Ann-Marie MacDonald wove a complex tale of family secrets and the lives they destroy. Read the highlights from our on-air discussion.
Where did the idea for the book come from? Oprah: As I was reading, I thought, 'This author must have spent some time in a mental institution. (laughter) And she came out and gathered her thoughts.' Where did this come from?
Ann-Marie: That's such a difficult question. And the honest answer is that I don't really know. It comes from...it comes from the imagination. And it comes from stories that have been percolating everywhere all the time. I don't need to have a lot in my own experience. I just need a grain. And then the rest the world is going to provide.
Oprah: I find it interesting over the years talking to different authors how the pieces come together. What was the spark? What was the grain for you?
Ann-Marie: It began as a play, and it began very innocently. The characters that wound up being Mercedes, Frances and Lily arrived visually. And they lived as though they were standing in front of stained glass, the way saints and martyrs appear in old churches. And each of them was holding an emblem the way old saints and martyrs do.
Oprah: When you say, 'They arrived,'...They arrived where?
Ann-Marie: They arrived in my imagination. I do think of them as gifts. They're like visitations.
Why was Frances' desire to get pregnant so strong? Oprah: Why did Frances want to get pregnant so badly?
Anne-Marie: Your question, I think, touches on the other question which is, How much does she know? You know when you have a dream, and you might not know what it means until you casually tell a friend and then you go, 'Oh, how could I not? It's so obvious.' But you had to say it first before you knew what it was...so the drive to become pregnant, what Frances says in the book, I think, is that she's going to bring Ambrose back. And this is the way to rebirth that lost brother.
Does Frances know that her child lived? Oprah: Does Frances know that her child lived?
Ann-Marie: I need to know what other people think.
Chaka: She never knew. That made me angry.
Oprah: Do you think she knew?
Ann-Marie: I don't think she knew either. I'm just the author. I'm not going to make the rules. As a reader, I think that she didn't know.
Why choose the themes of secrets and sacrifice? Oprah: This theme that runs constantly through Fall on Your Knees, this theme of secrets...and sacrifice, where did that come from? Did that start out as being your theme?
Ann-Marie: Yes, I love secrets. I'm obsessed with them. I like to create stories that can be completely explained at the everyday level. And it's almost like saying, 'Okay, those of you who would like to believe there's a miracle, go ahead. Those of you who need to have the forensic evidence, there it is.' I like it to work on those levels. But there is some sort of long and indelible cultural influence of my own Catholic upbringing which has, I think, forged my imagination.
Brenda: That's so prevalent through the whole book.
Anne-Marie: Who did it is a mystery. A secret is a powerful metaphor...the idea that something's buried, and no matter how many layers of concrete you put over it, it's going to come up. It's going to break the surface.
Was it a happy ending? Ann-Marie: For me, a happy ending is when someone can walk out of the rubble and tell the story and say, 'Okay, I've got the secret. Here it is. I might be the only one left standing, but here it is.'
Oprah: Well, many times during the reading of Fall on Your Knees, I would say, 'How can that be happening now?' And then I'd say, 'It's a book. It's a book. It's a book.' I don't look for a happy ending. I look for whatever is realistic. Whatever is meaningful, whatever is going to take me to the next level with these characters. And for you [Ann-Marie], you think that it's about when there is peace?
Ann-Marie: And there's memory. When memory survives. When history survives. When one person says, 'Look, I think I know what happened. I'm going to tell it.' If there's someone who survives to tell the tale, that's redemptive.
What did you as an author want the reader to experience? Oprah: As the author of it, what was your idea for us as the reader?
Ann-Marie: To own it. To feel like it was your story. To forget that anybody wrote it. And that's why I almost feel a little fit fraudulent when I appear as the author. It's the sort of thing, well, I did my job and that's really the ultimate when people say, 'This is mine.'
What is it like to be the author of this book? Oprah: What is it like for you to be sitting here with us talking about your characters? The people who had made visitations to you in your imagination, for us to be talking about them like real people?
Ann-Marie: It's absolutely great. For me, the characters were real. Stories have always been very real for me. Books, you know, were more real than, quote-unquote, real life. And again, I think maybe because I was an actor for so long, it's not strange. It's the most natural thing in the world. Why wouldn't we talk about fictional characters?
Brenda: Well, we're able to talk about them because of your writing skill.