Suzanne Rindell will present her new novel, “Three-Martini Lunch,” at the Savoy Bookshop & Café in Westerly, RI this Friday evening, April 22nd, at 6:00 p.m. This event is free and open to the public; copies of the book will be available for purchase/signing. Location: 10 Canal St.
Today, Hartford Books Examiner raises a glass to Suzanne Rindell.
Ms. Rindell is the author of the recently released novel, “Three-Martini Lunch” (Putnam). Her fiction debut, “The Other Typist,” was published in May of 2013; that title has been translated into 15 languages and optioned for film by Fox Searchlight Pictures. A native of the West Coast, Ms. Rindell went to graduate school in Texas and is currently a doctoral student in American modernist literature at Rice University. She now makes her home in New York City, where she is at work on her next book.
Early response to “Three-Martini Lunch” has been enthusiastic. Publishers Weekly praised: “With its vivid historical setting and the narrators’ distinct voices, this ambitious novel is both an homage to the beatnik generation and its literature, as well as an evocative story of the price one pays for going after one’s dreams.” Further, Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of “Water for Elephants,” noted: “Suzanne Rindell’s latest novel is a riveting account of three young adults struggling to define themselves against issues of family, race, and sexual identity in the intolerant world of the ’50s. Three-Martini Lunch is a gripping study of the ways in which people betray others and themselves in an effort to carve out places for themselves in a competitive and unforgiving world.”
From the publisher:
In 1958, Greenwich Village buzzes with beatniks, jazz clubs, and new ideas—the ideal spot for three ambitious young people to meet. Cliff Nelson, the son of a successful book editor, is convinced he’s the next Kerouac, if only his father would notice. Eden Katz dreams of being an editor but is shocked when she encounters roadblocks to that ambition. And Miles Tillman, a talented black writer from Harlem, seeks to learn the truth about his father’s past, finding love in the process. Though different from one another, all three share a common goal: to succeed in the competitive and uncompromising world of book publishing. As they reach for what they want, they come to understand what they must sacrifice, conceal, and betray to achieve their goals, learning they must live with the consequences of their choices. In Three-Martini Lunch, Suzanne Rindell has written both a page-turning morality tale and a captivating look at a stylish, demanding era—and a world steeped in tradition that’s poised for great upheaval.
Now, Suzanne Rindell offers readers a taste of “Three-Martini Lunch” …
John Valeri: What first inspired you to write “Three-Martini Lunch” – and how does the book’s title reflect upon its contents?
Suzanne Rindell: My first novel, “The Other Typist,” was out on submission to editors, and I needed to start something new in order to keep busy. I was working at a literary agency and immersed in the world of publishing. Publishing has experienced quite a bit of upheaval in recent years (e-books, Amazon, etc.) and one thing that intrigued me was how a large number of people in publishing reacted to this upheaval. They seemed nostalgic for publishing’s past. The more I tried to pin down the era, the more it seemed like people felt publishing’s Golden Era happened in the 1950s – which of course is a pre-Civil Rights decade also famous for its sexism, McCarthyism, etc. I’m not sure I would like to go back to that decade! So I wrote the book in part to explore the contradiction inherent to this “dangerous nostalgia,” as I call it.
The title refers to the “three-martini lunches” that editors used to take in the 1950s, while also being a nod to the fact there are three first-person narrators (Cliff, Eden, and Miles).
JV: You once worked for a literary agency. How did that experience inform this story – and what do you see as being the greatest difference(s) between the publishing industry now and sixty years ago?
SR: I suppose I touched on this a bit above, but to add to my answer, I would say the number one thing that has changed is how few female editors there were back then, compared to how many there are now. A woman who wanted to become an editor in the 1950s was facing an uphill battle. Now, according to recent surveys, 84% of editors are women! So, publishing has decided to let women in… and yet, the industry still suffers from lack of diversity. It is almost entirely run by straight white women, and there has been much discussion about how to reach out to a wider range of people from different backgrounds.
JV: The narrative unfolds in 1958 and features a diverse cast of characters. What research did you do to capture the cultural and historical background –- and how did you then endeavor to balance an essence of authenticity with entertainment/readability?
SR: I think the two things that helped keep the research feeling alive and fresh was the fact that I purposely moved to the Village in order to write about it, and I perpetually reread books from the era that I felt still had a lot of vibrancy embedded in the writing voice. For instance, for Cliff, I reread Kerouac, Salinger, and Hemingway. For Eden, I reread Didion, Plath, and Rona Jaffe. For Miles, I reread James Baldwin and Truman Capote. All of those writers’ voices are still electric, in my opinion! So I tried to leech some of their electricity. And then, living in the Village was useful for the obvious reasons – I could walk around and observe certain Beatnik landmarks (the White Horse Tavern, the Village Vanguard, etc.) in person. I think these components of my research helped me to feel the zeitgeist of the era, in so far as it could still be felt 60 years later.
JV: Much of the book is set against the backdrop of New York City, which you now call home. What of this setting appeals to you, both in living and writing – and how does/can place become its own character within a story?
SR: New York is a place of big dreams and ambitions, so that always ups the stakes in any story, I feel. And New York City in particular is such a character – I feel like New York is personified in a large number of my favorite books and TV shows, so perhaps I couldn’t resist doing it myself. I definitely have an intensely personal, anthropomorphic relationship with this city; some days I feel like New York is my best friend. On other days, I feel like New York is kicking my butt. I think a lot of people feel that way, and maybe most especially writers/artists, who have to go big or go home.
JV: “Three-Martini Lunch” has a very distinctive visual presentation. Just how important is design – and why do you think that we, as readers, are so often tempted to ignore caution and judge a book based on its cover?
Oh, cover design is so tricky! Oftentimes the author doesn’t have much to do with it – just a final sort of “yea” or “nay.” But I know all too well from my time working at the literary agency, IT MATTERS. Readers will gravitate towards a cover that speaks to them. Magazines will run blurbs about books that look attractive in their layout. It matters. I quite like the cover the Penguin designer composed for “Three-Martini Lunch.” I hope other people do, too. It looks almost like a true vintage book from the 1950s. I hope it won’t be mistaken for a secondhand book! Ah, the risks you take in asking for a cover that’s unusual/original…
JV: How do author events help to solidify the reader/writer/bookseller relationship – and in what ways can attending such events enhance the reading experience?
SR: Personally, I love meeting the booksellers and thanking them for doing what they do; they are such important members of the bookish “tribe,” as it were. They run the kinds of book-driven community hubs that nurtured my love of books as a kid, and made me want to become a writer in the first place. And it’s a given that connecting with readers is wonderful. I personally like when they are interested not only in my particular book but the publishing industry at large; I’m always happy to answer questions about how writers work and get published, all the decisions concerning edits or jacket images, etc. Before I was a writer I was a reader and still am, and I feel strongly that reading is enhanced by bookstore events; a book is a dialectical exchange wherein the writer only really brings 50% and the reader brings the other 50%.
With thanks to Suzanne Rindell for her generosity of time and thought and to Madeline Schmitz, Publicity Assistant at G.P. Putnam’s Sons | Penguin Random House, for helping to facilitate this interview.
Don’t forget: The author will appear at the Savoy Bookshop & Café in Westerly, RI this Friday evening, April 22nd, at 6:00 p.m.