Who is the victim of Day’s Block Party?
The Block Party
by Jamie Day
(St. Martin’s Press)
Interview by Diane Slocum
The exclusive Alton Road cul-de-sac Block Party is always a big deal, but no one would have guessed what kind of a big deal this year’s party would turn into. The excluded nearby neighborhood website lights up with morbid curiosity over who was murdered on Alton Road and who did it.
The year before, the party was running much more smoothly for Alex Fox. She had put out small crises such as a shortage of buns and underdone hamburgers, as well as dealing with the disinterest of her teenage daughter, Lettie. But the most significant event was meeting Mandy and Samir Kumar and their son Jay, who were about to buy the empty house on the street. When Alex’s brother-in-law, Ken, meets Mandy an unmistakable spark flares between them.
As the year progresses, that is only one of the questions that Alex and Lettie deal with in the complex relationships of the families on the street. Lettie enlists Jay’s help to get revenge on neighbor Riley, which impacts cousin Dylan. Alex suspects all is not right with Mandy and Samir, or with Ken and her sister Emily, (Dylan’s parents), or Willow and Evan (Riley’s parents). Then there is the beautiful widow Brooke, with the perfect body she doesn’t mind sharing on the internet, who is not concerned about her stalker, and who may have instigated her own widowhood. Every thread that has been unraveling during the year comes to a head at The Block Party.
AUTHORLINK: What was the first idea you had for this story? Did you have a certain line or character that struck you?
“I envisioned the story as ‘Rear Window,’ but set in a cul-de-sac.”
DAY: I envisioned the story as ‘Rear Window,’ but set in a cul-de-sac. This setting provides characters with more mobility than Jimmy Stewart and his broken leg, enabling them to peer into the lives of their friends and neighbors freely. From the beginning, I knew the narrative would be from a high school student’s perspective. Lettie emerged in my mind first, staking her claim to the spotlight. And to offset the young adult voice, I introduced her mother, Alex, offering readers an older generation’s perspective. The goal was to create escalating problems for each protagonist, eventually converging at the novel’s climax. That’s the craft part of the job–how to make all that work while juggling character development and escalating stakes.
AUTHORLINK: I have several questions about the way you structured the story. How you worked these out may give other writers ideas. First, why did you start it with the later block party then drop back a year to the previous party instead of just beginning in the earlier year?
“The human mind is not a fan of ambiguity. It craves answers to questions.”
DAY: The human mind is not a fan of ambiguity. It craves answers to questions. When we need to know, we become highly motivated to get the facts. But the process of discovery is more than half the fun. Who is the victim? Who is the killer? That’s the hook. As the author, I’m counting on readers wanting to savor the journey rather than jumping to the end. By starting with a big question and going back in time, I trigger a human need to find out what happened so the readers read on, and that’s when the magic of storytelling takes over.
AUTHORLINK: How did you come to use the technique of the gossipy neighbors on the nearby street’s website?
DAY: Since I went back a year, I needed a vehicle to remind the reader that there’s a present-day murder going on. The reader must keep sight of the threat and what’s at stake. The community page is a Greek chorus of sorts, operating as the vehicle (or forum) I needed to advance the plot in a way that’s relatable to most.
AUTHORLINK: Why did you use third person for Alex and first person for Lettie?
DAY: I have a teen daughter who isn’t always communicative, but she sometimes offers me a glimpse into her rich inner world. I knew I could only adequately convey Lettie by giving the reader that same window. Alex, by contrast, is in denial about her alcohol struggles and, in a way, her relationships with her daughter and husband. Because she’s somewhat detached from herself, I wrote Alex in the third-person voice to reflect that distance between the reader and her character.
AUTHORLINK: Your story has many complicated twists and turns involving a neighborhood of characters. How much of what happened did you plan ahead? Did you have to make revisions to your original storyline as you progressed?
“Pulling together all these disparate threads and storylines required careful planning…”
DAY: Pulling together all these disparate threads and storylines required careful planning, and I went through several revisions to properly escalate the problems. This process not only enriched the characters but also often advanced the plot. While I had the core elements in mind before starting the draft, there was significant room for improvement. A wise man, Ernest Hemingway, once said, “All writing is rewriting,” and I wholeheartedly embrace that advice.
AUTHORLINK: Your characters learn multiple lessons over the year between block parties. What should readers gain from this besides enjoying the story?
DAY: Under the right circumstances, the secrets we keep and the lies we tell ourselves can be just as dangerous as a loaded gun.
AUTHORLINK: How did getting an agent and publisher go?
“My advice to any writer is to focus on the book.”
DAY: I could write a book about that! Fortunately, I have a fantastic team at my agency and publishing house, but getting here took a lot of work. My advice to any writer is to focus on the book. If you’ve got the product, you’ll find the people to help turn your dreams into reality, or they’ll find you.
AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?
DAY: Next up is a story called ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY…except they’re not. I’ll leave it at that. I’m a suspense writer after all.
About the author: Jamie Day lives in a picturesque New England coastal town with her two children and a dog. Besides reading and writing, she enjoys long walks on the beach, yoga and cooking. The Block Party is her first novel.