Jessica Anya Blau's first novel, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, was a fixture on summer reading lists. Part memoir, part fiction, it tells of a 14-year-old California girl with free-wheeling parents. We asked Blau, a Baltimorean who teaches in the Johns Hopkins University's writing program, about the novel, her book tour and what's next. Here are excerpts from that interview; a longer version and the complete audio are posted on Read Street.
Why not just write a memoir?
I guess the reason is that when it comes to writing, I like to have control over everything, and when you write a memoir you have to have an allegiance to the truth. And the truth is harder to write. Your book has sort of a reverse generation gap - it's the kids trying to deal with parents who are a bit wilder than your average Ozzie and Harriet parent.
My parents' generation lived in an incredible amount of structure and rigidity, and when that generation had kids, we were almost like the Ignored Generation. I have friends whose parents didn't swim naked and they weren't smoking pot or growing pot in the backyard like my parents were, but they were ignored.
Do friends and relatives see themselves in your book and recognize the line between fact and fiction?
Interestingly, people outside our family look at it, including the mother, and think it's dead on: "That's exactly what your mother was like." But my mother looks at it and sees a very fictional character. And so do the other members of my family, You said you didn't intend it as humor.
I didn't intend it to be humor, and in fact if you asked me how to write humor, I would say I have absolutely no idea. And the moment when it really hit me was the first reading I had in New York City; ... they were laughing so loud and so long, I was stunned.
Your next novel is a continuation of the story?
The next novel, which at this moment is called Home for the Heart Attack, is sort of this same family but ... it's almost like the messier, dirtier, grittier version that spans about 50 years.