Tell us about your most recent novel in 25 words or less.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
My life! Crossing Washington Square was completely inspired by own experiences. I have a PhD in English literature and my past academic life is everywhere in this book. Like one of my characters, Professor Diana Monroe, I once taught Sylvia Plath to undergraduates. Like Professor Rachel Grey, my other lead character, I sometimes struggled to ignite a discussion in a room full of tired students. I’ve also seen first hand how vicious, snobbish, and competitive academics can be with each other. Moreover, I know a lot of juicy ivory tower gossip!
Themes within the book are also inspired by discussions I had in grad school. I always loved the debate about “high culture” and “popular culture” – in other words, whether it is more important to study Shakespeare or whether popular writers like Stephen King and Nora Roberts are worthy of study too. This debate is important in the novel. Rachel is a scholar of popular women’s fiction (think Bridget Jones’ Diary), while Diana is a rigorous Plath scholar who thinks that popular fiction is an easy ride for students and worries that the study of the classics and “high” literature
might get pushed aside. Rachel thinks studying popular fiction is vital because, as she says in the book, “popular culture influences who we are, what we think, and what’s going to happen in our world and in our lives.” It was so fun bringing this debate alive in fiction.
What are you working on right now?
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.
If your book were to become a movie, who would you cast?
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. Therefore I’d love Emma and Kate to play my professors.
What tips would you offer to aspiring writers?
Join a writer’s group – either on or off line – right away! You can learn so so much from other writers. Not just about the craft itself, but also so much useful stuff about the business. I started off writing fiction without joining a group and I made mistakes which I think I just wouldn’t have made if I had had other writer’s advising me.
Try and write a set amount of words per day. When I was in grad school, I vowed to myself that I had to write 500 words a day. I kept to this pretty religiously and now, even though I write novels instead of academic papers, I do the same. It really works!
Keep reading. Writers must be readers. By reading other people’s books, we see and learn how words can be spun and stories can be told. There is nothing more vital to a writer’s diet!
Thanks so much, Joanne! I totally agree with that advice for writers. And the new book sounds absolutely amazing. (As does book number three!!)
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