March 28, 2007

3 Questions with Valerie Frankel

Instead of Owls, I offer Valerie Frankel, a freelance writer who resides in Brooklyn, NY with her two daughters and husband. She contributes to many national magazines, including O, [Glamour], Allure, Self, and Parenting. She’s also been a featured writer for the New York Times Style section. Val has written thirteen novels thus far, including The Accidental Virgin which has been optioned to become a movie starring Heather Graham, Smart Vs. Pretty, optioned to be made into TV show, and The Girlfriend Curse, nominated for a Quills award. She’s here today to talk about her latest novel.


Penny Bracket has waited two years to marry her dream man. Just as Penny’s putting on the final touches on her wedding day, she receives a note from her beloved that simply says, “Penny, I can’t go through with it. Sorry, Bram” Mortified, Penny is determined to figure out what went wrong, even if it kills her, or, preferably Bram.

Penny’s mother wants Bram’s head on a platter. And she gets it: In a fit of maternal rage, Ester Bracket finds Bram as he’s packing to flee, knocks him out with a bottle of champagne, and kidnaps him to a secret room in her mansion in affluent Short Hares, New Jersey. Will Penny get the answers and revenge she’s after from Bram, who (as she may or may not discover) is locked in her attic? Will Bram’s widowed father, handsome tough guy Keith Shiraz locate his son and/or seduce Ester Bracket? Will Bram, athletic and regretful, escape both his wedding and his imprisonment in one piece? Find out in I TAKE THIS MAN

People magazine says Valerie is, “Always wickedly entertaining!”

JJ: How important is location to you as a writer, or, a better way to say that might be, could these books be set anywhere else?

VF: More than what I know, I write where I know. “Place” is always crucial to me. Location sets the tone since people are always products of their environment. Most of my books unfold in and around Brooklyn, New York, where I’ve lived for nearly twenty years. The Girlfriend Curse is my homage to the state of Vermont, my summer home. My new book, I Take This Man, is a love letter to my natal state of New Jersey (only in NJ could a concussive blow to the head feel like a tongue kiss). I was born in Newark in 1965. My family lived in West Orange until 1974 when we moved to Short Hills. I graduated from Millburn High School in 1983.

I Take This Man is a New Jersey book in that it combines the Sopranos toughness with the Glitz and conspicuous consumption of the super affluent. Much like the fictional Short Hares, my hometown is famous for its "Ultimate Shopping Experience" mall. The Mall at Short Hills is a mere five-minute drive from my parents’ house. I have spent absurd amounts of time (and money) at the Mall since it was built in the mid-1970s. My high school friends and I all had jobs there, got our prom dresses from Laura Ashley, had our first cigarettes in the parking lot, shoplifted there, were busted there. Ah, sweet memories of youth. A few years ago, I heard about a man committing suicide by leaping off the second floor balcony at the Mall (he must have been depressed about how much money he’d just spent). He didn’t crash head first into the fountain like Russell in I Take This Man. I believe the jumper went splat on the marble floor.

JJ: Who did you dedicate this book to and why?

VF: I test the quality of plots on close friends and family—people who won’t lie and say they love everything. If my audience seems bored by the storyline, I immediately strike the idea from my list. If the idea goes over well, and the audience laughs a few times, I move it to the top. The test subjects for I Take This Man were three friends from Mademoiselle—the late, great magazine we worked at together before going our separate ways. The four of us regularly meet for dinner to catch up, laugh, drink, eat and conspire to help each other as best we can. On one such evening, I monopolized the entire meal by describing the plot of I Take This Man. These three (very) chatty women listened in rapt silence with expectant “go on” and “what next?” expressions as I told the story. By the end of the dessert course (we always order dessert), I knew I was onto something good. That meal stands out as the best feedback experience I’ve ever had. Hence, I’ve dedicated this book to Lauren Purcell, Jeanie Pyun and Daryl Chen.

JJ: What is the relationship between writing and motherhood? I mean this in a personal way -- for you. Does one feed the other, are they similar for you, does doing one make doing the other harder, do these things compete or come from the same place or? What?

VF: Obviously, kids have needs, and are time consuming. They take away from writing time. But, they're also inspiring.

The basic idea for I Take This Man came from a typical day in the life of a working mother. My daughter came home from school, and announced that some little girl in her first grade class made her cry. A flash of anger flooded my brain. After a minute or two, I calmed myself down. Lucy and I discussed what had happened, and worked out an appropriate response. But that flash of maternal rage got my meat grinder going. Any intense emotion is a kick-start.

It made me wonder: What offense against one of my daughters would actually move me to lash out with violence against another human being? I fixated on the question, lay awake in bed, wondering what indeed would make an otherwise controlled, rational woman thirsty for blood? I imagined being the mother of a jilted bride who, in a fit of vengeance, attacks the runaway groom. From there, I asked more questions: “Why did the groom cancel the wedding?” “What did the mother do with the groom after she bashed him?” “How would the bride find out what happened?” Five hours later, at three o’clock in the morning, I had the framework of a plot.

PS! Did you notice that on AMAZON's better together marketing thing that suggests another book that goes WITH the one you are oggling, Valerie's book is paired with the 7th Harry Potter book? Um, yeah. I bet EVERY book is paired with the seventh Harry, hehehehe.

"If you like...books, like this one, with words in it, you ALSO need to buy a copy of HARRY'S LAST ADVENTURE."

Of course, I've already pre-ordered Harry, so I should shut my pie hole.

Posted by joshilyn at March 28, 2007 8:43 AM

This one is going on my wishlist right now. Along with Harry, of course. :-)

Posted by: DebR at March 28, 2007 9:57 AM

I think amazon should pair it with gods... for the similar bashing-errant-male-with-a-bottle imagery. ;)

Posted by: el-e-e at March 28, 2007 11:04 AM

Love the premise of the novel! Yowza!

I've pre-ordered Harry too. I'm already trying to figure out if my spouse and kids will let me go to a hotel room by myself the minute I get the novel, so I can read it without talking to anyone or overhearing anything. Anyone want to join me?

Posted by: Edgy Mama at March 28, 2007 11:41 AM

Will definitely check this one out!

Posted by: Tiff at March 28, 2007 2:40 PM