I "met" Brenda via the fabulous circle of women bloggers and writers in the Girlfriends Book Club, and she is every bit as sweet, thoughtful, and funny as her writing implies. I adore her! She recently re-released her first two novels Scot on the Rocks and Jack with a Twist, and her latest, Recipe for a Happy Life, was just released by St. Martin's Press this week! Brenda is offering one signed copy for a lucky reader--just leave a comment with your email address, and you're entered to win!
1) Tell us about RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE. How did you get the idea?
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.
As for where I got the inspiration, that would be my own grandmother, of course! One summer, when I was single, 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.
2) Does the book include recipes, and if so--which is your favorite?
Alas, no recipes. But I did love the recipes in YOUR short story, CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR! I’m going to try the spicy peanut noodles and the nostalgia risotto.
I usually cook by feel, so I don’t actually have any written recipes! But one of my biggest regrets in life is not writing down the recipe for my grandmother’s chicken fricassee. One of these days, I’m going to start experimenting and figure out how my grandmother made it so delicious!
3) What's your best piece of advice for an aspiring author?
I have lots! Here goes:
Keep writing! It’s so easy to get discouraged or feel like you don’t have the time to write. But like anything else that is important in life, you have to work at it and make the time for it.
There will always be excuses to avoid writing-- I have no free time, I have little kids, I have big kids, I don't have kids yet, my job is too demanding, I need to find a job... you fill in your own. If writing is really your dream, make the time. Start with a writing class, and then find a writer's group. Once you commit to taking the time to write, you'll be able to find the time to put pen to paper. (Or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be.)
Edit! Editing your work is almost as important as the writing itself. Sure, you’re telling your story, but it’s also important to consider the way that you tell it. You want your writing to be tight, elegant and polished. It can only get to be that way through careful and thorough editing.
Develop a very thick skin. You’re putting yourself out there when you write and not everyone is going to love what you do. But that’s okay! You’re not writing to please everyone out there. You’re writing because you have a story that you want to tell. So start getting used to criticism and then see tip #1—keep writing!
4) What book(s) do you love that you feel should be more widely read?
Oh wow. So, so many!! The publishing landscape has changed so much lately, and so many books are getting lost in the shuffle.
I’m a HUGE fan of your work. I recommend it to all my friends!!
I’m also a huge Elinor Lipman fan. I’m always shocked when I meet someone who hasn’t read THE INN AT LAKE DEVINE. That book changed my life! Without that book, I don’t think I’d be a writer today.
5) And--you knew it was coming--give us a juicy, horrific, shameful, cringe-tastic teenage memory.
Hmm, isn’t that just about EVERY teenage memory? Oh yes, maybe that’s just me. There was one in particular that is still particularly cringe-worthy for me.
Government In Action. Back in high school, it was my favorite club, what with my aspirations to be a lawyer, and eventually get into politics. Government. In. Action. Don’t you just love the drama of it?
Needless to say, we fancied ourselves very serious politicos back then—so much so, that for our big “Model Congress” weekend that we hosted, we got our state senator to come and speak at the Opening Ceremony.
We were thrilled. By getting him to attend, we’d accomplished something that no other Model Congress had done—we’d smoked them all. And, really, what else is an exercise in faux-politics but a fight to the death for total one-upmanship?
After weeks of waiting, our big weekend finally arrived. We were mere minutes away from our Opening Ceremony and couldn’t help but notice that our grand display was missing one very important thing: our state senator. I was one of the five students in charge of the weekend, and as the minutes ticked away, we all began to panic and run around the high school, looking for our state senator. Where was he? Was he going to show? Or was this just an evil trick on the part of Oceanside High School designed to make us look like fools?
I covered the parking lot and the gym and ran into one of my co-chairs just as I got back to the entrance of the auditorium. There he stood calmly with his father. How could be calm at a time like this? I was not calm.
I began ranting and raving about our friendly neighborhood state senator in a most un-statesman-like manner. Where was he? How dare he do this to us? Does he have no loyalty to his constituents? Or his constituents’s kids, as the case may be? What a *&%$# no-good politician this guy must be! Those politicians are all the same! My co-chair interrupted me mid-rant and introduced me to his father—who turned out not to be his father at all, but, of course, our state senator.
Is it any wonder that I scrapped the political career and became a writer?
Isn't she awesome! Thanks so much, Brenda! (And I didn't even pay her to say those nice things about my own books!) Don't forget to comment to win a copy of her amazing new novel (tell us a memory about your own grandmother...) Have a safe and happy Independence Day, everyone! No aiming the fireworks at your neighbor's house!
You can find Brenda online at her website, Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter at @BrendaJanowitz.