Inside the Tea Room
with Jeanne Blasberg, author of The Nine
Hello Jeanne! It’s so nice to see you again. We sure covered a lot of territory last time, including your writing strategy and the impact of your family life on your writing. Before we start, I love to ask authors what odd item is on their desk. What can you tell us?
Jeanne: I have a figurine of a little fairy named Lily that is made out of iron. She sits on the windowsill above my desk, staring at me with a loving posture. I picked her up at a bar in Hong Kong when we visited in May. She even came with a little vial of fairy dust that I could not resist.
Please help yourself to these cookies. Which one is your favorite?
Jeanne: I love peanut butter cookies! (takes a few)
Of course, for those who want to read your earlier interview, I’ve linked it HERE. Before we talk about your exciting news today, can you give me an update on Eden? How have people responded? How do you feel about it almost two years later?
Jeanne: I am so proud of Eden. The book has taken on a life of its own and found its way into the hands and hearts of many readers. The book has been very well received and the effort it took to get the story out in the world was the biggest gift I have ever given myself.
Now onto your news! So I hear you have something exciting coming up in August?
Jeanne: Yes! My second novel, The Nine, will be published on August 20 by She Writes Press. It seems like it is coming right on the heels of Eden, but it is a book I began writing in 2013, around the time I was feeling discouraged by all the rewrites I had in front of me with Eden. It was like I was keeping The Nine project as a mistress while avoiding the hard revisions. Anyway, The Nine is the story of a mother and son and focuses on that painful moment when the child must flee the nest. The son discovers a scandalous underworld at his boarding school and much to his mother’s chagrin, pursues justice as opposed to her ivy-league hopes and dreams.
We still love Bear the puppy you brought us on your last visit. He’s doing great, but goodness does he require attention.
Jeanne: I totally understand. So this time I brought you a beautiful bouquet of flowers. I love my garden and am so delighted to share this beautiful bouquet of peonies and snapdragons from my garden in Rhode Island.
These are gorgeous and smell divine. Thank you! Do go on about your story while I inhale the aroma of these petals.
Jeanne: The Nine is about a fragile family: a mother, father and son, as well as a young dorm parent who is in way over his head. It explores themes of privilege, class, and finding the right balance as a parent: when to push and when to pull back.
So what is it about your new book that makes it unique? How is it different from other novels you’ve written?
Jeanne: I love and have studied the campus novel which I believe is a uniquely American genre. However, I have never read a campus novel with a strong maternal point of view. This was obviously informed by my role as a mother. It’s because I believe when something difficult “happens” to a teenager, it often “happens” to the parents as well. Maybe this is a modern dynamic in our era of “helicopter parenting,” but I really wanted to dwell on it in my writing.
The Nine is different than Eden in that there is a much shorter timeline and it highlights mothers and sons and opposed to mothers and daughters. They both, I believe, hit on the nuances of parenting and balancing what’s in a mother’s heart with societal expectations.
How do you see yourself in Hannah?
Jeanne: I am laughing and wincing at that question as I wrote Hannah from my own emotional experiences, but I hope I made her more extreme than I ever was as a mother. I think and hope my children would agree!!
Now, it seems like one of the main themes in your novel- Bear, stop barking!- is family. How does the concept of family influence your work? What do you want to convey to readers about the power of family?
Jeanne: Great question. Before publishing my novels, I spent twenty-five years caring for my family. (Still am, although it is no longer a full-time job.) So being a mother was at the center of my most meaningful experiences. Not only that, I was the only child of a woman who had me very young so I had a very intense relationship with my mother. What I am trying to convey is the care with which we must take when deciding what we want to pass down to our children and as children, what we are willing to accept from our parents. These questions are as old as time, but they are what I want to explore in my novels.
What advice do you have for other writers who are interested in the coming-of-age genre? Any tips on the craft of this genre? What was the most difficult part of writing the genre? Do you have a fave website you use as reference?
Jeanne: I would read as many of your favorites as possible. I think “hero takes a journey” is one of the most common archetypal stories and therefore “coming of age” novels can be inspired by or parallel any number of classics.
The challenge with writing an adolescent character is deciding what voice to use. I was comfortable writing Hannah in the first person, really needed to in fact, because she spends so much time in her head. When it came to Sam, however, I used the close third because I wanted a little leeway from always feeling like I needed to use a younger person’s language. Yes, he is a very smart kid – but I didn’t want to be hemmed in by that aspect.
Are there any coming-of-age novels you’ve read that have influenced your writing or your life in general?
Jeanne: So back to the campus novel, especially ones that feature secret societies… (The Nine is the name of a century-old secret society that Sam joins at his boarding school) The following is a list of my favorites, books I studied before and during drafting The Nine:
The Lords of Discipline by Patrick Conroy
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
The Rector of Justin by Louis Auchincloss
Dead Poets Society by N.H Kleinbaum
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
The Secret History by Donna Tart
The Half Brother by Holly LeCraw
The Virgins by Pamela Erens
Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly Mccreight
A Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman
I can’t wait to talk to readers about The Nine. During this day and age of college admissions scandals, back doors, and side doors, I think many parents of teens who have undergone the college process will be able to relate. I am also excited for the reaction from people who like to listen to audiobooks, because one of my all-time favorite narrators, Ari Fliakos, is reading the parts of Sam and the dorm head, Shawn, and from what I’ve heard to date, it is just fabulous.
Thank you so much for coming by and bringing such beautiful flowers. Is there any way to find out more information about the book or how to contact you?
Jeanne: Please visit my website! Jeanneblasberg.com