Behind the Name: Joe McGinniss, Jr. Talks Life, Writing and the American Way

Hardcover, 368 pages
Published August 2nd 2016 by Simon Schuster

Joe McGinniss, Jr. isn’t just his father’s son. Here, the author of The Delivery Man and Carousel Court sheds some light on growing up the son of a celebrated author, his own writing process and, well, the thing he would change about American society if given the shot. After reading and reviewing Carousel Court, I was intrigued at the thought of getting to know more about this author in particular, and now we can. Here you have it folks — Joe lets loose his wry outlook on life and writing in this hilarious but thoughtful interview.

 

Question # 1

Some would say that writing is in your blood, as the son of the late, esteemed writer Joe McGinniss. How did your father’s professional heights, experiences and struggles impact your urge or desire to become a published author?

Great question. So, I watched him from afar; my parents divorced around the time of my birth, and my mother raised my sisters and me. We’d visit him on the weekend and during the summer and, though most of the time we spent with him he wasn’t working, the days he did were the same scene: dad in the kitchen early making something weird for breakfast, then into his office, closing the door and the hum of the Selectra…the paper being spooled in,….then typing….hours of it…until lunch.

 

Question #2

In your 2016 article, “Lessons from My Father” printed in The New Yorker, you gave a poignant account of your father’s life from your own point of view, from your childhood to his death after you’d become a published author yourself. What was it like to write such a telling account of the triumphs, pains and struggles of this man you loved beyond the words we know on his pages, and how does your knack for fearlessly regarding hard truths translate into your own fiction writing?

Oh boy. Kind of draining. But not technically difficult because there was so much emotion fueling the writing of the piece. I felt compelled to get some information out there about his personal struggles, demons if you will. He was loving and supportive and driven and flawed. His vulnerability and isolation haunted me. Something unseen prevented him from fully embracing the moment and those who cared most about him without drifting back into his personal darkness. Depression and drinking were/are a family legacy (both of his parents suffered from it both their entire adult lives. He was an only child. A lonely child.)

 

Question #3

As the author of full-length novels The Delivery Man (2008) and Carousel Court (2016), what is the hallmark of your writing process? Do you follow a particular path from inception to completion of a novel, and how does this process—if any—change as your career grows and morphs?

Initially, for the first two stories, there was a tonal quality that appealed to me. Visceral, spare, propulsive and haunting were all goals and came more readily. As well, so much of what I read that moved me tended to be spare and accessible, if not dark. A sense of place and location also were critical. Las Vegas and the exurbs of Los Angeles had me mesmerized, and I wanted to channel that as best I could through the lens of the story I was architecting. The current novel is less about place or even tone/mood and more character and plot driven (though the first two certainly had what seemed like pretty propulsive stories that one could ideally, if they were into it, race through). 

Dear lord those years. Too many between them from a writing perspective. I was, and am still in many ways, an idiot. I didn’t realize that it kind of doesn’t help one professionally in the writing business to take nearly a decade between books. Yes, I had good reasons (my son was born and my wife worked outside of the home).

 

Question #4

Both The Delivery Man and Carousel Court are phenomenal displays of contemporary literary Realism, written as “shattering indictment[s] of a society.” As a writer, do you start with this at the heart of your novel-writing process—an intuition to dispel myths and expose truths—or do you find it to be a byproduct of the topics you write about?

I’m not that sophisticated. I create what I can and try to convey what I feel and try to make sure it’s interesting. Does the story move and entertain and surprise? Is it boring the reader? Does it feel simultaneously real and dreamlike? I never know, but through the process of rereading and stewing about it, obsessing about how thin and uninspired it might read and is it working, will people want to pick it up and if they do, will they want to read it to the end—and if they do will they post some crap review on Goodreads complaining that the characters weren’t “likable” enough, as though novels and stories now have to provide new bff’s for readers.

 

Question #5

Your 2016 novel, Carousel Court, is written about a street you actually know intimately yourself. Did the actual people you know from this neighborhood shape the direction of the novel? If so, how?

Interesting. So Carousel Court is the name of a random cul de sac (I believe) that I located on Google maps, then zoomed in and did the whole street view thing where I spent hours tooling around the neighborhoods in the Inland Empire east of LA imagining life there. So no, I did not know it well. And the characters who I sentenced to a life there were pulled from the ether and other odd places and shaped into the cast of Carousel Court.

 

Question #6

In writing your novels, what were some of the sections, passages or themes that you or your editors opted to remove from the final drafts of the manuscripts, and why? How does this part of the editorial process shape your writing as a whole? 

Well my esteemed editor – a brilliant bloke named Jofie Ferrari Adler – suggested I write the last chapter in French. So that was awkward.

No not really. There was actually, with Carousel Court, one significant story turn that we didn’t agree on initially but discussed and meditated on and in the end, as always, the editor was right.

 

Question #7

Tell us one thing you wish you could change permanently about the American way or our society.

Public education. Schools should be community hubs, financed like private colleges, tailored to meet the needs and wants of the people they serve. Open year round and paying teachers so much more and training and retraining so that children and their families have an oasis available to them every day of the year every year of their lives no matter where they’re born or their neighborhood’s property values.

Oh and no more “summer vacation.” A few weeks off here and there but wow, like we need to educate and nurture our children less?

 

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Magic Meets Humanity, Resilience Meets Reality – Chloe Benjamin Tackles the Ultimate Life Question: How We Handle Mortality

Chloe Benjamin’s magically poignant new novel, The Immortalists, hits the shelves everywhere January 2018! The rising new literary star stopped in at The Navi Review to discuss all things bookish and — dare I say it? — existentialist. Read here as the author we’d all love to know, of the novel we can’t wait to snag, leaves a little piece of herself here for her readers.

 

Question # 1

You’ve described your life in eight words as: “Lakes, books, coffee, crafting, friends, stories, quiet, home.” Can you describe for us a typical day in your life, and how your writing and writing success has changed (or not changed) that eight-word formula for you?

I’m very impressed you found that S&S questionnaire! Happily, a typical day in my life hasn’t changed very much, although I’m now a full time writer (while I wrote my first book, I worked in social services). I live in Madison, WI, where I did my MFA, which is far from the publishing epicenter in New York City. While I used to worry I might miss opportunities by being so far away, I’ve realized that having a quieter, more removed life is a good fit for me. I love to fly into New York, but it’s better for my work to have a few degrees of separation from the hubbub and pressure. Most days, I try to write from 9am to 12 or 1pm and use afternoons for emails, media and other business-y things. Working out, going to yoga, spending cozy evenings with friends, and knitting (a lot!) keep me balanced.

 

Question #2

Your debut novel, The Anatomy of Dreams, explores similar themes as The Immortalists. Going by a description comparable in its probing questions—“Human beings are more productive than ever before, but they’re also unhappier. They feel oppressed by the limits of their lives: the boredom, the repetition, the fatigue. What if you could use your sleep to do more—to receive all of the traditional regenerative benefits while problem-solving, healing, even experiencing alternate worlds? Wouldn’t you be capable of extraordinary things?” –your novels explore the idea of “what if” and the oppression that life’s limits press upon us. What do you want to say the loudest as you explore these themes; what do you want to ensure that your readers get out of these novels once they’ve turned that final page?

I’m drawn to big, existential questions: the tension between life’s limits and possibilities, the tension between knowledge and uncertainty, and so on. I think we all cope with these curiosities, to some degree, so I hope that my novels offer readers the chance to sit with and explore them. With The Immortalists in particular, and its focus on mortality, I hope it offers solace and companionship for those who also struggle with uncertainty, anxiety and loss—as well as the question of how to live fully.

 

Question #3

The world you created in The Immortalists is so complete, from the description of magic tricks to the inner workings of experimental science, it’s obvious that you did a lot of research to get the details just right. What can you tell us about your research process for this novel? 

Both of my novels have taken quite a bit of research, but The Immortalists definitely takes the cake! Each of its four sections required a deep dive into a different character, time period, profession and subculture, from the Castro’s early gay community to the world of professional magicians. To keep myself from becoming overwhelmed, I focused on these sections one at a time, though I sometimes had to jump forward and research the next character because of their role in the previous character’s section (for instance, I had to understand Klara’s passion for magic while writing the preceding section, Simon’s). My research process included a wide variety of materials, from nonfiction and memoirs to documentaries, archival footage, interviews and travel.

 

Question #4

In The Immortalists, magic plays a big factor in the story line and becomes a metaphor throughout, which becomes the novel’s namesake. What is your own personal experience with magic, and how did you know it was the perfect fit for Klara?

I didn’t have any experience with the world of magic prior to writing the book, but like Klara, I do have a curiosity about the edges of reality—or, put differently, how much of reality seems inexplicable, how it can be mindbogglingly strange and hard to pin down. When I thought of the name for Klara’s act, I knew it was the perfect title for the novel, as all of the characters chafe against mortality in different ways. I see religion, science and magic—all belief systems that offer ways of coping with these questions—as more related than they might seem on the surface.

 

Question #5

Readers who know and follow you will be able to tell that you put a lot of yourself into The Immortalists, such as your love of science and medicine and your personal experience with both San Francisco and New York, where you went to school. What other nuggets of yourself or your past can be found within the pages of this novel?

I grew up with San Francisco and gay parents, and I was a ballet dancer for about fifteen years—so even though I’m not a gay man, I probably share the most DNA with Simon’s section. On the other hand, I identify with Klara’s passion and ambition, and with Varya’s tendency toward anxiety and control. I’m probably least similar to Daniel, though I have a soft spot for him, and his section is set near Poughkeepsie, NY, where I went to college.

 

Question #6

As an MFA holder and writing instructor, I’m sure you’ve run across so many different forms and genres of writing. What forms or genres of writing have you not yet experimented with yourself, and would you like to ever try writing in those forms? What makes those so different from the writing you do now?

I think of my writing as being pretty traditional literary fiction: character-driven, with an attention to language—though I love a good story and am always trying to improve my use of plot! There’s a bit of a speculative or magical realist element to my work, and I admire writers who write more fully within those traditions. I’m fascinated by outer space and have a wild dream of writing a novel set on a space station, but I have no experience writing sci-fi and the research for that kind of project feels even more intimidating than what I did for The Immortalists!

 

Question #7

Which of your short stories or review articles (previously or soon-to-be published) was the hardest to write or conceptualize, and what was that experience like for you?

The hardest one to write was one that hasn’t yet been published, as I’ve been keeping it under my hat until I feel brave enough to share it. It’s about my own history of anxiety, especially as it relates to loss and the body.

 

Question #8

What is the strangest compliment you’ve ever received regarding your writing, whether in school or since being published?

Ooh, strangest? I once got a three-star review that said something like, “Was gonna be a two; got a little better.”

 

Question #9

The road from drafting a novel on your laptop to having it published by a major publisher can be just as long and grueling a process as it is exciting and self-verifying. What is your most memorable experience with your editorial team thus far? Have there been any situations where you do did not agree with their edits, and, if so, how did you deal with this?

I’d like to think I’m both open to feedback—that’s why you have an editor, after all!—and firm in my vision for my work. When my agent sent the book to publishers and I spoke with the editors who were interested, I was lucky to find someone who shared my vision but could also improve on it. I have to say that the publishing process has been incredibly smooth and positive. My editor and I are very simpatico, and if one of us feels strongly, the other typically understands and cedes to them.

 

Question #10

All of your readers are dying to know: what projects are you looking forward to working on next?

I’m working on another novel, though I’ve had to set it aside entirely in the past few weeks, as publicity ramps up for The Immortalists. I’ll be on tour throughout January (feel free to link to the tour schedule on my website!), but after I come back and sleep for a thousand hours, I’m excited to get back to it.

 

Where the Tables Turn: Feel free to ask me any question you’d like for me to answer for my readers, and/or pose a question to your readers or the general public!

There are more ways for bloggers, reviewers and readers to connect with authors these days, but I imagine that presents challenges when it comes to offering unbiased coverage. How do you juggle connecting with authors and writing honest reviews?

To answer Chloe’s question (other reviewers and bloggers, feel free to join in!): That’s a really great question. For me, writing reviews is about honesty, exploration and being 100% myself. I think—and I hope!—that that’s why my readers keep reading and following. I appreciate every author who takes the time from their busy lives to interact with me and the readers, while at the same time I think it’s important to give a fair review that is genuinely how I feel about the book. (Ironically, the only 1* review I’ve ever written is my most famous, with nearly 700 likes on Goodreads and counting—people love a good takedown.) Of the authors so far who are participating in this series (2 of which are not yet posted) I’ve given two 3* reviews, a 4* review and two 5* reviews. I’m just as excited to interview a 1* star-reviewed author as I am to interview a 5*-reviewed author, because it allows all readers to get to know that writer and their work—AND it allows me to ask questions that may clear up sour points in their novel for me.

Writing is an objective art. I don’t only write reviews; I’ve just completed my own novel and I’m working on a short story collection. I know that criticism can sting but that it can also add a new and dynamic POV that others had not thought to explore before. Being able to straddle that line allows me to juggle connecting with authors on a human level with writing honest reviews of their work. I would never embellish or mark down a review for likes or to get an author to work with me—BUT I do sometimes round stars up for novels that have a message I loved with a delivery I did not or some other incongruence such as that. For me, each rating is about the reading experience as a whole on an intellectual level. 🙂

The Jekyll & Hyde & Various Sides of Writer Joy Lanzendorfer

To start the New Year of 2018 off with a BANG, if you’re looking for a dynamic writer you may not have encountered yet, look no further, for Joy Lanzendorfer is here! From short stories to blogging, photography to non-fiction articles, she shares her writing experiences with us here at The Navi Review. Oh, and don’t worry – she’s no Mr. Hyde, but you’ll love reading about her interest and experience with it!

Question # 1

You have written dozens of freelance articles for publications such as Mental Floss and The Atlantic, including many “facts you didn’t know about____” pieces. Where do you come up with the ideas for these pieces, and how do you know all of these fun facts?

I get ideas by noticing connections and asking questions. I find that when you follow your curiosity, one thing leads to another, and you end up making discoveries. For example, I became interested in Robert Louis Stevenson’s time in Napa, near where I live, because he honeymooned on a mountain that I’ve hiked before. In researching that, I learned that he stayed in a hotel in Monterey that still exists, so of course I had to visit that too. While there, I learned that he got the idea for Treasure Island from Monterey—while there, someone found Spanish coins on a beach and people speculated that pirates had put them there. I also learned how sick Stevenson was while in Monterey, and I started wondering how a man who died at age 44 from tuberculosis managed to accomplish so much in his life—he traveled much of the world and wrote a bunch of best-selling fiction. And THAT led to the discovery that he likely wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde while on a cocaine binge. He was prescribed the drug and then wrote the novel in just a few days after he started taking it. Naturally I had to share all this with Mental Floss, which I did in my article 11 Strange Facts About Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (http://mentalfloss.com/article/67769/11-strange-facts-about-dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde). So that’s an example of how I get ideas. Lots of curiosity, lots of research.

 

Question #2

You maintain a blog at www.ohjoy.org where you post everything from short stories to vacation photos to articles you’ve written for various publications. How has blogging helped you in your writing career, and what drives you to continue blogging?

It’s funny because I made my first website in 1996, and I’ve been online in some way since then, but it hasn’t helped my career at all until recently. I think the difference comes from building up social media, which I started doing about three years ago. Having more of a Twitter presence means that if followers are curious about me or read something I wrote, they’re more likely to go to the blog to see who I am. Sometimes that means they’ll reach out to me professionally. When I put up that I was looking for a literary agent, several agents saw it and emailed me, which never would have happened before I was on Twitter. I don’t think writers have to blog, but I do think it’s smart to have some kind of site with your bio and contact information. These days, people want to see who you are online.

Question # 3 

That would be “You’re A Good Man, Andy Hardy,” which was published in Hotel Amerika, and unfortunately isn’t online. It’s about the Andy Hardy movies of the 1930s, which starred Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. The story is from the point of view of Betsy Booth, Judy Garland’s character, and it deals with gender inequality and traditional American ideas of what makes people “good” and “bad.” It’s the closest I’ve come to writing in the creative mode I’d ideally like to stay in, which is somewhat surreal and lyrical while still humorous. And the story gave me no hassle and came together easily, which makes me like it more.

Question #4

You seem to have a real passion for photography. Your blog features everything from nature photos to candid shots in everyday life. How did you develop your passion for photography, and how does this impact your writing?

Good question. I’ve never thought about this before. The short answer is that I’m just a creative person and I’m always making or recording or expressing something in some way. I cook and garden and sew and knit and all kinds of crap like that. I also come from a creative family. My grandfather was a photographer, my mom’s a painter, and my dad builds things out of wood, so it’s no surprise that I’m a visual thinker. Photography allows me to express my experience of a situation visually, and I like to share that experience with others. (My mom also makes oil paintings from the pictures I take, so I do a lot of it for her.) As for my writing, it’s useful to have a visual record of things I’ve experienced because I might want to describe something from it in the future.

 

Question #5

You’ve written and interviewed extensively on “The Rise of Plagiarism in Self-Publishing.” For those who haven’t read your work on this (which can be found at www.ohjoy.org), what circumstance have you personally encountered that has made you such a passionate voice about this?

I don’t think anything I’ve written has been plagiarized, although who knows? I’ve never looked. But I can’t imagine anything worse than someone taking your work and passing it off as their own, especially if it’s your creative writing. This may make me seem petty, but in school I hated when people copied me. I really couldn’t stand it if I did something original and someone else started doing it too. So I empathized with the writers in that article, especially since they had so little recourse for protecting their work.

 

Question #6

In your flash fiction such as “Murmur” and “Drought,” you pack social commentary into short reading doses. Do you find that it’s easier or more difficult to make an impact with flash fiction than with longer short stories or full-length fiction? What is your preferred medium of writing, and why?

I prefer novels. With novels, you have room to build worlds and develop characters, and the reader is more likely to go along with you. I think full-length short stories are the hardest things to write, period. They’re very finicky. They work best when the ending resonates, which means that writing them is a matter of setting out the exact components of a story—no more, no less—that lead to an earned ending that somehow equals all that came before. That’s hard to get right and it’s easy to think a short story is done when it’s not. Short-shorts are easier for me. They have to shift in some way to be a “story,” but that shift can be interpreted many ways, which means they’re more experimental. I like to experiment.

 

Question #7

What forms of writing have you not yet experimented with, and would you like to ever try writing in those forms? What makes those forms so different from the writing you do now?

I’m interested in playwriting. When I was in high school, I would go to the library, get out stacks of plays, and then read them, one after another. Because of this, the structure of a play is burned in my brain. I still read plays and keep up with current playwrights. Writing in all dialogue would come naturally to me, so maybe I’ll give it a try some day.

 

Question #8

Which of your stories is the first short story you ever had published in a literary magazine, and what was that experience like?

It was in college. It was a short story for a magazine called Straight Up!, or something silly like that. The story had to do with a glass swan, if I remember correctly. I probably have a copy up in the attic. It was a big deal to me because they paid me $80 for the story, which was the first time I was paid for something I wrote. At the time, I was debating whether or not to be a writer, and that story pushed me over toward writing, for better or worse.

 

Question #9

What is the strangest compliment you’ve ever received regarding your writing?

At a party recently, I ran into someone who was at a reading I gave 7-8 years ago. The story I read was about a creepy stalker with a glove fetish. Apparently my story freaked out this woman so much that she can’t look at gloves without thinking about it. She said I changed how she looks at gloves. Imagine that! It was one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received.

 

Question #10

Tell us one awkward/embarrassing/unique fact about yourself.

 

I asked my friend what I should say here, and she reminded me of the weird things I do to myself when I’m writing. I’ll wrap myself in multiple blankets so not the slightest shift in air temperature can penetrate my skin, then I’ll put giant headphones on to block out noise, and then, if the light is bothering me, I’ll slap a sunhat on top of my head. I’ll look like a mummy with a crumpled sunhat on its head. It’s the most unsexy, silly way to write, but it helps me concentrate when I’m not distracted by bodily discomfort. It’s like putting blinders on a horse so it can concentrate on walking down the street.

 

Where the Tables Turn: Feel free to ask me any question you’d like for me to answer for my readers, and/or pose a question to your readers or the general public! 

 

What’s your favorite writing prompt? I like looking at the Post Secrets site for inspiration. (https://postsecret.com/)

 

To answer Joy’s question (readers, feel free to jump in and respond as well!) I tend to prefer prompts that push me outside of my comfort zone but not so far as to go completely to left field. For example, I love the prompt “Write about somebody who is COMPLETELY unlike yourself.” That’s how my short story “Kid Gloves” was written, from a prompt I was given years ago. However, if I was given a prompt like “Write about a Martian living on Mars” I’d be at a complete loss!

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The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Hardcover, 352 pages
Expected publication: January 9th 2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

“There are two major theories about how to stop aging…”
“…It sounds like you’re saying we can choose to live. Or we can choose to survive.”

Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists is a thoughtfully executed novel written in simple, yet often poetic, prose that allowed the characters’ voices at their most forceful to shine on their own past the narrative itself. More than that, it is a novel crafted around a question we all ask ourselves more often than we’d care to admit: “Is it more important to truly live or to survive? To dare to dream at our grandest or to play it safe?” And, if you knew the exact day on which you’d die, would you live your life any differently than you would without that hateful knowledge?

In their youth, the Gold siblings follow a rumor to the home of a Gypsy fortune teller who gives them the knowledge they seek: the exact dates of their deaths. These prophecies propel them forward for the rest of their lives, influencing their decisions, changing the courses of their lives and plunging the question into the forefront of their minds forever: Was the fortune teller right, and, if so, can they change the course of their own fates?

It’s an intriguing idea, we must all admit. A scary one. A downright chilling one. And the leitmotif Benjamin poses to her reader manifests itself throughout the novel with compelling force, from the exploration of God and country’s place within our existence, to what the prophecy of one’s own death does to such beliefs. Do we cling to such notions and ingrained dogmas all the way to the end, cowering under them safely like warm, childhood blankets, or using them to fortify us in our resolve and everyday decisions—or, do we slough off and away such religious and secular beliefs and become our own reason for living, our own life force, whether to our own detriment or benefit?

The Immortalists bounds along a timeline spanning five decades, trotting through the start of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco—

“You weren’t terrified?”
“No, not then…When doctors said we should be celibate, it didn’t feel like they were telling us to choose between sex and death. It felt like they were asking us to choose between death and life. And no one who worked that hard to live life authentically, to have sex authentically, was willing to give it up.”

¬–toward Las Vegas in the 80s and into the early years of this century, tackling tough questions, such as the logistics behind increasing the human lifespan—and the politics of attempting such a thing. For readers who enjoy novels of sweeping timelines, they’re sure to find a treat in Benjamin’s latest novel. The period settings weren’t quite as immersive as I’d hoped—the societal and technological differences in backdrop between the decades were noted but not submerging in a way that allowed me to really feel I was moving from decade to decade with true authenticity. However, what I did take from this book were lessons to carry with me, delivered by poignant phrasing that outshone the actual stories of the four siblings’ lives. And that resonated loudly enough to forgive such specifics.

I had an interesting relationship with this novel as I continued my reader’s affair with it. I could not relate specifically to any one of the characters in this book. I would not have been friends with any of them in real life, and I did feel that some of the plotlines were predictable. BUT, I learned a lesson from every single one of the siblings that I took with me until the end, and each of those moments of recognition were special.

What do you want?…and if [she] answered him honestly she would have said this: To go back to the beginning. She would tell her thirteen-year-old self not to visit the woman. To her twenty-five-year old self: Find Simon, forgive him…She’d tell herself she would die, she would die, they all would…She’d tell herself that what she really wanted was not to live forever, but to stop worrying…”

This is a novel with a strong core and a big heart, with a moral and a central theme to tie all the threads together. Chloe Benjamin’s second novel continued her thus-far-established trend of exploring existential questions in our everyday lives, creating a brand for her that is sure to glimmer and shine, attracting new readers from far and wide. 4 stars ****

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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**Exclusive CHLOE BENJAMIN INTERVIEW to come!!!**

Chloe  Benjamin Chloe Benjamin is the author of THE ANATOMY OF DREAMS (Atria, 2014), which received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was longlisted for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. Her second novel, THE IMMORTALISTS, is forthcoming from Putnam. A graduate of Vassar College and the M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Wisconsin, Chloe lives with her husband in Madison, WI.

Francesca Hornak Muses on her Journey to Seven Days of Us

Hardcover, 368 pages
Published October 17th 2017 by Berkley Books

Hey Navi Review Friends & Followers! Seven Days of Us hits the bookstores TODAY, and Francesca Hornak has stopped by to tell us more about her journey to writing and completing her debut novel, Seven Days of Us! This witty author has crossed over from article writing to offering us her first full-length novel, and this exclusive interview celebrates her journey from intern to fashion writer, contributor for The Sunday Times to debut fiction author! From parenting to wardrobe mishaps abroad, Francesca Hornak bares it all with us!

 

Question # 1

The number and caliber of publications you’ve written for is impressive! Could you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a columnist and sought-after magazine writer? How have your personal experiences affected your desire to pursue that field, if they did?

Thank you! I’ve just always adored magazines, and still find them completely compulsive. My parents didn’t really buy them, so they held this exotic allure for me. I vividly remember, aged seven, reading a copy of Vogue that a guest had left in our house and becoming obsessed with supermodels, especially Cindy Crawford. In all the photos from that summer I’m pouting and flicking my hair around. I know this is exactly why people disapprove of the media – I’m afraid I was a textbook case!

As for how I got into writing for magazines, I wrote to all my favourite titles asking for work experience and got a few internships during my university holidays. That led to a junior job at In Style when I graduated in 2005 (it was all a bit easier then, when there was still money in print journalism!). I loved the glamour and urgency of the offices – after three years of academia that was a massive relief.

Question #2

You’ve written a slew of articles for The Sunday Times and other publications. One of my favorites was your 2016 article “The Pointlessness of Parenting Guides” that appeared in Red, where you made some very convincing arguments about “ditching” the trend of parenting guides! What was the final straw in parenting that made you so compelled to write that article?

I think the final straw was a chart in a chapter on weaning, in a book called Coping With Two (yes, I was still reading these books after my second baby…) It had one column for messy foods, and one for less messy alternatives – supposedly to help you keep your house under control. It literally went ‘grated cheese’ vs ‘sliced cheese’, ‘full cup of milk’ vs ‘half full cup of water’ etc. I know the brain numbs a bit after a baby, but still!

Question #3

Your debut fiction novel, Seven Days of Us, hits the shelves in the U.S. in mid-October! What was the most difficult aspect of switching over from article writing to being a novelist? What about that process did you find more satisfying than column writing?

The hardest thing is not being able to hold every paragraph in my head, like I can with a 500 word article. The most satisfying thing for me is pacing the story – deciding to keep the reader in suspense, shocking them with a twist, giving them something funny after a sad episode and so on. With journalism, it’s just about conveying information or opinions as smoothly and entertainingly as possible.

Question #4

Where were you when the idea for Seven Days of Us came to you, and what compelled you to really sit down and bang it out at your computer?

I was staying with my parents-in-law’s house, in the week before Christmas. My best friend, who was treating Ebola in Sierra Leone, emailed me to say she was going to have to spend 30 days in quarantine at home when she got home in January. I wrote back to say it sounded like a budget modern play where the actors just sit in one room, and then I suddenly thought that a quarantine could be a neat fictional device to intensify the standard family Christmas set up.

The thing that compelled me to get it down on paper was a positive pregnancy test. I’d already had one baby, so I knew from experience that when I had another there would be no time to write. That 9 month deadline was the best incentive I’ve ever had to stop procrastinating. Unless I want a huge family I’m going to have to find something else in future, though.

Question #5

Who was the most difficult character for you to write in Seven Days of Us? Who was the most fun to write, and why?

The hardest was probably Olivia, because I don’t have much in common with her character – she’s quite reserved, and very earnest. The most fun was Andrew, because everything irritates him, so his parts were a chance to rant.

Question #6

From my time living in England, I know that there are so many stereotypes of American mores and behavior, one of which you very hilariously pointed out in Seven Days of Us:

“Guns? Guess he is American,” she said, as if it was an embarrassing medical condition.”

What has been your most memorable experience with someone from a different cultural background or nationality from yours, and how do experiences like that help you as a writer (and on a personal level)?

When I was 18 I did a teaching programme at a primary school rural Belize, and stayed with a host family. At first I followed the advice we’d been given about dressing very modestly, but after a couple of months when it became really hot I slacked off a bit and started wearing shorts and t-shirts when I wasn’t teaching. I’d noticed that other girls in the village wore the same, and I didn’t consider that as a teacher it wasn’t appropriate – or that, as a foreigner, different standards might apply to me. One day, an older woman in the village told my host mother that I dressed like a prostitute, and that I wasn’t fit to be a teacher. I came home to find my host mother at the kitchen table in tears, saying she was ashamed to have me in the house. It was absolutely mortifying, and I really realized how naïve I’d been. I wish I could say it had helped me personally, but I’m not sure it did as it was such a confidence knock! But it did teach me (the hard way) that you shouldn’t second guess at the rules when you’re away from home, and that just because people are smiling and waving doesn’t mean they actually like you! On the plus side, those kind of excruciating life experiences are helpful when you’re writing. You don’t need to be writing about the same incident – I think I had some of that pain and alienation in mind when I wrote about Jesse shaming himself as the guest, and foreigner, in Seven Days Of Us.

Question #7

In Seven Days of Us, the father, Andrew, is a writer as well. He has several witty interactions with his editors throughout the novel that give readers a glimpse of the tug of war writers can sometimes have with their editorial teams! What is the most memorable “tug of war” you’ve ever had with one of your editors, and why was that issue so important to you?

So many! I used to be really precious, unnecessarily precious, about tiny changes. I must have been so annoying to work with (I got ridiculously stressed once because a sub-editor insisted on changing ‘his bicep’ to ‘his biceps’, which is technically correct but sounds stupid because nobody ever says ‘biceps’. I do stand by this, but my rage was disproportionate).

It wasn’t actually a style issue, but my favourite altercation with a sub editor was when I was a 25 year old fashion writer for a newspaper, and had a tiny section, literally one newsprint column wide, called ShopSpy. One day I wrote: “This week I’m loving this gigantic cocktail ring by new designer xxxx….’. But the sub-editor hyphenated ‘cocktail’, so that it in the newspaper it read like this:

SHOP SPY

This week I’m

loving this

gigantic cock-

tail ring

Haha.  It was a very awkward middle aged male sub – he went bright red when I came up to point it out to him. 

Question #8

With all of the great hype and reviews of Seven Days of Us, your readers are surely looking forward to your next works, too! Can you tell us what upcoming projects or articles you’re interested in working on?

Thanks! I’m writing a novel set around a communal garden in London. If Seven Days Of Us was about family, this is about community. 

Question #9

What is the strangest compliment you’ve ever received regarding your writing?

It’s not a strange compliment in itself, but I’m always surprised to hear people call it ‘warm’ or ‘heartfelt’ or ‘moving’ because to me my take on the world is quite critical. But I do cry easily, so maybe I’m soppier than I realise.

Question #10

Tell us one awkward/embarrassing/unique fact about yourself!

I love anything miniature. I had an amazing dollshouse when I was a child, but an adult playing with a dollshouse is creepy so I have to make do with sample toiletries and those teeny jams you get with hotel breakfasts.

 

Where the Tables Turn: Feel free to ask me any question you’d like for me to answer for my readers, and/or pose a question to your readers or the general public!

Question for you and your readers:

What one thing makes you fall for a book?

 

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Sarah Schmidt Pulls the Curtain Back on her Debut Novel, See What I Have Done

Hardcover, 328 pages
Published August 1st 2017 by Atlantic Monthly Press (first published March 28th 2017)
Hey Navi Review Followers! See What I Have Done hit the shelves a couple months back to rave reviews and more than a little press! Everywhere I looked, I saw this book–and its very talented, very candid author, Sarah Schmidt. After reading and reviewing the novel, I just HAD to know more about her and this book! Her zany tweets never fail to amuse and neither does she herself. In this exclusive Navi Review interview with her, we get up close and personal with the author of this celebrated novel about that infamous day in 1892–the Australian phenom herself, Sarah Schmidt.
Question # 1
It is so cool that you work around books all day at a public library—what a great place for a reader/writer! Could you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a published author? How did your work in libraries affect that journey, if it did?

 

I began working in public libraries around 4 years ago, so I was well and truly deep into writing See What I Have Done by that stage. But the catalyst to work in this area was the impending birth of my daughter. I remember sitting at my desk writing the novel and all of a sudden I had this overwhelming feeling of impending doom that to this day I still can’t completely describe. That’s when I started thinking about what was important to me and working in a community service organisation was up there. That feeling of urgency also helped push me to get the manuscript to a place I was happy with and do something with it. It took a few more years but it was the push I needed.

Question #2

See What I Have Done is told from multiple POVs in a 19th century setting. Was it difficult to write from so many perspectives and in such a setting? What was the most difficult and the most fun part about that?

In the beginning all I had was Lizzie and I knew immediately that she was never going to give me a complete story. She was always going to hide things, even from herself. I also couldn’t bear to be in her head for long periods of time. That’s when I started dragging other characters in and hoped that somehow these separate narrators would give as a ‘whole’ story in some form. I knew that if I could find empathy for each of them, even Benjamin, then I could find a way to write that point of view. Once I gave in to their wants and needs I really started having fun. Benjamin and Lizzie are the worst people and they would do and say things that I’d never dream of doing. Pushing your characters to do more and more is very satisfying!

Which brings me to the problematic nature of finding balance between your natural writing style and voice versus the voice of the character. I found this the most difficult aspect and although not perfect, I think I was able to find a balance. I know readers have said that they found Lizzie and Emma to be very similar. And I agree. That was a deliberate choice: I wanted them to be so similar because of their parasitic relationship and close proximity.

In the beginning I ‘forgot’ that this book was set in the 19th century and wrote it as if it was happening now. Obviously you bring in the social context of the time to fill the world you’re creating and to give your characters plausibility but I found the more I tried to remind myself this was 1892 the harder it became to write. I added details like clothing, transport etc at the very end of the process.

Question #3

Who was your favorite character to write in See What I Have Done? Who was the most difficult?

At different stages I had a favourite and for years I was addicted to Lizzie. She preoccupied my thoughts at all times and even now I consider writing new scenes for her because I’ve become so used to her being a shadow.

But my favourite character to write was probably Bridget, not least because she knows that family is utterly dysfunctional and had total motivation to leave that house.

Question #4

As a working woman and writer, how do you manage to keep your life balanced? Do you have any tips for other writers on how to manage it all in today’s busy world?

I’ll be honest: I’m not sure I have found a balance. Before I had my daughter it was a bit easier to work and write. I had structure. But things will always change and you need to adapt for where you are at that stage of your life, especially if you decide you’d like to have children.

The only thing I know for sure is that if you really want something you’ll figure out a way to get it done. For a long time after I had the kid, the only way I was able to write See What I Have Done was to get up at 5 am and write for an hour before work.  Often that was all the time I had so I used it wisely. It’s slow going but that’s ok. The other thing I’ve learnt is that you need to take care of yourself. If writing is that thing that makes you happy, makes you feel your complete self, do that and never feel guilty. Because men don’t.

Question #5

Do you think the mystery will ever truly be solved on whodunit?

I don’t think it will and I’m okay with that! I think the mystery is what fascinates and if we were to find out, I think a lot of people would be disappointed. I still maintain that the logical explanation to this case is the simplest: someone in that house is responsible.

Question #6

With all of the great hype and reviews of See What I Have Done, your readers are surely looking forward to your next works, too! Your online blog offers this info on your next project: 

“1. that it’s a dual narrative family portrait spanning 30-40 ish years.

  1. It is about a woman who takes a car trip with her child. Nothing is what it seems.

The working title is Blue Mountain. (You got 3. I’m generous like that!)”

Has blogging through this process been helpful to writing your next novel? If so, how?

It’s been helpful to blog in some ways because it’s forced me to think more logically about how I’ll approach this second novel. The first time around I went purely on gut instinct. That was fine except it took eleven years! This time around I’m still using my gut but encouraging it to be more focussed in some ways.

The other thing that’s been helpful blogging about the creative process is that it reminds me that the beginning of things can be hard and messy. You become very used to working on something that is draft ten, draft twelve. When you start something it’s horrifically beautiful. Your immediate thought is ‘This is shit. I can’t write. This won’t be anything good,’ but at some stage draft one begins to become draft two, draft three, and edges closer to being the manuscript you want it to be.

Question #7

What is the most interesting/funny/strange experience you’ve ever had working in the public library?

Where to begin! Public libraries are weird places. Most of my experiences have been relatively neutral but my work colleagues have told me some incredible stories…like the time they had to step over a sleeping man to get into the building. Only it turned out he was dead.

Question #8

What is the strangest compliment you’ve ever received regarding your writing?

Someone once told me a story about how they died five times. They said something like ‘I’m telling you this because you seem like the type of person who just gets it.’

Question #9

What is your favorite quote from SWIHD, the one that really made you feel one with the story?

Oooh, that’s a tough one. I don’t think there’s one singular moment (although the repetition of ‘the clock on the mantle ticked ticked’ really anchored a particular mood for the novel very early on in the writing process) however when I wrote Benjamin’s line, ‘I used to be butter – the way I’d disappear at the sign of heat’ I knew instantly who he was and what he was going to become. I also knew thematically what I could do with that line for other parts of the novel. Up until that moment I didn’t really connect with him. I have no idea where it came from but I’m glad it arrived when it did.

Question #10

Tell us one awkward/embarrassing/unique fact about yourself!

I feel my whole life could be summed up as one embarrassing, awkward moment after another!

There is however one moment that haunts me to this day and I can’t believe I’m about to make this public. The setting: high school, geography class. I got my period while standing at the front of the class giving a presentation. I had no idea it was happening and no one told me…until much later. I was mortified but the only thing I could do was just push on through the day and act as if it didn’t happen. I think that’s how I survived much of my teenage years.

 

You can follow Sarah’s blog here: https://sarahschmidt.org/

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