Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Mainstream Fiction
'Sweet and compelling' People Magazine
Valerie Frankel is a bestselling novelist and an award-winning journalist. She has published twenty-five books in a range of genres; chick lit, young adult, self-help, mysteries and two memoirs. She has also contributed to dozens of publications including the New York Times, Self, Allure, Glamour, Parenting and Good Housekeeping.
Frankel's memoirs, Thin is the New Happy and It's Hard Not to Hate You both received rave reviews. She also collaborated with Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi on her novels A Shore Thing and Gorilla Beach.
If the titles of some of Valerie's books suggests she has a healthy sense of irony, the fact she co-authored (with the Joan Rivers) Men Are Stupid . . . And They Like Big Boobs: A Woman's Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery, confirms it!
I am thrilled that Valerie agreed to be interviewed about her new novel, Four of a Kind.
1. What was your impetus for writing 'Four of a Kind'?
I wanted to do a novel about female friendship that came into my characters’ lives as an unexpected gift. So often, friendship arrives in our lives out of the blue, or where we least expect to find it, in the least likely place or person. The idea of four totally different types of women meeting for their kids’ school’s Diversity Committee seemed like a solid way to dramatize this idea. Having them play poker for each other’s secrets was a quick and juicy way to help the characters get to know each other quickly, and to draw in the reader to their private lives.
2. How would you describe your writing process and how long did it take you to write 'Four of a Kind'?
My process is pretty straightforward. I sit down at the desk, and don’t get up until I’ve written a certain number of words. Usually, I try to produce 1,000 words per day. I’ve found that it’s useful to keep moving forward with plot, even if I changed direction midway. After I finish a first draft, I got back to page one, and retrofit the plot and character changes. As a result, I often wind up completely rewriting the first 100 pages or so during that first edit. The second and third edits are for continuity and polish. The writing of Four of a Kind was slightly different than my usual process. I took my time with this novel, writing about 50 pages at a stretch, then working on another book for a while, and coming back to FOAK several months later. All told, it took about two years to complete it.
3. Your characters are thrust together on a school committee, but get to know each other through playing poker, with the high stakes of secrets. Would you say they were driven by a desire to be understood by sharing their own secrets, or by the desire to be privy to someone else's and maybe feeling a little better about their own lives?
We all know from airplane travel, that it’s often easier to spill your secrets to near strangers than to confide in your closest friend. So when the characters met for the first time, sat down and, as a lark, decided to play for secrets instead of money, the context allowed that to be possible. An objective listener can be the most helpful, which is why therapy works. The characters definitely took the opportunity to share without caring too much about the others’ reaction (later, however, as they go to know each other better, caring about each other influenced their lives tremendously). None of the characters used the experience in order to feel better about their lives, although when you realize that everyone, no matter how seemingly perfect, has her share of problems, that can be a relief.
4. We have an innate desire for intimate relationships, yet we are often thwarted in our attempts to be known and understood. Why do you think that is?
It’s scary to put your thoughts and feelings out there! People fear judgment, rightly so. People do judge. They can’t help it. If you express your deepest feelings and fears in order to be understood, you risk being misunderstood and rejected or humiliated in the process. The characters in Four Of a Kind took big risks to reveal themselves to each other. Each woman was so isolated in her own life, though they were in “share or die” mode. The risk was worth the potential downside. And the rewards were beyond what they could have imagined.
5. What did you learn about life through writing about these four women's lives?
I was reminded to value and treasure my own friends. I’m embarrassed to say, I often take them for granted.
6. In terms of worldview, what do you believe?
Freedom of the press. Freedom of speech. Freedom to make personal decisions about health card and reproduction without government interferences. Regarding certain recreation drugs that can be grown in a planter, I believe in taxation and regulation, not criminalization. I believe people should read more books than watch TV, but I also believe it's none of my business what anyone does with their time. I believe strongly in my opinions, and don't believe in cramming them down anyone's throats. I'd probably be a Libertarian, but I also believe government has an obligation to help and protect the most vulnerable members of our society. So, in a nutshell, I believe in freedom, food, pot and books for all! But only if they want it.
7. How is your current worldview different to the one you were brought up with?
My parents don't approve of pot smoking.
8. What's in your 'too hard' basket?
Twitter. I just can't keep up with it.
9. Can you give us a glimpse of your next planned project?
I’m working on a new novel about mothers and daughters, and the bushel of mixed and complicated emotions at play in that relationship. I’m also doing some magazine work for Self and Good Housekeeping about a host of subjects that are pertinent to women’s lives.
10. Valerie's Favorite:
Book: Can't say fave book. I can't even begin to imagine who to figure that out.
Movie: Big Lebowski
TV show: Mad Men, Downton Abbey (at the moment), Bored to Death (RIP)
Thanks so much, Valerie, for your time. It's inspiring to see a writer continue to create award-winning work.
'Thanks for the opportunity to answer your questions.'
Think. Write. Share.