Thursday, July 25, 2013

Interview with Brenda Janowitz

I am delighted to welcome the lovely Brenda Janowitz to my blog today to discuss her latest novel, Recipe for a Happy Life, which was published earlier this month by St. Martin's Press.

Book Summary

Hannah Goodman doesn't grow up like most kids on the Upper East side. Her mother, Gray, is an award-winning photojournalist with little time for the banalities of child-rearing, and when she's not jetting off to follow the latest scoop, she's camped out at the Hotel Chelsea. The closest thing Hannah's got to a traditional matriarch is her grandmother—a glamorous widow six times over with a sprawling Hampton’s estate. But Gray is determined that her daughter resist the siren song of the trust fund set, and make her own way in the world. So Hannah does just that—becoming a successful lawyer in New York City, and dating a handsome musician. Hannah has it all, or so it seems, until one hot June day the carefully constructed pieces of her life break apart. When she throws it all in and seeks solace at her grandmother's estate, she discovers that where happiness is concerned, you don’t have to stick to the recipe. Read an excerpt:

Q & A

You are the author of three novels—Jack with a Twist, Scot on the Rocks, and Recipe for a Happy LifeDid you always aspire to become an author, and what/who were your inspirations?

I always loved writing.  In fact, it’s the reason I became a lawyer—trying to combine my love of writing with a more practical career.

I thought I could turn my writing hobby into a career by going into law and becoming a litigator.  And I did get the chance to write a lot, but legal writing is just not the same as creative writing. 

I worked for a large law firm, then clerked for a federal judge, and nothing ever seemed like the right fit for me.  I just wasn’t happy.  I’d find myself wandering the halls, thinking of the stories I wanted to write. 

Recipe for a Happy Life is such a great title! How did you come up with it?

As I imagined the grandmother character and the advice she would give to her granddaughter, I wanted her to be non-judgmental and focused solely on her granddaughter’s happiness.  The phrase “that’s not the recipe for a happy life” just came to me, and so I made it something that Vivienne says to her granddaughter often. 

Since one of the themes of the book is finding happiness, it was a perfect fit for the title.  And I think it encourages a dialogue—what is the recipe for a happy life?  How can we find it?  Did any of the characters in the book find it?  Can we choose to be happy?  I’ve spent hours debating with friends the question of whether or not we can choose happiness.  (I think we can.)

Can you give us a brief summary of the story?

Recipe for a Happy Life is about three generations of women with a culture all their own.  When Hannah finds herself spending the summer with her glamorous grandmother, a widow six times over, at her sprawling beach-front Hamptons estate, she learns that there’s more than one recipe for happiness. 
A story of mothers and daughters, grandmothers and grandchildren, Recipe for a Happy Life is a quirky story about correcting the mistakes from your past and trying to create a future for yourself. 

While you were writing Recipe for a Happy Life, were there any aspects of the story/characters that you found particularly challenging?

This novel took me years to write.  I began work on this novel back in 2006, before my first novel was even published.  But I don’t think I was ready to write this story just yet. 

With Recipe for a Happy Life, I was looking to do something different. Something more grown up.  Something deeper.  The idea for the book—a granddaughter and her grandmother out in the Hamptons for the summer—was originally played for laughs.  Much was made of the fact that the grandmother meets a man before her granddaughter does.

I did the first major overhaul of the novel while I was pregnant with my first son.  Everything was different for me—I was changing as a person, my voice was changing, and so, too, did this novel.  I began thinking more deeply about the ties that bind mothers and children, grandmothers and grandchildren.  How we hurt each other.  How we can forgive.  What that means.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I wasn’t ready to write a book about the bonds of mothers, grandmothers and daughters until I became a mom myself.  Once you become a mother, there are so many things you learn—like the way your mother and your mother’s mother love you.  You think you know love, but once you become a mother, you learn that there are different types of love.  I couldn’t write a book about women who loved each other that way until I experienced it myself.

As writers, we love all of our characters. But do you have a favorite one in this story?

I do! 

Hunter, the 14 year-old boy who steals Hannah’s heart, is my favorite.  When I began writing, I only intended for him to be in one scene—the big party scene where Hannah hides out in the kitchen instead of socializing.  But as Hunter interacted with Hannah, I found myself envisioning how he could be a larger part of the story.  And I kept writing more scenes for him.  I know you’re not supposed to play favorites, but with Hunter, I couldn’t help myself.

Like me, you write novels that take place in our hometown of New York. I always find NY—Manhattan, the Hamptons, etc., to be very inspirational. How does this setting inspire you?

I think the better question is: what doesn’t inspire me to write?!  I find inspiration in everything.  A comment here, a story I hear about, something I see on the news.

But New York.  New York could inspire even a person who didn’t have a creative bone in his or her body.  There’s just something about the energy, the vibe, the movement, that sweeps you up.

The Hamptons is the same for me—it’s the beach air, the feel of the sand between your toes, and the relaxed attitude that gets my mind going.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my fourth novel—I’m about 2/3 of the way done with a first draft, but the truth is, I never really know what the book is about until I’ve finished it. 

It’s how I process the world– writing about it. So most times, I don’t even know what I’m writing about until I finish the book. I need to take a step back, and it’s then that I see the way the world has influenced me.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about Recipe for a Happy Life?

I’d love to talk about the inspiration for Recipe for a Happy Life.

One summer, when I was single, my Grandma Dorothy informed me that she would be renting a house in the Hamptons.  No more of these silly share houses I was doing with my friends each summer.  They were getting me nowhere (read: still single and over thirty).  Instead, I was to stay with her and she would help me meet someone.  The only problem with this scenario was that I was sure she’d meet a man before I did.  She had sparkling crystal blue eyes and a killer figure.  My own hazel eyes and good birthing hips were no match for her easy glamour and style.

When she found out that a Hamptons summer rental costs more than the gross national product of some countries, the idea sort of fell apart.  But it gave me an idea—what if a young woman spent the summer out in the glamorous Hamptons with her even more glamorous grandmother?

Both of my own grandmothers really inspired me to come up with the character of Vivienne, the glamorous widow six times over.  Neither was a widow six times over, but both of my grandmothers were very glamorous ladies.  When I think of my childhood memories, I’m not likely to picture them in aprons baking cookies.  I picture them in evening gowns.

Thank you so much for being here today, Brenda! 

More information about Brenda/how to connect with her/where to find her books is below!

Author Bio

Brenda is the author of Jack with a Twist and Scot on the Rocks. Her third novel, Recipe for a Happy Life, was recently published by St. Martin’s.  Her work has also appeared in the New York Post and Publisher’s Weekly

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