By her own description, Toby Devens was a “Broadway baby”‘ who had a successful early career of acting on stage and television. But by the age of twelve, she had hung up her dancing shoes and picked up a pen. Early efforts included fairy tales, detective stories in the manner of Nancy Drew and a staged version of Little Women. Later, she turned to poetry and short fiction; she also wrote restaurant reviews and theater criticism. Her first novel, My Favorite Mid-Life Crisis (Yet) came out in 2006 and is now followed by Happy Any Day Now. Devens chatted with Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about what Jewish and Korean moms have in common, her lifelong passion for music and the particular pleasures of finding love in the middle ages.
Yona Zeldis McDonough: You’ve created an unusual character–a Korean-Jewish female, Judith Soo Jin. Why?
Toby Devens: Sometimes stories come about in strange and wonderful ways. Happy Any Day Now began when my granddaughter was born and I felt this surge of longing to find out about my own maternal grandmother. She died eight months before my birth. I’m named for her and when I went to Ellisisland.org and saw her listed on a 1900 ship’s manifest, I felt incredibly close to this woman I’d never known. That’s when I started asking my family questions about her: how she became American, learned the language, weaved the old the world with the new. As I put together my grandma’s story, I realized that much of the immigrant experience was universal, and I wanted to write about that. But how? The answer came with a friend request on Facebook from a relative I barely knew: the daughter of my first cousin and his Asian wife. Seeing that young woman’s photo—the beautiful blending of two cultures—produced my eureka moment, and my protagonist Judith Soo Jin Raphael, a cellist with the Maryland Philharmonic. In Happy Any Day Now, we meet Judith as she’s approaching her 50th birthday and her past invades her present to make magic and mischief.