties that bind us to those we love are strained or broken, how do we pick up the pieces?
Woodruff’s fellow authors offer high praise:
- Author Adriana Trigiani says of the book, “Lee Woodruff has written a beautiful, humorous, poignant page-turner about the complexities of love and marriage, tricky family dynamics, and the power of the human heart. Everything you want in a great read is here, including wonderful storytelling that builds to a satisfying ending. Loved it.”
- Author Sue Monk Kidd offers: “‘Those We Love Most’ is an engrossing story about family fragility, rupture, and redemption. Woodruff’s beautiful and unflinching portrayal of the grief, betrayal, guilt, tenacity, and love that engulf this family in the aftermath of a devastating tragedy will keep you turning pages till the end.”
- And author Alice Hoffman shares: “Lee Woodruff knows how to get to the heart of the matter on every occasion.”
Why do we hurt the ones we love?
That’s the question that Woodruff asks, noting the book draws strongly on her personal experiences, and explores the ways in which a close-knit family is broken and made whole again after one pivotal moment results in the ultimate tragedy.
Lee Woodruff is no stranger to harrowing experiences. The wife of well-known ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff—the reporter who in 2006 suffered a traumatic brain injury while covering the war in Iraq—is a contributor to “Good Morning America,” a former senior vice president of the PR firm Porter Novelli, a contributor to Health, Redbook, Country Living, and Prevention magazines, and a spokesperson for “Family Fun” on TV and radio, where she discusses parenting and family life.
When Bob began recovering from his injury, they penned, “In An Instant: A Family’s Journey of Love and Healing,” an eloquent, candid description of what happened in Iraq, and the struggles the couple and their children faced as Bob recovered.
In 2009, the mother of four published her second book, “Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress,” where she shares deeply personal and funny stories highlighting topics such as family, marriage, friends, and how life never seems to go as planned.
While most women reserve such discussions for girls-night-out with their gal pals, Woodruff bravely shares it in print. We’ve had the privilege of interviewing Woodruff several times in the last several years.
Scroll down for our Q&A with the Woodruff about her newest book.
Be Inkandescent: First, let’s talk about this highly emotional story, which teaches us how good things can come out of tragedy. What was your writing process like? How much of the plot did you plan out in advance, and how much came to you as you wrote? Were there any twists or revelations that you surprised yourself with?
Lee Woodruff: This novel grew out of a real-life experience. I was out of town and a friend called me in a panic. A 17-year-old driver in her town had struck a child and I can still picture that hotel room I was in all these years later. The child had suffered a brain injury, and she wanted to know if I would talk to the parents and provide some hope based on my own family’s experiences. After I hung up, I kept thinking about that one pivotal “in-an-instant” moment and all the lives that had been affected by a split-second action.
That call formed the basis for a fictional story about how one pebble dropped in a pond ripples out in many directions. Although I never ended up talking to the real-life parents, and thankfully the real-life boy recovered, the characters in this novel evolved from that one phone call.
I didn’t start the novel with a definitive idea of what was going to happen to each of the characters. I began by finding each of them a voice, and then the story kind of took over and just poured out of me. About midway through, I began to plot out exactly how events would begin tying together. My biggest challenge was figuring out what would happen to 17-year-old Alex, where he would intersect with Maura, the mother of the child he injured, and then how his actions and subsequent decisions would change the course of his future.
I think the biggest surprise was what happened to Roger. I didn’t originally conceive of his crisis, and once I had begun writing him, I realized it was the starting point for him and Margaret to forge a solid path back to one another.
Be Inkandescent: This is your first novel, but not your first book. How was writing fiction different for you than writing nonfiction? Which do you prefer?
Lee Woodruff: To me, fiction is so much harder to get right than nonfiction. With my first two books, “In An Instant” and “Perfectly Imperfect,” the facts of my life were, well, the facts, and so the art form is in figuring out how to tell the tale or present and edit it in an interesting way.
With fiction, it’s like starting with modeling clay. You can make your characters do or feel or say anything that you want, and so you have a big responsibility to end up with something plausible that hangs together. That also means that the sky is the limit, so it’s more about narrowing choices.
Be Inkandescent: “Those We Love Most” is a heavy and emotionally complex book. Why did you choose to write about such a difficult topic and such a difficult time in the Corrigan family? Was the book emotionally draining to write?
Lee Woodruff: I read and love all kinds of genres, but the books that have stayed with me over time tend to be those that deal with the emotional complexities of real human issues. I am fascinated by the moments where we are tested and forced to reach down to find out exactly what stuff we are made of. The business of living is chock full of so many extremes, and while parts of this book deal with sadness, real life is defined by love, loss, joy and sorrow, betrayal, triumph, and achievement.
I think the intricacies within families—the secrets people hold, the love that ebbs and flows in marriages and relationships, and the bond between a parent and child—are all interesting themes we can relate to.
I’m fascinated by the way people respond to tragedy in heroic and sometimes not so heroic ways. I wanted to examine the process of life coming unglued and then look at all the strengths and the wonderful qualities that lie within us to do the right thing for the ones we love the most.
I also liked the idea of looking at multigenerational and cross-sectional layers of the family—fathers and daughters, mothers, sisters, and grandchildren. The father and daughter’s decisions about what to do with the choice their infidelities present was an extra layer. Each had the power to destroy what they had built or knit it back together.
There are definitely little aspects of my own real-life journey. For example, to write some of the hospital scenes I drew on the experience of my husband, Bob, when he was injured in a roadside bomb in Iraq.
Be Inkandescent: You write, “It was times like this you understood what you had; you could take an accounting in a way you weren’t able to when life ran smoothly.” (297) Do you feel this is true, from personal perspective?
Lee Woodruff: Absolutely. We all get sick of trite phrases about taking life for granted, but the truth is that the contours in life, the good days chased by a bad day, all allow us to get a perspective on what really matters. If there was a blue sky every single day, you would lose the perspective to appreciate it. Likewise, having a few challenges makes the happier, peaceful times all the sweeter. It reminds us not to take anything for granted.
The most interesting people I know, the ones I want to talk to at a dinner party, are the people who have faced some kind of adversity, in whatever form that may take.
Be Inkandescent: You say on your website that in college, you dreamed of writing novels one day, but were waylaid by the reality of needing a job right away. What does it feel like to finally achieve your novel-writing dream? Do you have any advice for aspiring authors who need a paid job, but still hope to write for a living?
Lee Woodruff: It feels amazing to be a published author. I’d tell any aspiring author to just keep finding those moments to write. Dedicated writers say to write three hours a day, but I’ve always worn many hats and have never been able to carve that out as a working mother. Three hours aint gonna happen in my life right now! But I write whenever I can, on planes, in hotel rooms, sometimes early weekend mornings. I say to anyone who wants to write a book that you can do it. Just keep plugging. There is no one right formula.
Be Inkandescent: Which of the characters in your book would you most like to take out to dinner? What would you want to ask them?
Lee Woodruff: I’d want to take out Margaret. But I’d need to be able to ply her with wine and loosen her lips. I’m fascinated by women of my mother’s era who were taught to keep up appearances—the 1950s-60s housewife who was supposed to burnish the family’s public image to perfection and not demonstrate weakness, sadness, or fear.
There is so much going on inside Margaret that she has stuffed down, including her knowledge of her husband’s affair. She grew out of someone I knew in real life who confided to me that she would never have mentioned her husband’s infidelities to him, because it would have opened up the door for him to leave, and she had no idea how she would live if that happened. That generation formed the basis for a really interesting character.
Be Inkandescent: We can’t thank you enough for your time, Lee!
For more information about Lee Woodruff and her newest book, “Those We Love Most,” visit www.leewoodruff.com.