The author’s latest novels find humor where family dynamics and politics meet

Grant Gender (Courtesy photo)

Grant Gendre is the author of four novels, Let’s not do it again, frankly, we meant well, the people we hate at the wedding, the drivers education, And the This is how you start. Prior to working as a novelist, he was a speechwriter for White House Chief of Staff John Podesta. He received his Master of Fine Arts degree from New York University, and now teaches writing there. his latest novels, Let’s not do it again, It explores the ways in which the family can be exceptionally supportive and challenging. When Nancy Harrison decided to run for the Senate, her older children, Greta and Nick, instead became her greatest supporters and those who could derail her entire campaign. Grant’s humor, which appears in the titles of his books, invites readers to explore the darker realities of family dynamics and the perils of navigating the lives we provide with the people we ultimately choose.

Let’s not do it again, It is currently being made into a movie starring Allison Janney, Kristen Bell, and Ben Platt.

Grant spoke to Elena about writing, humor and his quick reaction to apologizing to all the cast when he visited the film set based on his latest novel. Looking forward to being in town for this year’s festival.

Emily Meyer: This is your fourth novel. And I read somewhere that the opening scene came to you long before you started writing and that it remained the opening scene throughout the reviews. How do most books come to you? With a line or two first? Opening scene? How do you know an idea is a novel worth pursuing?

Grant Jinder: Great question! The origin story of each of my books was completely different. The people we hate at the wedding, For example, I started by asking a friend of mine (literally) who I hated at a wedding we just attended. Let’s not do it again, On the other hand, it began with a central question: How far would a person go to protect something—or someone—that he or she loves? It has been a question that has plagued me in recent years – especially during the Trump administration – when I have seen so many of our fundamental institutions threatened on an existential basis. It kept me up at night, something I don’t have an easy answer for. When it turns, I often know the thought is worth pursuing: if I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so much so that it became an obsession.

AM: When writing a novel, do you outline and plan for it? Or do you take the seat of your pants clerk, writing the scenes as they come to you? own thy Has the process changed while writing your novels?

G.G.: Oh, me too sure rectangle. I’ve tried writing from the seat of my pants, but it just doesn’t work for me – I write myself in circles. I have to know where the story is headed, even if that destination changes in the end. OK awe From people who have no idea what’s going to happen on the next page.

AM: You were a speechwriter in Washington, and now you’re studying essay writing at New York University. Essay writing and speaking share an element of storytelling with the novel. But they differ from writing a novel in that at some point during the writing process, with an essay and a letter, the writer can have everything in his head, the beginning, the middle, the end. But with the novel, it’s hard to keep the entire work in progress in that mental space in the same way. What are some of the challenges of moving into fiction writing (the long form) of speech writing. How does writing in these different ways inform each other?

G.G.: I wish I could throw an article or speech into my head as I type it! With all three forms—novels, essays, and speeches—I often find that I can’t see the thing clearly until I get to the end, which is what makes reviewing such an exhilarating process: it’s only after you’ve written the first draft that you realize what you’re actually trying to write. Likewise, all three forms have their own narrative parentheses. In fiction, we call that plot, In essay writing, we call this developing an argument or idea. Are there challenges moving between the three shapes? surely. A novel, for example, requires a sense of mental and emotional stamina that is not needed when writing a ten-minute speech. Having said that, I prefer to think of them all as being more similar than they seem.

AM: “This is the problem of having a politician as a mother. You never know what to believe,” a line from this book that popped up as I was reading it. The line brings humor and vitality to a potentially tense moment in the story but also weighs it down with darker truth. The way your humor dances with the heavier elements in your novels seems to be signature for you. The way families function as a microcosm of larger global politics also seems to be a recurring theme. Can you talk a little bit about how you choose to use humor? And why, in your opinion, family politics is endlessly funny and interesting?

G.G.: For me, humor has always been a way to deal with dark or difficult topics; It allows me to tackle tragedy and heartache without losing my mind. In terms of family politics, I can’t think of anything more important to the human experience. You’ve been thrust into the world with a group of people you didn’t choose, and you’ve been told that – for the rest of your life – these are the individuals to whom you are supposed to ascribe your primary loyalty. I’m interested in the ways we mess around with this arrangement – how we surprise, disappoint, and betray each other, yet still find a way to continue to love.

AM: This book is written in the third person with the exception of A first-person oath that allows Greta to speak. How did you decide to play with a viewpoint in this way for this book?

G.G.: Greta makes some unpleasant decisions throughout the book – choices that I was sure would frustrate the reader. To that end, I knew that in order for readers to empathize with her – even when she was acting like a complete mess – they would need to understand her and her motivations in a more intimate way than the other characters. The first person allows you to create affinity. It erases the little narrative space that exists when you type in the third person, and really lets you get into the character’s head.

AM: It was said that every book written by an author teaches them something about the writing process. What did writing this book teach you?

G.G.: To take chances! in many ways, Let’s not do it again It is a departure from my previous work in terms of type and structure. There are similarities, of course, but there are also some obvious differences. It’s always terrifying to go out on a limb – to write in a new or uncomfortable space – but in the end I think I grew as a novelist out of that process.

AM: How do you balance teaching and writing? Do you find it difficult to work on your own projects during a semester of teaching?

G.G.: It’s definitely a juggling job! And yes, of course I find it more difficult to work on my own projects when the class is in session. To that end, I’m very protective of the space I take to write it myself. I say no to plans, and make the weekends I devote to writing. However, sometimes there is so much that needs to be done, and my work is forced to take a back seat. This was bothering me. A week has gone by without me touching a draft, and I feel noticeably guilty about it. I have learned to let that go. You have to be kind to yourself.

AM: Congratulations on making your novel, The People We Hate at Wedding, into a movie with Kristen Bell and Allison Janney. I heard you visited the location while it was filming. How was that experience, seeing your characters come to life in this way?

G.G.: Totally and totally amazing! I had never been to a movie set before and was shocked at the number of people involved in the production; I kept walking around apologizing to everyone for making them get up so early, and I guess they thought I was a little crazy. What surprised me the most was how well they were able to capture the spirit and the sound of the book. Everyone involved is so talented and dedicated – I can’t wait for people to see it.

AM: Do you avoid reading certain genres when you’re working on a new novel? What are you reading now?

G.G.: There is no particular type that I actively try to avoid. Conversely, if I’m stuck, I usually look for novels that do what I’m trying to do, so I can study how they work. Regarding what I’m reading now, I just finished Benjamín Labatut When we stop understanding the world, Which was absolutely amazing, and unlike anything I’ve read before. I’ve also had fun lately intimacy Written by Katie Kitamura, an elaborate lesson on how to build a slow sense of awe over the course of the narrative, and Either or, Elif Batuman’s sequel to idiot. If I could write like everyone else, I think it would be Elif Batwoman. I will read anything you write.

AM: Are there authors or books that you go back to and re-read?

G.G.: Well, behold, Elif Batuman! I also come back constantly to Zadie Smith and George Saunders, both their novels and articles. Oh, and Joan Didion, if you’ve read Let’s not do it again, It wouldn’t be a surprise. I probably read Didion at least once a week.

AM: What would you like readers to know about this book? What do you hope readers will take in after reading your novels?

G.G.: This is always a difficult question for me, because I believe that once a novel comes into the world, the reader must explain it; Everyone will carry their baggage and beliefs in the narrative, and I don’t know if it’s necessarily my job to dictate to them how they relate all of that to the story I’m trying to tell. Having said that, there are little things that I hope will cut through the noise. I always feature strange characters who are not defined by tragedy or death, because when I was growing up, the literature I was reading didn’t contain that. I hope some of my readers will see themselves reflected in those characters, and perhaps feel lonely in the world because of that. More broadly, I hope readers will see that although these characters are flawed in their attempts to love each other – despite we They are often flawed in our attempts to love each other—and that doesn’t excuse them or us from the obligation to keep trying.

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