Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Jonathan Vatner

Jonathan Vatner is the author of The Bridesmaids Union (2022) and Carnegie Hill (2019). His fiction has earned praise from People, Town & CountryThe New York Post, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. He is the managing editor of Hue, the magazine of the Fashion Institute of Technology and teaches fiction writing at New York University and the Hudson Valley Writers Center.

My Q&A with Vatner:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The title, The Bridesmaids Union, refers to the secret Facebook group of disgruntled bridesmaids at the heart of the story. I came up with it in the same way my protagonist does: While I was puzzling over what it should be called, I got an email from a union I belong to. As the title of the novel, I thought it was intriguing and relatively self-explanatory. The title of my last novel changed twice, so I was pleased that no one suggested a different name this time.

What's in a name?

I wanted my protagonist and her two sisters to be named after flowers—it’s sweet and a little funny—so I picked Iris, Jasmine, and Rose. Iris is my favorite flower, so I gave that name to my protagonist. Initially their last name was Sullivan—I saw them as Irish-American—but Jazmine Sullivan is a famous singer/songwriter. To avoid any unintended associations, I changed it to Hagarty.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

As a teenager, I read mostly fantasy novels by authors like Terry Brooks, David Eddings, and Piers Anthony. So I think young Jon would be pretty surprised to see that we wrote a rom-com together!

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

The beginning is easy. When I’m done with the book, I write a new first chapter. Originally I had started the novel in medias res—the Bridesmaids Union was already in existence. But my editor thought it would be good to walk readers through why Iris created it, so I wrote a disastrous wedding scene, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

For me, the ending is always harder. I honestly didn’t know what would or should happen, even after I finished the first draft—and the second. I’d known from the beginning what the climax would be, but I didn’t know how it would resolve. I was trying to figure out what was more important, familial or romantic love. And then I realized that neither Iris nor I was thinking about it in the right way.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

As a rule I don’t write about myself. I find other people so much more interesting! But there’s something of me in every character, usually in their actions and choices rather than the surface details of their lives. There was a lot of me in Iris, in terms of her being afraid to speak her mind and feeling like she couldn’t say no to requests for her time. As I was writing the book, I was working on being stronger and less ashamed. Maybe one day I’ll feel confident in writing a novel about myself.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I love news stories about weddings gone wrong, which is one reason writing The Bridesmaids Union was so much fun. I also love “Am I the Asshole?” on Reddit, for the same reason I love fiction: it helps me think through my moral beliefs. I burned out on political news after the 2016 presidential election—my appetite for reading anything remotely partisan completely went away—but the Trump/Clinton divide figures prominently in the book. Iris is liberal, as am I, but the book doesn’t take a side.
Visit Jonathan Vatner's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Bridesmaids Union.

--Marshal Zeringue