It's an absolute pleasure to have fellow women's fiction author and Girlfriends Cyber Circuit pal Joanne Rendell here today, and to celebrate the release of her second novel, Crossing Washington Square (NAL trade, September 2009). Joanne was born and raised in the UK, but she now lives in New York City with her family. She also writes fabulous articles for The Huffington Post. (Here is a link to one of my faves. ;)
Of the new novel, Booklist said: “Rendell’s second novel is thoughtful and open, with plenty of interesting academic debate for truly bookish readers.” And, in one of my favorite quotes for this book, Nicola Kraus, NYT bestselling author of The Nanny Diaries wrote: "For every reader who has ever wondered why nineteenth century novels about women are called ‘the canon’, but contemporary novels about women are called ‘chick-lit’ comes a charming, witty and cerebral novel about Rachel Grey, an Austen-worth heroine fighting for love and respect in the academic shark tank."
Wonderful to have you here, Joanne!
New readers want to know about your book. Can you tell us the basic premise? Crossing Washington Square is a story of two very different women and their very different love of books. Rachel Grey and Diana Monroe are both literature professors in the old boys club of Manhattan University. While this should create a kinship between them, they are very much at odds and when a brilliant and handsome professor from Harvard comes to town and sets his sights on both women, sparks really fly!
Any fan/fan mail stories you care to share? My first novel was The Professors’ Wives’ Club. A couple of months after its release, a woman contacted me and said she’d read and enjoyed the book. She told me she was a professor’s wife and after a few emails, she revealed that she was the wife of a very distinguished professor of cultural studies whose work I’d read, who I’d seen giving keynotes talks at conferences, and whose work greatly influenced the writing of Crossing Washington Square. Not really a “rock star” moment, but still exciting to know the wives of influential professors (professors I really dig!) read my book.
Where do you write? I write at my desk at the front of our apartment. We live on a very busy street in Manhattan so my writing is “lulled” by taxis honking, firetrucks hooting, and jackhammers pounding. With all this practice, I could probably keep writing through a asteroid shower! (LOL!! And I stay up late, late at night so I can finally have some peace and quiet... I'm impressed by your concentration!)
What was your inspiration behind your latest novel? The idea for Crossing Washington Square evolved over a few years. As someone who has lived the academic life (I have a PhD in literature and now I’m married to a professor at NYU), I’ve always loved books about the university – novels like Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys, Richard Russo’s The Straight Man, Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, and Francine Prose’s Blue Angel. But what I noticed about such campus fiction was the lack of female professors in leading roles. Even the female authors like Francine Prose and Zadie Smith’s novels focus on male professors. Furthermore, most of these male professors are disillusioned drunks who quite often sleep with their students! I wanted to write a novel with women professors taking the lead and I wanted these women to be strong and smart and interesting – instead of drunk, despondent, and preoccupied with questionable sexual liaisons!
What line or section of your novel are you most proud of? Rachel Grey and Diana Monroe are both literature professors in the old boys club of Manhattan University. While this should create a kinship between them, they are very much at odds. Rachel is young, emotional, and impulsive. She wrote a book about women’s book groups which got her a slot on Oprah and she uses “chick lit” in her classes. Diana is aloof, icy, and controlled. She’s also a scholar of Sylvia Plath who thinks “beach” fiction is an easy ride for students. My favorite scene is where these two women face-off in a department meeting. Neither of the professors is a shrinking violet and thus sparks really fly! The scene was such fun to write.
If you were in charge of casting the movie adaptation of your book,
who gets the call? Crossing Washington Square loosely echoes Austen’s Sense and Sensibilty – with one professor being led by her sense, the other by her sensibility. I love the Ang Lee adaptation of "Sense and Sensibility" with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet playing the two very different Dashwood sisters. I’d love Emma and Kate to play my professors too! (Yes!! And I'd be first in line to buy a ticket for a film based on your book! Loved that adaptation of S&S, too. :)
Is writing your main job? If not, what do you do for your real source of income and how does it impact your writing? When I’m not writing, I’m hanging out with my six year old son who is homeschooled. Although, “homeschool” is somewhat of a misnomer 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 homeschooled 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!
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 a woman 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. (Sounds fascinating.)
For you, what is the most difficult part of being an author? Settling down to write. Once I get going, I love it. But there’s just that hurdle of getting going which is so hard -- especially these days when there are so many demands on authors to go online and promote our books. It is wonderful to meet people and connect and learn through the internet, but the web is also a huge procrastination vortex! I sometimes kid myself I’m doing promo work, but really I’m just wasting time snooping around on Facebook or reading other people’s tweets about what they ate for breakfast! (I wish I could say I had no idea what you meant...ha!)
Thanks so much for being here, Joanne, and congrats again on the release. I know it's on my TBR list already!! Everyone, if you're in the U.S., I hope you have a fabulous Labor Day Weekend. When you have a chance, I'd love to hear about anything fun you have planned. I have a family BBQ on Sunday and a date with my son to go to B&N together. Food and books! What's not to love about that? :)