Jennifer Close Draws from Experience in Portrait of Politics and Marriage
An exclusive Authorlink interview
By Columnist Ellen Birkett Morris
by Jennifer Close
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As Election Day draws closer, readers might be tempted to escape the drama with a good book. But, those who love the sport of politics and reading about the intricacies of marriage will find both in Jennifer Close’s novel The Hopefuls.
Close relocated from New York to D.C. when her husband got a job in the Obama administration. Frustrated by challenges of life in a new town and feeling like an outsider in a place where people compared security clearances, she decided to pour her energy into telling the story of Beth and Matt, a couple who follow his political dreams to Washington.
|“I started by exploring what it would mean if someone’s spouse wanted to run for office . . .”
What follows is a story of ambition, friendship and what it means to grow apart. The couples’ life is complicated by an intense friendship with a charismatic White House staffer named Jimmy, and his wife, Ashleigh.
“I started by exploring what it would mean if someone’s spouse wanted to run for office and they weren’t on board,” said Close.
She began writing the book in third person, but felt stuck.
“When I began to tell it through Beth’s lens, showing her feelings and opinions, the book really took off,” said Close.
When she develops stories, they tend to start with a “flash of character.”
“I keep a notebook and write down things as they come. I don’t start typing immediately. It is a trick I play in my head. If I have two sentences in a word document I feel like I have nothing. If I put notes in a notebook the stakes are lower,” said Close.
While developing the plot, Close drew on the inherent tension of Beth’s reluctance to be involved and then upped the ante by having Matt run his friend Jimmy’s campaign for Texas Railroad Commissioner and having the couples move in together.
“In the first scene with Jimmy it is clear that they are all drawn to him. There is a section in the book where Beth talks about politicians and refers to charisma as ‘that thing that cannot be named,’” said Close.
“I researched the office of Railroad Commissioner to make sure I had all the details down.”
Her greatest challenge when writing the book was making sure she had all the details right.
“I researched the office of Railroad Commissioner to make sure I had all the details down. I looked into career paths for White House staffers. I looked at who would approach someone to run and all the districts they’d have to visit. It took a long time,” said Close.
She worked with Editor Jenny Jackson, who had edited her two other novels, on revision. Close also got input from her agent Julie Barer.
“I took out information on Beth’s childhood. I had her young and showed when she and Matt met. I had to start with D.C. and go back and tell how she and Matt met.”
Close connected with Barer through a writer friend who introduced her when she was looking to change agents.
“. . . keep writing, to really commit to the work.”
“Immediately, I knew she was the right fit–she’s smart and tough and understands the kind of books that I write and want to write,” she said.
Close, who teaches creative writing at George Washington University, advises apprentice writers to “keep writing, to really commit to the work. It sounds boring, but so much of writing is about the discipline and really making the time to write even if it doesn’t go well all the time. There’s power in knowing that you can revise and rework a piece, but you need to make yourself sit down and write it first!”
With the election year nearly over, Close has turned her attention to her next novel, a book about a family-owned restaurant and the changing family who runs it.
|About the Author
Jennifer Close was born and raised on the North Shore of Chicago. She is a graduate of Boston College and received her MFA in Fiction Writing from The New School in 2005. She is the author of The Smart One, Girls in White Dresses, and The Hopefuls. She lives in Washington, DC, where she teaches creative writing at George Washington University.
|About Regular Contributor
Ellen Birkett Morris
|Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning journalist whose interviews and reviews have appeared in Authorlink, Prairie Schooner Online, The Louisville Courier-Journal, and reprinted in the reader’s guides to The Receptionist and Clever Girl. Her fiction has appeared in journals including Antioch Review, South Caroline Review and Notre Dame Review. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink.
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