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Bloggers

 

Between the Covers with Jennifer Weiner

All Fall DownJennifer WeinerWith over 4.5 million copies of her books in print, Jennifer Weiner’s career is at an all-time high. Her new novel All Fall Down will almost certainly be on bestsellers lists this summer. The story follows Allison Weiss, a hardworking wife and mom who seems to have it all. In reality, she is crumbling under the pressure of her stressful life and has become addicted to prescription painkillers. With her trademark wit and relatable style, Weiner takes the reader through Allison’s downward spiral into addiction and then in her journey to recovery.

 

Weiner recently answered some questions for our Between the Covers readers. Read on to learn more about what inspired her new novel and where she writes. (Hint: It’s Carrie Bradshaw-inspired!) She also shares her picks for your summer reading list.

 

What inspired you to write this story?

 

When I turned 40 – lo these many years ago – I started thinking a lot about happiness. I think it’s in everyone’s nature – certainly it’s in mine – to set goals, and to think, When this happens, I’ll feel happy, or, as soon as I’ve achieved this, I’ll never be sad again. Writers, in particular, fall prey to this kind of thinking: When I get a book published, I’ll be happy and I won’t care if it gets a million bad reviews, or, if my book’s a best-seller, I’ll never let anything bother me again.

 

Of course, life doesn’t work out that way. No matter what you achieve, there’s always someone who’s done more, or done it faster, and no achievement guarantees perfect peace of mind. So the question becomes: What does happiness look like? How can people find it? What if it’s not what we’ve always believed?

 

I wanted to write about a character who’d hit all the mile markers, whose life looked like it should have been perfect, and to have that life not feel perfect to her. Allison’s got the handsome husband, the beautiful child, the big house, an interesting job that she likes…but none of it has silenced that voice inside of her, a voice I think so many women have, asking, Is that all? Is this it? And if it is, why do I feel so empty?

 

All Fall Down really highlights the fact that addiction impacts people of all ages and walks of life. Will you tell us a little bit about the research that you did while writing this book?

 

I spent time at several different facilities, I read a lot of books and blogs, I talked to lots of people…and then I spent a lot of time inside my own head, thinking about Allison. One of the things I heard from a counselor that really stayed with me was that addicts don’t have a problem with substances; they have a problem with feelings. They never learned how to handle sadness, or anger, or frustration, or disappointment, and the drugs or the alcohol are a symptom, not the disease itself.

 

Allison is a very relatable character. She’s a busy wife and mother who is struggling to keep the pieces of her life together. Do you see any of yourself in her?

 

Of course there’s some of me in all of my characters, even though my specifics aren’t exactly like Allison’s. I wanted to make her like me, but I wanted to make her like any mom you’d meet at Little Gym, or in the preschool parking lot. She’s funny, she’s stressed, she’s interesting, she’s overextended…she’s all of us.

 

Will you share a little bit about your writing process? Where do you write? Do you write every day?

 

I’m lucky not to be one of those writers who hate writing – I actually really enjoy it, and have ever since I learned how! I write pretty much every day, although sometimes I’ll skip the weekends if I’m busy with my kids. I do most of my writing in my closet, which sounds pathetic until I explain that I basically have Carrie Bradshaw’s Sex and the City closet. Alas, I do not have Carrie’s wardrobe. Possibly because I do not have Carrie’s figure, and a lot of those designers of dresses she wore around Manhattan do not serve my kind.

 

So I have this gigantic closet which has turned into an office-library-storage space, with my daughters’ artwork hanging on the walls, and my big girl’s old clothes in boxes waiting for my little one to grow into them, and there’s a desk with a big light-up mirror. If Carrie lived in my house the vanity would be her makeup station, but that’s where I do my work.

 

Throughout your career, you have maintained a strong online presence on your blog and social media, and that has really allowed you to connect with your readers. How has that impacted your writing?

 

Again, I’m a lucky writer because I enjoy being online. I don’t regard it as a penance or a punishment. I like being quick and quippy on Twitter [follow her @jenniferweiner], I love interacting with readers on social media, and I love using it to get instant feedback – about a character’s name, about a book cover, about what my kids are up to. My suspicion is that readers like feeling that there’s a connection with an author they like.

 

What is the best book you’ve read recently? Are there any authors on your personal must-read list?

 

I loved Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State. It’s about a kidnapping in Haiti, and it’s a very unsettling book, but oh, so good. And I’m counting the days until Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s Land, the third book in his trilogy about young adult hipster magicians that attend a college for magic (his work has been described as Harry Potter for grownups, but I think it has more in common with the Narnia books). Baltimore’s own Anne Tyler and Laura Lippman are both automatic purchases for me – I love both of their styles!

 

Weiner's fans will also be pleased to know that she’s visiting Baltimore soon. She will discuss All Fall Down at Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Central Library on June 18.

Beth

 
 

Between the Covers with Susan Jane Gilman

Susan Jane GilmanThe Ice Cream Queen of Orchard StreetSpanning the 20th century, Susan Jane Gilman’s The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street is a rags-to-riches story about Lillian Dunkle, an indomitable Russian Jewish immigrant who builds an empire and becomes America's “Ice Cream Queen.” The story is narrated by Lillian, whose sharp wit and acerbic sense of humor are a stark contrast to her public image as kindly grandmother. Her personality is the heart of this character-driven story about the pursuit of the American dream.

 

Gilman recently answered some questions about her novel for Between the Covers readers. Grab a double scoop of your favorite ice cream, and read on to get to know Gilman and what inspired this fascinating new novel.

 

The ice cream business is an unusual starting point for a novel. What was it about that industry that caught your attention?

 

First of all, I love ice cream. And if you’re going to write a book, it better be about a topic that can sustain your passion and interest for years.

 

I initially got the idea for The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street when a friend and I were reminiscing about a local ice cream chain called Carvel. The owner, Tom Carvel, did his own tv commercials, in which he would rasp, “Please, buy my Carvel ice cream?” They were so hokey and homespun, they were sort of fabulous.

 

Googling “Tom Carvel” on a whim, I learned that he was a Greek immigrant, Tom Carvelas, who arrived in America penniless, only to build an enormous empire of ice cream franchises. Then I discovered that the Mattuses, the founders of Haagen-Daz, were two first-generation Jews who came from the tenements in the Bronx. These ice cream makers’ stories were classic American-immigrant-rags-to-riches sagas. This struck me as a wonderful basis for a novel.

 

You did an enormous amount of research while working on this novel. Did it included any taste-testing? (We hope so!) What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

 

By all means, I did taste-testing! As the founder of the Susan Jane Gilman Institute of Advanced Gelato Studies, why, it was imperative! I even contacted my inspiration – the Carvel Ice Cream Company itself – and arranged to work at a Carvel ice cream franchise out in Massapequa, Long Island. For two days, the owner let me go behind the scenes, learn the ropes and work as an ice cream maker serving customers. I loved every minute of it – except the owner was no dummy. He wouldn’t let me near that soft ice cream machine unsupervised. He must have known that, given the chance, I’d place my head directly beneath the server and just let the ice cream pour directly into my mouth.

 

There is also the Carpigiani Gelato University located just outside of Italy. I live about five hours away, in Geneva, Switzerland, so of course I had to go there as well, tour its Gelato Museum and take a Gelato Masterclass. I learned the science and mathematics behind gelato-making, made my own batch of gelato, and then of course, tasted my own concoction. I was in such heaven, I thought the top of my head would explode.

 

As for my favorite flavor, if there’s no decent mint-chip to be had, I am always happy with chocolate.

 

Lillian is a force to be reckoned with in the novel, and she has a very distinct voice from the first page. Did you have any real life inspiration for this formidable character?

 

I have to say, Lillian’s voice came to me in the proverbial flash. As I sat down to write the beginning, I heard her speaking, and that was it – I just had her. There are parts of her way of speaking that are reminiscent of my paternal grandmother — particularly her word choices — but the voice was unique to me. I felt as if I channeled it. In terms of her overall character, there’s a dash of Scarlett O’Hara and Leona Helmsley, I suppose, but really, I saw her as far more than simply mean and imperious, or a caricature talking ethnic schtick, or a punchline. I wanted her to be phenomenally complex and contradictory and compelling — the way all of us really are.

 

This is your first novel. What made you want to take on this new challenge? How did the process differ from writing nonfiction?

 

Ever since I was 8 years old, when I fell in love with reading and started to write my own short stories in little notebooks, I dreamed of writing a novel.  I always assumed that one day, I’d become the author of some sort of wonderful, fictional opus. Yet as I grew up, I kept getting sidetracked. Although I got an MFA in Creative Writing and published short stories and even won literary prizes, things in our culture kept pissing me off so much that I felt compelled to respond with books. Kiss My Tiara was in reaction to a dating guide that urged women to trick men into marrying them. Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress was conceived as a smart, funny counter-point to women’s memoirs that focused on either miserable childhoods, or being single and going shopping. Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, the true story of a disastrous trip to China, was an antidote to several popular books in which women got over divorces by going to ashrams or renovating villas in Tuscany. I suppose I had to get three nonfiction books off my chest before I could finally get around to writing that novel.

 

I never expected to be a nonfiction author at all. It was an accident!  The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street may seem like a new direction, but it doesn’t feel like one to me at all. Finally, I’ve returned to my first love, to what I intended to do all along.

 

What is the best book you have read recently?

 

Let me give you three completely different ones: I loved Adam Johnson’s novel The Orphan Master’s Son; it was epic, disturbing, rich and unlike anything I’ve ever read, particularly given its setting. On a recent vacation, I read Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette; the first half made me laugh out loud from its smart, wicked wit. I was also profoundly moved by The Bosnia List, a new memoir co-written by Kenan Trebincevic and my friend Susan Shapiro. The story blew me away, and really enhanced my understanding of the Balkan conflict in an intimate way. I want everything when I read: humor, pain, transcendence, pleasure, education, enlightenment. Always, I want them to be intelligent. But I can never pick one favorite.

Beth

 
 

Between the Covers with Lisa Scottoline

Keep Quiet by Lisa ScottolineLisa Scottoline’s new novel, Keep Quiet, is a tension-filled thriller that will also spark great conversation at your next book club meeting. In an attempt to repair his strained relationship with his teenage son Ryan, Jake Whitmore reluctantly agrees to let Ryan drive home, despite the fact that it’s late and Ryan has a restricted learner’s permit. While Ryan is driving, he hits a pedestrian, and Jake finds himself forced to make a difficult choice to protect his son from the life-altering consequences of a moment of distraction. When they are blackmailed by a witness, their secret begins to unravel. Jake desperately tries to protect his family from the fall-out of the accident as the situation careens out of control. Like William Landay’s Defending Jacob, the story hinges on a parent’s love for his son and how far he will go to protect his child.

 

Scottoline recently agreed to answer some questions for Between the Covers readers. She shares more about her inspiration and demystifies her writing process.

 

Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to write Keep Quiet?

 

Many authors are inspired by what-if questions, and that’s what inspired this book. I live in the suburbs, and like everybody else, I drive around way too much and there's always one street that I drive down that has a blind curve, which drives me crazy. Sometimes I grumble that somebody should fix this, but most of the time I worry that if I turn the corner I could hit somebody if I'm not careful, [or my daughter could]. And there you have it! 

 

One of the central questions in the novel is how far a parent will go to keep his child safe. What is it about that idea that makes it so compelling?

 

I'm a single mother, and being a parent is the most important and best part of my life, even in a life as blessed as mine. I adore my daughter Francesca. Raising her has always been a question of trying to strike a balance between letting her find her own wings, but at the same time being a loving and responsible parent, which can often mean protecting her–perhaps too much. This theme is the beating heart of Keep Quiet. I love it as a theme because it's a question that every parent has no matter what the age of their child. It's the kind of question that keeps moms, like me, up at night, so I knew it would make for a compelling novel.

 

Was it a challenge for you to write about this complex father-son relationship?

 

It was something of a challenge because the main character is a father, not a mother, but I think it's really important for writers to stretch and go out of their comfort zone sometimes. I was extremely close to my late father. I can tell you at any point in the day what he would have been thinking about, so I channeled his good heart and poured that into the character of the great father in this novel.

 

Will you share a little about your writing process? Do you write every day? Who is your sounding board?

 

I'm happy to talk about the creative process because I want to demystify it and perhaps encourage others to take a shot at their own writing, whether it's fiction or nonfiction.  My personal motto is one that I borrowed from Nike, which is “just do it,” because I don't think you need a degree to become a writer, but in many cases, you just need to overcome your own self-doubts and insecurities. So just do it. That's what I do, for over 20 books now, and over 20 years. I write 2,000 words a day, sometimes I'm lucky enough to finish that by 6 o'clock at night, yet other times I won't finish until midnight. I don't have an outline, I just go with whatever the characters would logically do next. I happen to think that is what gives my novels a fast pace and logical narrative as well as, I hope, being hard to put down!

 

Some of your fiction readers may not realize that you also co-author the “Chick Wit” column in the Philadelphia Inquirer with your daughter Francesca Serritella. Have a Nice Guilt Trip, the fifth collection of those essays, will be released this summer. What are the best and worst parts of working with your daughter?

 

I love working with my daughter, and there are no worst parts.  It's important to note, however, that I do not edit her in any fashion for those humorous essays, nor does she edit me. We both write about whatever topic we want, which, I think, are topics that relate to women of all ages. Then we put them together in a book. I love it because the reviews of these books are so wonderful, many calling them reminiscent of Erma Bombeck, which is, I think, a huge honor and compliment.

 

What was the last book that you stayed up late at night to read?

 

I really enjoyed Delia Ephron's Sister Mother Husband Dog, which is a moving and charming memoir.

Beth