Thursday, July 21, 2016

Interview with novelist Nora Zelevansky


1. What inspired you to write your book?
I grew up in New York City and moved to California for college, while most of my friends stayed behind -- close to home. A few years after graduation, I had a conversation with my father about how I noticed some of my friends starting to struggle with moving beyond being high school "popular kids" into functional adults. He asked me what would have happened to me if I never left home. That got me thinking, not about my own experience per se, but about whether leaving home helps us evolve.

I am drawn to writing delayed coming-of-age stories, partially because I think that's the new norm (millennials can attest to that) and also because I relate. What's also interesting to me is that kids are transitioning into full adults later and later, as they explore the countless paths available. It's easy to get overwhelmed and paralyzed by too many choices and not know which way to turn. There's a moment for most of us in our twenties when we feel lost and upset and like we're not sure how to move forward. I can remember that feeling viscerally. I personally grew up in a family full of artists who all seemed to understand their passions from birth. I was less sure -- my path was less clear -- and figuring out what my life should look like was really fraught and difficult. There were many tearful nights.

I wanted to explore that experience and tell that story, one to which so many people can relate. It's the story of searching in the face of confusion. It's the story of finding that core identity.

2. What is it about?
The novel tells the story of Marjorie Plum, a 28-year-old woman who was once the most popular girl in school and who is now stuck in a serious rut. When her already lackluster life -- bad job, stale friendships -- begins to fall to pieces, she's forced to confront extreme change. She moves to Brooklyn, she meets a weird new pixie-looking musician roommate, she becomes a tutor to an 11-year-old girl who she wants to help, despite feeling unequipped. She considers a relationship with a "what if" guy from her past. Ultimately, she's forced to figure out what kind of person she wants to become.

But also, at every age, we are faced with both anticipated and unexpected changes (births, deaths, new relationships, divorces, job shifts, moves, emotional turmoil) and then inevitable growing pains. The question is whether we're ready to move forward or feel more comfortable retreating into the past. I've come to think of all those transitions as moments of coming-of-age -- again and again. So the book is really about that universal feeling of disorientation.

3. What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book?
My hope is that readers will, first, enjoy the ride and find humor in the book. Then, after finishing, I hope that they'll relate to Marjorie's journey into the next stage of life and feel hopeful and like they're not alone in their own transitions. In that way, I hope WILL YOU WON'T YOU WANT ME? will stay with them, as they roll with life's inevitable changes.

4. What advice do you have for writers?
Write. Even when what comes out is terrible; even when you feel like you don't have it. Just write. Write through the good days and write through the bad. Write two sentences when you have no time and pages upon pages when you're in the zone. Don't put too much pressure on it. Just be open to what might come and wait for the gems and the truths to emerge.

5. Where do you think the publishing industry is heading?
I honestly don't know. I have to assume that books will always exist in some capacity. People love stories. And there's nothing better than escaping into a great book. Obviously, print is becoming less significant as digital grows. The publishing world has to learn to roll with change just like we all do. In the meantime, it's nice to see the growing diversity of writers and the slow but steady representation of more varied voices.

6. What challenges did you have in writing your book?
This was a story that I think was percolating in my head for a long time, so I think one challenge was not getting bogged down in some old take on the narrative. I overwrote this one though and, luckily, my editor made me cut a lot (which really improved the story). That was probably the biggest challenge. Also, I wanted Marjorie to be emotionally arrested at the beginning, so it was a delicate balance to make sure that she continues to grow and become more sympathetic incrementally as the story goes on.

7. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours?
WILL YOU WON'T YOU WANT ME? offers dimension without darkness. It's a thinking book with (hopefully) resonant universal themes, but it's not heavy. It's funny and relatable. A lot of readers have told me that, especially as they hit the last third, they were so absorbed that they had trouble putting it down and stayed up into the early hours to finish or even missed their subway stop. I consider that the highest compliment and it's definitely what I want out of a summer read, particularly!

About the author: Nora Zelevansky is a novelist, journalist and editor. As a freelance writer, she covers style, beauty, travel, design, food, wellness, health, fitness, TV and film and burgeoning cultural trends, as well as writing profiles and humor essays. Her work has appeared in publications including ELLE, Vanity Fair, Town & Country, T Magazine (The New York Times), Travel + Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Style.comSELF,, The Daily Beast and The Washington Post. She is also the editorial director for upscale wellness website, Live The Process. She lives in Brooklyn.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBl

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