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Litfan
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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Hi Joanna,

 

Thanks for the opportunity to read your first book and for being here to answer our questions.  I appreciated your answer as to the end of Lil's story-- I too had wondered about that and your explanation about her having no real place in the world makes a lot of sense. It was also nice to read about your process as a writer, particularly the way in which the characters took on a life of their own as you wrote, and sometimes developed into something other than what you'd initially envisioned.  Very interesting!

 

Stacie

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jpock
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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Hi, Joanna,

 

Are you concerned at all that the heavy Judaic references will be confusing to readers who live between the coasts where the Jewish population is less?  I am a lucky woman and am married to a Jewish man who has been helpful with the references that I didn't know and then there is also Google. :smileyhappy:  Being bilingual in German has gotten me through the Yiddish.  Will your book be published as Judaic fiction or will there be any help for those who are not familiar with the culture to not feel lost in the terminology?  Thanks for all your hard work and for answering all of our questions!

 

jpock

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chadadanielleKR
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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Maria, thank you for your answer. The N.Y. thread is worth reading.  N.Y. is definitely an important element of the book which is worth beeing carefully taken into consideration, like an additional character or a lively scenery.
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chris227
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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Joanna,

 

  Thank you for answering my question.  I understand what you mean about fiction opening up new worlds and I wasn't trying to imply that those unfamiliar with New York would not or could not enjoy the book.  I was just commenting on the fact that I found that the setting of New York City seems so important to the story that the city almost becomes another character.  I really couldn't imagine this story taking place anywhere else and personally I was glad I have some familiarity with New York but I must admit that there were certain points in discussion of locations where I felt a little lost, especially with the use of all of the acronyms which may be unfamiliar to people. 

 

 

 


 

 

Joanna_Smith_Rakoff wrote:


chris227 wrote:

Hi Joanna.

 

I am one of the readers who had a tough time with the first chapter but as I get further into am finding myself enjoying the book more and more. I am from NJ and am familiar with New York.  You use a lot of detail about NYC and the city seems just as much a part of the story as the characters themselves, when you were writing did you ever feel that people unfamiliar with NYC may miss something?  Did it worry you that many people may not be able to relate to the setting and the characters who are such a roduct f NYC?


Hi chris227, and thanks for posting.

 

No, I didn't worry at all about non-New Yorkers not getting parts of the novel. The truth is  that in order to write (not just the novel, but anything) I need to *not* think about readers at all, and just tell myself that I'm writing something for myself, that I may never show it to anyone at all. So I simply wrote the novel I wanted to write.

 

At the same time--and please don't take this the wrong way!--I don't really agree with the line of thinking that says: If you don't know New York, you won't fully understand this novel about New York (or enjoy this novel about New York). Fiction is about opening up worlds to readers, not replicating or confirming what they already know. And if you take that line of thinking further, it would mean, for instance, that I couldn't enjoy "Persuasion" because I'm not familiar with early 19th century Bath or Anna Karenina because I didn't live in 19th century Russia, which is absurd. Do you know what I mean at all?

 

All my best,

Joanna 


 

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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Chatterbox, hello, and I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get to your questions, which are excellent -- so much so that I've put off answering them, in order to truly think through my responses. (And, at the same time, I've been having a bit of trouble spending time on the boards over the past few days as I have a new baby who decided she wasn't interested in napping; luckily, I've been able to convince her of the virtues of daytime sleep.)

 

 You ask:

 

1. What  makes the generation of the 1990s distinctive to you? Is there any particular way in which their post-graduation struggles to come to terms with the 'real' world -- professional choices, relationship issues -- differed as drastically from those who came of age in the 60s, 70s or 80s as those of the women who graduated in the 1930s did from their parents' generation?

 

These are questions that I thought much about while writing the novel, though, of course, at a certain point I had to simply let them go and allow the story to tell itself.  The truth is that, in certain ways, I'm still struggling with the answers. But here's as close as I get to an answer: My generation -- meaning, kids who were born in the late 1960s and early- to mid-1970s -- grew up during the Reagan and first Bush administrations, an era largely similar to the one from which we're thankfully just emerging, in that the economy was ostensibly booming -- though the boom was as artificial as our most recent one -- and the government conservative and hawkish. To my mind -- and I was conscious of this as a teen -- this created a stifling social environment (which filtered down to high schools, those hothouses of social strata) that rewarded conformity above all, marginalizing those who didn't tow the party line. If you think about the pop culture of the 1980s, you see, over and over, stories of outsiders seeking revenge or struggling to find a place for themselves: those John Hughes movies, which have become an emblem of  (even a metonym for) the 1980s, or the black comedy, Heathers; the music that came to be known as grunge, so bands like Nirvana and so on, whose sound was formed in the 1980s (even though the music was popularized in the 1990s). In other words, many middle class kids felt hugely marginalized by the high materialism and superficiality of the dominant culture, and attached themselves to countercultural movements or ideas, much as did teens of the late 1960s and 1970s, but with much less idealism, because we looked around us and saw these one-time radicals driving BMWs to the Beverly Center or what have you.

 

And meanwhile, in terms of feminism -- our mothers were the first generation, right, who tried to have it all, to work *and* have kids, and we saw how exhausted and frazzled they were. (This, I think, is why so many of my peers are choosing to be stay-at-home mothers -- and finding that this isn't as satisfying as they expected, in many cases -- or to carve out careers for themselves in which they aren't a slave to office hours and regimens.) You mention models and, I have to say, so many of my female friends have, in a way, felt themselves to be decidedly without models for their marriages, their careers, their domestic lives. Like seemingly all previous generations, they've simply said "I don't want my life to be like my mother's." And so you see them accepting all these things that their own mothers rejected. (There's a reason why Mad Men has found such a wide audience....)

 

Anyway, that's just a start. What do you think about all this? It's sort of a huge question!

 

2. McCarthy's book had only female characters. Obviously, even women's colleges like Vassar now admit men, so it's natural that any "group" of today would include men, but what led you to include them in your 'inner circle' so that you were telling part of the story from a male viewpoint? What difficulties did that bring with it?

 

Honestly, I've always had lots of male friends, so I never even considered having all the characters be women. In fact, the first character I devised (before I knew the novel would be based on The Group) was Dave, and he was followed by Tal (who played a larger role in earlier drafts of the novel). So it didn't really cause any difficulties in the writing. It would have been more difficult to try to make all the characters female. Does that make sense?

 

3. What kinds of difficulties did you encounter in terms of trying to manage so many different characters? Did you ever consider breaking with McCarthy's model to focus on telling the story through the eyes of only two or three of these characters and their interactions with the others?

 

Well, the novel actually has fewer characters than McCarthy's, so I did do a bit of reduction. In earlier drafts, as I said, Tal played a larger role -- was in New York for more of the novel -- and there was another female character. But the first readers all really liked Sadie and suggested that I give her a more prominent role. One, very astutely, said, "She's like Emma, both in a good way and a bad way." At first, I rejected this notion. (And Emma is my least favorite Austen novel. I find that character really annoying.) But after months of thought -- and some time away from the novel -- I decided to embrace it and once I did all sorts of plot points fell into place, as did Sadie's character, which had been, I think, a bit more one-dimensional (she was *too* like-able).

 

At one point, my agent tossed out the idea of making the novel centered on a single character -- Sadie -- and I definitely gave it some thought, but what attracted me to McCarthy's novel was, in fact, its episodic nature and its large cast of characters. In the end, I streamlined the characters and the plot, so that it was less episodic -- so that, as they say, all the dots connected and there were fewer dead ends (Ed Slikowski, for instance, was originally a walk-on character who disappeared).

 

Does that answer your question?

 

Many thanks for making me think about all this!

 

And all my best,

Joanna


Chatterbox wrote:

Hi Joanna,

 

Thanks for being willing to participate in this kind of forum!

 

It's clear -- even if you hadn't acknowledged it yourself as you did in your postcript-- that this is an hommage to Mary McCarthy's "The Group", right down to the wedding that begins it and the event at the end (I won't indulge in a spoiler for anyone who hasn't gotten that far!)

 

I have a couple of questions that flow from that:

 

-- McCarthy's book was dealing with a generation that, in some ways, really was living in a "Fortunate Age". By which I don't mean the 30s, but rather, that they were the first generation of young women for whom attending college and having a degree of self-determination (real options) after graduation, something that made the contrast with their parents' generation that much more acute. What  makes the generation of the 1990s distinctive to you? Is there any particular way in which their post-graduation struggles to come to terms with the 'real' world -- professional choices, relationship issues -- differed as drastically from those who came of age in the 60s, 70s or 80s as those of the women who graduated in the 1930s did from their parents' generation? (Because that was what resonated most for me in The Group; the fact that there was no role model, in many ways, for what some of these women wanted to do, while now we have myriad possibilities.)

 

-- McCarthy's book had only female characters. Obviously, even women's colleges like Vassar now admit men, so it's natural that any "group" of today would include men, but what led you to include them in your 'inner circle' so that you were telling part of the story from a male viewpoint? What difficulties did that bring with it?

 

-- What kinds of difficulties did you encounter in terms of trying to manage so many different characters? Did you ever consider breaking with McCarthy's model to focus on telling the story through the eyes of only two or three of these characters and their interactions with the others? 

 

Thanks!


 

 

 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Hi biljounce63,

 

Okay, I've never read a thriller and had no idea there exists a thriller writer named Michael Connelly! So, no, I just chose that name because it fit with the character (the name and the character developed simultaneously actually).

 

I'm curious: Since you normally read a very different sort of novel, how was the experience of reading mine?

 

Many thanks and all my best,

Joanna


biljounc63 wrote:
I am interested in the naming of your charaters. As one who normally reads thrillers. I noticed in chaper six the FBI angent Sadie met ouside Cailin's apartment is named Micheal Connely. Is that some sort of reference to the thriller author of the same name?

 

 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Hi mv5ocean,

 

Your post made me smile, as you've pinpointed exactly what I wanted to do with the novel (sort of bore into each character). 

 

A few people have asked, as did you, with which character I most identify and it's a hard question for me to answer. The truth is: I identify with all of them, even the sometimes-odious Dave. (And even Caitlin. Really.) My favorite character, in a way, is Emily, as I strongly relate to her conundrum (family versus ambition) and her sense of obligation. But there is a piece of me in all of them. And, of course, I love Rose.

 

You also ask:

 

And have YOUR friends contacted you to find out if a particular character is related to them? It would seem as though your friends would actually TRY to find themselves in this novel.

 

Well, the book isn't out yet, so lots of my friends haven't yet read it. Those who *have* read it, have been less interested finding themselves in it, and more in telling me which character is based on which real person (and, of course, which one is based on *me*), and, in general, they've been very wrong! The characters are truly fictional but everyone assumes that the novel is straight autobiography or veiled memoir, because it's my first, and a coming-of-age tale, and I share some superficial qualities with my characters!

 

All my best,

Joanna


mv5ocean wrote:

Joanna thanks so much for sharing your book with us in this type of format. I've found that I enjoy your style of introducing a character in depth and would like to know which character you most identify with. And have YOUR friends contacted you to find out if a particular character is related to them? It would seem as though your friends would actually TRY to find themselves in this novel. Actually, I would imagine that wouldn't have to ask, they probably know who is who if they are honest with themselves. Best of luck on this venture and I look forward to reading more of the book!!!


 

 

 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Hi Darby,

 

The title is meant to evoke both the economic boom of the late 1990s -- which I think of as New York's most recent gilded age --  and the age of the characters. And, yes, the characters don't appreciate either! They have, in a way, opted out of the first -- as they've chosen fields that aren't affected by the tech boom -- and, like most youths, they're too self-involved to appreciate being young (but I think that's pretty typical). 

 

All my best,

Joanna


Darbys_Closet wrote:

Hi Joanna,

This is so great that you have the opportunity to discuss your book with a whole group of people before your book hits the shelves!  I would think it helps tremendously regarding future book interviews.

My question is short yet has me wondering....Why or How did you come about giving this book the title of "A Fortunate Age"?  I wonder about the title, because the characters, don't seem to be appreciating their current age.  Or is this a book where the title makes sense upon the books completion?

Thank you so much for your time and the best of luck to you!

Darby


 

 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Hi Kati, and thanks for your questions, which I've been thinking about for a few days now. You ask:

 

1. My question has to do with how you ended the novel. Was your intent to leave it open ended? Are you referencing the unstable current global and national environment with the tone of the final chapter?

 

When I first drafted the novel (with roughly the same ending), I wasn't consciously trying to say something about the state of the world (other than in the section about Sadie's fears). But as I revised it, I realized that, in a way, I did want to end on a note of uncertainty -- with the reader perhaps wondering if Sadie is going to leave behind her whole life and drive off with Tal, and perhaps how much Tuck did actually love Lil (even if that love was of a destructive sort) -- and, yes, it was reflective of my own anxieties and anger about the then-current administration (trying not to go into too much detail...).

 

2. Are you considering an epilogue to tie up each characters story?

 

No, but I am working on a short story about Tal. Do you think I should write an epilogue? What do you think happens to all of them?

 

3.  What is going on with Tal? Is he a nihilist, terrorist, or just severely depressed?

 

Wow! I didn't realize that anyone would perceive him as a terrrorist, but now that you write that, well, it makes complete sense. He is a bit depressed, yes, but I think he's just a person who truly follows his own path. My original intention was that he becomes religious -- that is, he becomes an ultra-Orthodox Jew (with a wife and many children) -- but I ultimately decided I wanted to leave things a bit more, to use your term, open-ended. I was hoping it would be clear that he becomes religious.

 

Thanks for these interesting questions!

 

All my best,

Joanna


Dances_through_Books wrote:

Hi Joanna!

 

Thank you so much for sharing your talents with us!  Congratulations on a great first novel! My question has to do with how you ended the novel. Was your intent to leave it open ended? Are you referencing the unstable current global and national environment with the tone of the final chapter? Are you considering an epilogue to tie up each characters story? What is going on with Tal? Is he a nihilist, terrorist, or just severely depressed?  Thank you for the opportunity!

 

~Kati


 

 

 

 


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Joanna_Smith_Rakoff
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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Donna, thanks so much! And you're right, it's very difficult, in some ways, to publish a novel -- especially after working on it for four years and letting no one (not even one's husband!) read it. But it's so interesting (and, okay, slightly weird) to hear people's responses. So many are so different than I'd ever expected.

 

Many thanks, again, and all my best,

Joanna 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Hi booksJT,

 

Everyone seems to think that and it definitely makes sense (she is, in a way, the central character, who brings the group together).

 

And, yes, I'm starting another novel -- and also working on some short stories, which may turn into novels (it's hard for me to write short) -- set in North Africa and London. Thank you for asking!

 

All my best,

Joanna


booksJT wrote:

Hi Joanna

Thanks for answering my questions. I thought you created Sadie first. Will there be any more novels in the future?


 

 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Stacie, hello, and thanks so much for posting. Yeh, it's interesting, how much changes when you write a novel -- or anything. I'm also a journalist -- I write for magazines and newspapers (though not as much now) -- and I'd often go into a story with a clear idea of how I wanted to start it -- what I wanted to say about the event I was covering or how I wanted to introduce the person I was profiling, for instance -- but by the middle of the piece, I'd be lost, uncertain of where I wanted to go from that initial idea. Sometimes it meant I had to scrap the whole idea and start from a different place, but often it just meant that I needed to step away from the piece, to take a walk around the block and think things through.

The process is, in a way, very different from the outcome, which seems like an organic, seamless whole (hopefully).

But as for Lil: I know certain readers have found her annoying (one person called her "a ninny"!), but to me, at this point, she's akin to a real person and it was actually very difficult to make the decision to kill her. Initially, I wanted to redeem her before she died, and I wrote in a whole other subplot involving her going to Afghanistan, but ultimately it was too much plot, and, moreover, I realized that I wasn't being brave enough to simply let her die, without going out in a, um, blaze of glory.

Anyway, thanks so much for your thoughts, and all my best,
Joanna


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

[ Edited ]

Hi Joanna,

 

Thanks so much for your visit here, I really enjoyed the novel and reading your posts here.

 

My question:  did the process of writing this novel change your perception of some of the specific neighborhoods you were writing about?  I've only lived in the city for a few months, but I felt that your portrayal of these neighborhoods - and especially, of the way that some New Yorkers talk and think about these particular neighborhoods - was dead on.  Subjects like gentrification aren't brought up directly in the novel very frequently but at the same time, it's an issue that seemed to me to be underlying in many areas of the book.  Did you start to feel different about these neighborhoods and about the changes they've undergone over the years as you looked at them through the eyes of your different characters?

 

Also, I happened to see this at a party during the time when I was reading the book, I thought you'd appreciate it :smileywink:

Message Edited by Jon_B on 01-22-2009 08:30 AM
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biljounc63
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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff


Joanna_Smith_Rakoff wrote:

Hi biljounce63,

 

Okay, I've never read a thriller and had no idea there exists a thriller writer named Michael Connelly! So, no, I just chose that name because it fit with the character (the name and the character developed simultaneously actually).

 

I'm curious: Since you normally read a very different sort of novel, how was the experience of reading mine?

 

Many thanks and all my best,

Joanna


biljounc63 wrote:
I am interested in the naming of your characters. As one who normally reads thrillers. I noticed in chapter six the FBI agent Sadie met outside Catlin's apartment is named Micheal Connelly. Is that some sort of reference to the thriller author of the same name?

 

 


Hi Joanna,

Yes, this is a very different type of book than I normally read. I did sign up for this group as an opportunity to expose myself to something different. I have read through chapter 12 to keep up with the schedule. To be honest I am finding the characters tough to get to know and the chapters too long for my taste. I find that at times I find myself skimming the pages rather that reading them to get to the end of the chapter. Over all I am liking the opportunity. This I'm sure is tough for you to as well to expose yourself to everyday readers on your first novel.   

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.
~ Joseph Addison ~

"Reading lets you visit the world of another"
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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Oh my God, Jon B, that calendar is hilarious! Thank you for directing me to it. (I’m sending it to several friends.) I especially love the cover guy.

And I’m so glad to hear that my portrayal of the neighborhoods in the novel—and, more importantly, the characters perceptions of them—strikes you as accurate. One of my fears, in letting others read the novel, was that they’d say, “I live in Williamsburg and it’s not at all like that” or what have you.

To answer your question: I’m sure that writing the novel changed the way I thought about the neighborhoods portrayed in it, but I’m not completely aware of exactly how (I may have to think about it a bit and get back to you in a few days). In part, this is because the neighborhoods themselves changed so dramatically over the years in which I wrote the novel (from about 2002 through 2007). Not to mention the dramatic changes that took place since, say, I moved to Williamsburg myself, in 1995. In many ways, the Williamsburg—and the Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens—that I was writing about is gone, overtaken by condo conversions and new development, and the sorts of people who were moving there in the late 1990s and shortly thereafter are now moving to Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, etc. (I’m sure you know all this. And I’m, of course, wondering where you live!) So, I guess what I’m trying to say is: That as I was writing about these neighborhoods, they were—as you say—being gentrified so, so quickly that I could barely keep up with all the changes. And my feelings about that gentrification are largely mixed. I don’t hate Williamsburg now, but I do miss the Williamsburg of six or seven years ago, before condos cluttered the shabby, low skyline, and when it still had the feel of a college town. In terms of Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens/Boerum Hill—where most everyone I know now lives (those that aren’t in Fort Greene or Clinton Hill)—my feelings are similar: It’s still pleasant there now, but I still sort of long for the days before there was an Urban Outfitters on Atlantic.


One other thing I’ll add, which has surprised many readers: I don’t live in Brooklyn. And (this is the surprising part), I left—egads!—ten years ago. Like Sadie Peregrine, I inherited an apartment on the Lower East Side, and, thus, because I’m not insane, I left a falling-down Williamsburg loft (similar to Lil’s…) and moved directly to the other side of the Williamsburg Bridge. In a way, I don’t know if I could or would have written this exact novel if I’d stayed in Brooklyn, as crossing the river – but visiting frequently – gave me a perspective that I’m not sure I’d possess if I’d stayed.

I know this doesn’t really answer your question, but I promise to think more on it and post again in a few days.

Thanks so much for posting, and more soon,
All my best,
Joanna

Jon_B wrote:

Hi Joanna,

 

Thanks so much for your visit here, I really enjoyed the novel and reading your posts here.

 

My question: did the process of writing this novel change your perception of some of the specific neighborhoods you were writing about? I've only lived in the city for a few months, but I felt that your portrayal of these neighborhoods - and especially, of the way that some New Yorkers talk and think about these particular neighborhoods - was dead on. Subjects like gentrification aren't brought up directly in the novel very frequently but at the same time, it's an issue that seemed to me to be underlying in many areas of the book. Did you start to feel different about these neighborhoods and about the changes they've undergone over the years as you looked at them through the eyes of your different characters?

 

Also, I happened to see this at a party during the time when I was reading the book, I thought you'd appreciate it :smileywink:

Message Edited by Jon_B on 01-22-2009 08:30 AM

 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Hi biljounce63,

 

Wow, that's great -- that you signed on to sort of expand your reading world.

 

And, yes, the chapters in my novel are long. I've read a tiny bit of genre fiction -- a few mysteries -- and I know the chapters are much shorter. In general, I guess, genre fiction tends to be much more plot-driven, right?

 

But perhaps one of the future First Look novels will be more to your taste.

 

Good luck and all best,

Joanna  


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Chris, yes, that strikes me as very right -- that New York is as much a character in the novel as any of the, er, humans in it. That wasn't my intention, per se, but I did definitely want to chronicle New York's recent history (and the experience of living through it, for a certain class of young persons), and I think as I wrote and revised New York became more and more my subject.

 

And I didn't mean to imply that *your* reading styles or habits were narrow! I just meant that, in general, I don't worry about fiction being too insidery. Some of my favorite novels have been about very specific worlds or cultures, in which, yes, confusing acronyms or jargon are employed Have you read, for instance, Mark Costello's weird, excellent novel "Big If," about secret service agents assigned to protect the vice president? I was constantly having to ask myself, "wait, what does that mean?" with regard to certain bits of shorthand, which *did* take me out of the novel a bit, but it also, ultimately, made it a more satisfying reading experience, ultimately, as I left the novel feeling that I'd truly entered into the world of those agents. Do you know what I mean at all?

 

All my best,

Joanna


chris227 wrote:

Joanna,

 

  Thank you for answering my question.  I understand what you mean about fiction opening up new worlds and I wasn't trying to imply that those unfamiliar with New York would not or could not enjoy the book.  I was just commenting on the fact that I found that the setting of New York City seems so important to the story that the city almost becomes another character.  I really couldn't imagine this story taking place anywhere else and personally I was glad I have some familiarity with New York but I must admit that there were certain points in discussion of locations where I felt a little lost, especially with the use of all of the acronyms which may be unfamiliar to people. 

 

 


 

Joanna_Smith_Rakoff wrote:


chris227 wrote:

Hi Joanna.

 

I am one of the readers who had a tough time with the first chapter but as I get further into am finding myself enjoying the book more and more. I am from NJ and am familiar with New York.  You use a lot of detail about NYC and the city seems just as much a part of the story as the characters themselves, when you were writing did you ever feel that people unfamiliar with NYC may miss something?  Did it worry you that many people may not be able to relate to the setting and the characters who are such a roduct f NYC?


Hi chris227, and thanks for posting.

 

No, I didn't worry at all about non-New Yorkers not getting parts of the novel. The truth is  that in order to write (not just the novel, but anything) I need to *not* think about readers at all, and just tell myself that I'm writing something for myself, that I may never show it to anyone at all. So I simply wrote the novel I wanted to write.

 

At the same time--and please don't take this the wrong way!--I don't really agree with the line of thinking that says: If you don't know New York, you won't fully understand this novel about New York (or enjoy this novel about New York). Fiction is about opening up worlds to readers, not replicating or confirming what they already know. And if you take that line of thinking further, it would mean, for instance, that I couldn't enjoy "Persuasion" because I'm not familiar with early 19th century Bath or Anna Karenina because I didn't live in 19th century Russia, which is absurd. Do you know what I mean at all?

 

All my best,

Joanna 


 


 

 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff


Hi jpock,

You know, I wasn’t actually concerned that the novel was too Jewish, mainly because to me, it doesn’t seem terribly Jewish (or particularly heavy on the Jewish references). The main characters, yes, are Jewish, but they’re highly assimilated and not particularly religious. Their Jewishness informs their identity but it’s not at the forefront of the novel’s plot; nor is it at the forefront of their minds.

That said, I feel like I have to point out that many of the more popular (and well-received) literary novels of the past, say, sixty years have either featured characters who are much more defined by their Jewishness (for instance, the works of Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Cynthia Ozick, and younger writers like Jonathan Safran Foer, Gary Shteyngart, Tova Mirvis, Myla Goldberg, and many, many others) or are straightforwardly about Judaism (like, Myla Goldberg’s Bee Season or Tova Mirvis’ The Ladies’ Auxiliary or pretty much all of Michael Chabon’s novels). Such works—and many, many others—have found huge audiences. So even if my novel were more Jewishly inclined, I’m not sure I’d worry too much about alienating those who aren’t Jewishly literate.

I’d also say that just as many of the best novels of recent years have chronicled very discreet and specific communities or cultures. The book that comes to mind, at the moment, is Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, which just won the Booker and is climbing up the New York Times’ bestseller list. It’s set in India—in Delhi—though it was written in English and originally published in England. Would you ask Adiga if he was worried about British readers not getting a novel set in Delhi, because they’re not familiar with the culture?

All my best,
Joanna

jpock wrote:

Hi, Joanna,

 

Are you concerned at all that the heavy Judaic references will be confusing to readers who live between the coasts where the Jewish population is less?  I am a lucky woman and am married to a Jewish man who has been helpful with the references that I didn't know and then there is also Google. :smileyhappy:  Being bilingual in German has gotten me through the Yiddish.  Will your book be published as Judaic fiction or will there be any help for those who are not familiar with the culture to not feel lost in the terminology?  Thanks for all your hard work and for answering all of our questions!

 

jpock


 



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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Hi chadadanielleKR, and thanks so much for chiming in from France!

 

With regard to your question about locations in New York, I wasn't quite sure: Are you asking me to somehow post a map that pinpoints the characters' apartments? It's funny, because when my editor and I discussed building a Web site for the novel, that was exactly what I suggested to her (an interactive map). As it turns out, we're not going to do anything of the sort, for various reasons, but I can see if I can find a way to post some sort of link or pdf file of a map of New York with locations marked. (I'm not super tech-savvy, so I might not be able to pull this off.)

 

As for your other question: 

 

I was also wondering to which character do you feel the closest?  Or do you wish us to guess?

 

Many have asked me this! (And you can read a variety of my responses on these boards.) In truth, I feel very close to all the characters, who, at this point, are like real people to me. But if I had to pick, I'd say I feel closest to Emily and Sadie, with whom I share certain character traits and also certain dilemmas...

 

Was that what you'd have guessed?

 

All my best,

Joanna 


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