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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Interview with Joanne Serling, Author of Good Neighbors + Giveaway (US/Can)

I'd like to welcome Joanne Serling to the blog today to celebrate the exciting release of Good Neighbors from Twelve, a Grand Central Publishing and Hachette imprint!

Welcome to Books à la Mode, Joanne! Let's get this interview started.

Will you please share a brief introduction with us?

Joanne 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.

It's amazing to get to feature you today! Readers, here's a bit about the book, which hit shelves in February:

A searing portrait of suburbia, friendship, and family strained by a devotion to false appearances.

In an idyllic suburb, four young families quickly form a neighborhood clique, their friendships based on little more than the ages of their children and a shared sense of camaraderie. When one of the couples, Paige and Gene Edwards, adopt a four-year-old girl from Russia, the group’s loyalty and morality is soon called into question. Are the Edwards unkind to their new daughter? Or is she a difficult child with hidden destructive tendencies?

As the seams of the group friendship slowly unravel, neighbor Nicole Westerhof finds herself drawn further into the life of the adopted girl, forcing Nicole to re-examine the deceptive nature of her own family ties, and her complicity in the events unfolding around her.

What was the inspiration for the plot?

I originally wanted to write a short story about resilience and parenting. I was interested in exploring the ways that children can survive all kinds of difficult circumstances and grow up to be relatively stable and mature. But as I got further into the material, I found that I was as interested in the community as I was in the girl. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that that I grew up with a single mom in a tight knit community in which we relied on our neighbors a great deal. The adoption itself was a bit of a literary device. I knew that Nicole, the main character, considered herself to be an outsider and I wanted her attraction to the little girl to be based on what she saw as a similar life condition.

How did you come up with the characters and setting? How much was drawn from real life?  

I was an Editor for an affluent suburban magazine while I was writing Good Neighbors. Meeting so many different families, touring their homes and getting an inside look at their aspirations and anxieties had a huge influence on the setting and the themes of the book. But fiction is never straightforward. Your experiences get mixed up with your imagination and appear on the page as something recognizable yet invented.

As a huge fan of first lines, I’d love to hear the first line of Good Neighbors. Could you give us a brief commentary?

The book begins with a prologue entitled, “What We Thought We Knew” and the first sentence is:
We knew we lived on the nicest street in the nicest neighborhood in Fair Lawn.
Believe it or not, this was one of the last sentences I wrote. I’d finished a fifth or sixth draft of the book and was getting ready to send it out to agents when the prologue arrived like a song in my head. I had to pull my car over and start typing into my phone to get it all down. After spending so much time with my characters in their world, I suddenly understood that this was a book about people who had an idea about themselves that would be dramatically challenged by the end of the story.

Chilling how that expectation will be subverted! Did you also have the ending in mind?

I always knew that it would be ambiguous but it wasn’t until about draft 6 that I knew that it also needed to be dramatic and tragic. You cannot live a life of self-deception and not have tragedy creep up on you.

What are the novels that have most significantly influenced your life and your writing?

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 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. McDermott showed me that everyday life can be made extraordinary with enough love and connection to the material.

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.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Although I shouldn’t feel guilty about this, I love taking a break around 5pm to read in bed. There are usually a million things I should be doing, like starting dinner or paying bills, but thumbing my nose at my responsibilities gives me enormous pleasure and actually makes me a lot more efficient when I get back to business. I only wished I remembered to do it more often.

Where can you be found on the web?

Before we conclude this interview, what's something you'd like to ask our readers?

Do you believe Nicole did the right thing in Good Neighbors by calling Child Protective Services to report her suspicions about her neighbors? Why or why not?

It was a pleasure to be able to get to know you better today, Joanne! Thank you again for dropping by, and best of luck with future endeavors!


Books à la Mode is giving away one print copy of Good Neighborswoohoo! To enter, all you have to do is answer Joanne's question in the comments below:
Do you believe Nicole did the right thing in Good Neighbors by calling Child Protective Services to report her suspicions about her neighbors? Why or why not?
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Joanne and I really want to hear your thoughts! :)

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the tour publicist and publisher—a huge thank you to the lovely folks over at TLC Book Tours and Twelve Books!
Giveaway ends May 9th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US and Canada residents only. Sorry, everyone else! Please check my sidebar on the right for a list of currently running giveaways that are open worldwide—there are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!