First-time author Eliza Kennedy on her dad promoting her book, the home office she shares with her husband and the actress who could star in a movie adaptation
BY ANGELA BARBUTI
In her debut novel, attorney-turned-writer Eliza Kennedy made her protagonist a lawyer because she knew she “could make it real, vivid and fun.” She not only succeeded in that, but Kennedy, who attended Harvard Law School, where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, proved she has a unique voice that can entertain while bringing to light some of life’s poignant questions. In “I Take You,” which was released on May 5, her fearless heroine — or antiheroine, depending on your stance — is set to marry a man she considers pretty close to perfect. But in the week leading up to the nuptials, she finds she can’t shake her attraction to other men and infidelity ensues.
The book’s backdrop is Key West, which was the tropical setting to Kennedy’s wedding to author Joshua Ferris. Although Kennedy did have some mishaps at her own ceremony, “Ours were far more the traditional kind,” she said. “You know, the bridesmaid missed her plane and a reader had to go to the hospital and missed the ceremony.”
A few days ago, I was on the E train and a woman was reading your book. I told her I was interviewing you, and she said she was really enjoying it. This all happened because of the bright jacket cover. You had some say in that design, right?Awesome. I hope everyone around you was listening. The publishing company, I think they had a lot of internal possibilities. This is the one that they showed me and I really loved. I had a little bit of say in minor changes to it – to the figure and the shape of it and stuff like that – which they took. Probably, if I completely hated it, they would have taken that into account, but fortunately I really loved what they did.
Was making Lily a lawyer something you always wanted to do?Not really. I was actually thinking about this yesterday because I’m trying to write an essay about being a lawyer and how it affected me as a writer. I made Lily a lawyer because that’s what I know. She could have been anything, as long as it mattered to her. Because I wanted her job to be the aspect of her identity that made her a little bit more of this hot mess, loose woman who doesn’t have any thoughts in her head. I wanted her to be confused and often do the wrong thing, but also have this side to her. So it could have been anything; I just settled on the law because I thought I could do it in a fun way.
If this becomes a movie, who would you want to play Lily?We actually argue a lot about that in my household because my husband has very definite opinions. Actually, we had family over to dinner and everybody loves to talk about it. It’s tricky because there are a ton of people who could do it. I think the interesting thing is that people read the book and they start having an idea of what she looks like. And because I don’t really describe her ever, some people think that she’s completely beautiful, and others don’t. I’m on the side of someone who’s not necessarily flat-out beautiful, but she’s able to do what she does because she’s super charismatic. The one I currently would love is Anna Kendrick. I think she would be perfect. She’s also very funny.
How did you meet your husband?We actually met in college, at the University of Iowa, many years ago. But we didn’t start dating until 10 years later when we were both living in Chicago.
I read that you both write in your apartment, and now you’re typing in different rooms.
[Laughs] Apparently I’m a little loud. We have our desks set up where he’s got the living room and I’ve got the dining room. And it works pretty well. We’re actually on slightly different schedules. I get up really early and work, and he stays up a few hours later and works. It’s nice because we each have our own total silent time where nobody’s awake or bothering us. And then the rest of time it’s nice because you have someone to have lunch with and all that stuff.
Is it true that you are both each others’ first readers?Absolutely. It’s really great. Josh went to an MFA program, so he’s a wonderful reader for me, especially since I didn’t have any formal training in writing. It’s nice to have someone who can really read something and identify what’s wrong with it and how to fix it. I’ve been reading for him for as long as he’s been writing, so I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it too.
You also showed your dad a draft of the novel, right?Yes, I did. I probably showed him once I knew I was on my way, so maybe like 50 or 80 pages in. Other than my husband, he was the only person who read it before I submitted it to agents. And it was a little weird. [Laughs] He’s a huge reader … and he was so enthusiastic. And he lives in Naples, Florida, and has been flogging the book to death there among all his friends and golfing buddies. So a lot of people down there might be surprised that this is the particular book that he’s selling. [Laughs]
You’re working on a second novel, about a women who discovers her husband is having an affair. What are the challenges to writing infidelity into the plots of both your books?I think the main challenge is how readers come to the whole topic with their own pasts and beliefs. And so many people have very black-and-white opinions, that infidelity is wrong and that’s it. I find it such an interesting topic and not to be black-and-white at all. The biggest challenge that I find is to try to figure out how to write in such a way that presents the nuances of it to people who might come to it totally unwilling to see that. Like, you want the cheater to be the bad guy, and sometimes that person is. But I think sometimes it’s a lot more complicated. The challenge is figuring out how to keep it interesting and nuanced, but at the same time, I’m not necessarily trying to make an argument; I’m just presenting the broader situation.
Kennedy will be in conversation with author Jane Green and sign copies of her book at Book Culture, 450 Columbus Ave., at 82nd Street, at 7 p.m. on June 9.
Follow her on Twitter @ElizacatKennedy. To learn more about the novel, visit www.lilywilder.com