Jennifer Donovan, 5 Minutes for Books managing editor, shares an inside look into Dorothea Benton Frank’s new novel All Summer Long. Read the Q&A with the author below, and then be sure to read Jennifer’s review over at 5 Minutes for Books.
I sometimes feel as if I have a book in me, perhaps non-fiction/memoir, or a novel for women or children or young adults. The problem is that writing a book requires amazing focus and discipline, and right now, I don’t have it. For now, I am concentrating on being a die-hard reader, and I love it when I can get a glimpse into the writing life. This Q&A was fun, because it really conveys the love of the author for these characters that she created.
In ALL SUMMER LONG, many of the characters are struggling with money issues — some don’t have enough, others want more, some think money will buy them love and/or happiness. Can you tell us how you came upon this theme for your latest novel?
My husband has worked in and around the investment banking world for his entire career. As a result we have come to know people who are firmly in the one percent. I can say without reservation that money cannot buy you happiness but it’s better to have some than not.
You seemed to enjoy pushing the limits of bad behavior with some of the characters here, such as Ellen, the nanny from hell, and Dorothy, a conniving, back-stabbing clothes hanger, among others. Is it hard to push those limits yet keep the characters from becoming absurd? How do you keep from crossing that thin line of credibility? Are any of these unattractive people based on some you’ve come across in real life?
These terrible women in my novel are the bathroom mirror personalities of many people I know. What I have done is allowed them to do and say the things they think that they would never have the nerve to do or say in real life.
As the author, what do you think the odds are of Bob Vasile putting aside his adulterous habits in order to fully recommit himself to his marriage and life with Maritza? Do you think he can change?
I believe in the power of love. Many things happen in the name of it. Eyes are opened, countries change hands. I’d like to think that Bob is finally going to calm down and behave, not because he worries about Maritza cleaning his clock but because he discovered that he deeply loves her and their daughter. And I think the time they spend in the Nantucket house restores some kind of normalcy to their lives.
Which location did you enjoy writing about the most: New York City, Isle of Palms, or one of the fabulous locales visited with the Vasile party?
Even as a daughter of the Lowcountry of South Carolina, fully committed to its geography with all my heart, I absolutely enjoy other places too. I have spent almost half of my life in and around New York because it’s fabulous. The energy, the creativity, the availability of top drawer anything at your fingertips is like a drug. But it’s exhausting too. So I cherish the leisurely pace I find in the Lowcountry and vacations in other places as well because we all need time to refuel.
Let’s say it’s time to downsize the Frank household. Would you compare yourself to Olivia, who has a tendency to hoard every beautiful object that comes across her path, or are you more of a purger? What five things would definitely make the move?
I purge. Five things? I have a chandelier shaped like a pineapple that in the 1930’s hung with seven others in a brasserie in Paris. I’d take the 1860 ship’s skeleton clock we have because the movement is endlessly fascinating. I’d have to pack my mother’s Bible, a wonderful picture I have of my father taken on a battlefield during WWII and my great grandmother’s sugar shell, which even though it’s not worth a fortune it is a treasure that reminds me of her gentility.
Truth time: Have you ever been to Necker Island? Swum with a dolphin? Been on a luxury yacht like Le Bateau de l’Amour? If not, what is the most “over the top” place you have been or thing you have done?
There’s no way I’m getting mixed up with a dolphin in the name of a good time and the wildest thing I have ever done is between me and my confessor. But let’s leave it at this – I have a weakness for gorgeous boats.
ALL SUMMER LONG is filled with lots of what I call “eye candy for the mind” — descriptions of furnishings and accessories, fabrics and baubles, all aspects of Olivia’s profession as an interior designer and decorator. Do you use a decorator, or are you more in Dorothy’s (unnecessary annoyances!) camp? How would you describe your personal style?
I have used a decorator from time to time to gain access to fabrics and showrooms closed to the public but mostly my sister jumps in when I need help. And to be honest, at this stage in my life, I pretty much know what I like and don’t like.
Nothing tastes like summer so much as a simple tomato sandwich, a delight that Nick introduces to Olivia upon their arrival to South Carolina. I’m guessing it is also a favorite of yours, so here’s the big question: What brand of mayonnaise do you use?
Dukes. And when I’m out of it I make my own.
You split time between your home in New Jersey and the Low Country. Do these homes have separate personalities, or would there be no question as to who lives in both? Does your heart reside in both places, or will the Low Country always be home with a capital H?
Our home in NJ is a hundred year-old English manor house and it was slowly furnished over twenty-five years with a lot of English antiques, old Persian rugs and Asian ceramics because that’s what looks right here. Our home on Sullivan’s Island is an ancient clapboard statement in minimalism, mainly because I haven’t quite figured out what to do with it yet. But it bears only the slightest resemblance to NJ. All the walls on the island are varying shades of ivories and the palest grays on the spectrum. The art work is all post 1990. And I have more than a few white pieces of upholstered furniture. Still, somehow both houses reflect our taste, despite the differences in their styles. But it’s capital H for the island, even if we do have some major structural issues facing us.
If you were to write a sequel to ALL SUMMER LONG, which couple’s future would you focus on: Olivia and Nick, and their new life in South Carolina; or Bob and Maritza, and their attempt to reinvent their life together?
Bob and Maritza offer more color – no doubt about that. But I think you still need Olivia and Nick to put it all in perspective. Would you like to see a sequel?
I (Jennifer) would love to see a sequel. I enjoyed this light-hearted read and characters. Read my full review of All Summer Long over at 5 Minutes for Books.