How did you first get the idea for Crossing Washington
The idea for this book evolved over a few years. As someone who has lived the
academic life (I have a PhD in literature and now I’m married to a professor at
NYU), I’ve always loved books about the university – books like Kingsley Amis’
Lucky Jim and Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys. But what I noticed about such campus fiction was the lack of female professors in leading roles. Even the female
authors like Francine Prose and Zadie Smith, who’ve written campus novels, they
too focus on male professors. Furthermore, most of these male professors are
disillusioned drunks who quite often sleep with their students! I wanted to
write a novel with women professors taking the lead and I wanted these women to
be strong and smart and interesting – instead of drunk, disillusioned, and
preoccupied with questionable romantic liaisons!
What was the most fun scene in your book to write?
Crossing Washington Square is a story of two very different women and their very
different love of books. Rachel Grey and Diana Monroe are both literature
professors in the old boys club of Manhattan University. While this should
create a kinship between them, they are very much at odds. Rachel is young,
emotional, and impulsive. She wrote a book about women’s book groups which got
her a slot on Oprah and she uses “chick lit” in her classes. Diana is aloof,
icy, and controlled. She’s also a scholar of Sylvia Plath who thinks “beach”
fiction is an easy ride for students. But as is often the case, it’s a man that
truly divides the two women. Smooth-talking Carson McEvoy, a visiting Harvard
professor, has his sights on both Rachel and Diana and gets sparks truly
If your book were to become a movie, who would you cast?
Crossing Washington Square loosely echoes Austen’s Sense and Sensibilty –
with one professor being led by her sense, the other by her sensibility. I love
the Ang Lee adaptation of Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Kate
Winslet playing the two very different Dashwood sisters. Therefore I’d love Emma
and Kate to play my professors!
Who’s your favorite character and why?
That’s a tough one! My knee jerk response is to say Professor Rachel Grey
because, out of the two female leads, I identify most with her. Rachel teaches
chick lit in her classes and has to defend her work and the genre to her stuffy
colleagues who think only the classics and literary fiction should be studied.
As a grad student, I would be reading classical literature and poetry by day,
but then secretly read popular women’s fiction at night (Bridget Jones’ Diary, I
have to say, is one of my all time favorite books!). Rachel is also flawed
and emotional, yet good and honest and brave. I like that about her.
Every time I revisit the book, however, I like Professor Diana Monroe
more too. She’s super smart and has great poise and grace as a teacher. She’s
the kind of uber-professor that every academic secretly wants to be. She’s also
pretty darn scary in her austerity and brilliance. But she has a vulnerability
too and her life started out pretty tough and therefore, every time I revisit
the book, I like her more.
Have you had a "rock star" moment regarding your writing career? If so,
what was it?
My first novel was The Professors’ Wives’ Club. A couple of months after its
release, a woman contacted me and said she’d read and enjoyed the book. She told
me she was a professor’s wife and after a few emails, she revealed that she was
the wife of a very distinguished professor of cultural studies whose work I’d
read, who I’d seen giving keynotes talks at conferences, and whose work greatly
influenced the writing of Crossing Washington Square. Not really a “rock star”
moment, but still exciting to know the wives of influential professors
(professors I really dig!) read my book.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I have a six year old son who is homeschooled, so that’s what I’m mostly doing
when I’m not writing. Although, “homeschool” is somewhat a misnomer as we spend
a relatively small amount of time schooling at “home.” We live in New York so
are lucky enough to have an amazing array of fun and educational places on our
doorstep. Benny and I, together with his homeschooled friends, are always out on
trips to the Met, the Natural History Museum, aquariums, zoos, galleries,
libraries, and parks. When we’re not out and about, Benny and I love to read –
either together or separately. I’m so thankful he loves books like I do!
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on final edits for my third novel which was bought by Penguin last
fall. The novel tells the story of a woman who thinks she might be related to
the nineteenth century writer, Mary Shelley. On her journey to seek the truth
and to discover if there really is a link between her own family and the creator
of Frankenstein, Clara unearths surprising facts about people much closer to
home – including some shocking secrets about the ambitious scientist she is
engaged to. The book is told in alternating points of view between Clara and the
young Mary Shelley who is preparing to write Frankenstein.
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