The 2020 year brought a host of new problems, including for many the need to make unexpected, often difficult life changes or to drastically curtail expenses. In the past, my husband J.L. and I passed through a few seasons that demanded us to tighten our belts and “downsize” our lives—never comfortable times to face. Becoming more affluent and rising up the financial ladder is always easier than suddenly having to shift gear and slide downhill from a lifestyle one has become accustomed to. People are creatures of habit and change is never easy when it pushes individuals out of comfortable patterns of life they’ve grown used to.
As a psychologist, life changes and how they impact individuals interests me. So I decided to explore this concept in a book. Most studies show that the young adapt more quickly to change, often are excited by and drawn to it. As adults age though, they settle more comfortably into a life routine, often one they like and have worked hard to achieve. They are less eager then to make major lifestyle changes and often find changes more stressful. So I decided my main characters, in a story about a sudden need to “downsize,” would be ones in their middle years. Once families are well-established, a change in the life of any one major family member impacts all the others as well… whether it is a death, divorce, move, job change, injury, or sudden character or lifestyle change.
In my new novel DOWNSIZING, publishing in April 2021, my main character is Mary Pat Latham. At midlife, Mary Pat’s life is settled and comfortable. She’s been married for thirty-four years to her husband Russell, a successful heart surgeon. They are comfortable, own a beautiful home, and have four children who have recently finished college and started settling into new careers and homes. Mary Pat’s life is rich with interests, social clubs, and philanthropic activities. She looks forward to a future with married children, grandchildren, and more times for trips and travel when Russell’s medical practice slows down. The last thing she expects is for Russell to come home in the middle of the day and to announce, out of the clear blue, that he wants a divorce.
This is only the beginning of Mary Pat’s shocks, as she soon also learns he wants to sell their big home—and in fact already has a buyer. He throws out that he’s already found himself a condo near the hospital and seen an attorney to start the divorce proceedings. Stunned, Mary Pat listens to him discuss this severance of her life casually and matter-of-factly as though he’s talking to one of his patients about an upcoming operation. Caught totally off guard, Mary Pat can’t even think how to respond. Suggesting counseling or more discussion gets her nowhere and when she quizzes Russell about what in the world she will do with all the changes he’s suggesting, he callously throws out hurtful comments, criticizing her lifestyle, all but calling her boring, and letting her know, in addition, he’s disgusted with all the weight she’s gained, and with how she’s let herself go in every way.
All of this discussion only gets worse as Mary Pat catches a change in tone as Russell talks about the realtor he’s been working with. His quick defense when Mary Pat quizzes him about the relationship tells her all too much. In some heated words to follow, when Mary Pat pushes to ask if he’s given any thought to where she should move or what she should do now … Russell throws out that she can move up to her parents’ old cottage in Gatlinburg for a time if she wants. He never wanted to buy their old place when her parents moved anyway. So after an afternoon of weeping and shock, Mary throws some things into a bag to head to the small mountain house of her childhood, too upset and humiliated to even think about seeing or talking to any of her friends or family right now
My new book DOWNSIZING is in many ways Mary Pat’s story of how she handles all the dramatic changes that suddenly hit her life, all the hurt and personal analysis needed to evaluate her situation and consider how to move on. I found myself constantly thinking what I would do in her situation, how I would have acted, even as Mary Pat’s own individual story unfolds in its own way. When life changes hit, relationships are often impacted, too—with friends, family, and colleagues. Just as people are uncomfortable with dramatic change in their own lives, friends and family find it hard to relate to big changes in the lives of others, too. Sometimes they pull away and are not supportive at the times when support and kindness are most needed.
I hope readers will enjoy following Mary Pat’s story of how a sudden unexpected series of events impacts her well-ordered life, and of the new life she is forced to forge. Woven into the story are problems with her adult children and friends, but also the unexpected pleasure of being loved and accepted by old friends from childhood she hasn’t seen in years, of finding healing in familiar surroundings, and in beginning to build a new life on the ashes of an old one lost.
Readers will soon run into a rich, colorful cast of characters in the Glades Arts and Crafts Community of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where Mary Pat’s small family home sits on a quiet mountain road. I’ll leave all these new characters’ stories of love and loss for you to learn about as you enjoy this new book, and be assured that a host of unexpected events, shocks, and surprises await you as you turn the pages and follow the plot through its ups and downs.
Angry at all that happens, one thing Mary Pat does after her shocks settle down is to decide to start some improvements and changes in her own life. One of these is to work on “downsizing” herself. Russell’s hurtful words bring home to her that she, in truth, has let her appearance go. These efforts become an interesting part of the book as Mary Pat’s earlier life goals and education were actually geared to nutritional behavioral counseling, the irony not escaping her now. So Mary Pat reaches back to reexamine those old goals and dreams.
No more spoilers for you now. But you’ll love the characters you meet, the adventures and visits around the beauty of the Gatlinburg area, the hikes and visits in the Smoky Mountains, the black bears threaded throughout the story, and some eventful and suspenseful moments that will have your mouth dropping open, wondering what will happen next.
When I was working on planning this book originally, I had to create a fictitious weight loss business and a diet for Mary Pat to follow for the story, so I created a center called Diet Options for the book and pulled out all my old diet notes from successful dieting I’d done in past to design the Diet Options weight loss program and the diet Mary Pat becomes involved in. Fans around this area, knowing what I was working on then—and watching me lose twenty pounds trying out my own diet plan again—began to push me to put the diet at the end of the book. So at the end of the book will be a link taking readers, who are interested, to pieces of Mary Pat’s Diet Options Notebook, with a little inspirational teaching and the complete diet laid out, including food lists, recipes, and more, in case you want to try a little “downsizing” of your own. It’s a great almost 50-page resource you can print out, if you want … and it’s Free to all my readers.
So this April … come meet Mary Pat, her husband Russell, children Todd, Craig, Patrick, and Victoria and her old Gatlinburg friends Owen, Francine, Nancy Sue, Gloria, and many more in my new book DOWNSIZING. Learn as you read how Mary Pat, her family, and friends handle all the upsets, tragedies and unexpected events that come their way – and that seem to happen in all our lives, bringing changes we have little recourse but to face. I hope—if you’re experiencing any “downsizing” or other problems in your life right now, that you will learn, as Mary Pat did, that: “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.” [Robin Sharma]
See you next month talking about my new Edisto book!
Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.