Interviewed by Andi
Estella's Revenge has the great pleasure of hosting the first stop on Jennie Shortridge's blog tour to promote her latest novel, Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe. She is the author of two other novels, Eating Heaven and Riding with the Queen.
Andi Miller: For the Estella's Revenge readers that might not be familiar with your novel, could you sum it up briefly? It's often more interesting to hear a synopsis from the author herself than the interviewer.
Jennie Shortridge: It's about a woman's journey from "perfect" to better. Mira is a middle-aged, perimenopausal perfectionist whose goal in life has been to live perfectly. When one small piece of that life is toppled, the rest falls around it, and she finds herself in a car headed north from her idyllic Oregon Coast small town and family, dressed only in a thong and bathrobe, and accompanied by a small singing dog named Patsy Cline. Her car breaks down in Seattle, in a funky old neighborhood known to locals as "The Center of the Universe," and this becomes her Oz, where she can discover who she really is and what really matters.
AM: I really enjoyed reading about Mira Serafino's plight in light of her husband's indiscretion. I found it interesting that Mira took off without really knowing the extent to which her husband "slipped" with another woman. Were you ever concerned about keeping Mira believable or staying true to a seemingly "straight laced" character in this regard?
JS: I think that's what novelists worry about constantly, but I also realize that every human is unique. We each receive so many different inputs and experiences and have such varying emotions and reactions, you know? Mira freaked out, completely. Everything she did was against her character, partly because the persona she'd built for herself was a false one. And I think to some women, it doesn't matter if their husbands shared a bed or an intimate conversation--it feels like betrayal.
AM: One of my favorite parts of the book was learning about Mira's work days in the Coffee Shop at the Center of the Universe. All the details about food, coffee, and the preparation involved in a shift were wonderfully mouth watering. Are you a coffee addict yourself and have you had any experience working or lounging in a similar setting?
JS: Oh my God, yes! I live for coffee. I live in Seattle where it's dark all winter long and the only way to wake up is head for the local coffee shop and have a triple tall nonfat latte. I wrote a lot about cooking and food in my second novel, even more so than this one, and it does come from my background cooking in cafes, but also just as a person who loves to cook and to eat.
AM: You said in the Q&A included in the book that you've "never had children, or been a biology teacher, or lived in a small town, or gone through a separation from my husband…" Given the differences between you and Mira, do you have any tricks or advice on how to inhabit a character and begin to flesh them out in writing?
JS: I have an infinite capacity for empathy, too much sometimes. I find writing is a great outlet for that. I've always loved to imagine things, and make up things. I've always written and read about other kinds of people, and I have friends who I've lived vicariously through. When they're going through a break-up, or having trouble with a teenager, I'm a good listening ear and shoulder to cry on. I'm also a superb aunt, so I've hung out a lot with my nieces.
AM: Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe is full of quirky characters. Who was your favorite to write aside from Mira?
JS: I loved writing Thea. And Nonna's letters were fun.
AM: Would you categorize your novel as "women's fiction?" Why or why not? And what might set it apart from other books that deal with similar issues?
JS: Inasmuch as my novels are about women for the most part, and appeal to female readers, yes. Elizabeth Berg said something like "I like women, so I'm happy if they want to call my books women's fiction." I don't really care what they call it, but I'd hate to have my books minimized by being included in a category that precludes other readers. What's funny is that about half of the Amazon reviews for Love and Biology are written by men!
AM: Since you're working on a blog tour, obviously you're receptive to the idea of bloggers dipping into the role of book reviewer. How would you forecast the importance of book bloggers in the publishing industry, and your career specifically, in the future?
JS: I think book bloggers, and customer reviews, are incredibly important to books these days. I think readers trust other readers WAY more than they trust reviewers, just as we trust friends' reviews of movies other those we read in the paper. I welcome it. I love hearing all of the voices out there talking about books!
AM: What type of books do you enjoy reading in your dwindling free time, and could you suggest some of your favorites for our readers?
JS: I enjoy lots of different kinds of books. It's harder to read fiction now that I write it. I'm always in a story, so can't get immersed in another one, or I don't want to. So, when I'm drafting, I'll read nonfiction. Lately I've loved Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Michael Pollan books, and books about teaching writing.
As for fiction, I have managed to consume a few lately, and I've loved The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, The Little Book by Selden Edwards (a new classic, I'm pretty sure), and some old classics that I never got to the first time around.
AM: What advice would you give to new writers trying to break into the publishing industry?
JS: Write. Write something really wonderful that only you can write. Don't think about marketing until you have written it. Then go out and educate yourself about marketing at conferences, through books and organizations, etc. But first, write.
AM: I always have to ask, because it's my very favorite question—do you have any writing "rituals" or practices that you stick to?
JS: I write every weekday morning until I feel finished. And I try to set a timer to get up every 45 minutes so that my back will continue to let me write well into old age.
Thanks so much to Jennie Shortridge for her delightful answers and her captivating novel.
Visit Jennie Shortridge's blog.
Visit TLC Book Tours to visit other stops on Ms. Shortridge's tour.