Tuesday, September 09, 2008

GCC Presents: Joanne Rendell and The Professors' Wives' Club

I love Joanne Rendell, an author friend who is also a busy mom and can commiserate with all of the juggling that we working moms do, and I also love the premise of her book, The Professors' Wives Club, which I picked up at Barnes and Noble last week. The premise reminded me a bit of Sex and the City for the academia set: strong friendships, strong women, life crises, life re-evaluations. Check out the description below, and then read on for words of wisdom from Jo herself. (I love her even more for copping to her Facebook addiction!) :)

In her new novel THE PROFESSORS’ WIVES’ CLUB, NYU faculty wife Joanne Rendell tells of four professors’ wives who risk everything to save a beloved faculty garden.

With its iron gate and high fence laced with honeysuckle, Manhattan University’s garden offers faculty wives Mary, Sofia, Ashleigh, and Hannah a much needed refuge. Each of them carries a scandalous secret that could upset their lives, destroy their families, and rock the prestigious university to its very core.

When a ruthless Dean tries to demolish the garden, the four women are thrown together in a fight which enrages and unites them. The wives are an indomitable force. While doing battle with the ambitious dean, they expose the dark underbelly of academia – and find the courage to stand up for their own dreams, passions, and lives.

1) What’s the backstory behind your book?
The initial inspiration The Professors' Wives' Club came amid a rather giggly, wine-soaked evening with one of my girlfriends who, like me, is a professor’s wife. After our usual catch-up, the cabernet began to flow and we found ourselves gossiping about other faculty wives. We talked about a wife planning a boob job; another pregnant with her fifth child. The best piece of gossip came last, however: a professor’s wife who’d just run off with one of her husband’s grad students.

The next morning I started to hammer out my first ideas for the novel. As I typed, the more I realized what intriguing characters professors’ wives would make. Even if they aren’t professors themselves (which many are), most professors’ wives are deeply connected and invested in the university where their husband or partner works. Like my friend and me, they live in faculty housing, they go to the campus gym, often their kids go to the same daycare. Yet these women often have little power when it comes to university decisions.

I liked the idea of pitting these seemingly powerless women against a dean who, in his little kingdom of the university, has so much power.

2) It seems that a lot of readers confuse fiction with real life, assuming that a novel must be an autobiography of the author as well. How many elements of your real life are reflected in your book?

Well, I’m a professor's wife and my husband teaches at NYU which looks a lot like the Manhattan U., the university in my novel. Real life and real people sneak into the book, therefore. But they’re always heavily disguised, and I’m not telling exactly where. My husband likes his job at the university too much!

3) A lot of my blog readers are aspiring or new authors. How did you land your first book deal?
I was working on a writing project with a friend and through this friend I met my (now) agent. Almost as an aside, I mentioned to my agent the idea for a novel called The Professors’ Wives’ Club. I remember her looking me dead in the eye and saying, “Write it, it will sell.” So I did and, yep, it sold! Two publishers were interested in the book and there was an auction, which was all very exciting (especially because I was visiting family in Europe at the time and thus I received a flurry of phone calls in the middle of the night!). The Professors’ Wives' Club sold to New American Library in the end, and I’ve had a great experience working with them. They will be publishing my second book next summer (2009).

4) I have a serious procrastination problem when it comes to tackling my fiction. What’s your routine? How do you dive it? Do you have any rituals or necessary to-dos before or while you write?
Me too! I try hard not to check my emails or idle away time reading Facebook profiles of people I barely know, but somehow the ping of the email or the glow of the Facebook icon always lure me in. In the end, though, I know my writing time is limited. I write when my five year old son sleeps late in the morning. If I don’t write when he’s in the land of nod, then nothing gets done! So, after satisfying me email/Facebook urges, I unplug the internet cable and write for a couple of hours. I have to admit my best writing times have been at our little ramshackle cabin in upstate New York. We have no internet connection, and it's amazing how much I’ve been able to write there. In fact, I wrote nearly half of my second book last summer while at the cabin.

5) Clearly, your book will be optioned for a multi-million dollar film deal! Who would you cast as the leads, if you were given creative control?
I would cast Susan Sarandon as Mary. Mary is the wife of the ruthless dean in the book and she’s also been on the receiving end of his violent temper. However, she is not some weak, shrinking violet of a woman. She is a successful writer and popular and commanding professor of writing at the university. I think Sarandon would capture these often very real contradictions and show how it is possible to be caught in an abusive marriage even if you are strong and successful woman.

Sofia would have to be played by someone like Selma Hayek. Sofia is a firecracker! She’s feisty and fun, but also sensitive, smart, and intensely loyal. Hayek, I think, could play this beautifully.

Hannah is an artist who’s stuck in a lukewarm marriage to a man who cannot seem to get over the fact his wife is no longer a fashion model. He loves her for her beauty and she wants him to see beyond that. I think Keira Knightley would make a great Hannah.

Finally, my character Ashleigh – who’s been hiding from her senator father the fact that she’s in a relationship with a woman – could be played by someone like Julia Stiles. Stiles was great in Mona Lisa Smile playing a young Wellesley woman who is trying to please those around her and quashing her own desires in the process. I see Ashleigh as a similar kind of role.


Maddy said...

One to watch then. I believe it takes a few years to get movies off the ground and into the box office so that leaves me lots of time to read the book first, because you know, that's a rule!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Allison and Joanne! The book has been on my wishlist for a few weeks already. I will pick this one up for sure. Congrats, Joanne. Great advice on unplugging the Internet cable.


Eileen said...

This too has been on my list for a long time. I had a chance to meet Joanne at RWA and couldn't have been more impressed.