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INTRODUCTION

Julie Roseman has known since childhood that Rosemans are supposed to despise Cacciamanis. She's never known exactly why...but she's followed her family's advice and avoided all Cacciamanis like the plague. Until she bumps into Romeo Cacciamani at a small-business conferenceand realizes he's sort of...sweet. Now, this unexpected relationship is blooming into something big. But wait until their families find out...

 

ABOUT JEANNE RAY

Jeanne Ray works as a registered nurse at the Frist Clinic in Nashville, Tennessee. She is married and has two daughters. Together, she and her husband have ten grandchildren. She is the author of Julie and Romeo, Step-Ball-Change, and Eat Cake.

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH JEANNE RAY

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet has inspired many adaptations and reimaginings. What was it about the play that inspired you to write this particular novel?

It was shortly after my sixtieth birthday and I was feeling an acute sense of being considered "over the hill" when I did not feel so. I knew I wanted to write a story about two vital, attractive individuals over sixty who fell in love. While my husband and I were watching the video of Romeo and Juliet, the question of what might have happened had the grandparents of these two youngsters fallen in love occurred to me. I reread Shakespeare's play and realized that it was the perfect vehicle for the story I wanted to write.

Julie and Romeo is your first novel. Why did you wait so long to write it?

I was busy working as a nurse, raising children, living my life. I did write poems and short stories, but only for my own amusement. It never occurred to me that I might be able to write anything I'd have the courage to show anyone.

You are a nurse who lives in Nashville, and this story features flower shop owners who live in the Boston suburbs. Does any of Julie and Romeo stem from your own experience?

As a nurse, I have the opportunity to know many people intimately in many different situations. Therefore, I identify with many experiences that are outside my own. I have traveled a good deal, I know a family who owns a flower shop here in Nashville, and I have come to love late in my life.

Julie and Romeo is a love story between two people in their sixties. What a refreshing concept! What was especially fun about creating that relationship? Would you like to see writers writing more often about sixty-year-old couples?

I would wish we could all see older people with fewer prejudices than we do. If it takes writing about older folks in positive ways and reading about them with open minds to teach us that, then yes, I think there should be more interesting, positive things written about growing old.

Your novels often focus on the daily conflicts between and within families, taking the sometimes trivial and making it charming and comical. Where do you get this vision of family?

Most of us have families that are weird, sick, comical, and loving in the ways they know how to be. We tend not to talk about what we consider to be "abnormal" in our own families, and I think the reason people like my books is because they often see their own family inadequacies and are able to laugh at them. We all make it up as we go, after all.

Four generations of family love, loyalty, and conflict lie at the heart of Julie and Romeo. Do you come from a large family? What life experience might account for your ability to write so effectively about people of many different ages? Have you ever been involved in a family feud...or salted someone's roses?

I have a half-sister and brother who are a good deal older than I, and I was raised (lovingly) as an only child with two sets of parental figures in the home. My mother and father were each from huge families, as was my first husband. I consequently learned about large families, but was not raised in one. My first opportunity to be a member of a large family came when I went away to nursing school and lived with my class in a dormitory for three years. There were many feuds, many laughs, and much love in that place. Those women are still my sisters.

Julie and Romeo was something of a surprise bestseller when it was first released. To what do you contribute readers' instant connection to the book? What was it like to achieve overnight success as a writer?

I think people were ready to read something upbeat about aging characters, something loving about hate. Overnight success as a writer is a tough question. I have the same friends, same husband, same house, same car. Other than that, everything has changed and grown. There are just so many more challenges and opportunities in my life. The most rewarding thing for me is learning what I am capable of.

What do people tell you they like most about Julie and Romeo? What do you want them to take away from the book, besides just a fun reading experience?

People tell me that the book gives them hope. I cannot think of anything I'd rather give someone than that hopeand a good laugh.

You've also written Step-Ball-Change and Eat Cake, which are available from Crown/Shaye Areheart Books in hardcover and from Onyx/New American Library in paperback. Can you tell us a little bit about those novels?

Step-Ball-Change is the name of a tap dance step, but it is also a metaphor for life. You start out in one direction and end up quite gracefully going in another. The novel is about a chaotic and loving family, change, relationships, change, and love. And change. Eat Cake is about a woman who hides her talent (baking cakes) until she is forced to reveal it to save her family. They are both a good deal funnier than I make them sound.

What's keeping you busy these days and can we anticipate a new novel anytime soon?

I am being much more of a participant in my "real" life these days. I still work as a nurse one day a week because I miss it if I don't. I do grandmother duty and play with my friends. I cook more, which I truly love. I've found that I really enjoy public speaking, and have become more involved in my community. I said that I wasn't going to write another novel. I especially said I'd never write a sequel. Yet there is one coming together in my brain. We'll see.

Your daughter, Ann Patchet, is also a very successful novelist. What's it like having two writers in the family?

Ann and I have always been close, but my becoming a writer has helped me understand her life so much better, and she seems to thrive on having someone in the family who can identify with the way she lives. Until I wrote, gave speeches, did book tours, and did interviews I thought Ann had a very glamorous life. While I continue to think we are the luckiest people in the world, I do now recognize there is difficulty indigenous to every career. And she is very proud of me for accepting the challenge of this new life.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Like the Rosemans and Cacciamanis, we sometimes have prejudices that we're not even aware of. Can you think of specific prejudices within your own family, or in other families you've known? If so, how did they start? What conflicts did they lead to? Were the conflicts resolved? If so, how?
  2. Through Julie Roseman, Jeanne Ray captures the giddy, breathless joy of falling in love. Do you agree that it's possible to fall in love at any age, and that the experience is the same no matter how old you are? Have you or anyone you've known fallen in love later in life? If so, what was it like?
  3. Jeanne Ray presents wonderfully positive portraits of Julie and Romeo. Some people have suggested that such positive portraits of older people are all too rare in our society. Do you agree? Can you think of specific examples in popular culture in which older people are shown in a negative light? In a positive light?
  4. Sex between older couples is often a taboo subject, something people just don't feel comfortable discussing. In Julie and Romeo, Jeanne Ray explores sexual desire between Julie and Romeo with honesty, humor, and sensitivity. Do you have funny (or not so funny) stories to share about older couples making love? Are Viagra and the aging of the population making it more acceptable to talk about sex in older couples?
  5. Usually it's the younger generation that endorses falling in love, but here Julie and Romeo's children strongly disapprove of their relationship. Why do you think they're so against it?
  6. Jeanne Ray presents realistic, not always positive portraits of Julie and Romeo's children. They seem to see their children's strengths and weaknesses pretty clearly. Do you agree that parents often see their children more clearly than they see themselves? Do parents sometimes dislike their childrenand try to hide it?
  7. Sandy Roseman and Tony Cacciamani fell in love as teenagers, but their parents stopped them from getting together. Was it wrong of their parents to end the relationship?
  8. What aspect of the novel most appeals to you? What's the funniest part? The saddest? The most moving? What aspects seem most true to life?
  9. What do you think are Jeanne Ray's greatest strengths as a writer?
  10. What kind of romance do you hope to have in your life when you're sixty or older?