Today we have a special guest joining us, author Nora Zelevansky. Nora 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.com, SELF, Salon.com, The Daily Beast and The Washington Post. She is also the editorial director for upscale wellness website, Live The Process.
I was able to do an interview via email, so check out some of the questions and answers below. WILL YOU WON’T YOU WANT ME is the book we’re talking about today.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I grew up in New York City with an artist father and contemporary curator mother. My sister has worked in the theater for years and is now an amazing performance coach. Basically, there was very little chance of me working outside the arts in some capacity. I left for college in California, while most of my friends stayed behind at home. That experience in part informed my newest novel, WILL YOU WON’T YOU WANT ME? It sort of begs the question: Do you need to leave your comfort zone in order to evolve or do you have to face your past no matter what?
Which writers inspire you?
JD Salinger is probably my favorite writer of all time, but there are many whom I love: Joan Didion, Dorothy Parker, Jane Austen, Tana French, Jonathan Safron Foer, Italo Calvino, Norah Ephron, Tina Fey, Amy Heckerling, Amy Sherman Palladino — the list goes on and on.
So, what have you written?
I was a journalist first and have written for publications from Elle and Town & Country to the Wall Street Journal and T Magazine (The New York Times). My first novel, SEMI-CHARMED LIFE, came out in 2012 with St. Martin’s Press. That one is more of a fantasy and satire about glamour and fame, but it’s also a coming-of-age story about someone who is stuck. My newest book is WILL YOU WON’T YOU WANT ME? It’s the story of Marjorie Plum, a 28-year-old who was the most popular girl in school, but never really evolved from there.
What inspired you to write this book?
In my early twenties, I saw some of my friends start to struggle with becoming adults. And I had my own hangups about having left New York City and pining for it. I had this conversation with my father about how my life might be different if I had never left home. That got me thinking not about my own life per se, but about the idea of being forced into change and whether that’s good or bad or both.
What is your book about?
On a thematic level, WILL YOU WON’T YOU WANT ME? is about the universal experience of life bringing change when you least expect or want it, but maybe need it most. It’s about the disorienting and uncomfortable growing pains that come with any shift in your life and the fact that you really have no choice but to roll with what you’re dealt because otherwise you get stuck. Specifically, it’s about a growing up when you’re already supposed to be grown. It’s about a young woman who can’t realize her potential because she’s too busy pining for the past. It’s told against the backdrop of the 2012 election cycle, so it’s about trying to find stability in a world that feels shake (like right now!). And it’s funny. I hope! Ha.
How long did it take you to write this book?
I always use a kind of National Novel Writing Month approach to writing a book, so I try to get a draft on paper as quickly as possible — however messy and in need of serious edits. So, I wrote the first draft in just a couple of months, but then the editing process was arduous.
What do you love about writing?
Words! They drive me. I love their power and their nuance. And I love sitting down to write something and getting immersed in that world. It’s like an escape!
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Keep writing! Also, there are so many great online outlets for writers to begin to get their sea legs these days. So, write and be assertive about sending your stuff out. Know that rejection is a big part of the process for EVERYONE, but, if it’s really what you want, keep trying!!
Are you working on any other books right now?
Yes. I have a new manuscript about which I’m super excited. It’s a bit different — a male first person voice. But it’s another late coming-of-age story and hopefully the best yet. (Fingers crossed!)
When did you decide to become a writer?
My mother tells a story about suggesting that maybe I’d become a writer when I was 15 years old and me saying, “No way. That’s too hard.” I was editor of my high school literary magazine and a writing tutor in college. And I was always that person who edited papers for my friends etc. After college, I got a job in Hollywood working to develop scripts with other writers. But it wasn’t until I was working randomly in politics and decided I needed a creative outlet that it actually occurred to me to become a writer myself. It was one of those things that made so much sense instantly — like, why didn’t I think of this before?
What is the hardest thing about writing?
The blank page. Always. And also, it is very solitary sometimes. I get jealous of TV writers sometimes — that seems so dreamy to me. Because you have the experience of writing, but then you also have a writer’s room, where you can collaborate. For better or worse, as a solo novelist, your successes and failures are your own. There’s no one else to takeover if you’re having a bum day.
Do you have a favorite place to write?
I’ve become pretty flexible about where I write since my toddler was born and I have to sort of go to random Brooklyn cafés and make it happen. But I love to just write on my couch actually. I do pine for a writer’s retreat surrounded by nature too though — that sounds heavenly. Right now, I’m on Shelter Island, writing in the sun. That’s nice too!
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Truly? I’m with my daughter and my husband, my family and friends. I’m at the park; I’m reading. I’m eating more sushi and vegan cupcakes than any one person should. I’m watching a lot of TV actually too because I think great stories are being told via that medium as well these days.
Give us an interesting fact about your book.
I sometimes steal names and random details from my real life: Marjorie’s family has a cat named Mina, which was my own cat’s name. The apartment building where Marjorie works used to be where my best friend from childhood worked. Mac’s housekeeper is named Wanda and that’s my housekeeper’s name. I did grow up on the Upper West Side like Marjorie, so the streets I describe are ones I know well.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Just thank you for your time! And I hope you check out the book! Word of mouth is the most important thing to a writer, so chats like this mean a ton.