A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Laura Dave, author of London is the Best City in America and The Divorce Party (Viking) joins Vulpes Libris’s Lisa Glass for a chat about writing (and catastrophic computer accidents), selling film rights to Universal Studios, and a new approach to Valentine’s Day…
1) Tell us a bit about yourself. For instance: how did you start writing? What keeps you writing? Where do you write?
I have been writing – in some form or another – since I was in third grade. I really love the process of writing, and I always have, which is probably what keeps me working so hard at it. It is so magical to me – both telling stories and reading stories. I feel really lucky that I get to spend my time doing these things. Of course there are challenging days (and weeks! and months!), but…you know what? No but. There is that too, and part of really being a writer, I’ve learned, is taking it. And showing up for work anyway.
I recently turned thirty – 30! – but lived all over the country for most of my 20s. I have been back in New York City for the last couple of years – though I also spend quite a bit of time in California. In addition to writing fiction, I write for several magazines and newspapers such as The New York Times, Self Magazine, Glamour Magazine, and Blueprint.
2) Your book, London Is The Best City In America, is set over a weekend – how long did it take to finish writing the novel, and was it difficult to keep returning to the same weekend every time you sat down to write?
It took me about a year to write LONDON. It turned out to be both comforting and difficult to return to the same weekend every time I sat down to work. On one level, I had a really firm grasp on what I was trying to do. The weekend timeline provided me with needed structure and aim. Yet, on another level, the tight structure created a strong sense of responsibility in me to make the book read in “real time”- so that the reader would have a sense that he or she was actually going along on this one weekend with the characters.
Something that helped me a great deal was that I listened to the same song on repeat the entire time I wrote the book. If that sounds crazy…well…I can see why! But rhythmically, listening to the same song kept me in check. And I always had a sense of picking up where I left off. I take it as a major compliment that so many readers have written me to say they couldn’t put the book down – that they read it in one or two sittings – because it moved at such a strong pace. I owe a big thank-you to the music for helping accomplish that. The song? Not a particularly fast one but a great one: “Call Me On Your Way Back Home” by Ryan Adams.
3) Could you describe your experiences of the publishing industry? Has it all been plain sailing, or have there been setbacks along the way? Any more news about the movie for LONDON?
I feel lucky that both of my books have been with a wonderful publisher who believes in my work – and with a wonderful editor who gives 150% to help bring out the best in it. In that way, it has been smooth sailing. In other ways, less so. The publishing industry (and the movie industry, for that matter) can be tricky. My advice to new writers is always to surround yourself with people you trust to help navigate that trickiness – that way you can focus more on your work.
In terms of the movie situation, right now, Universal Studios has the film rights to LONDON. My fingers are crossed that the movie gets made!
The Divorce Party rights haven’t sold yet.
4) What should we expect from your next book, The Divorce Party?
I am very excited about The Divorce Party which is being released on May 19th. The book takes place in Montauk, New York – which is really a magical place. The novel focuses on two women at the opposite ends of marriage: one trying to navigate the end of hers, and her future daughter-in-law aiming to handle the beginning. Both women end up asking the same question: how do you ever know anyone? Even the person closest to you?
It is a multi-generational story about love and family – and the many ways we go about trying to build a life with someone. In many ways, I feel like it picks up where LONDON left off- I worked so hard on this book, and I can’t wait for it to come out.
5) Really looking forward to The Divorce Party. So is it true that you lost LONDON on your computer and had to start from scratch?
Thank you so much! I am really looking forward to The Divorce Party as well…only a few months from now, it will be on the shelves. As for the second part of your question, It is true that I lost the first version of LONDON. I spilled water on my computer–and fried the motherboard. Not a great day, to say the least.
But I went to the beach that weekend, and ended up watching fireworks, and realized that the book was supposed to start there: with a brother and sister, watching fireworks. I believed it so deeply in my gut that I ended up believing I was supposed to lose the first version of LONDON. And, in a happy ending, several months later, I found a hardware expert who was able to recover most of what I lost. But by then, I was invested in my new project. The only piece of the first version of LONDON that remained in the novel you have read was those first few pages when Emmy leaves Matt in the hotel room.
6) The brother/sister relationship was fascinating in LONDON, and I have heard readers say they thought it was almost as if Emmy had a crush on her brother Josh? Do you go along with that idea?
I can see why people say that – because she certainly sees him with rose-colored glasses. But, I don’t think Emmy has a crush on Josh. He is bigger-than-life to her-as many big brothers are to their younger sisters – but I think their connection feels heightened because we are meeting them at a very critical point: for the first time, Emmy is taking care of Josh as opposed to the other way around. This is a tricky new element to their dynamic.
7) What do your family and friends think of you being a writer? Did you ever meet any resistance to your writing ambitions?
Everyone is on board, thankfully. At the beginning though, I did meet some resistance – because no one knew how I was going to make a living. But, thankfully, that has worked out, and I am able to write full-time. Now, my family and friends are some of my best readers. Especially my dad who has such a sharp eye. He is very helpful to me.
8 ) Do you/your publisher see your books as chick lit? I’ve always thought of LONDON as a modern Great Gatsby. Or do you find categorisation a bit pointless?
I don’t usually like categories, but if I can take yours, I am in. 8) I love the idea that London is a modern day Great Gatsby. You are the second person to say that to me. (Which moves you and him to the very top of my list of favorite people!)
I can also see why someone would say my first book is chick-lit – a young woman on the cusp of a life decision is often categorized that way – but my second book really does not fall into that category. The Divorce Party has two narrators, one of whom is 58 years old, the other of whom is 30. Maybe they’ll call it hen-lit, who knows?
I just think it is notable that men writing fiction don’t come up against these categories in the same way…it makes it hard to write about relationships and domestic battles in a way that allows women to be taken seriously.
9) Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
It is truly a test of endurance, especially with novel writing. So much of the battle is figuring out ways to keep showing up. Prove to yourself that you take your writing seriously. Go to an MFA program, apply to a writers’ conference, get up at 4 a.m. two mornings a week to write while your family sleeps. No excuses. The more seriously you take your work, the better chance you have of continuing.
10) What was your best Valentine’s Day?
I am not a huge Valentine’s Day girl – I was forced to kind of rethink the whole thing when a professor of mine in college gave a lecture about the falsity of Valentine’s Day. Instead, he said, he did something AMAZING for his wife everyday of February besides Valentine’s Day. Since then, that’s what he’s got me wanting: I want my boyfriend to follow suit, and surprise me with a getaway on February 1st, and bake cookies sometime around the 15th. Oh well, at least I learned something in college! As for one of my fondest memories of Valentine’s Day – pre-professor – it was toward the end of High School. We had just started to drive, and my boyfriend at the time and I drove his car an hour away to this great place to hear music in New Jersey called Maxwells. We probably could have driven anywhere and I would have been thrilled, but Maxwells is a perfect place to hear your favorite band play. I still like to go there.
11) Which five books should we dash off and read ?
Five books I love (in the spirit of Valentine’s Day):
Feast of Love by Charles Baxter
The Lost Legends of New Jersey by Frederick Reiken
The Girls Guide To Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Thanks so much, Laura. It’s been great fun! And for anyone on the cusp of purchasing London is the Best City in America – it was by far my favourite read of 2007 and a story which has stayed with me ever since. It’s a gorgeous, thoughtful account of love and loss. Go buy it.
N.B. I’m sure the lovely Reese Witherspoon will do Emmy justice in the film version 😉
For more details about Laura click here.
In this article in The New York Times Laura writes about identity theft and Big Sur.
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