VIVIAN R. PROBST is an author and entrepreneur, whose first novel, Death By Roses, explores her fascination with the comedic side of worldly and otherworldly events. Probst has been writing fiction for the past 14 years, and has built a successful national consulting practice. Her company provides training to major investment firms that work in the affordable-housing industry. She submitted her manuscript for Death By Roses to the When Words Count Retreat literary competition where it won first prize.
1. What inspired you to write Death By Roses?
It had something to do with my older sister’s death from Lou Gehrig’s disease, which had occurred six months before the story began. I had grown up deeply introverted with an intense fear of death that never relented until I wrote this story. Somehow, I think my sister’s passing started this story, as if she was telling me to relax, enjoy my life, and not take death so seriously. My older sister had always watched out for me. Perhaps, even now, from her heightened perspective, she knew how to help.
2. How would you describe Mary Lee’s doctor, Eugene Gregory? How would you describe him after he meets Gertie?
Mysterious, secretly seductive, sophisticated and illusive.
Eugene has a secret problem that has terrified him from the time he was quite young. His parents do not understand—therefore they cannot help. So Eugene has to deal with this problem in the darkness of his bedroom and later in the bathroom after a patient dies. He lacks any sense of being loved or being lovable. Gertie changes that for him in ways that surprised and delighted me as I wrote. He could have turned out to be a criminal; instead, he learned to face his fear with the help of a woman who understood him.
3. Mae Rose dies while sitting on a toilet and causes a lot of embarrassment in Mae Rose’s afterlife. Did you consider Mae Rose dying in any other embarrassing ways?
No. The story made Mae Rose’s death on the toilet clear from the beginning. I resisted the idea at first but wrote it as it came to me. I then studied “death on the toilet” on the internet. It happens. I also learned early on to allow the plot and the characters to shape themselves. It is true that I wrote the story, but the plot and circumstances came to me in ways that did not allow me to alter them in any way. In the end, I understand why.
4. Which character would you say carries the greatest amount of regret? Which character deserves a “do over” the most?
I believe that both Art and Mae Rose feel equal amounts of guilt and regret. Mae Rose’s death takes both of them into a new way of seeing what their lives could have been. But it is Mae Rose’s sense of duty to correct this that is strong enough to drive them back to each other. Yes, she tries to fix things on earth in inappropriate ways; she risks and loses Heaven in her effort to restore her relationship with Art. But Art, in his own way, must also confront his guilt about the affair and suffers severely after Mae Rose dies.
5. Why did you decide to use the VW Beetle as a symbol of Art and Mae Rose’s relationship? What did you like most about the car imagery for their relationship?
Art and Mae Rose had nothing in common when they met so there had to be something else that drew them together. Mae Rose was reaching a spinster status when she met Art for obvious reasons. Any man who knew her knew that she would be hell to live with. Art and Mae Rose did not have a long courtship and their mutual interest in VWs gave them something in common that they thought was love and indeed, eventually changed both of them.
Mae Rose’s humiliation at being found dead on the toilet is carried into her afterlife. While in Heaven, she is shown all the possible happier outcomes her life and marriage could have taken. Armed with this knowledge, Mae Rose can’t keep herself from interfering in her family’s affairs from Heaven. Her unsanctioned meddling earns Mae Rose a ticket out of Heaven and traps her spirit in the body of Mary Lee Broadmoor, a cantankerous writer and director of horror movies known as “Scary Mary.” Mary Lee knows she is dying of cancer and wants only one thing before her lifeline is cut: to win an Oscar.
Can these two formidable women learn to share the same body? Will Mae Rose get a second chance with her husband? Will Mary Lee get the Oscar she so craves? While untangling a complicated web of relationships at the core of their lives, Mae Rose and Mary Lee must learn to make the most of their second chance—or die trying.
DEATH BY ROSES
by Vivian R. Probst
SelectBooks, Inc.; February 3, 2015
294 pages; $16.95 U.S.
by Vivian R. Probst
SelectBooks, Inc.; February 3, 2015
294 pages; $16.95 U.S.
If Mae Rose McElroy had known that by evening she would be dead à la commode after a fit of rage at her husband, she might have made different choices. Of course, if she’d done things differently, she might not have died while sitting on the toilet.
But on that frosty March morning, as she stood by the kitchen window washing breakfast dishes, Mae Rose was preoccupied with the effects of the last night’s storm. Everything glistened in sparkling crystal coats of ice that most would have found beautiful. As she anxiously surveyed the backyard trees, the barn, and the gardens and fields of their farm home, Mae Rose was far from feeling awestruck.
This was because today—of all days—her husband would be driving her meticulously restored 1974 VW Beetle to the mechanic shop where she worked. “Please be very careful, Art,” she said without looking up from the sink, “the roads could be very slippery.”
After thirty years of marriage, Art understood the meaning of Mae Rose’s words. They meant she didn’t trust him and was worrying about her precious car. Her fretting did not dissuade Art from feeling an uncharacteristic joy.
Mae Rose could tell from the noises in the background that he was indeed ecstatic. The hangers clanged merrily as he removed his coat from the closet. Even the zipper sang with an abnormal enthusiasm as he closed his jacket against the cold.
“You know I’ll be careful,” Art replied, planting a dutiful kiss on his wife’s stern cheek. Earlier, while shaving, he had practiced saying “I love you” to Mae Rose. Although her obvious unhappiness made him decide not to attempt it now, nothing—not even his irritation with her remarks—could suppress his buoyant feelings of hope.
It was rare for Art to drive Mae Rose’s car. But once his new client at the shop saw the car’s spectacular restoration, he was certain the man would confirm his intention to pay the large expense of having his own antique Beetle refurbished. And Art hoped for much more—surely his impressive sale would help to renew Mae Rose’s faith in him and their marriage.
Three decades of marriage to Mae Rose had left deep creases across his forehead. Each crease could have been labeled: the upper line for shock at Mae Rose’s intensity, the middle for his resistance to her relentless drive, and the lower for the wavering boundary where Art tried to keep his identity from being discarded as irrelevant.
As he squeezed his tall frame into her car, he put the keys into the ignition and waited patiently for the engine to turn over. It was understandably reluctant, but as if it knew how important the day was, the engine gave in to Art’s persistence. He headed down the long gravel drive, turning left on the two-lane country road with caution.
As the sun melted the icy coating on the asphalt, Art was able to relax and enjoy his drive. Everything glistened in the soft, feathery frost—so breathtaking that Art considered it the best possible omen for a successful day. He couldn’t help that his right hand caressed the leather upholstery he had so lovingly used to recover the seats of Mae Rose’s car; he felt pride, perhaps even a mild flirtation, as he touched the dashboard and turned the radio dial to his favorite oldies rock ‘n’ roll station.
He’d have to remember to turn it back to Mae Rose’s country music station later, but just now he needed to mark his territory. Art loved nothing more than working on old VWs, the only car, he claimed, that possessed a personality all its own, and the possibility of working on another old VW Beetle gave him an unfamiliar sense of exhilaration.
“I’d hammer ‘bout justice!” Peter, Paul, and Mary sang, and Art joined in: “I’d hammer ‘bout freedom! I’d hammer ‘bout the love between,” and Art, who loved to change the words of a song to suit himself, sang, “A man and a Beetle, all over this land!”
As Art brought Mae Rose’s car to an obedient stop at the four-way before proceeding into town, he downshifted through each gear, listening for the purr of pleasure as one cog slid into the next. But today the car growled low and mean as if to remind Art to drive straight through town instead of turning right, as he often had years ago for a cup of coffee and some fornication with Maggie Whitman. Back then, he felt justified in doing this because of Mae Rose’s increasingly insufferable nagging and her proportionately deflated interest in sex.
A trip through Fairview included passing Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church, a cornerstone of the McElroy’s lives. It housed times of great joy: when Art and Mae Rose had married and when they had baptized their son Art Jr., and eight years later, their son John. It radiated with the beauty of Mae Rose at the piano and organ, and more often than not, a flower arrangement she had created adorning the altar. But the church also held their deepest pain in its stone structure as the wounds of Art’s affair had been exposed in quiet confidence to Pastor Frank. The hope of a happy marriage had faded into an ever-sensitive, tender scar.
Excerpted from the book DEATH BY ROSES by Vivian R. Probst. Copyright © 2015 by Vivian R. Probst. Reprinted with permission of SelectBooks. All rights reserved.
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