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Tarri
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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Thank you for joining the group and letting us read your first novel.  It took me a couple of chapters to really get into it, but it is great.  Up until last night, Sadie was my favorite character; however, last night about 11:00 p.m. I got to Emily's chapters and she is by far my favorite now.  I was so impressed with how you wrote her dealing with the stress and expense of Clara and Clara's illness.  I had to make myself stop reading at 1:30 a.m.  It's a good thing I'm retired. 

 

As someone who grew up in the sixties, I wasn't surprised that Beth would have sex with a man on the first date, I was just surprised that Beth wasn't more "safe".  

 

Best of luck with your novel.  

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Joanna_Smith_Rakoff
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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff


Hi kittykat59, thanks for your question.
You ask about chapter two, in which Beth goes home with Will: "When reading it, It seemed like you wanted us to view Beth differently and judge her right away. Was that your intent??"
No, that wasn't my intent at all. I was simply writing the story as I envisioned it. I wanted Beth to go through something uncomfortable -- but emerge from it stronger, in the end.
 
Sorry you had trouble keeping track of the characters.
 
Best,
Joanna 
 
 
kittykat59 wrote:

Hi Joanna,

 

Thank you for taking the time to join us. Good luck on your novel and I look forward to future work.

 

Lets talk about the sex scene in chapter two between Will and Beth. This bothered a lot of folks here but not me. When reading it, It seemed like you wanted us to view Beth differently and judge her right away. Was that your intent?? To first see Beth as one of the responsible ones in the bunch. Then all of a sudden she has this intense and strange sex with Will and we see her in a different light.

 

Second, just an opinion. I had a hard time keeping track of all the characters (might be my age). I found myself going back and rereading. 


 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff


Hi canterbear. Sorry the novel isn't to your taste. Your note is mostly an explanation of your problems with it. The only question I could find is:
 Also I wondered why in the section with Beth and her mother you always refer to her mother as Mrs. Bernstein?
I chose to call her Mrs. Bernstein because this is, in a way, how she thinks of herself, her identity is so tied up in her profession (she's a teacher) 
Joanna 
 
canterbear wrote:

I appreciate the work you put into this novel.

But I wish you could have let the reader in on more of what each character is feeling and how things are developing in their lives.

I felt all the flashback memories distracted from the story.

For example: on pg 167.. where the paragraph begins with...But the trouble with Dave---who was from a very nice family(which Will, of course, was not, a fact that would cause some problems with the ceremony, but she wouldnt think of that now)-- wasn't simply that he had neither money etc.

 Now as a reader, we have lost that you were talking about Dave.

 

At the end of that paragraph, "But that was exactly the type that made women cry in public restrooms, wasn't it?  (now if you skip over to pg 168)  "Beth," she began, carefully. "You dont have to marry Will..etc.

that connects the story with out the long page of "Some years back..." 

 

Also I wondered why in the section with Beth and her mother you always refer to her mother as Mrs. Bernstein? when in some other parts you refer to other character's mothers by their first names.

  There is a story here..I just got tired of weeding through everything else.

 

thanks for your feedback. 


 


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Re: Congratulations Joanna!


L.A. Rose, hello, and thanks so much for your questions. I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed the novel!
 
To answer your questions:
1. First, I found it ironic that the novel opens with Lil's wedding and ends with her funeral. I found this extremely sad and disappointing, as it was sprung on the readers in an unexpected fashion. I was wondering if this was the only way for us to truly see that the others had come of age? Was Lil's death something you had planned from the beginning, or was it also a suprise for you? Did the irony of the opening influence your decision to end with her funeral?
I wasn't, in killing off Lil (to use Hollywood-speak), trying to show that the others had come of age. For, in fact, I don't feel that all of them *have* come of age. And those that have matured have done so at great cost. (Emily, for instance, who ostensibly is happy, has also let go of her larger goals for herself, has deeply compromised her dreams and desires.  Sadie, meanwhile, has never realized the potential of her intelligence. She's basically a harried stay-at-home mother.) I made Lil die for a few different reasons. First, because my novel is based on Mary McCarthy's The Group, and though I ultimately strayed very, very far from that model, I decided (after years of thought) that I wanted to keep the crude outline of that novel: beginning with a character's wedding and ending with her death. There were definitely points, in the writing of the novel, when I considered not having Lil die, but ultimately I always returned to death as her end. The reason, I think, is because she's the one character who can't truly live in the world, who can't compromise in the way her friends do. She also, for all her bluster, can't really take care of herself (and this is part of the problem with her marriage, that while she can't take care of herself, she also can't allow Tuck to take care of her, and it kind of drives them both mad). But I also wanted to show that the stigma of divorce still exists for members of a certain generation and class; and that it's still difficult to be a single woman alone in a large city, particularly when all your friends are married and occupied with their own families. There is, literally, no place for Lil in their lives after a certain point.
2.  Also, I enjoyed your depiction of the Jewish characters and the traditional events. I found myself laughing at the dipiction of the Jewish mother and smiling through certain ceremonies. While many authors choose to give their characters a religion, it usually isn't this one. Was this solely because of possible personal inspiration, or was their some other motive behind choosing this relgion for some of your characters?
Living in New York, you find that almost everyone you know is Jewish (and Oberlin is about 25 percent Jewish). I wanted, from the start, to write a novel that accurately depicted my world -- a world in which a disproportionate number of people are Jewish. 
 But at the same time, I felt a frustration with the "Jewish" novels of the past ten years or so. Which is to say, in the last decade a new generation of interesting Jewish novelists has emerged, and while I greatly admire much of their work, it doesn't accurately reflect my own experience, which has been more secular and less focused on a looking back toward the pre-immigration experience, if that makes sense. I wanted to write a novel that accurately captured the lives of young, secular Jews, whose lives are informed by their Jewishness, but not dictated by it.
 
Many thanks, again, for such interesting questions, and all my best,
Joanna 
LA-Rose wrote:

Hello Joanna Smith Rakoff,

 

I would like to start by congratulating you on this wonderful novel that you have written! I enjoyed reading your unique writing style that chronicled these women and men at pivotal moments in their lives. I believe you have accomplished your goal of giving us a superficial look at the characters in the beginning of the chapters, while proceeding to develop the characters as the chapter continued. I also found it interesting that we received important information about characters through the gossip of others both within and around "the group". At the end of the novel I felt a strong understanding of many of the characters, with the possible exception of the elusive and mysterious Tal.

 

With that said, I have a couple of questions. First, I found it ironic that the novel opens with Lil's wedding and ends with her funeral. I found this extremely sad and disappointing, as it was sprung on the readers in an unexpected fashion. I was wondering if this was the only way for us to truly see that the others had come of age? Was Lil's death something you had planned from the beginning, or was it also a suprise for you? Did the irony of the opening influence your decision to end with her funeral? Also, I enjoyed your depiction of the Jewish characters and the traditional events. I found myself laughing at the dipiction of the Jewish mother and smiling through certain ceremonies. While many authors choose to give their characters a religion, it usually isn't this one. Was this solely because of possible personal inspiration, or was their some other motive behind choosing this relgion for some of your characters?

 

Thank you for taking the time to read and consider these questions and comments! I wish you the best of luck with the novel and your writing career! Congratulations!

 

Sincerely,

L.A. Rose


 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff


Hi Rosei,
Thanks so much for your question!
Yes, my goal was very much that you'd get to know each character through the other characters. Technically, though, I don't use stream-of-consciousness in the novel. Stream-of-consciousness, strictly defined, is a kind of interior monologue that strives to replicate a person's thought processes, complete with massive associate leaps and random thoughts and so on. (Have you read "The Sound and the Fury"? That's kind of the textbook example of it...)
 Thanks again, and all my best,
Joanna 
Rosei wrote:

Hello Joanna!

 

Congratulations on your book! I personally like your narrative style and my question is about the point of view. We kinda know every character in this book through each others' point of view. Could we say you used some stream of consciousness to let each character makes us know the other ones? 

 

I know that there's a specific narrator, but also we can notice the narration being delegated to the characters. That's great!

 

Thank you!


 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Hi Gail,

 

Thanks for explaining all that. It's interesting to hear.

 

You ask:

 

1. does your generation view mine as frivolous, if we were financially comfortable and also as a generation that spoiled their children?

 

I feel a bit uncomfortable answering for my generation, but I'll go ahead and say, no, I don't think so. I think maybe there is among the more left wing members of my generation feelings of annoyance with baby boomers -- a feeling that, in general, they started a generation and then opted out of it. What I was trying to get at, in my novel, was the way in which that opting out is inevitable -- it's what my characters do, too, in the end (choose a more comfortable life over a difficult, countercultural one).

 

2.  Do you think the "kids" are responsible for their problems or the parents?

 

I don't know if I can answer this! But I know that my mother, who is of Rose Peregrine's generation, constantly laments the post-Freudian tendency to blame one's parents for all one's problems!  She firmly believes that babies come out of the womb fully formed and should be blamed for any subsequent failures of character, etc.

 

I think there is a way, yes, in which the parents shape their kids' personalities and world views, but the kids also are themselves...

 

But I'll also add here that, to me, the, er, kids don't have such huge problems. They're just kind of normal!

 

All my best,

Joanna 

 

 


thewanderingjew wrote:
 
Joanna_Smith_Rakoff wrote: ...

edited by twj.....    Did you exaggerate some of the characteristics of the neighborhoods and the characters to make a particular point?

Not really, no. But why do you ask? Did you have some specific character in mind?

All my best,

Joanna 


 

Hi,
Hmmm, how do I put this? I felt as if you were focussing on a specific outstanding trait in each of the characters or locales, kind of honing in on one in each, almost taking a stereotyped view, in order to cover the widest variety of issues. So I wondered if you had a particular ethical message in mind. Since I haven't yet finished the book, I don't know if the descriptions will soften a bit and become more mainstream.
I am enjoying the book as I get further into it and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. I am just a bit troubled by the negative stereotypes so I am hoping that they grow into more positive role models.

I am a parent of kids in the generation you are writing about (they fit and yet they don't fit) and I never found myself to be as "kind of" one dimensional or shallow (so I fit and yet I don't fit, I have a more positive image of myself and my kids). I guess I wonder, does your generation view mine as frivolous, if we were financially comfortable and also as a generation that spoiled their children? I too have 3 coffee presses but I don't flaunt them, I use them since I don't use a coffee pot. It was kind of a funny feeling to see it portrayed the way it was by Dave, (I think). Do you think the "kids" are responsible for their problems or the parents? Is up to the kids to rise above their issues or should they just continue to blame their backgrounds and depend on others? These are really rhetorical questions because I suppose I will find out as I continue to read, and I surely will!
I am not a writer so I apologize since I may be totally off base.
Thank you for taking the time to respond to me.
Gail Rubin


 

 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff


Hi Ramya,
 It took me about four years to write the novel. Though I spent a year or so developing the characters and story before I began writing in earnest. 
 
Thanks so much for posting, and so glad you're enjoying it!
 
All best,
Joanna 
Ramya wrote:

Hi Joanna!

 

Let me start by congratulating you for coming out with this wonderful book. It took me a while to actually get into the book. I found the first few chapters a little slow. But once I got into the book, I began to like it a lot! I am still not done with the book.. but I am definitely liking what I am reading.

 

My question for you : How long did it take you to write this book. It definitely does look like a lot of work and I am curious to see how long it actually took you to write it!

 

Thanks!

 

Ramya 


 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff


Susan, I'm so glad you're enjoying the novel, and that the characters seem real and vivid to you! And thanks so much for passing it on to someone who might like it.
 Vermont sounds wonderful, too, and I hope to spend more time there at some point. With all the snow this week, I've been thinking much about skiing!
 
All my best,
Joanna 
Vermontcozy wrote:
Hi Joanna..With my schedule I read as much as I can..I am truly walksing the streets and I am in Sadie's Parents apt..enjoying the appetizers...throughly..Its so discriptive ...I am 49 w/a 24 yrold College Grad daughter...she has some memories of my parents house and food..anyway your characters are so familiar,and I meet them as well in Vt..lots of people left after9/11 for a different lifestyle here..but they do gather at the cafes and farmers markets to chat...I told a 37ish computer Tech Mom...at home raising her 2 children about your book and will pass it on to her....I will of course finish your book  when,soon...(alot of us work pt at our ski resorts and ski and garden,and feel freeer here...lots of your female/male players  could in fact be living here,someday......We are all about creativity.Your next novel could be focused in Vt...A full simple life is attainable here....We even have a Temple not far from the Bookstore.....Good Luck to you..Susan VTC   Catlin,Emily yes they could live here

 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff


jabrkeKB wrote:

Thank you for taking the time the answer questions.   

 

I am curious about the use of flashbacks in the story.  Why do you use this technique so often?

 

 


Hi jabrkeKB,

 

I'm afraid this falls into the category of questions I can't answer. I didn't consciously attempt to use "flashbacks," but rather simply told the story I wanted to tell. But, I suppose, if there is a good amount of looking back, on the characters' parts, it has to do with their having a shared history which informs the present of the story.

 

Best,

Joanna 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff


Tarri wrote:

Thank you for joining the group and letting us read your first novel.  It took me a couple of chapters to really get into it, but it is great.  Up until last night, Sadie was my favorite character; however, last night about 11:00 p.m. I got to Emily's chapters and she is by far my favorite now.  I was so impressed with how you wrote her dealing with the stress and expense of Clara and Clara's illness.  I had to make myself stop reading at 1:30 a.m.  It's a good thing I'm retired. 

 

As someone who grew up in the sixties, I wasn't surprised that Beth would have sex with a man on the first date, I was just surprised that Beth wasn't more "safe".  

 

Best of luck with your novel.  


Tarri, thanks so much for posting, and I'm so glad you're liking the novel!

 

All my best,

Joanna 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff


JSS wrote:

Dear Joanna,

 

I actually have 2 questions at this point:

 

1. As a male, I felt very enlightened by your detailed insights into the way your female characters think and feel. I assume that you are able to do that so expertly because you are both female and that you can relate to your various female characters personally and from a female perspective. My question is; from what basis or form of experience did you gleen your insights into your male characters?

 

2. To me, Beth is the most real character you have created. That realness is apparent on a variety of levels to many of us who have discussed her this past week. Would you talk about your creation of Beth a little bit for us please? Is there a specific reason for her coming through like that or was that unintentional on your part?


Hi JSS, and thanks so much for your questions!

 

You ask:

 

1. From what basis or form of experience did you gleen your insights into your male characters?

 

I suppose just from observation. I've been married for ten years, and you do gain some insight simply from proximity!

 

2. Would you talk about your creation of Beth a little bit for us please? Is there a specific reason for her coming through like that or was that unintentional on your part?

 

Sure. I knew that I wanted a character who was less confident, more shy, and somewhat more socially conservative than the her friends. And I also knew that I wanted a character who had spent the years since college somewhere else and, thus, felt a bit out of step with the group. Working from those guidelines, Beth emerged. And as she emerged, it became clear to me that she needed to be from the suburbs of the city, an origin which carries something of a stigma in New York (silly as that seems). As I wrote and rewrote, Beth became more complicated. I realized that she was stronger than I'd originally thought, and also more of both a romantic and a realist.

 

Does that help? Is there something else you'd like to know?  (I'm really glad to hear that she comes through as authentic.)

 

Thanks again for such great questions, and all my best,

Joanna 

 

 

 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff


booksJT wrote:

Hi Joanna

 

I read your book I thought it  was excellent for your first novel. I just have  two questions for you. Who are some of  your favorite writers? Question 2 Who was the first  character you created and why? I hope to read more novels by you in the future.


Hi booksJT,

 

Thanks so much for your questions!

 

Some of my favorite writers, in no particular order:  Dawn Powell, George Eliot, Dickens, Galsworthy, Tolstoy, Diane Johnson, Alison Lurie, Jane Austen, Donna Tartt, Edith Wharton, Joan Didion, Sylvia Plath, Mary McCarthy, Junichiro Tanizaki.

 

And I created three characters at once: Dave, Sadie, and Tal. Back in early 2001, I began writing a short story about the three of them, which ultimately became this novel. Sadie and Tal changed rather a bit over the years, but Dave is essentially the same (in fact, the novel incorporates a large section of that story).

 

Out of curiosity: Which character did you think I'd created first?

 

Many thanks and all best,

Joanna 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff


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

Debbie, thanks so much for posting, and I'm so glad you liked the novel. I really appreciate you mentioning that you see commonalities between the characters and your daughter and her friends -- as, for me, though these characters are certainly very much *of* New York, they're going through the same things as others of their generation in San Francisco, Chicago, etc. (Based on my own friends' experiences!) It's all just a bit more intense, perhaps, because they're in New York.

 

Anyway, as for your question: I began writing at a very early age, perhaps because I was always a voracious reader (and grew up in a house with limited television access). As a tiny kid, I dictated stories to my mom, then illustrated them. In second grade, I began writing poems and giving them to my teacher. In high school, I started writing stories. But it took a long time for me to gain the confidence to begin a novel. I think, somehow, the discipline of writing for magazines and newspapers -- the constant deadlines and revisions -- really helped (and also helped me figure out how to craft a story).

 

Many thanks, again, and all my best,

Joanna


dhaupt wrote:

Joanna,

Hi and thanks for giving us your readers this unique opportunity to talk to you about your new book.

First of all I have finished it and loved the book, I really like your writing style and how you made so much information make sense. This book was based on people my daughters age but I saw a lot of her friends and her in the characters, the only difference being that we're midwesterners. I noticed in your bio that you also attended Oberlin so I'm sure that some of what we've read is about you and your coming of age.

My question for you is - Have you always wanted to write, when did the bug bite you.

Thank you again for sharing yourself with us. 


 

 


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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff


You ask:

 

1. From what basis or form of experience did you gleen your insights into your male characters?

 

I suppose just from observation. I've been married for ten years, and you do gain some insight simply from proximity!

 

2. Would you talk about your creation of Beth a little bit for us please? Is there a specific reason for her coming through like that or was that unintentional on your part?

 

Sure. I knew that I wanted a character who was less confident, more shy, and somewhat more socially conservative than the her friends. And I also knew that I wanted a character who had spent the years since college somewhere else and, thus, felt a bit out of step with the group. Working from those guidelines, Beth emerged. And as she emerged, it became clear to me that she needed to be from the suburbs of the city, an origin which carries something of a stigma in New York (silly as that seems). As I wrote and rewrote, Beth became more complicated. I realized that she was stronger than I'd originally thought, and also more of both a romantic and a realist.

 

Does that help? Is there something else you'd like to know?  (I'm really glad to hear that she comes through as authentic.)

 

Thanks again for such great questions, and all my best,

Joanna


Dear Joanna:

 

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. It's always a true honor to be able to understand how and what the author is thinking. It makes a HUGE difference in being able to "mine" a book for everything you (the author) meant it to be. Your answers to the group have been extremely helpful to me as well and add even more substance and texture to your novel.

 

I have a follow up question if you are able to find the time to reply:

 

The men in your story all seem damaged or lost or at odds with themselves in some way or another and, from my interpretation/reading of the book, none of them substantively improve by the end of the book. They may have found an answer to whatever was causing them a problem initially, but then you appear to give them some other obstacle which once again confounds or sidetracks them. Your female characters start off from much the same position as the males do but SOME of them seem to finally find some balance in their lives before the close of the story.

 

My question is this: Is that just where the book ended in your mind or did you consciously leave a discernable difference between the development of your men versus your women? If this WAS a conscious decision on your part, please talk to us a little bit about that.

 

And again, thanks for opening yourself up and giving us access to you. You have been quite generous to us all.

 

Respectfully,

 

JSS

 

 

"I know not if this earth on which I stand is the core of the universe or if it is but a speck of dust lost in eternity. I know not and I care not. For I know what happiness is possible to me on earth." Ayn Rand
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Maria_H
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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

This is such a great point.

 


Joanna_Smith_Rakoff wrote:

 

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

I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for writing this book and giving us the chance to read it. It takes a lot of courage to put your "baby" out for the public to digest. Thank you.  =)
DonnaS =) " Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own." Charles Scribner
"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." Chinese Proverb
My blog: http://bookworm56.blogspot.com
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booksJT
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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

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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chadadanielleKR
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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Thank you so much for answering our questions and thank you for sending me your book as far as France.

 

Still. When I read Anna Karine or Persuasion, I usually take a map and try to find out the location of the places mentioned. Several readers of the B&N book clubs do the same. The books makes more sense; although, I admit, the location is not the most important part of the book.

 

As for me, I tried to locate the places you mentioned thanks to Internet.

 

I f you had a look in the B&N book club entitled "The Mysteries of Udolpho" for instance, you would see that there is a whole thead entitled "location". Some readers like me are interested about location and a map of N.Y would have helped the understanding especially since the location of the characters' appartement and work place seemed to matter at one point or the other.

 

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

 

Inspired Correspondent
Maria_H
Posts: 791
Registered: ‎07-19-2007
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Re: Questions for Joanna Smith Rakoff

Funny you should ask! 

 

The New York City thread (as Karen mentioned in her previously posted schedule) is now up.  Please go there to discuss the locales of the book.

 


chadadanielleKR wrote:

 

If you had a look in the B&N book club entitled "The Mysteries of Udolpho" for instance, you would see that there is a whole thead entitled "location". Some readers like me are interested about location and a map of N.Y would have helped the understanding especially since the location of the characters' appartement and work place seemed to matter at one point or the other.

 




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