Shannon O’Connor ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor-in-Chief
The past three weeks have been busy for author Ann Leary as her latest novel The Good House hit shelves January 15. Amidst her travels for book signings and readings, Leary’s novel has been named a New York Times bestseller and a USA Today bestseller. Fortunately I was able to get in touch Ann to discuss her book and her upcoming projects, despite her rather busy schedule.
How is the book tour going?
It is going great; the book just came out almost two weeks ago now. Last week we were in the Midwest and I learned that it had made the New York Times bestsellers list, which is very exciting, actually quite thrilling. My other two books did not sell as well so that was very exciting. Now, I am in Marblehead, Mass., which is where my family lives and where part of the book is set.
What do you enjoy about book tours?
The book tour is slowly becoming less of a thing that authors do, because of the Internet. It used to be that if you had a book come out, you would be sent by the publisher to various cities and that’s how you sell books. It’s not just that you go to book stores and people come in to buy it, but each city you go to does give you a little bit of publicity. Any signing where you get 30-40 people [to come] that is considered really good. Now that there is the Internet people have blogs and online entertainment magazines that are probably going to reach 30 or 40 people with a one post. Now going on a book tour, I am only going to a few cities, because they are places I have a personal connection with, otherwise it is not worth it, not enough people are going to come.
Any funny book touring stories?
The interesting thing about this book is that it is set in a small New England town on the North Shore and it is about a 60-year-old real estate broker who is a townie from a beautiful quaint New England town. Hers daughters think she has a drinking problem and they had an intervention for her and she is especially angry at them, so she drinks alone and there is some funny stuff that happens to her, some sad stuff, and there is this other huge scandal that happens in the town. But, one of the interesting things that have happened is that I keep getting emails from these people who think I am Dr. Drew (laughs). Like every day I get, really what are thank you emails that they like the book, but they think they have a problem and ask what I think (laughing)? I am kind of like it is not really what I do; I’m thinking I might post a blog about some resources (laughs).
One thing that is great about being an author today is we all have a website, and it is kind of a platform to reach us. When my first book came out you would get letters in the mail, and it would take forever for them to get to you, because they come to the publisher, you would have to write back, then take them to the post office, and now when I get an email today from somebody who read the book, I can respond immediately to say thanks for buying and reading it. It’s wonderful to get instant feedback from your readers once they finish the book. I also often tell people if you have a friend, a father, or a mother who is hard to buy gifts for, a really wonderful gift is if they have a favorite author or genre you go online look up the author and every author has an event page on their website. Look at any upcoming events at any independent book store in the country — it does not have to be near you. You can call and ask for when the author comes to sign the book to the person and send it to them. I don’t know where this fits in with you question.
No (laughs) it’s fine, I have never heard of this before.
Yeah it’s a really great thing to do, so if you know somebody who is a fan of any author just look on their website, find out where they are going to be signing books next and authors are happy to do it and bookstores are happy to do it. It’s a really great way to support independent book stores, because independent book stores are really struggling because they have to compete against Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It’s a great way to support small business, but also a really unique gift.
Your past books (An Innocent, A Broad, Outtakes From a Marriage) have been based on personal experiences even though they are fiction, is The Good House also based on personal experiences?
Well, many of the characters were influenced by people I know in real life. None of the characters are based on any specific person, but quite a few of them are composites of people that I know. The book is set in a small New England town, and we [my family] moved to Marblehead, Mass., which is a small town on the North Shore of Boston, when I was 14 from the Midwest and before that we had lived in a lot of different places mostly bigger areas and towns. So, a part drawn from my real life is my fascination with small town life. There are a lot of people here [Marblehead, Mass.] who grew up here and not only grew up here, but their parents and their grandparents did too and some of the people in Marblehead date back to 1600s and were the earliest settlers here. I find that fascinating and I always thought it would be really cool to be a townie, to be really entrenched in the town and have that kind of history with the place, because as any New Englander knows you’re not a townie unless you’re born there.
My main character in this book is a townie and it’s very much who she is and her community made her the person she is, and she is an influential person in her community. Definitely my fascination with small New England life and some of the characters I have met in the small New England towns that I have lived in. However, he main character is a 60-year-old woman with an awful lot on her plate and one of them is that she is, maybe, struggling with a drinking problem and that character is not really me, but I certainly have known a lot of people like her, there is a little bit of me in her, but she is fictitious character informed by New England Yankees I have known and loved.
Your first book was so heavy on personal experiences, why did stray from that genre?
Well, the first book (An Innocent, A Broad) was a memoir, it was a true book about something that happened to my husband (actor/comedian Denis Leary) and I, involving the complicated birth of our son in the wrong country. It was kind of an interesting story to tell about something that actually happened to us. When I was at Emerson [College] I majored in writing and I was much more interested in writing fiction, and I still am and I think that is all I will write from now on. I really prefer to write fiction, because I feel you can be more honest about your characters when they are not the people you know, you can actually draw from the quirks and the interesting aspects of people’s personalities and then create a different person. I like to use my imagination and embellish some things, I love to not necessarily gossip, but I do like to repeat stories and embellish it to make it a little better. It’s when you are a writer when you can use that as an excuse, because that is what writers do, but it is not the nicest thing to do in real life. That is what I love about writing, you hear a good story or you meet an interesting person and then you get to retell it better and embellish on it and make it your own.
How do you get into the mindset to start writing?
I am a morning person. I tend to wake up really early in the morning and I have a lot of animals that I take care of and I feed them and then I get to work. I kind of have a routine of writing in the morning, and it is really good if you are a writer or a journalist to have a routine. I know when I was in college and out of college I thought you had to just wander around waiting for this brilliant stroke of genius to hit you and then you would go running to your computer and start typing and that is not what happens, ever. At least if you start something it might not be perfect, it might not be the ultimate beginning of what you are working on, but start it and then if you are having trouble get away from it go to the gym, do some running, walk through the park and then usually you will think of what you need to do to fix it, but you will never get there if you don’t just sit down and have some discipline. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I think perfectionism gets in the way of so many writers.
What was your time at Emerson College like?
Well, I transferred there as a junior, I had gone to Bennington College for my freshman and sophomore years, so I never actually lived on campus, I lived off campus and worked and I just went to classes. I met my husband, Denis Leary, my first year of school there, he was teaching this comedy writing workshop that I took and then when the semester was over we started dating and have been together ever since. Denis was really into the whole Emerson scene, he started the Emerson Comedy Workshop, he loved Emerson and went for the full four years. I wasn’t involved with the campus that much, I just really liked my classes there a lot.
Did Emerson influence your writing?
Yeah, I think so. Jim Randall was the head of the writing department then. He passed away a few years ago, but he was a really, really, really great teacher and division head. He brought great authors and great poets — some of the top poets in the country — to teach at Emerson and I took some classes with them. In the literary world, many rank Ploughshares (the literary magazine out of Emerson College) second to the Paris Review and above the New Yorker as far literary quarterly’s go, which is how good it is. It is the holy grail of all authors to get a piece inPloughshares. Emerson has many wonderful little gems that people do not know about andPloughshares is definitely one of them.
Do you have anything coming up in the future?
Yeah, I am working on another book that is actually set in a town in northwestern Connecticut, near where we live now. I just started it and it is hard for me to get back to it, because I am doing this whole tour, but I will get back to it soon.