Resisting stereotypes, illuminating new novel personalizes challenges of career women
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
She Writes Press publishing “Land of Last Chances” on Aug. 13
STOCKBRIDGE, Massachusetts – When an unmarried 48-year-old executive discovers she’s pregnant and doesn’t know which of the two men in her life is the father, she realizes her professional risk management skills don’t extend to her personal life. Worse yet, she may carry a rare hereditary gene for early-onset Alzheimer’s. Whose needs should prevail – hers or the next generation’s?
In her new novel, “Land of Last Chances” (She Writes Press, Aug. 13, 2019), author Joan Cohen shines light on the silent but sizable struggles faced by real-life career women. And those challenges become even more complicated when a woman facing a possible at-risk pregnancy learns about the pervasive, incurable disease that could change the trajectory of her life.
Though the story is fictional, Cohen draws from her decades as a sales and marketing professional––a career she balanced with raising her family in Massachusetts. And because of her experience both with her own family and as a member of the advisory board for Boston University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Cohen also sought to illuminate the challenges of another misunderstood group: those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease––the only top-ten cause of death that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed
“Ten years ago, I heard philosopher/writer Alain de Botton speak on the need for more workplace fiction, yet a literary agent told me soon after that business fiction doesn’t sell,” Cohen says. “Since women buy more books than men, one would expect most business fiction to feature women, yet it seems that women are instead the target audience for nonfiction self-help books on how to succeed. Give us some credit for already knowing how to ‘lean in.’ Many of us want to read about women dealing with career struggles we recognize.”
JOAN COHEN is the author of “Land of Last Chances” (She Writes Press, Aug. 13, 2019.) Originally from Mount Vernon, New York, Cohen received her BA from Cornell University and her MBA from New York University. She pursued a career in sales and marketing at computer hardware and software companies until she retired to return to school for an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and golden retriever.
ABOUT THE BOOK
When Jeanne Bridgeton, an unmarried executive in her 40s, discovers that her expected menopause is an unexpected pregnancy, she realizes her risk-management skills don’t extend to her private life. She’s not sure who the father is, and worse yet, a family secret uncovered reveals she may carry a rare gene for early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. With no time left for genetic tests, she must cope with her intense fear of risk and wrestle with a daunting question: Should her own needs prevail or her child’s?
“Land of Last Chances”
Joan Cohen | Aug. 13, 2019 | She Writes Press
ISBN: 978-1-63152-600-8 (paperback) | $16.95 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-63152-601-5 (ebook) | $9.95 (ebook)
Early Praise for “Land of Last Chances”
“An artfully crafted portrayal of a woman who learns about herself as she weighs an unexpected choice.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Middle-aged corporate women have it rough in fiction. We’re bitter, uncompromising, lonely, regretful—and always barren. Which is why it was so refreshing to read Land of Last Chances by Joan Cohen. By introducing a real-life woman facing real-world choices, Cohen subverts these familiar stereotypes and offers a brand new narrative. Finally! A thinking, feeling woman we can all root for.” — Jillian Medoff, bestselling author of “This Could Hurt”
“Joan Cohen’s remarkable first novel is impossible to put down. Land of Last Chances is fiction, but the heroic actions of a business woman in her forties seem very real. While pregnant, she discovers a potential genetic predisposition to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The book takes you through the difficult decisions she has to make and educates you on our latest understanding of early-onset and late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. A must-read genetic thriller intertwined with high-level business decisions at her workplace, all happening in the Boston area, the world center of advanced medicine and biotechnology.” — Carmela R. Abraham, Ph.D. Professor of Biochemistry, Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Boston University School of Medicine
“In this deeply moving and astutely observed novel, one woman’s harrowing confrontation with her family’s genetic history offers a wise and bracingly modern contemplation of an ancient question: does our history determine our future? A vital new entry into the burgeoning literature of Alzheimer’s fiction, Land of Last Chances is a wise, hopeful, and enormously gripping debut.” — Stefan Merrill Block, bestselling author of “The Story of Forgetting,” “The Storm at the Door” and “Oliver Loving”
In an interview, Joan Cohen can discuss:
● The rarity of portraying career women positively in fiction, while at the same time tackling the sometimes conflicting personal and professional concerns of these women
● Her relationship to Alzheimer’s and common misunderstandings about the disease
● Her executive-level business career and navigating politics in a corporate setting
● Her motivation for writing the book, and how it reflects the concerns of many career women
An Interview with Joan Cohen
Tell us about your novel’s title, “Land of Last Chances.”
My protagonist, Jeanne Bridgeton, never wanted children, or so she thought, but children were always an option. The years when a woman can conceive a child are finite, and Jeanne’s doctor reminded her she faced a hard stop, menopause. Her unexpected pregnancy could be ended, but she’d be ending her last chance at motherhood. Jeanne surprised herself by having a hard time with that finality.
What can you tell us about your main character, Jeanne Bridgeton?
Jeanne is cautious in her professional life. When she takes risks, her decisions are supported by all the data she can marshal. Life surprises her, though, and forces her to struggle with overlapping personal and professional problems that require examining her own feelings, exercising judgement, and coping with change.
Discovering secrets from her family’s past helps Jeanne understand more about herself. Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease may be in her future, and in making the difficult decisions she faces, she learns to tap into an undeveloped side of herself.
Why did you decide to have your novel focus on corporate women? Why is this important?
Jeanne has been able to focus on her career the way men traditionally have. We live in a country that espouses family values, but business practices and our laws haven’t caught up to those in other countries, e.g., Denmark. Although today’s young men shoulder a fairer share of the burden of caring for children and running a household than past generations have, for many women the vaunted work-life balance is not just a matter of logistics or even money. It’s about emotions, guilt for example, at not being able to be in two places at once. It’s about what’s going on in their heads.
Alzheimer’s plays an important role in your book. What is your relationship to this disease?
My mother and grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease. I didn’t have to worry much about grieving when they died. I had been in mourning for years. It’s horrifying to watch Alzheimer’s take over the mind and eventually the body of someone you love. I gradually learned a great deal about the disease, more than most people would like to know. I became a board member of an advisory board at the Boston University School of Medicine’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center. I volunteered for a study that included people who were currently free of the disease as well as those who were already symptomatic. I keep hoping research will make it possible for my children to have no worries about Alzheimer’s.
What are some common misconceptions about Alzheimer’s disease? What are the most misunderstood aspects of the disease and who it impacts?
Because there is no definitive way to determine if a person has Alzheimer’s disease, most people refer to their loved ones as having dementia. The word “dementia” may sound better and be less painful to utter, but dementia only means a symptom or set of symptoms. It’s not the name of an illness. Seventy to 80 percent of the time, dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Some people think “dementia” is just the new word for the old-fashioned “senility.” Senility was thought to be an inevitability of aging, but we know now that’s wrong. “Senility,” “dementia,” or just “getting a little dotty” are symptoms of disease.
While early-onset Alzheimer’s is a serious problem, the majority of cases are late-onset, which makes it easy to put off thinking about it. Age is a predisposing factor for Alzheimer’s (as it is for many diseases, such as cancer), but we shouldn’t think of it as only affecting old people. Family members, who are often the caregivers, bear the emotional pain of watching a loved one decline, as well as a huge financial burden.
How does your book address later-in-life motherhood?
When I was growing up, young women worried about accidentally becoming pregnant. Now that women are marrying and having children later, many seem to worry about not being able to become pregnant. Their doctors give them hormones to help fertility, and for those women who still can’t conceive and who have money, IVF is an option. Whatever the woman’s age, becoming pregnant or trying to conceive arouses many emotions, some unexpected. In “Land of Last Chances,” Jeanne experiences a host of emotions ranging from despair to joy.
While the book isn’t autobiographical, how did your personal experiences inspire parts of this book?
Writers were once advised to write about what they know. Now, not so much. I didn’t need to be encouraged to write about the technology businesses I worked in. I had a lot to say about that world. What I did need to learn, though, was that readers are willing to be immersed in any setting you choose, providing you can give them characters they care about and a story that interests them.
You had a long career in the business world – how long have you wanted to write a book?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in high school. I went off to college as a cracker-jack English student and promptly became intimidated by the brilliance of one particular classmate. I convinced myself that I possessed merely skill, and he possessed talent. I totally psyched myself out. Though I remained an English major and worked for one year after college as an editor, I was bored and ended up working in the technology world. My career was very satisfying, but that yen to write remained.
Can you tell us more about the character of Bricklin, the golden retriever? Why did you choose to include him? Did your real-life pup inspire this character?
Over the last 48 years, I’ve had seven dogs, usually two at a time. All but one have been golden retrievers, and only one is still with me. His name is Rookie, and he’s 10. I have loved every one of those dogs, and lost all of them to cancer. I have learned life lessons from living with dogs, and some of them are in my book. On a practical note, I advise all dog owners to buy the best vacuum cleaner they can afford.