Friendship by the Book: An Interview With the Author of Perfect on Paper
A search for Mr. Right remains a puzzle until the end.
Posted Mar 15, 2012
This breezy new novel, Perfect on Paper by Janet Goss (Penguin New American Libary,2012) keeps the reader guessing about artist Dana Mayo's love life until the end. Her search for Mr. Right takes many twists and turns—remaining a puzzle until the end. If you are a crossword-puzzle lover, you'll especially love this book. The book also holds some friendship lessons so I interviewed the author, Janet Goss.
Although Perfect on Paper focuses on Dana Mayo finding her love, friends play an important role in the story. Can you talk about her two friends, Elinor Ann and Lark?
Dana and Elinor Ann became friends decades ago, when they were sharing a tent in summer camp, but their adult lives couldn't have turned out more differently—Dana is a single New Yorker, and Elinor Ann is a married mother of two in rural Pennsylvania. I liked the idea of writing about a friendship that's been able to endure despite the characters' divergent paths. At first, Elinor Ann serves as a sounding-board and stabilizing force for Dana, yet when she experiences problems of her own, she knows she can turn to Dana—after all these years, they're not "like family," they are family.
Dana views Lark as her chance at a do-over: she observes this young woman making the same mistake she'd made years earlier, and becomes determined to prevent a similar, tragic outcome. As Dana says about Lark in Chapter Two, "She inspired protection." I think the reason she goes to such lengths on Lark's behalf is that when she was in her early twenties, nobody was looking out for her—her already-laissez-faire parents had retired to Florida. Even Elinor Ann was busy settling into married life. I wouldn't say Dana has maternal feelings toward her friend; rather, she sees herself as Lark's older-and-wiser big sister, which is a new experience for her.
Were these characters inspired by your own friendships in any way?
Well... I do have a friend from summer camp I sometimes address as Not-Elinor-Ann (she calls me Not-Dana), but other than a few biographical similarities, neither of us is anything like "our" characters! Now that I am hard at work on my second novel for NAL, we have taken to calling one another Not-Kit and Not-Vera. But everything I've experienced in my life, especially my friendships, has the potential to inspire my fiction. This explains why I don't write about vampires or wizards—I've never had the pleasure of meeting any.
Dana's relationship with Elinor Ann was a long-distance one. Do you have long-distance friendships in your own life? How do you make them work?
I have friends from all over, and all I can say is, thank god for email. And there's a site based in the UK where one can play Scrabble (on the real board-not the Words With Friends approximation). Even if I'm crazy busy, I'll always find a minute to make a play when, say, Patricia in Memphis challenges me to a game, or if Ellen in Brooklyn is working night shifts and we haven't had a chance to talk on the phone for a while. At least you can check in and let your friends know you're still alive. I'm also fortunate enough to live in New York City, and just about everybody passes through eventually.
On Page 247, you mention "seeing life through your friend's eyes." What are your thoughts about how friends help us view and interpret our lives?
I believe a friend's perspective helps put things in, well, perspective. In that particular scene, Dana is devastated at the loss of an old friend, yet Elinor Ann is on hand to remind her she's mourning the distant past—and that her present, by the way, is nothing to sneeze at. Friends aren't in your life merely to cheer you on, although it's certainly nice when they do. They're also there to offer reality checks, and soften life's blows, and gently inform you that yellow might not be your most flattering color.
In your own life, how have you balanced relationships with men with your friendships with women?
Short answer: By not being one of those people who drops everything when they've convinced themselves they've found The One—notice I'm being gender-neutral here. Both men and women can fall victim to that behavior. I think it's crucial to make time for your same-sex friends no matter how intoxicating a new love interest might seem. They're the ones who will be there for you if the relationship goes down in flames. And even if it doesn't, I think it's unhealthy to focus exclusively on one person.
But as a woman who will be celebrating her fourteenth wedding anniversary this summer, I do have to admit to being extremely lucky. My husband is the most charming man in the universe and all my girlfriends adore him—to the point where they're disappointed if he's got band practice and can't join us for dinner. (We were introduced to one another by a woman I've known since the sixth grad—never underestimate the power of girlfriends.)
Can puzzles lead to friendships? Can puzzle-lovers be close friends with non-puzzle lovers?
A resounding yes to both questions! Some of my favorite people on the planet are those friends I've made at a crossword tournament I attend every spring. We're an extremely diverse group in terms of ages, professions, and hometowns, which keeps things lively. We stay in touch throughout the year and, as I write, are looking forward to our annual reunion in Brooklyn in a few weeks.
In my civilian life, I probably know more non-puzzlers than cruciverbalists. There are plenty of other things to talk about. And, like Dana, I've always preferred to date non-solvers—my husband couldn't finish a Monday if you held a gun to his head. As she says on page 40, "I was never going to find happiness solving in tandem, calling out from the couch, ‘honey, what's a five-letter word for neckwear?'" On Sunday mornings you'll find me at the kitchen table, pen in hand, determined to finish the Times crossword in under twenty minutes—which, for the record, is not a terribly impressive time among tournament contenders. The top seeds can blaze through the grid in five or six minutes!
"Friendship by the Book" is an occasional series of posts on The Friendship Blog about books that offer friendship lessons.
P.S. While you are here... reminder to my readers from Irene:
Can you take a minute to vote for my blog and my book, which are finalists for the About.com Friendship awards? You can vote once each day---for each of them---through March 21, 2012.
Huge thanks for your support always!