Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Jennifer Close on Writing, Reading and Teaching

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Yesterday, as it seemed to alternatively rain and stop raining, I sat at a tiny table in the lobby of a Toronto Harbourfront-area hotel. "Hi!" Jennifer Close said as she walked over, with her red hair and a navy dress with white polka dots on it. "Did you come in before you missed it? It seemed like there was lightning!"

Jennifer was in town for a few days this week (she lives in Washington) promoting her second novel, THE SMART ONE, which is witty and funny and an amazing read. She had been up since 6:15 that morning for an appearance on Canada AM, had tweeted for Random House from 11 a.m. to noon, and was preparing for a reading last night at Harbourfront.

Talking to Jennifer was fun and inspiring. She is a true writer and reader -- someone who loves stories and words, and who often recommends books on her Twitter account and now her blog.

THE SMART ONE is about what happens when adults move back home again after things in their lives don't go as planned. The matriarch of the Coffey family, Weezy, has three children -- Martha and Claire in their early 30s and Max who is in his 20s -- and all of them move back to the Coffey house. There's a great, funny moment when Weezy's husband Will says the kids are adults now: "But they didn't really seem like adults to Weezy -- Claire didn't even do her own laundry." The book is full of fun details, like the list on the Coffey fridge of "things we need" and the whale-printed pants at J. Crew that Martha folds. Another great line is when Cleo, Max's girlfriend, muses on her mother: "She and Elizabeth didn't have the kind of relationship where she trusted Elizabeth to fold her underwear."

Jennifer said that Claire was the first character that came to her, as she was working at a magazine that folded in the spring of 2009 and she saw people all around her lose their jobs. She wanted to "put these characters in a house and see what happened" and to write about when it's "not as cute anymore" to be living at home and still figuring things out. She said that there is more anxiety about it once you approach 30. Jennifer has two older brothers and no sisters and so she found it fun to write about two sisters.

Jennifer's first book, GIRLS IN WHITE DRESSES, landed on the New York Times Bestseller list, so I of course wanted to know what that felt like. "Amazing!" Jennifer said. She remembers where she was when she found out: "It was the last time I was in Toronto, I was in the car driving back from Canada AM and I got the email. I thought I was reading it wrong."

She found the process of writing this book different than her first one "but a good different. It was good because someone was waiting for it but it was a new, different pressure because of deadlines."

I always wonder if other writers experience writer's block, too, because we all know about those days when you're just staring at your Word document and the words won't come and you just feel so stuck. Jennifer said she does get writer's block and there are days when she can only write two sentences, but she has learned that there will be good and bad writing days and she can "ride out the low moments." She also finds that taking some time away from her story helps and took three weeks away from this book at one point to find things made much more sense upon her return.

Jennifer received her M.FA. in Writing from the New School and loved the experience of meeting other writers who shared the same love for storytelling and reading. She also learned a lot from working in magazines in New York City, the greatest lesson being the necessity of cutting your own words. Now she loves the process of editing. "I love being edited and I have a great editor. She sees it with fresh eyes and works to make the book better," she says.

When she isn't teaching writing at George Washington University, she's writing, hoping to be at her desk by 10 a.m. each morning after coffee and watching the news. She writes for a few hours, takes a break for lunch, then hopefully writes some more in the afternoon. She finds it's good to have a strict routine and that spending time at your desk with your work helps the story become stronger.

Because Jennifer is so good at book recommendations, I had to ask for some. "My favourite thing!" she said. Here are some reads she's raving about these days:

Sisterland by Curtis Sisterland
The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan
The Good House by Ann Leary
The Mothers by Jennifer Gilmore

Her favourite writers are Ann Packer, J. Courtney Sullivan, J.D. Salinger, Elizabeth Strout -- "Those writers where you can't wait to get their new book." It's inspiring to witness Jennifer's love of stories. I can't wait to see where her career takes her and what she writes next.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Aya Tsintziras

Aya Tsintziras is the author of the YA novel Pretty Bones, which was selected for the Canadian Book Centre's Best Books for Kids and Teens in Spring 2012. She has a BA in Political Science from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing a Masters of Journalism at Ryerson University.

Go to Aya Tsintziras’s Author Page