Jennie Nash wrote a guest post back in October on the Maw Books Blog when I reviewed her book the Last Beach Bungalow and I’m very excited to welcome her back for a wonderful author interview for her new book The Only True Genius in the Family. Do go read the book review. The discussion there about what is “true genius” is wonderful. Plus, you have a chance to win a signed copy of the book as well!
Maw Books: Welcome Jennie! First off, I’m always interested in knowing how authors come up with their ideas. How did you come up with the premise of The Only True Genius in the Family?
Jennie Nash: I wrote a book called Raising a Reader, in which I tried to examine my own frantic efforts to pass along a passion for reading to my children. The book wasn’t very good, but the questions wouldn’t leave my head – Is passion inherited? Can it be nurtured? Is talent a thing that you have or that you earn? I decided that fiction was a better was to answer them.
Maw Books: I’ve never been to Driggs, Idaho but my maiden name is Driggs and the town was indeed settled by my family. I found it fun to read a book set there. Both Driggs and Manhattan Beach, California take on characters of their own. What led you to choose these two settings and how does one create such a strong sense of place?
Jennie Nash: That’s just a crazy coincidence! I spent a lot of time as a child in the area around Sun Valley, Idaho. A few years ago, some friends invited me to their home in Driggs, which isn’t that far away from Sun Valley, as the crow flies. I was really inspired to be back in those mountains and valleys; it felt as if I was returning home. On that trip, I happened to see a house on the banks of the Teton River that I thought was, perhaps, the most beautiful I had ever seen. I gave that house to Paul Switzer, and had him leave it to Claire. As for Manhattan Beach, I live in the next town over. I had to pick my daughter up one day at a house right down on the sand, and it was very stormy – which is very unusual for L.A. – and the beach looked exactly like the scene I describe in the book. I wanted to write about that storm, so I ended up giving Claire a house right on the sand, too. Anyone who actually knows Manhattan Beach will know that having a house and a studio that close to the water would actually cost something like $20 million, but I wasn’t going to let real estate realities stop me!
Thanks for your comment about creating a strong sense of place. I’m glad that came across. I guess, for me, where my characters live is just incredibly important to understanding who they are. My last novel, The Last Beach Bungalow, was very much about this idea – the idea of house as a mirror of self. So I try to really see the character’s houses in my mind. I map them out, pick actual furniture and paintings for the walls. I also try to see what they see out the window. In the case of the two houses in The Only True Genius in the Family, there were some pretty fantastic views to work with!
Maw Books: The book really was beautiful to read because of its settings. Claire is a commercial food photographer and her father is a legendary landscape photographer. What is your own history with photography and what did you do to learn so much about both types of photography?
Jennie Nash: I know nothing! Really! I can barely use a point-and-shoot camera. I had to do a lot of research. I read photography blogs, which is where I learned about the Pentax camera that everyone loved when they were in high school. I also sought the expertise of Doug Morgan, the photography teacher at my kid’s high school. He showed me the kind of camera Paul Switzer would have used, and let me click the button and slide in the glass plates. I was also very lucky to get to spend a day with renowned food photographer Victoria Pearson, which is where I learned about modern digital photography and how to light a food shoot.
Maw Books: Well, if you know nothing about photography, then you pulled it off! One reason, I loved The Only True Genius in the Family is because I could relate SO well to the feelings of inadequacy that Claire felt as a photographer. I felt like Claire pretty much summed up my entire experience while I was getting my own BFA degree in Photography. I felt like everybody else in my class just “got it” while I struggled to make it look like I knew what I was doing. Claire’s daughter Baily, a painter, was confident in her art. She knew exactly what she was doing. In this sense, are you more like Claire or more like Bailey? A combo? Or neither?
Jennie Nash: Oh boy, what a great question! This book is actually a celebration of my having made a transition from being more like Claire to being more like Bailey. I have been a writer all my life – a good and successful writer – but I only now feel like I am coming into my full voice. I only now feel like a “real” writer, and I have to say that it’s an extraordinary feeling!
Maw Books: Claires husband, Harrison, encourages Claire to write down exactly what she wants in her career and she succeeds in getting all of them. How important is previsualization to you and have you done this in your own life?
Jennie Nash: I suppose I do, but not in any formal way, which is to say that I don’t write down goals for my writing or my life. It sounds like a great idea, though, and whenever I hear it I wish I were the kind of person who did it. I tend to visualize success, but just in a more vague way.
Maw Books: How was the writing and publication of The Only True Genius in the Family different from The Last Beach Bungalow?
Jennie Nash: I really struggled to find the voice of the narrator of The Last Beach Bungalow and wrote draft after draft after draft. I was switching from writing non-fiction, and had to find a new agent. So there was a lot of uncertainty. I sold The Last Beach Bungalow in a two-book deal, and only had a year to write The Only True Genius in the Family. Strangely enough, it didn’t stress me out in the least. To have a kind and attentive editor waiting to publish whatever I wanted to write? It was like gold. I will never forget that feeling.
Maw Books: What surprised you most about your book and/or characters as you were writing? Did anything turn out radically different than you’d originally thought it would?
Jennie Nash: You may not believe this, but I never intended this to be a story about a father and a daughter. I always thought of it as a mother-daughter thing. The third generation – the father – snuck into it, obviously quite strongly!
Maw Books: What’s your favorite scene from the book? Or, which one has changed the least since you first came up with it?
Jennie Nash: My favorite scene is probably the scene where Claire tampers with Bailey’s painting. I worked really hard to get every gesture in that scene right, and I think it’s powerful and dramatic and I’m proud of it. The scene that changed the least is the very last scene. There is a whole giant story behind that, which we should probably save for another day – but it was the first scene I wrote. I had no idea what I was doing. I was channeling John Irving, who always writes his last scenes first. I cried when I wrote it. And I don’t think I changed more than few words from the day I first put it on paper.
Maw Books: Both of those scenes are great. I rememer them vividly. One of my favorite blog features is to ask authors for a recipe, particularly if that recipe showed up in the book. Claire is a food photographer, so food certainly wasn’t lacking in this book. Do you have a favorite that you’d like to share?
Jennie Nash: Oh how cool! But just like I had to admit that I don’t visualize my goals, I also have to admit that I don’t really cook! I mean, I assemble things, and I steam vegetables, and I guess I make a lot of soup, but I don’t cook from any sense of authority. I only do it because my family has to eat! But listen: my new novel has a guacamole recipe at its heart, and I will promise to share it here when that book comes out in 2010.
Maw Books: It’s a date! I can’t wait. What job would you like to have if you couldn’t be a writer? What other jobs have you had in the past?
Jennie Nash: I have only ever had two “real” jobs, for a total of about 3 years. I worked at Random House as an assistant, and at a city magazine in New York. Other than that, I’ve worked for myself – writing, editing, teaching. I love what I do! If I could dream up another job for myself (and didn’t have to be qualified to do it) I would pick graphic designer/illustrator/painter or owner of a bookstores/gallery/retreat… or maybe ice skater!
Maw Books: What’s the most recent “gotta recommend it” book that you’ve read?
Jennie Nash: A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas. It’s a memoir about the aftermath of an accident in which Thomas’ husband was gravely injured. It took my breath away. I think I turned down the corner of every single page, and then I wrote the author fan mail.
Maw Books: What do you do outside the world of books?
Jennie Nash: I have two teenager daughters and a wonderful husband, and we are a busy family! Both my kids play club water polo, so I spend a huge amount of time driving around L.A. and sitting by the side of pools.
Maw Books: What are you working on now, and what new release(s) can we expect to see from you down the road?
Jennie Nash: I’m working on a third novel, which will be out in 2010. It’s called The Encyclopedia of Grief. Or maybe The Threadbare Heart. Maybe your readers can vote on which one they like better, with no other information about the story other than this…it’s a love story and a mother-daughter story (again!). One of the settings is an avocado ranch in the Santa Barbara foothills and a dog plays a central role. And if anyone happens to be a textile historian or a fabric collector and would be willing to let me pick their brain, please write!
Maw Books: Well, I’m of no help there, but you can guarantee that you’ve got a reader for life out of me. I’ll be reading your next book! Thank you Jennie for taking the time out to be with us today!
Don’t forget that Jennie has agreed to give away a signed copy of The Only True Genius in the Family. To enter visit my book review for details.