Interview by Elizabeth Breeden
You’re publishing The Female Persuasion right into the middle of the #MeToo movement, when women are using their “outside voices”—as your character Greer might put it. How does it feel to have a novel featuring strong women coming to terms with voices and ideals in this particular moment?
While I did start writing the novel around three years ago, it is being published in this very heated moment. All of the ideas in the book—female power, making meaning in the world, the person you meet who changes your life—are ideas I’ve been thinking about forever, though some of them do have a pointed resonance right now. I’m excited to finally be talking about my book with readers.
Zee and Greer’s friendship is so rich: they motivate, educate, and support each other from the moment they meet their first night at college. Yet after leaving school, Greer makes a decision in her career that affects Zee. While hidden for years, this choice haunts Greer and forces her to reframe how she treats other women. Can you tell us a little about why it was important to have a friendship like theirs—and the evolution of their friendship—in The Female Persuasion?
I’ve always been interested in writing about friendship; I think it’s an endlessly interesting topic because it’s so complicated and can take so many different shapes and forms. But if you write about friendship, you may need to include some of the difficult parts. In this case, my protagonist Greer, who finally feels she is being “seen” by someone she admires, behaves in a surprising way that she rationalizes to herself, but which does come back to haunt her.
It’s important, as a writer, to allow your characters to do things even if those actions may make them less likable to the reader. What matters is that it feels real; and, in this case, I thought that Greer’s behavior did in fact feel real, given her personal history. Because I am very interested in tracking relationships over time, we get a chance to see how that decision affects her friendship with Zee years later. For me, this dynamic was just something I was exploring, and I slowly began to understand where it was headed.
Feminism seems to be as much a character in your novel as the women themselves, but you don’t shy away from noting the ways in which feminist figures, like your fictional Faith Frank, and their history have problematic issues relating to class, race, and gender. Can you tell us a little about how you shaped your own feminist views, and how that impacted your writing?
I saw the ways my mother was influenced by the women’s movement when I was growing up, and it registered for me. In ninth grade (I think) I was part of a group of girls forming a consciousness-raising group, in which we got together and talked about issues that mattered to us. Feminism has been a big part of me for a very long time; it was in my household, and now it’s in my blood.
Faith Frank seeks ways in which to help other women, mentoring or advising or being a source of inspiration. She realizes sometimes the most vital gift she can offer other women is giving them permission—to pursue their dreams, use their voice, or search for who they want to be. Did you have someone in your life who gave you “permission”? Is mentoring among women important?
There were a variety of different women in my life who were generous to me when I was young and starting out, and I often think about them with gratitude. In fact, the dedication of my novel is to a bunch of such women. It’s not that I necessarily thought of them as mentors when I was young, but looking back it’s clear to me that that is part of what they were.
There can be a powerful relationship between someone starting out and someone seasoned who sees something in that younger person. I have experienced this several times in my life, and it has had real, positive consequences for me. I don’t doubt the importance of women supporting and encouraging other women and advocating on their behalf. So-called mentors and protégées aren’t always older and younger—they can be the same age, or the ages can be reversed. What matters is that someone sees something in another person, and the relationship ends up being significant, even pivotal.
Girls’ Night In is all about reimagining how to take care—of yourself, your relationships, and choosing to cultivate both by taking a break. How do you take care?
It does sound like a bit of a cliché, but I think balance is essential—finding the right “emotional pH” in life, if you will. Work, friendship, love, family, food, play, sleep—I never underestimate the power of sleep, because it always affects what the next day will be like for me.
What’s one thing you hope our Girls’ Night In readers will take away from reading or discussing The Female Persuasion?
I hope that even as they can’t help but see that the book is timely in its subject matter, they will enjoy immersing themselves deeply in the novel’s story and characters, and the world I’ve created.