Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Wendy Wax Interview - The Break-Up Book Club


Photo Content from Wendy Wax

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says USA Today bestselling author Wendy Wax “writes with breezy wit and keen insight.” Her contemporary women’s fiction explores family, friendship and self-discovery and has been compared to that of Jennifer Weiner, Jane Green, and Mary Alice Monroe. Her books, A Week at the Lake, While We Were Watching Downton Abbey and her Ten Beach Road novels—Best Beach Ever, One Good Thing, Sunshine Beach, The House On Mermaid Point, Ocean Beach and Ten Beach Road—have been featured in national media such as USA Today, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Woman’s World.

Other works by Wendy Wax include Magnolia Wednesdays, The Accidental Bestseller, Hostile Makeover, Leave it to Cleavage, Single in Suburbia, 7 Days and 7 Nights and the Ten Beach Road novellas Christmas at the Beach and A Bella Flora Christmas. Many of her novels have been published internationally and as audiobooks.

Her fifteenth novel, My Ex-Best Friend’s Wedding, will be released May 14, 2019.

A former broadcaster and the mother of two grown sons, Wendy lives in Atlanta with her husband where she’s traded in her picket fence and gardening gloves for hi-rise living and a desk with a view from the 37th floor.

        
  


Greatest thing you learned at school?
How to read! Or perhaps I should say, how to read ‘better.’ I managed to convince an older girl in the neighborhood to teach me how to read that summer before first grade because I thought I had to know how when I arrived on the first day of school.

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill? 
It became clear pretty early on that I was never going to end up in a field that required math or science skills. I had already had a career in radio, TV and film, including a stint as the host of a live radio talk show called Desperate & Dateless (when I was both!) and was at home with a two-year-old and a newborn when I first decided to write a novel. I chalk this decision up to post-pregnancy hormones and lack of sleep. I had no idea what it would take or how long a journey it would be, but I did manage to write and sell that first novel and have been fortunate enough to write professionally since that first book came out in 1997.

Most rewarding experience since being published.
If we’re talking a one-time experience, it was the mayor of my hometown of St. Petersburg Beach naming May 12th of 2011 Wendy Wax Day at the same time Ten Beach Road was released. It was especially sweet because May 12 also happened to be my mother’s birthday. (Plus, I got to ring the historic school bell on Pass-a-Grille Beach at sunset. (Ten Beach Road’s fictional Bella Flora is located at the southernmost tip of this beach.)

On an ongoing basis, it’s the emails from readers who write to tell me that my books have helped them through a tough time. This means a lot to me because books have helped me survive some of my own most difficult times.

Single worst distraction that kept your from writing this book?
The pandemic and then the loss of my husband to Covid 19 in August.

Has Reading a book ever changed your life? 
Every book I’ve read has changed my life in some way and almost always for the better. My love of reading is what ultimately led me to become a writer.

Can you tell us when you started THE BREAK-UP BOOK CLUB, how that came about?
The Break-Up Book Club began with the title, which is highly unusual for me. I just loved it the first time I said it aloud.

MEET THE CHARCTERS WITH FAVORITE QUORES/SCENES
JUDITH - FAVORITE BOOK: THE RED TENT - YES, STILL! 
I read somewhere that the very first “book club” (female discussion group) took place in 1634 on a ship sailing to the Massachusetts Bay Colony when a “religious renegade” named Anne invited a group of women—no doubt exhausted from the voyage and in dire need of a break from their husbands and children—to talk about (and apparently critique) the sermons given at weekly services. (Which was nowhere near as relaxing as, say, a conversation about Bridget Jones’s Diary or Where the Crawdads Sing.)

          They continued these discussions when they reached land (because how else did you get out of the cabin to hang with your friends?). It seems this didn’t go down too well with the Bay Colony’s general assembly, because they condemned the gatherings and banished Anne to Rhode Island. Which seems a bit extreme and, frankly, confusing. Perhaps they believed that the state was too small for a worrying number of women to gather?

          Women have bravely faced the threat of banishment to Rhode Island ever since, gathering in reading circles and salons and literary clubs and societies. They were aided and abetted by the Book-of-the-Month Club, galvanized by Helen Hooven Santmyer’s And Ladies of the Club, and ultimately validated by Oprah, whose meatier/weighty exploration of dysfunction and unhappy endings put the concept on the map. And perhaps introduced the need for wine at book club meetings so as not to lose hope completely.

          Our book club was started in 2004 by Annell Barrett, who owns Between the Covers Bookstore, which takes up the bottom floor of the historic home she lives in. It sits just OTP, which is Atlanta shorthand for Outside the Perimeter, aka I-285, the highway that encircles the city—kind of like the early settlers’ circling of the wagons—and separates the city folk and the suburbanites.

          Annell, who is a practical sort of woman, never saw a reason to give the book club a name or confine it to a single genre. She just wanted more readers in the store, and so she picked a book she thought people would like, wrote the title up on the chalkboard behind the register, and offered a twenty percent discount to anyone who joined the book club. Then she promised there’d be wine. (The food to soak up the wine and allow members to drive home legally came later.)

          There were five of us, including my friend and neighbor Meena Parker, at that first meeting in the carriage house behind the store, to discuss The Secret Life of Bees. The next month there were ten for The Jane Austen Book Club. He’s Just Not That Into You, requested by then twenty-five-year-old twins Wesley and Phoebe who kept falling in love with the same commitment-phobic guys, took us to fifteen members.

          I chose the club over the one that started in our neighborhood because I love everything about Between the Covers and the carriage house behind it, and also because my neighbors liked to talk about one another more than the books. Plus, a few doors from home is not far enough away to avoid coming back for an especially messy meltdown, a lost cell phone, or a science project that is suddenly and inexplicably due.

          Over the last fourteen years, we’ve read one hundred and sixty-eight books, which Annell has duly recorded in an official book club binder that she keeps at the front desk. The group swells and shrinks. We’ve had two different sets of siblings. Mothers and daughters. Best friends, work friends, and the occasional frenemy. Some members have left never to be seen again. Others have come back. One member joined as Carl and transitioned to Carlotta, and both of them totally rock their skinny jeans in a way I’ve always dreamed of.

          We’ve tried out nearby restaurants and bars, but we always end up back at the carriage house. It’s a reassuring and comforting constant in a world that can take you by surprise.

Like the day I realized that Nathan, my husband of thirty years, had been rewriting our personal history. At first the revisions were so small I barely noticed. A minor detail reinterpreted. A tiny triumph appropriated and then repeated until it became an undisputed part of our marital history.

          I never made a conscious decision to allow it. But I didn’t call him on his embellishments, either. (Which in case you’re wondering is the emotional equivalent of faking orgasms and then being doomed to nonorgasmic lovemaking for the rest of your married life.) This is how he became the star of our life together and I became the supporting player.

JAZMINE - FAVORITE BOOK: BECOMING - BECAUSE ISN'T THAT WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT? 
          I was ten years old when Oprah started her book club. My mother watched her show every day no matter what. Me, I just loved that Oprah! had an exclamation point attached to her name and that she didn’t have to sing or be sexy to become a one-namer. Just smart and determined.

         Determination is something I know something about. It’s why I’m walking through the double doors of the intentionally- impressive offices of StarSports Advisors in midtown Atlanta as its first and only female sports agent and not as the ‘next’ Serena Williams I once hoped to be.

          My eyes are on my phone as I nod to the receptionist at the front desk and head for my own glass-walled corner office. I slow as I approach my assistant’s desk and almost stumble when I see the stranger sitting at it.

          “Good morning!” The voice is as bright and perky as the blonde who jumps up to hold out a small, slim hand. “I’m Erin. Erin Richmond. Louise had a family emergency and Larry, er, Mr. Carpenter asked me to fill in while she’s gone.”
          My assistant, Louise Lloyd, is a formidable woman in her early sixties, with a no-nonsense manner that no one, including the most arrogant athletes our firm represents, has ever attempted any nonsense with.

          This tiny blonde with her bright blue eyes and pale skin is the antithesis of Louise, who took me under her wing when I joined the firm three years ago. On a good day Louise would no doubt fuss over the girl at her desk just like she fusses over me. On a bad one, she’d eat her for lunch.

          “I was told to let you know that Louise will call you when she can. She’s on her way to Memphis because her mother fell and fractured her hip.”

          I know how close Louise is to her mother and I understand why she’s on her way to her side. What I don’t know is where this girl came from or why she ended up behind Louise’s desk.

          “Would you like me to send flowers to the hospital? Or food to the house? Or… something? Her mother’s address is right here. And I have the name of the hospital.”

          “I’ll give her a call, but flowers to the hospital would be good.” I look more closely at the girl – she can’t be more than very early twenties. She looks like a bit of fluff. But she also looks familiar.

          “How do you know Larry Carpenter?” Larry founded the firm twenty years ago when he signed a good part of the Atlanta Braves pitching rotation. He’s built the agency into a powerhouse with sixty-five clients and three hundred million in contracts spread throughout the NFL, NBA and MLB.

          “My, um, fiancĂ© Josh Stevens, is a client of his and I interned here over the summer.”

          “Ahhh.” Mystery solved. Stevens has a 103mph fastball and an impressive change up. The Braves took him in the first round two years ago and have just called him up from Triple A.

“So you have experience in sports management?”

          “Just the internship. But I do have a degree in sports management from UGA and I’ve been shadowing Marc Sokol’s assistant for the last three months.” She takes a breath. “And I know sports, especially baseball. My three brothers played through college. And I’ve known Josh since we were kids.” It’s clear she’s nervous but she holds my gaze. “And I’m super organized. Kind of borderline OCD according to my brothers.” Her chin lifts. “When I heard they were looking for someone to work for you I went to Larry and asked for the opportunity.”

          I don’t point out that it’s me and not Erin who should have been given the choice, but I wouldn’t leave any young female in Marc’s office -- or at his mercy—under any circumstances. The man is the very sort of troglodyte that made the #MeToo movement necessary and who has not learned a single thing from it.

          “Okay then.” I look down at my phone and pull up the day’s schedule. “I’m going to be out most of the day. Do you have any questions?”

          Her fingers fly over the keyboard in front of her, her eyes on Louise’s monitor. “It shows Ron Collier for lunch at LeBilboquet at one. Then you have a call with Mack Prentiss in Detroit at 2:45. Which you can take while you’re in the car on your way to drinks with Tyrone Browning at the Intercontinental.” Erin looks up. “There’s a note from Louise reminding you not to let him have more than two drinks or you’ll never get out of there.”

          “Too true.” I learned that one the hard way when I was first wooing the 300 pound defensive lineman who’d had one too many lemon drop martinis. When he face-planted in a plate of ravioli I had to figure out how to extract him without attracting undue attention.

          “And your father called a few minutes ago to say that he’d pick up your daughter from school—her name’s Maya, right?”

          At my nod she continues reading from the screen. “He said he can drop her off at tennis, but he won’t be able to stay and bring her home.” The girl – it was hard to think of her as a ‘young woman’ whatever PC demanded -- drops her eyes to the schedule. “But I see your appointments take you north on Peachtree so that you won’t have far to go to get to the Chastain Tennis Center.”

          “Yes.” I skim back over the timing of the day’s appointments. “I should have plenty of time to return calls and get over to the courts for pickup.”

         “At 6:30. On the dot this time.” Erin winces. “Sorry. That’s a direct quote from your father.”

          “I thought I recognized the tone.” I sigh because when you’re giving facetime to an athlete you’re eager to sign or trying to keep happy, it’s hard to jump up and leave if they aren’t ready to go. “All right.”

          “Please don’t worry about leaving me here. I promise I’m capable of keeping things going until Louise gets back. People have underestimated me my whole life – just because I’m short and blonde. I think it’s unfair to make decisions about people just because of how they look.”

         I flush as the point hits home. How many times have I been discounted just because I’m female and black? “Noted. Can you get me Matt Fein at the Hawks office? The numbers are already programmed in to…”

          She’s already scrolling through the onscreen directory before I finish. “I’m on it. Should I buzz you when I have him on the line?”

           I nod and walk to my office. When I drop into my desk chair the GM is already on hold.

SARA - FAVORITE BOOK: ALL OF THEM - I CAN'T HELP IT! 
          The bathroom doorknob jiggles. “Sara? Are you in there?” My mother-in-law’s voice is as brisk as her knock, easily reaching me where I sit. On top of the closed toilet seat. Reading. Hiding.

          I consider staying silent, but the door is locked, and my car is parked in the driveway. There’s no way I can pretend that I’m not home. “Yes?”

          “Are you planning to come out soon?” Dorothy never Dottie, or God-forbid, Dot, moved in three months ago after hip replacement surgery that didn’t go smoothly. Although the home health care workers are now gone and she is, according to her doctor, fully mended, she’s still here and in no rush to move back to her home in Greenville.

          My husband Mitchell has no problem with this primarily because he got a new job and has been working in Birmingham for the last six months and only comes home on weekends. This makes Dorothy, who has always made it clear I am not good enough for her son, my responsibility.

          Each month our three-bedroom, two bath home that once seemed so spacious gets smaller. There’s virtually nowhere left to hide. Including, it seems, the master bathroom.

          “Yes. Of course.” I wait for Dorothy’s footsteps to recede, but my mother-in-law stays put. I glance around the bathroom looking for an escape route, but the lone window that overlooks the backyard is small. I’ve always been almost painfully thin, but I wouldn’t lay money on being able to squeeze through it. And even if I managed to wriggle out, I’d have to come back at some point.

          “Any chance it’ll be this millennium?”

          I curse myself for not locking the bedroom door even though barging into a closed bedroom and knocking on a bathroom door is a stretch even for Dorothy.

          “Are you all right?” I ask in case this is an emergency.

          She doesn’t answer. I listen intently, but there’s no ragged breathing, no body crumpling to the floor. I set my book on the vanity countertop, reject the instinct to flush the unused toilet just to prove I’ve been doing something legitimate, and open the door. “Is something wrong?”

          “No.” Dorothy’s puff of thin, white hair is deceptively grandmotherly, and looks freshly washed. She’s wearing makeup. Her purse hangs over one bony shoulder. “I just wanted to see if you’d heard from Mitchell.”

          I tried very hard with Dorothy when Mitch and I were first together. But it’s hard to have a relationship all by yourself. What warmth Dorothy has is reserved for her son. He may be the only person she’s ever loved seeing as how she claims not to be certain who Mitch’s father was and has never, according to my husband, ever dated.

          “No, I haven’t. But he must be on his way.”

          The drive from Birmingham is just over two and a half hours, but Mitch doesn’t drive home on Friday nights for fear of rush hour traffic nor does he jump out of bed early on Saturday mornings. Normally he rolls in around noon. I check my phone. It’s eleven thirty.

          “I’m sure he’ll be here any minute and ready for your lunch date.” This is the one-on- one- time Mitch gives his mother each week. We share him Saturday evening. Once she goes to bed he’s all mine; we tiptoe past her bedroom door and into ours like naughty teenagers. There we make love (as quietly as possible) then curl up together to watch Saturday Night Live. It’s my favorite part of the week.

          He heads back to Birmingham on Sunday afternoon so that he won’t have to fight rush hour getting out of Atlanta on Monday morning. “Did you call him?”

          “No.” A former efficiency expert, Dorothy does not engage in idle chit chat; at least not with me. If she’s ever poured her heart or thoughts out to her son, I’ve never witnessed it and he’s never mentioned it. “You know I don’t like to bother him or distract him if he’s driving.”

          I hit speed dial. Mitch picks up on the fourth ring sounding oddly out of breath for someone sitting in a car.

          “Hi. Where are you?”

          “Home.” He pauses. “I mean in the apartment. I’ve got some kind of bug. I’m, uh, not going to be able to get back this weekend.”

          The bathroom is small, but I manage to turn away from Dorothy. “When were you planning to let us know?” I whisper as the disappointment seeps through me. “Your mother’s expecting you.” And so am I.

          “I’m sick, Sara. It happens.” He coughs loudly. A less charitable person might say, unconvincingly. This is not the first time he’s bailed at the last minute.

          “It’s only a couple hours’ drive,” I point out. “I’ll make a great big pot of chicken soup and you can lie in bed and be waited on.”

          “Sorry. But I can barely get out of the bed I’m in,” he says. “Besides, my mother’s had surgery. I promise neither of you want to be around these germs.”

          The anger gurgles up from somewhere deep inside of me. It’s an emotion I rarely give in to. One of the keys to surviving a lifetime in other people’s homes is tamping down your feelings and not making waves.

          “Hang on a sec. I want you to explain that to her.”

          “Oh, no. You can’t…”

          I hand the phone to Dorothy. Unable to get by her in the tight space, I’m forced to watch her face fall as she listens to her son’s excuses. Her lips quiver as she hands my phone back.

          I feel like crying too. I love my husband and I want him here, not in some furnished corporate apartment two hours away. And if I have to be here when he’s not, I don’t want to be left with this woman who barely tolerates me while she waits for his appearance on the weekend.

          Since I’m not getting either of those things, I want a pint of ice cream. And I want to eat it lying in bed reading a novel that will take me somewhere else. Let me be someone else. Books are what got me through the foster care system and every other situation that I’ve had no control over. Don’t get me wrong, I like to read when I’m happy or even just okay, but books—and the words that form them-- have gotten me through a lot of things I’d like to forget. If I’d relied on ice cream alone, I’d be the size of a barn.

          Dorothy, who’s normally puffed up beyond her diminutive size, looks small and shriveled.

          Before I can think it through, I ask her if she’d like to go out for lunch.

          Dorothy sniffs. Her eyes are moist with tears that don’t dare to fall. “I can make myself a sandwich.” She looks at me suspiciously. “Assuming there are things in the refrigerator.” Like her son, Dorothy chooses to believe that grocery elves come in to stock it while she’s asleep.

          “We could make grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but I wouldn’t mind picking up a few more things. I think we should go out and have a bite together.”

          “Why on earth would we do that?” She looks as horrified as I feel.

          “Because I know you were looking forward to going out. And it might make us both feel better.”

          We do a bit of a stare down. Her gray eyes are identical to Mitch’s, only without any of the warmth. I will my green ones – they’ve always been my best feature and help to cancel out my stick straight carrot red hair and ghost white skin -- to telegraph sincerity even though I already regret the offer.

          “If you like.” Her tone is grudging, and I have to remind myself that I’m doing a nice thing and that is supposed to be its own reward.

TEN RANDOM FACTS ABOUT THE BREAK-UP BOOK CLUB
  • Between the Covers, the bookstore where my fictional book club meets, was inspired by an independent bookstore in Roswell, GA called Coffee Buy the Book that occupied an historic home and had a carriage house where book clubs met.
  • Fictional bookseller Annell Barrett takes her name from two good friends that I first met through their Atlanta area bookstores: Annell Gerson of Bookmiser and Dana Barrett, former owner of Coffee Buy the Book and current facilitator of Dana’s (we eat drink and talk about the book) Club.
  • One of the secondary characters in The Break-Up Book Club first appeared in longtime friend and critique partner Karen White’s Tradd Street series. Karen ‘loaned’ her to me when the person her character was named for won a ‘character naming’ I’d donated to Curing Kids Cancer. It seemed wrong to create an entirely different character with the same name. I’m kind of curious to see who recognizes her....
  • Speaking of character name winners, Perley, Angela, Lyllie, Mollie, and Kerina McBride, won as a family at the same charity auction. (Note: their characters do not physically resemble the real McBrides in any way. They are, however, really great people both in fiction and real life.)
    Because I often give bits and pieces of my real life to my characters I will ‘admit’ the following:
  • Character Judith lives in my former house in the suburbs and is not the first of my characters to live there.
  • Character Sara is an ‘escape’ reader because I am.
  • Character Jazmine was inspired by a friend who lives in the hi-rise I downsized to.
  • Character Meena, a good friend and former neighbor of Judith’s, lives in a hi-rise that’s almost identical to mine.
  • I joined Dana’s (we eat drink and talk about the book) Club in the name of research.
  • The books my fictional book club reads are all books that I have read and enjoyed.
Writing Behind the Scenes
I mentioned using character name winners earlier and I will confess here that I stopped doing this for a while after I had a winner named Fred Strahlendorf. That’s not a name you can just give to any character and I had to actually create one that fit the name. You can find him in The House on Mermaid Point.

Speaking of character names, I have sheets and sheets of first and last names that I look through when I’m starting a novel. Sometimes I’ve ‘created’ a name from this list that I thought was new and unusual only to discover it already belonged to someone famous. Or to someone that I actually knew.

I have also on occasion re-used a name without realizing or intending it and wince when readers email to ask if this is the same so-and-so from another novel of mine. Unless it’s a series, the answer is probably no. In my defense -- after a certain number of novels, all of which contain many characters, it can be hard to keep track.

Most memorable travel experience?
The trip to New York City in 1985 when I met the man who would become my husband completely by accident on the Carey Bus leaving JFK. (I was 28 at the time and my mother, who was afraid that I’d never marry, had just said, ‘What? Do you think you’re just going to be walking along one day and meet someone?’) We were married for almost 35 years.

First thing you think of when you wake up in the morning.
My husband, John. And how much I miss him.

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
I have white hair! (This is intentional as I’d been coloring it since my early twenties and finally just decided I’d had enough.) This was followed by ‘OMG! I look just like my mother!

First job you ever had?
First job I ever had was working in a donut shop. (Not the best choice for someone who’s spent much of her life on a diet.) Most fun job I ever had -- that stint hosting Desperate & Dateless, back when I was both.


Breakups, like book clubs, come in many shapes and sizes and can take us on unexpected journeys as four women discover in this funny and heartwarming exploration of friendship from the USA Today bestselling author of Ten Beach Road and My Ex-Best Friend's Wedding.

On paper, Jazmine, Judith, Erin and Sara have little in common - they're very different people leading very different lives. And yet at book club meetings in an historic carriage house turned bookstore, they bond over a shared love of reading (and more than a little wine) as well as the growing realization that their lives are not turning out like they expected.

Former tennis star Jazmine is a top sports agent balancing a career and single motherhood. Judith is an empty nester questioning her marriage and the supporting role she chose. Erin's high school sweetheart and fiance develops a bad case of cold feet, and Sara's husband takes a job out of town saddling Sara with a difficult mother-in-law who believes her son could have done better - not exactly the roommate most women dream of.

With the help of books, laughter, and the joy of ever evolving friendships, Jazmine, Judith, Erin and Sara find the courage to navigate new and surprising chapters of their lives as they seek their own versions of happily-ever-after.

You can purchase The Break-Up Book Club at the following Retailers:
        

1 Winner will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card.
jbnpastinterviews

11 comments:

  1. Jeff Bezos... become a billionaire for wanting to sell books? YES.

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  2. Diana Ross she is amazing

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  3. Michelle Obama because she is inspirational and in a position to really make a difference in the world.

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  4. "If you could be born into history as any famous person who would it be and why?" Hmm, probably the inventor of toilet paper. No one has ever rendered a greater service to the human race.

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  5. I like my privacy too much to want to be a famous person. If I had to choose I'd say someone in the scientific community who saved lives.

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  6. I suppose I would like to be Elizabeth I.

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  7. Marilyn Monroe, because she was so loved and beautiful.

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  8. I would love to be Ruth Bader Ginsburg because she really made a difference in her life.

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  9. I would love to have been born a member of The Beatles, because they are my favorite band of all time.

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  10. Corrie ten Boom because she was courageous.

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  11. Eleanor of Aquitaine because she was intelligent, strong-willed and managed to outwit and outlive those who kept trying to put her down.

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