Saturday, June 11, 2022

Lauren Belfer

Lauren Belfer is the New York Times bestselling author of And After the Fire, winner of the National Jewish Book Award; A Fierce Radiance, a Washington Post and NPR Best Mystery of the Year; and City of Light, a New York Times Notable Book, a Library Journal best book, a Main Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, and an international bestseller. Belfer attended Swarthmore College and has an MFA from Columbia University. She lives in New York City.

photo credit: Sigrid Estrada
Belfer's new novel is Ashton Hall.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I tried out many different titles for Ashton Hall, dozens and dozens, filling page after page, over several years … poetic titles, metaphoric titles, quotes from Shakespeare and quotes from the Bible. I’m too embarrassed to share any of these many titles! Then one day I realized that the simplest title, the one I’d used from the beginning as a working title for the file on my computer, was actually the best one: Ashton Hall. Ultimately, the house itself is what unites every aspect of the story … the house, its history, the beauty of its gardens, and the sorrow and happiness that have been experienced there.

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

In some ways, my teenage self wouldn’t be at all surprised by this novel – my teenage self was even more obsessed with everything British than I am!

However, my grown-up self has actually lived in Britain and experienced some of the often-comical ways in which daily life in England differs from the expectations of many Americans. England as seen through the eyes of Americans is among the themes of Ashton Hall.

My teenage self, however, was willful and stubborn, and she wouldn’t want to hear about the realities of living in Britain. If she ever had the chance to live in Britain, she wouldn’t even see the peculiarities. She would live the dream, and more power to her!

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

I always know the beginning and the end of a book before I begin writing. These are my two fixed points. I also have a rough outline of the entire story, but usually I put the outline away and let the details evolve freely as I move forward. I return over and over to the beginning of a novel, trying to enrich it and make it more subtle and intriguing. Once the story is established, I also return to the beginning to plant seeds for what will come later in the story.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Everything I see and experience in the course of a day influences my writing. In fact, I know the writing is going well when, say, I spot a magnificent Golden Retriever (my favorite breed) on the street and immediately I think – character x in the novel would adore that dog, and perhaps I can weave the dog into the story. Or maybe I hear an old song playing while I’m in the supermarket, and I wonder if one of my characters would be moved by that song. If the answer is yes, then the next day at my desk, I’ll have the character hear the song when she herself is at the supermarket, or in a restaurant, and she might reflect on the last time she heard it, so that the song sparks memories for her. In this way, everything I happen upon in the world enriches the novel.
Visit Lauren Belfer's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Fierce Radiance.

My Book, The Movie: A Fierce Radiance.

The Page 69 Test: And After the Fire.

My Book, The Movie: And After the Fire.

--Marshal Zeringue