I'm always partial to debuts, and this one, THE NEXT by Stephanie Gangi is gorgeously written, haunting and it's also an INDIE NEXT PICK! I'm absolutely thrilled to host Stephanie on the blog and to see al the rave reviews rolling in! Thank you, Stephanie!
I absolutely love books like this--the drifting of the character between one world and the next. What jumpstarted this novel? What was haunting you that you felt you had to write about it?
I started The Next in my late fifties – I’m 60 now. I’d been through a few rough break-ups – including one that came late in life for me, a true love lost. I found myself compulsively telling and re-telling and reviewing and revising relationship details, trying to make connections to past relationships, searching the shadows of memory, trying to see where love had gone wrong. So I was absolutely haunted by love lost, the idea of all that power, gone. How light and hope could turn to despair in the dark.
At the same time, I was suddenly single, in my fifties, and noticing a distinct drop in “visibility” on the streets of Manhattan, out with friends, at parties. I was still me, but I wasn’t attracting the same attention as years past. I started really thinking about that – and the idea of being an older woman and ghosting through the streets, refusing to relinquish attention, refusing to “go quietly” into invisibility really appealed to me. To co-opt the idea of the invisibility of older women – to turn it into a super power instead of a fade-out. I still love the ghost metaphor, although I admit, not everyone does!
And Adele’s 21 was everywhere, blasting from every shop, and the songs were about heartbreak, sure, but they were also tinged with vengeance. I was feeling vengeful myself and I started to muse about what it would be like to actually take revenge. I’m a chicken at heart, so it was easier to write. And Joanna the ghost was a stand-in, so I could really rage!
Look, I’m a woman of a certain age and I have had a few turns around the dance floor with breast cancer. I figured, I can let these two incredibly powerful forces harness me, or I can try to harness them: my age/experience, and my ongoing shoving match with cancer/morality and use them to achieve my long-neglected desire to write a novel.
This is your debut and you have the words every author wants "huge in house support"! What does this feel like for you and does it make it easier or harder to write your next novel?
The support from St. Martin’s – Jennifer Enderlin is my editor – really has been remarkable. The book is quirky, it’s not a snap to market it, it’s dark and funny and sad, it’s generating a lot of passionate responses, and Jen figured out a way to make sure those qualites were leveraged as strengths, not challenges.
Everything about my experience with St. Martin’s makes it easier for me to push ahead on novel #2! I have so much more confidence knowing I can truly write authentically, not worry too much about genres or marketing strategies – they have really “listened” to the work itself, and worked with me to assemble all the right elements for success. You’ve seen that cover! Fingers crossed now that readers take – and love – the crazy ride.
So much of this book is about love--even as Joanna plots revenge. Did you know the ending before you began?
When I was in the midst of the last break-up, I had a revelation about love. I was bemoaning my single status one September Sunday – at my age, with my health history who would ever love me again? And I was twisting around this thought, and I looked up and realized I was having this conversation over brunch with my daughters. That love was sitting right there with me. That I had the love of my friends, my dog. That I had books, and writing and traveling and cooking and New York City. Skies and oceans and craziness and sorrow and all of it is love, love, love around all the time. How brilliant is that! Is it intimacy? Is it sex? Hell, no, but it’s love. Big bright love. I decided – actively decided – to appreciate the love I had instead of worrying about getting another boyfriend. I’ve had wonderful relationships, I’ve been lucky in love, and I’d rather honor it all than find myself without the time to do so! Which is kind of the point of the book, now that I think of it!
And, yes, I did know the ending. I’ve had some intimations of mortality myself over the years, and done some hard thinking about living and dying, and I knew – know – that for me the best death will be to have lived the hell out of life until I’m in a sense, free to let go of life. Free of the body, free of the mind. I don’t want to say too much more – it’s the ending, after all!
What kind of writer are you? Do you map things out or just wait for the Muse?
Oh, I map. I read and take notes, and read and read and map and flag pages and transcribe my notes and make timelines and post-it myself silly. I write morning pages every day (dear diary stuff, other ideas, project plans, poem-y things, calendars, to-do lists) and I then turn to my novel notebook, where the day’s tasks await! I orient myself, plan my day and then go to the draft when my fingers get too itchy to resist any longer.
Of course, once I’m on the page, I go as free as I can so that the map falls away and I’m just going, going, going. That’s the goal. That’s the ideal. That’s the drug.
What is obsessing you now and why?
The Next launches on October 18, and I am determined to enjoy it all, no matter what, the highs and lows of it, because it’s taken me a long time to get here. So that’s one thing I am NOT obsessed with. I’m trying to find the flow of it, and just let it carry me.
I’m obsessed with staying in the moment.
I’m obsessed with recognizing opportunities to be kind.
I’m obsessed with a suede bag I bought a couple of weeks ago.
I’m obsessed with tomatoes (late August, after all).
I’m obsessed with my daughters, in a good way.
I’m obsessed with Louise Erdrich’s LaRose and William Finnigan’s Barbarian Days.
I’m obsessed with Spotify.
I’m obsessed with The Real Housewives of New York City (I KNOW, I KNOW, I’M SORRY)
I’m obsessed with the arc of photography over the twentieth century, with how to be a mother and an artist, with what it would be like to grow up in the sixties with a notorious photographer-mother. In case you can’t tell – my second novel is obsessing me.
I think the whys are obvious!