1. Tell us about your writing process. Do you aim for a daily word count, page count, or a couple of scenes each day?
I adjust my goals based on what project I’m working on. For a first draft, I might set a word count or a certain number of pages a day or a week. If I’m writing an article or essay, I think in terms of drafts: Finish the draft, edit the draft, etc. If I’m editing a novel, I just try to work on it consistently every day. I find that it’s hard to predict novel editing, which can be excruciatingly slow, so I try to concentrate on focused blocks of time.
As for my schedule: Since I’m a full-time writer, I keep long hours. Before Covid, I had a satisfying writing routine where I got up early, wrote, sent my son to school, and spent the rest of the day working. Now I try to write during my son’s Zoom classes and when my husband is watching him. Right now as I type this, my son is lying on my arm. I didn’t know how good I had it, pre-Covid.
2. What gave you the inspiration for your book? (Is it part of a series?)
It comes from family myths I heard growing up, stories about our family that may or may not have happened. Things like the relatives owning a silver mine or my grandfather turning down an opportunity to draw Mickey Mouse for Disney or my aunt who was the belle of three counties. My grandfather was a storyteller and it’s unclear which stories are true. We don’t even know if he was German or Austrian because he said he was both. It got me thinking about how family identity feeds into personal identity, and how that in turn shapes our worldviews. My main character Sandra believes it’s her job to return her family name to greatness. Like many Americans, she believes she’s special, but the actual basis for this belief is very much in question.
3. Are you a pantser or a plotter? A bit of both?
I guess I’m a pantser. I crank out first drafts on instinct, writing into images or scene ideas. Then I spend forever editing to figure out what I’m really trying to say.
4. Do you prefer a certain type of music to listen to when you’re writing, or are you better with silence?
Definitely prefer music, unless I’m in the final stages of the process, when I need to listen to the rhythm of the language. Writing music is different from music I would label as my favorite musicians I would see in concert. It can’t be something that I’ll get caught up in or I’ll end up listening to music instead of writing. I love John Coltrane’s Giant Steps because its fizzy overflowing genius is infectious.
5. What book(s) are you reading now?
As I write this, I’m reading Kazuo Isiguro’s new book, Klara and the Sun, which is lovely. I’m also reading a book about Mary Astor’s scandalous purple diaries. I talk about books on my radio show/podcast What’s the Story? where I recommend a book every week.
6. Anything else you’d like us to know about this book or any others (past or future)?
Well, I finished the novel in 2012. When I originally sent it out for publication, Sandra was named Sandi. In the middle of submission, Hurricane Sandy and Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting happened, which seemed to sour editors on my book. Then my agent quit the industry and left the book stranded in email boxes all around New York. So I gave up on it completely, but then six years later, my current agent contacted me and asked if Right Back Where We Started From was available. It turned out she remembered my book from the first time I sent it out, and was able to sell it to Blackstone. You can never predict what’s going to happen in publishing.
7. Just for fun — what TV shows or movies have you really enjoyed (or disliked?) recently?
So many shows disappoint me. They start out great but can’t keep it up. Or they turn into little morality plays to teach us lessons, which is dull and didactic and makes me feel like storytelling is regressing. So in this great golden age of TV, I find myself watching it less and less.
That said, right now I really like The Great Pottery Throw Down, a British competition about making pottery. The people are so talented and the judge cries tears of joy when they do well. I also like What We Do In The Shadows, Succession, and Better Call Saul.
Right Back Where We Started From
Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction, Family Saga
Available from Blackstone Publishing on 4th May 2021.
See the book trailer on Youtube.
Follow Joy on Twitter @joylanzendorfer and her website ohjoy.org.