So today, I'm thrilled to shut my own trap and let someone else do the talking b/c let's be honest, you guys might get sick of me every once in a while! With that in mind, I asked my friend, Joanne Rendell, to swing by the blog and answer a few questions just in time to launch her second novel, Crossing Washington Square, which hit bookstores yesterday! Joanne is one of those super-cool writer-moms whom I feel fortunate to call my friend, so read the below, then run out and grab a copy of her latest!
This is your second book: how did the writing process differ from that of your first?
My writing process didn’t differ too much. As with my first book The Professors’ Wives’ Club, I spent a few months mulling over ideas for Crossing Washington Square. When a clear sense of the story came into view, I then outlined and wrote brief chapter descriptions. I always like to have a pretty clear sense of where the story is going to go before I start writing. I also like to work on my books in a very chronological, chapter-by-chapter way. Things change as I go along, of course, and I amend my original outline and retweak past chapters but on the whole I’m a pretty structured kind of writer. I actually wrote over half of Crossing Washington Square during the summer of 2007 while staying at our little ramshackle cabin in the Catskills in upstate New York. We have no internet connection there, no distractions, barely any running water, and its amazing how focused it made me. Thoreau was definitely onto something!
How about the actual publication process? Feeling calmer or less calm the second time around? :)
I only have one child, but I have heard people with two or more children talk about how much less fraught they were when the next kids arrived. It’s the same with the publishing process. By the second book, you know the lay of the land, what is expected, and the timing of it all. I’ve definitely been much calmer with this second book. The Professors’ Wives’ Club came out the same time last year and I spent August fretting and worrying about whether I was doing enough promotion, whether the book would sell etc. This August I’ve spent more time enjoying the summer!
You happen to live on a college campus and you also happen to write about lives on college campuses. People are told to write what they know, but how closely should they adhere to this advice? Obviously, your storylines and characters aren’t replicas...where do you draw the lines? What do you use for inspiration?
Both my books are set at Manhattan U., a university which resembles very closely NYU where my husband is a professor and where we live in faculty housing. Mostly it is the setting which I borrow from real life. Characters and storylines, although sometimes loosely based on things I’ve heard and seen, are largely fictional. I draw inspiration from other books, philosophical ideas, and cultural concepts more than I do from real events and people. With Crossing Washington Square, for example, one of my main inspirations was other novels about university life. I’ve always enjoyed these kinds of books (think Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys or Richard Russo’s The Straight Man). But what I noticed about such “campus fiction” was the lack of female professors in leading roles. Furthermore, most of the male professors in campus novels are disillusioned drunks who quite often sleep with their students, or at least consider sleeping with their students or are accused of it. I wanted to write a novel with women professors at the forefront and I wanted these women to be strong, smart, and interesting – instead of drunk, despondent, and preoccupied with questionable sexual liaisons.
Another big inspiration for Crossing Washington Square was Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and its portrayal of the two very different Dashwood sisters: Elinor led by her sense and Marianne led by her irrepressible sensibilities. I always loved how Austen explored the sisters’ strengths and weaknesses, how they clash but also how they learn from each other. I enjoyed putting these two kinds of women in a modern context and then adding very opposing views of literature to stir up more sparks between them. When I was in grad school (I have a PhD in literature), I was always fascinated by debates about what’s considered “good” or “trashy” literature and what kinds of literature should be studied in English departments. Should it only be the classics and literary fiction or should John Grisham and Nora Roberts be studied too? It was fun to bring this debate alive in fiction and have my two main characters hold such staunchly opposite views on the topic.
You’re also a busy mom. How do you juggle motherhood with writing full-time?
It’s quite a juggle, but somehow I manage it. For the most part, I write when my six year old son is asleep. When he was younger he took deliciously long naps. However, those days are sadly gone so now I wake up early and write before he gets up. We’re actually homeschooling Benny, so that is why I have to squeeze in writing time while he’s sleeping. “Homeschool” is somewhat a misnomer, though, as we spend a relatively small amount of time schooling at “home.” We live in New York so are lucky enough to have an amazing array of fun and educational places on our doorstep. Benny and I, together with his friends, are always out on trips to the Met, the Natural History Museum, aquariums, zoos, galleries, libraries, and parks. When we’re not out and about, Benny and I love to read – either together or separately. I’m so thankful he loves books like I do. Also I’m learning so much as a writer through Benny’s books and his homeschool experiences in general. Inspired by another homeschool family, we recently started a loose history curriculum in which we’ve studied dinosaurs, early man, Ancient Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt followed by Ancient Greece and Rome. We’ve combined relevant story and picture books, with many trips to museums. Benny has learnt a lot, but it’s amazing how much I’ve learned too about Greek myths, ancient texts and civilizations. I feel my mind – and my writing – expanding because of these studies!
As a published author, can you look back and give an advice on mistakes that aspiring authors might make?
The biggest mistake that an author aspiring to be published might make is being unprepared. It is a very tight market out there right now and so to get a look in with an agent or a publisher you really need to know what you’re doing. You have to make sure who you’re sending your manuscript to is the right person for your book (do they take YA or romance or women’s fiction? Do they accept new submissions? Who else do they represent or publish?). You have to know about what other books are out there which may be similar to your book – and be able to say why yours is different and better and appealing. Knowledge is power, as they say, and the more you know about the book industry the better you’ll do.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on final edits for my third novel which was bought by Penguin last fall. The novel tells the story of Clara Fitzgerald who thinks she might be related to the nineteenth century writer, Mary Shelley. On her journey to seek the truth and to discover if there really is a link between her own family and the creator of Frankenstein, Clara unearths surprising facts about people much closer to home – including some shocking secrets about the ambitious scientist she is engaged to. The book is told in alternating points of view between Clara and the young Mary Shelley who is preparing to write Frankenstein.