Vail Valley books: 7 Questions with Jennifer Manske Fenske
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado –These days, if a book is to have a chance at becoming a bestseller, or even a good seller, it must first make its way into the hands of the all powerful book-club reader. And, of course, there is no magic formula to make this happen. Publishers often tout their books as “the perfect book club read,” or package them complete with “reading guides” designed specifically to entice the harried book-club leader searching for next month’s book.
The truth is there is no telling what a book club will read and love. In fact, book clubs read just about anything and everything. The only thing that seems to be consistent is that they are willing to take a chance. Jennifer Manske Fenske’s new book, “The Wide Smiles of Girls,” is one that deserves just such a chance.
The story centers round the bond between two utterly different women, Mae Wallace and her sister March. But “The Wide Smiles of Girls” doesn’t just teach us about what it means to share a bond with a sibling. Fenske also illuminates how the emotional trials of others can show us the way through our own struggles – just as the members of a book club counsel and cajole their fellow readers into at least understanding and perhaps loving a book they may have overlooked.
Jennifer Manske Fenske will be visiting The Bookworm of Edwards Friday for an intimate discussion of her book “The Wide Smiles of Girls.” This is an opportunity to bring your bookclub out for an evening on the town. For a sneak peek at what we’ll talk about, we sat down with Jennifer to ask a few questions about her new book.
1. What motivated you to write a story about sisters?
I have a deep love for my sister, but I initially did not set out to write a story about sisters, per se. I first imagined Hale and his grief. Then I quickly dreamed up Ruth. Next, I imagined Mae Wallace and March, but it was almost like they were independent characters – not related and perhaps not even sisters. One day, when I was mulling over these half-characters and getting ready to start writing about them, I made the leap, and they were sisters.
2. In your novel, we discover the intricacies of the bond between sisters, but you also illuminate the struggles that can come with romantic love. Was it difficult to create a balance between these two aspects of your characters’ lives?
I don’t think it was too difficult to balance the two. I just remembered my early and mid-20s and how you are basically trying to figure out who and what you will be. I recalled some of the lessons I learned: first boyfriends probably won’t make good husbands; the first year of marriage (as in the case of Hale and Ruth) can be downright hard. I tried to make Mae Wallace’s struggles with Vince come across as real. She’s hampered by her inability to communicate. When I was writing, I had to bite my tongue and not get cross with her. I wanted to say, “Open your mouth already!” But she doesn’t. That’s Mae Wallace.
3. Do your characters ever have roots in the people you are close to?
I think it’s inevitable that your life will pop up in the characters you write. My friends are always telling me that they see bits and pieces of me in the stories I write. For instance, I have a deep and abiding love with ice cream. So when I set out to create the Anders family fortune, it was as ice cream barons. Langdon Island stands in for a small South Carolina island I vacationed on as a child. My beloved husband is an artist.
4. What is your writing process like?
I work best with a deadline, so with my first two novels, when I knew I had a date on the calendar (usually about a year away), I set up a schedule. I always tell people that writing a novel is not hard. It’s a numbers game for me. “Write X number of words each time and then X number of months later, the book will be finished.”
I work full time at a corporate job, so writing takes place at night, from about 9 to 10 p.m. I basically come home from work; do the dinner, play and bath thing with the family (my children are 9 months and three years); then I relax for a little. Eventually, I turn on the laptop. About an hour is all I can manage when I write. I’m too tired to do much more!
5. Who are some of your favorite authors?
Flannery O’Connor, George Saunders, Mindy Friddle, Sherri Reynolds. This week I am reading “What I Thought I Knew,” by Alice Eve Cohen.
6. If you could be anything other than a writer, what would it be?
I have a long list of what else I would do. A sample: QVC hostess. I know it’s strange, but I love to watch QVC. I don’t buy anything – never have. I just oddly and bizarrely enjoy watching.
Midwife. Both of my children were delivered by midwives and I have an enormous respect for their gentle and nurturing work.
National Parks Service employee. If I could do it all over again, I would have been a ranger and then worked my way up into the parks administration.
7. Are you working on anything new at the moment?
I am in the “discovery” stage of my third novel. It’s basically a time to collect ideas, draw outlines and cook up what might happen.
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