Interview with author Wendy Wax and a review of her new novel about how watching Downton Abbey created new friendships *** 3 Stars
By Gabrielle Pantera
Hollywood, CA (Hollywood Daily Star (7/17/13) – “I discovered that according to USA Today, I had written the first novel about fans of a television series,” says While We Were Watching Downton Abbey author Wendy Wax. “I can’t say that was my goal. It just worked out that way, but I think it’s kind of cool.”
Wax’s novel is a delight. Fans of The Jane Austen Book Club will appreciate this story of characters who, except for their shared interest in Downton Abbey, might not otherwise become friends. In Wax’s novel, watching Downton Abbey gives the characters an escape from the problems they face in their lives. The concept of using a phenomenon that is current today to give the characters a connection is fantastic, and Wax ties up the story neatly at the end.
Edward, a British concierge at a condo complex in midtown Atlanta, is screening the first season of Downton Abbey as an event for the residents. Brooke Mackenzie’s husband has left her after years of her supporting him through college and working for him in his medical office. Brook has no close friends because her whole life centered around Zachery and her daughters. Samantha Davis and her husband Jonathan are childless and raised her younger siblings after their parents died. New resident Claire Walker is on her own after sending her daughter off for her first year of college. While watching the show each will form bonds with one another and help each other through life’s challenges.
“My novels often revolve around very different characters who form bonds of friendship that see them through the really tough times,” says Wax. “Downton’s audience is wonderfully diverse. The more I watched and the more I fell in love with the series, the more I began to see a way for the series itself to bring my characters together.”
“While We Were Watching Downton Abbey has an ensemble cast of characters who are all at major crossroads in their lives and discover unexpected friendships that sees them through serious and difficult times,” says Wax. “My novels all deal with tough subjects like death, divorce, betrayal, and infidelity. I definitely believe that a spoonful of humor helps the harsh realities go down. I don’t try to sugar coat anything, but as I write I keep Mary Poppins in mind.”
Wax had some catching up to do in researching her book. “I somehow missed the first season of Downton Abbey, but I kept hearing how great it was from an incredibly wide variety of people,” says Wax. “So I had my own little mini-marathon one weekend. I watched the entire first season in a day and a half.”
“I was lucky in that much of what I needed for this story came from the series itself,” says Wax. “Downton fans will notice that some of my protagonists were inspired by Downton characters. I also read and loved the current Countess of Carnarvon’s book, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey. And, I think it’s wonderful how much of Carnarvon family history has been woven into Downton Abbey. I also read Jessica Fellowes’ The World of Downton Abbey, and Julian Fellowes’ Snobs.”
Wendy McCurdy is Wax’s editor at Berkley Publishing Group, part of Penguin. “I have worked with my current editor on eight of my nine novels, though at two different publishing houses,” says Wax. “We hadn’t met when she bought 7 Days & 7 Nights, which was published by Random House.
“When the manuscript for While We Were Watching Downton Abbey landed on my desk last fall, I immediately fell in love with it,” says editor Wendy McCurdy. “Wendy had woven the Downton Abbey phenomenon into the lives of her endearing characters. Her novels invariably inspire both tears and laughter, and this one was no different. In addition, since I am such a fan of the show myself, it was a treat to get a little bit of a Downton Abbey fix between seasons.”
Many years (and novels) ago, Wax and McCurdy met over dinner at a restaurant called Rene Pujol while Wax was in New York for a writers’ conference. “She had a hilarious story to tell of having shown up at the wrong publishers’ cocktail party, which was why she was only just then catching up with us at the restaurant,” says McCurdy. “Of course her wonderful sense of humor is one of the hallmarks of her work.”
“Over the years, Wendy Wax’s novels have been among my favorites that I’ve ever worked on, and it’s been a pleasure to be part of the process of getting her books into the hands of readers,” says McCurdy. “Since the book’s release, it’s been very gratifying to see how readers have taken it to their hearts,” says McCurdy. “It’s a wonderful thing for a publisher to have to rush back to press numerous times to keep up with the demand.”
Wax’s agent is Stephanie Rostan at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. “I was actually referred to her many years ago by my editor,” says Wax.
While We Were Watching Downton Abbey is Wax’s ninth novel. Her previous novels 7 Days and 7 Nights, Leave It to Cleavage (“My favorite title ever!” says Wax), Hostile Makeover and Single in Suburbia are romantic comedies. Wax says there’s significant Hollywood interest in several of her books, but none have been optioned for film or television.
Wax says one of the favorite things when writing a novel is all the things you get to learn. “As a former journalist, I spend a lot of time and energy trying to be sure that everything I ascribe to a character or build into the plot is at the very least possible,” says Wax. “In the course of the nine novels I’ve written, I’ve searched out a pretty eclectic mix of information. The bra industry, cross dressing, financial fraud, beauty pageants and forensics were all need-to-know topics for Leave It to Cleavage. The publishing industry, televangelism, speed cooking, The Oprah Winfrey Show, New York City and Chicago neighborhoods and restaurants, helped me flesh out The Accidental Bestseller. For Magnolia Wednesdays, I took ballroom dancing classes and learned more about the realities of being a war correspondent and an investigative journalist.”
For Ten Beach Road, in which three very different women lose everything in a Ponzi scheme, Wax had to research the financial side. That Wax’s husband is in finance helped. A friend of a friend of Wax introduced her to the FBI, but finding an agent to speak to proved unnerving. “They requested all my personal information,” says Wax. “I was torn between wanting to disappear…and saying, ‘You’re the FBI, shouldn’t you already know this?”
Wax is currently writing a third novel that features the characters of Ten Beach Road and Ocean Beach. Set in the Florida Keys, it’s currently titled House on Mermaid Point. “Madeline Singer, Avery Lawford, and Nicole Grant, who are introduced in Ten Beach Road head down to the Keys to turn the estate of an aging, down-on-his-luck rock star into a B&B featuring him as the genial, though reluctant, host,” says Wax.
Orion Publishing will release While We Were Watching Downton Abbey in the UK in August.
Woman’s World magazine featured a While We Were Watching Downton Abbey giveaway in their April issue. “I’m really excited about Jillian Wilkowski winning,” says Wax. “She and a friend will travel to England and tour Highclere Castle. I’m counting on her to post pictures of her trip and can’t wait to get there myself.”
Wendy Wax lives in the Atlanta area. She was born in St. Petersburg, Florida.
While We Were Watching Downton Abbey by Wendy Wax Publisher Berkley Trade; 1 edition (April 2, 2013), Language English ISBN: 9780425263310 $ 15.00