Washington Square Q & A
It's time to head back to school and SheKnows Chick Lit recommends hitting the campus of Manhattan U -- the fictional university setting for Joanne Rendell's smart, fresh, academic chick lit novel Crossing Washington Square.
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SheKnows: You have a doctorate in literature, and spent your time in graduate school reading the classics. How did your time in graduate school affect you as a writer?
Joanne Rendell: My own academic experiences are everywhere in this book. Like Diana, I once taught Sylvia Plath to undergraduates. Like Rachel, I sometimes struggled to ignite a discussion in a classroom full of tired students. I've also seen firsthand how vicious, snobbish, and competitive academics can be with each other. Yet, at the same time, I have seen what a fascinating and important world academia really is. All great fodder for my fiction writing!
SheKnows: What classic authors are you a fan of? What is the significance of Jane Austen and Sylvia Plath in the novel?
Joanne Rendell: I'm a big fan of both Jane Austen and Sylvia Plath, but some of my other favorite classical writers are Virginia Woolf, Mary Shelley, Katherine Mansfield, and Emily Dickinson. Crossing Washington Square is loosely based on Austen's Sense and Sensibility -- with one character being led by her sense, the other by her sensibilities. I always loved how Austen examined these different characters -- their strengths and weaknesses, how they clash but also how they learn from each other -- and enjoyed putting it into a modern context. In my novel, Professor Rachel Grey is tempestuous and emotional and teaches chick lit in her classes. Meanwhile Professor Diana Monroe is cool, controlled and aloof. She's also a serious scholar of Sylvia Plath who thinks "beach" fiction or chick lit is an easy ride for students. Diana's situation also echoes Sylvia Plath's in some ways. We learn at the beginning of the book that Diana been abandoned by a brilliant and charismatic man, just as Plath was left by Ted Hughes.
SheKnows: Who are your favorite chick lit authors?
Joanne Rendell: (In order of preference!) Helen Fielding, Sophie Kinsella, Jennifer Weiner, Emily Giffin and Marianne Keyes.
SheKnows: How have things changed for you as a writer since your first book?
Joanne Rendell: Well, the economy imploded a couple of months after the release of The Professors' Wives' Club. Book-buying is no longer high on people's priorities, which I completely understand. If you are struggling to pay the rent, a trip to Barnes and Noble is probably out of the question. However, it does seem that for many people, books help soothe them and take their minds off these troubled times. I really hope my books can do this for readers.
SheKnows: What is the secret life of professors?
Joanne Rendell: When I was a student professors seemed so aloof and cerebral, I couldn't imagine them having another life outside of the university. It was as if they folded up and tucked themselves away amongst their books at night. But as Crossing Washington Square shows (and as I have learned since being a student), professors of course do have private lives full of love, hurt, loss, hopes, dreams, and sometimes scandals – just like everyone else.
The secret life of Joanne Rendell
SheKnows: What is the secret life of Joanne Rendell? What would your readers be surprised to know?
Joanne Rendell: Here are a few little secrets: I have a nasty habit of picking M&Ms out of trail mix. I can put one foot behind my head. I gave birth at home watching Terminator movies. I just got my New York Driver's license (and when I took the test I was the most nervous I have ever been). I once microwaved a sock to dry it out (I'd had a few glasses of wine beforehand!). My mum and brother live in Spain but I can't speak Spanish.
SheKnows: What are you working on now?
Joanne Rendell: 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.
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