“I can’t remember a time when I was able to read and hold a pen that I didn’t want to be writing books, too,” said Pagán, who lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and two children. “I’ve always specialized in health because that’s one of my primary interests. At one point, I thought I might become a physician, but I’m a far better writer than I am a student of science.”
In her own words, her novels are about “love, loss, and the unexpected nature of life.” And her eighth and latest novel, Everything Must Go (Lake Union Publishing $24.95) – released last month – exemplifies that. Pagán stated the novel’s central question is: How much do we owe the people we love – and how do we balance that obligation with our own desires and needs?
As the eldest of three sisters, Pagán always wanted to write about three sisters who are three very different women yet happen to be members of the same nuclear family. However, she pointed out that concept alone doesn’t make a story.
“Once I realized that the story would be about a character who needed to stop people-pleasing, I realized that one of the hardest times to do just that is when a family member you love needs you to help them,” she explained.
Navigating Family Dynamics
In Everything, Laine Francis, a New York City native who lives in Ann Arbor, is in a troubled marriage. She wants to begin the next step in her life, accepting that she might have to begin it alone – without her husband, Josh. Yet the moment she summons the strength needed to commit to this decision, Laine learns that her mother Sally has dementia. Her sisters, Piper and Hadley, need her to come to the Big Apple.
“Family dynamics can be tricky during the best of times but navigating them during high-stress transitions can be particularly difficult as Laine discovers as she tries – with varying success – to team up with her sisters and make decisions that will safeguard Sally without stripping her of her independence. Having watched one of my own relatives struggle with and ultimately succumb to dementia, I can attest to the tensions that arise as a loved one’s memory begins to fail. But as Laine discovers, there truly is strength in numbers,” explained Pagán.
When Laine first arrives in Brooklyn, she soon realizes that her short visit will become an extended stay, given her mother’s mental state. Laine tries to make the best of a bad situation and subsequently runs into Ben, her former best friend from childhood. The dissolution of their friendship had always haunted Laine, who attempts to repair the damage done to their relationship.
In the midst of doing so, Laine learns Sally has been hiding a dark family secret from her and her sisters. Once it’s revealed, Laine must decide to follow her heart, even if it might end up breaking her mother’s.
A Reformed People-Pleaser
Of the three sisters, Pagán is not like Laine, the main character. If anything, she’s more like Hadley.
“I’m not terribly similar to Laine – I have two children, for starters, and a happy, equitable marriage. My parents are also still relatively young. But as a reformed people-pleaser, I do identify with her need to try to make others happy before addressing her own needs. It’s hard work to undo that conditioning,” she said. “I’m more of a Hadley than a Laine. In addition to being a writer, I’m also a certified life coach as she is, and the one to take charge in family situations – for better or for worse. Even so, I purposefully write characters who are distinctly different from actual people in my life – it feels creatively lazy to borrow from real people and I relish the challenge of unique characters in every story.”
For Pagán – whose next novel, Good For You, will be released in 2023 – the best part of writing Everything was chronicling Laine’s love life.
“I love a good love story, and without giving away too much, Laine finds the love she deeply desires but – deep down – doesn’t believe she deserves,” she said. “It was a joy to write that particular part of this novel.”
Oscar-Nominated Actress Options Her Novel
Her second novel, Life and Other Near-Death Experiences, has been optioned by Golden Globe winner/Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, The Martian). At this time, the adaptation is still in the development process.
Nonetheless, Pagán is “over the moon” that a high-caliber actress like Chastain wants to adapt her novel for the big screen.
“Not only is Jessica a wonderful and talented actress, she is a huge champion of women’s rights, talent and advancement,” she said. “I am absolutely thrilled to be a small part of Freckle Films, which is her female-run production team.”
For more information, visit, https://camillepagan.com/.