When it comes to books, I lean toward nonfiction—specifically memoir. But there was something about Jessica Keener’s novel Strangers in Budapest (Algonquin Books, $26.95) that made me want to read it. Maybe it was the cover, which is gorgeous and intriguing, or maybe it was Keener herself, who I know only through her intelligent and passionate Facebook posts. Whatever the reason, I’m glad to have not only read this suspenseful novel, but to have had the opportunity to talk with Keener prior to her book’s Nov. 14 release. From her home in the Boston area, she talked about the writing process and what it is like to be on the receiving end of accolades from entities, such as Chicago Review of Books, Real Simple, Boston Magazine and Publishers Weekly.
Talk about the process of writing this book. It sounds like it took a long time for it to come to fruition.
I probably started this about ten years ago. It went through a lot of iterations. At one time, I had more points of view. I had more emphasis on a few characters. I pulled a whole kind of thread out of it at one point. I reorganized it. It went through all kinds of challenges and hair pulling and things like that. I put it away for a while, which is sort of typical of me. I usually get some kind of draft going and then I don’t know what I’m doing, and I have to figure it out, and I write. And then finally, I got it to a place where it was making sense…. It’s been a long time coming.
What was it like for you to hold it for the first time and see all that hard work come together?
There are all these different stages. The stage of finally feeling like the draft is ready to show an agent. Then it’s ready to show an editor. Then the editing is finally done and then it goes into the copyright stage. So, each stage has its own thrill. (Seeing) the cover is a huge moment as well. All those years in the story and then to have someone capture that in an image. As soon as I saw it, it just felt right….