Saturday, July 16, 2022

Liz Alterman

Liz Alterman is the author of a young adult novel, He’ll Be Waiting. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, and other outlets. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and three sons where she spends most days microwaving the same cup of coffee and looking up synonyms. When she isn't writing, she's reading.

Alterman's new novel is The Perfect Neighborhood.

My Q&A with the author:

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

The title does a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to drawing readers into the story. The title is a wink to the reader, alerting them that this community is anything but “perfect.”

My working title was People in Your Neighborhood taken from a line of dialogue: “Who’s more dangerous: the stranger who picks you up on a highway or the people in your neighborhood?” But in looking at it I’m glad the publisher suggested a change as it's a mouthful and would take up quite a bit of real estate on the cover.

The novel explores the notion that you can think you’ve found an ideal community to raise your family but you really never know what’s going on inside your neighbors’ homes, and I think the title does a good job of hinting at that.

What's in a name?

As my family would tell you, I struggle with naming characters. I often ask my kids for suggestions over dinner. (Sometimes they're willing to help, others, they roll their eyes.) I read a lot of baby name lists from the years the characters were born for inspiration and to see what was popular during that time period. When writing this novel, I wanted the names to have an air of elegance because these characters are well-off and live in an upscale area. I have one character even comment on other characters: "Even their names—Allison and Christopher Langley—sounded clean, rich, regal."

The town's name—Oak Hill—was just as important to me as the characters' names because I wanted it to convey the notion of a bucolic setting, a place families aspire to put down roots.

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

I find the beginning really challenging because I know, as a reader, if I'm not hooked immediately, I’m tempted to move on and I’m sure others feel the same way. With so many things (from novels to streaming services) competing for readers' attention, if you can't capture someone's attention at the onset, you run the risk of losing them pretty quickly.

I knew that I wanted to open this novel with the gossipy voices of neighbors weighing in on the sudden split of the town's golden couple. My goal was to make readers feel as if they were being invited into this community's inner circle. Hearing these rumors also sets the tone for the story and establishes the setting—this is a place where your secrets probably aren't safe for long.

I also try hard to make each chapter ending compelling so readers want to keep turning pages. I love it when I find myself reading a novel and saying, "Just one more chapter, then I'll get up and make dinner!" I find endings a bit less daunting and a little more fun than crafting chapter openings, but that said, I often rewrite them a dozen times until I feel like they're (hopefully) doing the job of making readers want to continue.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My family definitely inspires my writing. As a parent, my greatest fear is that something bad will happen to my children. In The Perfect Neighborhood, a child goes missing on his walk home from kindergarten. I wanted to tap into the terror that sets off, not only for the boy's parents but for the community at large. I also wanted to explore the idea of the guilt working mothers often feel because they can't be everywhere at once.
Visit Liz Alterman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue