I am so excited to be interviewing Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney this week to discuss her incredible debut novel, The Nest. I absolutely loved her book and couldn’t wait to interview her for many, many reasons. Not only did she write her first book at 54, but she secured a really fantastic advance on it, becoming one of the most talked about novelists for 2016. I love, love, love hearing about writers pursuing a book later in life because it gives me so much hope to know that we can carve new paths at any age and there is never (TRULY) an appropriate time to give up on something you have always wanted to do! It seemed an appropriate message to share this Mother’s Day.
Is there something you have always wanted to do?
Let’s chat about, The Nest. Do you love dysfunctional family stories? I know I do! The Nest reminded me a lot of Jonathan Tropper’s, This is Where I Leave You, in that regard. This book centers around four grown children and the inheritance (AKA- The Nest!) that they are supposed to be inheriting. Leo, the unreliable alcoholic sibling in the story, ends up getting in a terrible car accident and has to pay the accompanying passenger a large sum to keep the story quiet. His mother gives him the majority of the inheritance as hush money for the car accident, unbeknownst to his siblings.
The story then really unfolds with all of the siblings and what this inheritance would have meant to them is uncovered. As a reader you see what life looks like without the money they always planned on. No spoilers, but imagine that you had made financial mistakes, but always knew you would have a large sum to bail you out and find out that the money doesn’t exist. Awful, isn’t it?
I think some people will find the ending a little dissatisfying, but I also know that most dysfunctional family stories don’t have tidy endings. I loved it- laughed a lot and sympathized with many characters. This was a great escape! Read More…
Now grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Cynthia today!
Q&A With Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
You landed a seven-figure advance as a debut author and became one of the most buzzed about novelists this year. It’s sad that this is so notable in this industry with all of the incredible writers out there, but it truly is amazing (I couldn’t be happier for you!)! Did you find that it put more pressure on you to deliver because you had so much hype surrounding your book? How did your family react to this incredible news?
Unlike non-fiction, which a writer can sell with a book proposal, fiction is usually sold once the manuscript is completed. So Ecco/HarperCollins bought the book I’d already written. There was still back and forth with Megan Lynch, who is my wonderful editor at Ecco, but I knew from our initial conversations that she and I were very much on the same page about the edits and that she wasn’t looking for extensive revision. In fact, I was excited about making the changes Megan and I discussed because I knew the result was going to be a stronger book.
I have to say, as I near the age of forty, that hearing you became a novelist at the age of 54 gives me a lot of hope for the opportunities I might have to look forward to and how I could transition my career path when my kids are grown. Was this a more recent dream to publish or have you always known you wanted to write a book? Was it a hard transition to switch from nonfiction writing to fiction?
I sold the book when I was 54, but I’d started writing fiction 7 or 8 years earlier and, yes, it was hard – mostly because I didn’t know what I was doing a lot of the time, mostly from a craft and technical perspective. So I took classes and in 2011 I decided to return to graduate school to get my MFA in fiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars. I graduated in 2013 and started The Nest there as my thesis. But I think the hardest transition was from writing because I was hired and paid for a project to writing in the hope that on some distant, unknowable day a publisher might be interested in the book.
It sounds like your literary agent had impeccable timing for when to release your manuscript. Can you share with us when she sent it?
First I’d like to share that my agent is a he! Henry Dunow had the brilliant idea to send out the manuscript the Monday after the Thanksgiving break when everyone was returning to work after spending the holiday with their own families in the hopes that the book would resonate more clearly. I don’t think either of us expected the kind of response we got that week, but I’ll always be grateful for his artful sense of timing.
I understand that you were in a book club with Amy Poehler and when the book club didn’t take off, a friendship was formed over drinks and your love for fiction. Amy also wrote such an incredible endorsement that’s placed on the cover of your book. When did you share the book with your friend and was she one of the first people to read it?
I met Amy at a book club that included lots of funny, smart women in the improv/comedy world of New York City in the late 90s. The book club kind of petered out mostly because of everyone’s performing schedules (not mine; I had two small children and was itching to leave the house whenever I could manage). But Amy and I would see each other socially and we reconnected when I moved out to Los Angeles. She’s a huge reader and loves fiction and was very supportive and enthusiastic when I went back to graduate school and started a novel. I didn’t want her to read the book until I felt I had a solid version, but she was definitely one of the first people I sent it to after I turned in the final draft to Ecco.
Just because I think this is such an incredibly sweet story (and then we can stop talking about Amy), can you share how you were worried that you wouldn’t be able to use the title The Nest because of a project she had in the works?
I found out shortly before finishing my book that there was a movie coming out with Amy and Tina Fey called The Nest. To be honest, I wasn’t really worried because I know publishers change titles all the time. But when the book was out on submission, everyone I spoke with kept saying how much they liked The Nest. I just kept my mouth shut about the movie and figured I’d give everyone the bad news later. A week after the book sold, I had dinner with Amy who told me that only days earlier the movie The Nest had been changed to Sisters, which was a complete coincidence and felt a little bit like kismet. So the title came back my way.
This book is very focused on an inheritance that is supposed to be given to the siblings in this family. I read your interview with NPR where you shared about the inheritance your parents gave to you and I just loved it because our family hopes to give experiences rather than things to our children. Do you have a favorite family trip from this inheritance given? Is this the type of inheritance you hope to pass on to your kids?
My family –my parents and my siblings—still vacations in the same little town in Maine every summer. My parents started taking us there when I was ten. They still stay in the same tiny rental cottage and as our family has grown, we rent houses nearby. We don’t all always manage to make it every year but we mostly do and our children have grown up with that tradition and I’m sure they’ll be passing it along to their kids.
There is a large cast of characters in this book and I would have a hard time picking a favorite, but I would say that I related the most to Melody’s struggles. Did you have a character, in particular, that you related to and which one was the most fun to write?
I relate to every character. I think if you put all four Plumb siblings together, you would probably have a pretty good approximation of me. Leo was the most fun to write and probably the one I miss writing the most.
Who have been your literary influences as a writer?
Jane Austen, Elizabeth Strout, Jonathan Franzen, Ian McEwan, Tessa Hadley, Alice McDermott, Meg Wolitzer, William Trevor, Nora Ephron, David Rakoff – I could go on and on! Everyone I read influences me in some way.
I’d love to vaguely talk about the ending of your book (so we don’t give any spoilers away). Is this the ending you had envisioned for these characters? Do you see any potential in this being a sequel or do you think this is where you would like to end their story?
I was probably a little more than halfway through the first draft when I felt I had a sense of where everyone would end up and I don’t think anything changed in the writing. I do believe this is where their story ends for me and I’m content with it. No sequels!
While I was reading your book, I was already picturing this becoming a movie. I know you might get asked that a lot, but would you be open to that if the opportunity presents itself? Did you picture any actors for these characters when you were crafting them?
I did not picture any actors while writing and I’ve been asked so many times who I imagine but I can never think of anyone because the characters exist in my head as they exist in my head, if that makes any sense. But that will have to change eventually because I sold the movie option to Amazon Feature Films (editor’s note- check out Amazon’s plans for films!!!) . I’m adapting the book to screenplay and Jill Soloway is producing.
Lastly, what is one of your all-time favorite books? (This will be added to one of our most visited posts of must-reads from the authors featured in Sundays With Writers)
Ah, the most dreaded question for any writer. Or for me at least because it’s so hard to chose. New love? Old favorite? Funny? Sad? Both? Maybe I’ll do all of those (sorry, I’m cheating).
New love: I just finished Empty Mansions, by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr., the story of the heiress and recluse Huguette Clark who lived to be 103. It’s mystery, biography and history all rolled into one fascinating page-turner.
Both funny and sad: I just finished watching the Nora Ephron documentary on HBO and it made me pick up Heartburn again. I’ve been telling everyone to reread it because it’s so deeply funny and so deeply sad. My favorite combination.
You can connect with Cynthia D’Aprix on her website or through Facebook! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads, through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!
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