3 Questions with Joanne Serling
Author visits Norwich Bookstore March 14th to discuss her debut novel about the power of families
This week we feature “3 Questions” with Joanne Serling, author of Good Neighbors, about whom Kirkus Reviews says – “[Serling] writes with verve and frequent insight”. In Good Neighbors, her debut novel, Ms. Sterling focuses on the lives of four young families in an idyllic suburb whose lives, views, and morality are challenged by one family’s upheaval.
Ms. Serling’s fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in New Ohio Review and North American Review. She is a graduate of Cornell University and studied and taught fiction at The Writers Studio in New York City. She lives outside of New York with her husband and children and is at work on her second book.
Ms. Serling will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, March 14th. This event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited. Please call 802-649-1114 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to save a seat and/or secure your autographed copy of Good Neighbors.
1.What three books have helped shape you into the writer you are today, and why?
Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell had a huge influence on me as a writer. It’s an indelible portrait of a housewife navigating the changing American landscape between the first and second world wars. Besides loving the depth and simplicity of the writing, I was amazed at the similarities between the domestic world of Mrs. Bridge and modern American motherhood. I thought, “Ah ha! I want to write about this!” and I pretty much ran to my local library and started what I hoped would be a contemporary version of the book. Needless to say, I got stuck around chapter four. I failed to grasp how nuanced and sharply observed Connell’s masterpiece is, and didn’t yet have my own Mrs. Bridge. But I held on to the idea of short, episodic chapters about domestic life and came back to that form when I landed on the idea for Good Neighbors..
I had a similarly charged reaction when I read That Night by Alice McDermott. Never before had I never read an author who unfolded a single event so masterfully, turning ordinary life into something dramatic and powerful in the process. I ordered all of McDermott’s books after that and just devoured them, underlining passages and trying to figure out her secret. The ‘secret’ is that she’s an incredibly gifted writer, but that exercise grounded me in the idea that everyday life can be made extraordinary with enough love and connection to the material.
Lastly, I have to mention Edith Wharton, particularly Age of Innocence, which I read in college, long before I thought I could dare to become a writer. Wharton’s book electrified me — I couldn’t believe that social class, much less romance, could be the stuff of literature– and that story planted the seed that money and class were worthy of exploration. Wharton is one of my favorite writers and like Mc Dermott, once I discovered her, I read all of her work.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Kate Walbert’s Our Kind in this list. Her wonderful stories about a certain generation of upper middle class women, told in the first person plural, were like a gateway drug for me. For many years and many drafts, I used a similar narrative style to help tell the story of Good Neighbors. Eventually, I switched the narrative to first person and relegated the large “we” narrator to the prologue and epilogue, but Walbert’s book was a huge inspiration.
2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?
I greatly admire Adam Haslett and would love the chance to tell him in person how much his books have meant to me.
3.What books are currently on your bedside table?
I actually bought a larger bedside table recently, because I had too many books and magazines to fit on the one I owned. But of course, the new table is just as crowded and there are still piles on the floor. All of this to say I’m a peripatetic reader who moves from short stories to novels to essays pretty regularly. In one pile is my stack of New Yorkers, Tin House, and Paris Review issues that I continually dip into when I have just a few minutes and want some nourishment.
Closest to my bed is my pile of current reads, which at the moment includes The Bitch is Back, a stunning collection of essays about women’s lives, and several new novels that I’m dying to start: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, Mira T. Lee’s Everything Here is Beautiful, and Rachel Lyon’s Self Portrait with Boy.
NOTE: As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing and the living of life, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”. In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore or bookstore related venues. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to both attend these special author events and read their books.