Tuesday, March 3, 2020

One Wedding Dress. Three Generations of Women. Brenda Janowitz talks about THE GRACE KELLY DRESS.

"Janowitz’s latest is just like the multi-generational wedding dress of the title: elegant, layered, and utterly original. She once again delivers a powerful story brimming with love.” Fiona Davis, bestselling author of The Chelsea Girls

"This is a book that has to be added to your nightstand immediately!" Jane Green, bestselling author of The Friends We Keep

I've known and loved Brenda for years and I'm so thrilled that she has a new novel out, about one wedding dress and three generations of women, and it's getting major league buzz, too!

 Brenda is the author of five novels and the Books Correspondent for PopSugar. Her sixth novel, THE GRACE KELLY DRESS, will be published by Harper Collins/ Graydon House in March 2020. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Salon, Redbook, USA Today, Bustle, The Forward, the New York Post, Publisher’s Weekly, Hello Giggles, Writer’s Digest Magazine, WritersDigest.com, and xojane.

Brenda, thank you so much for being here!

I always want to know what’s haunting an author when they start a book, or what question they were thinking about. What was it for you with The Grace Kelly Dress?

My agent sent me a story from The Today Show about an heirloom wedding gown that had been passed down through a family to eleven brides. I was immediately taken with this idea— something that had been passed down over time through so many different types of women, something that would mean something different to each one. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. How the dress had changed, how fashion had changed, how the family had changed.

I write often about multiple generations of a family, so this kernel of an idea was the perfect jumping off point for me. As I formed the protagonist in my mind’s eye, more questions developed—would she even want to wear such a dress? Why does a mother want a daughter to wear her wedding gown? What did the dress mean to the woman who created it? With all of these questions swirling, I knew I had my next novel.

I love the idea of one wedding dress (and who can resist a dress that is called Grace Kelly?) binding three generations of women together, yet each woman brings something specifically unique to her wearing of that dress. Do you have a dress like that in your own life?

Oh, how I wish I had something like that in my life! But alas, I do not. The wedding dress described in the novel is an heirloom wedding gown, inspired by the wedding dress that American actress Grace Kelly wore when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco. To me, it’s the most iconic wedding gown of all time.

In fact, when it came time to shop for my own wedding dress, I found myself especially drawn to the gowns that featured details that served as a homage to that famous piece of history. The gown I wore down the aisle had a delicate ribbon around the waist, a nod to Grace Kelly’s elegant cummerbund, and had silk bows that ran down the back, just like Grace Kelly’s dress. (So, perhaps I did have a dress like that, after all.)

Clothes, like music, have such deep symbolism for me—and for all of us, I think. They catapult you back in time, or they have all your hopes and dreams in every thread. Can you talk about this please?

Items of clothing can be so incredibly meaningful! The way we adorn ourselves can say so much about who we are and where we came from.

This is even more so when we speak about a wedding gown. The dress a woman chooses says so much about her—the way she’s decided to present herself on one of the most meaningful days of her life. The way she wants to look. The way she wants to be seen.

Wedding dresses have always been a source of fascination to me, for this reason. And I suppose you could say, I’m still obsessed. One of the things I wanted to tackle in this novel was the way the dress was made. Would such a dress carry the hopes and dreams of the woman who created it?

You are known and loved in the writing community because you do so much for other writers. (And thank you!) What advice would you give writers today who want to build community and be as generous as you are?

Thank you so much, Caroline! I think that the writing community would say the same thing about you!

It’s really all about relationships. When you’re a writer, it can be so isolating. So, it’s wonderful to have a community of people you can turn to for advice and encouragement. A sort of water cooler, if you will.

For me, the best advice is to just create friendships that are organic and real. Find people you like and respect. Support your friends. When you love someone’s work, shout it from the rooftops. Don’t expect anything in return. Remember: a rising tide lifts all ships.

You’ve written 5 knockout novels. Do you feel that each novel builds on the next, or are you like me, stricken with writers’ amnesia where every project becomes something brand new? Has your writing changed over the years and novels?

Thank you, Caroline! I do, in many ways, think that each novel builds on the next. And certainly, I’m a different person as I start each novel.

But I agree with you: whenever I start a new novel, it feels like I’ve never done it before, like I have no idea how to do it another time. It feels like a mountain I’ll never climb again.

Of course, I jump in anyway. And I find that as my life has changed, so has my writing. When I sold my first novel, I was a single attorney living in New York City. Now, I’m a married mother of two, writing novels full time and freelancing. I see the world differently in many ways, and I’d like to think that my writing reflects that. I used to love the Dorothy Parker quote: “I hate writing; I love having written.” But at this stage of my writing career, I’ve realized that the opposite is actually true: I love the process of writing. I love figuring out the world and my place in it through my work. I love seeing the world, through my fictional characters, in different ways.

I do hope that over time, my writing has deepened, and become more true.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

That’s a dangerous question because I get easily obsessed! But right now, I cannot stop thinking about Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments. I re-read The Handmaid’s Tale just before beginning The Testaments, and I couldn’t get over how incredible the writing was, how prescient it feels in today’s world, and how much of the book I’d forgotten (and how much I remembered). The Testaments was such a completely different book than The Handmaid’s Tale, and it was astonishing to watch a master at work, handling a world she’d created, all these years later. I cannot stop thinking about these two books, and as great writing always does, I feel humbled as I start writing my next novel.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

I may not have an heirloom dress, but I do have a number of family heirlooms that are incredibly meaningful to me.One of my most prized possessions is a ring that my grandmother gave to me. That ring is my childhood wrapped up in a single piece of jewelry— I can still picture her wearing it, in my mind’s eye. I wear it most days, but especially on days when I feel like I need her there with me. In particularly difficult situations, it’s like I can feel her there besides me, guiding me. On special days, like the day of my last book launch, I wore it to bring her with me, to show her that I’ve made my dream come true. I’ll wear it on tour for The Grace Kelly Dress. And I’m wearing it right now.

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