Q&A with Jami Attenberg, author of ‘All Grown Up’

Buffalo Grove’s own Jami Attenberg is set to release her sixth book, “All Grown Up” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25 Amazon). In it, Andrea is a single woman in a big city who is enjoying her life experience by experience. When a new family member arrives to this world with a devastating ailment, Andrea re-examines her priorities and responsibilities, as does her family.

“All Grown Up,” told in humorous and humorously genuine vignettes, comes two novels after her New York Times best-seller “The Middlesteins,” which follows a family re-emerging in a northwest suburb of Chicago.

Attenberg spoke with Chicagoly about the book’s release, the importance of her female leads, and much more.

Chicagoly: How is the process with the release of the new book?
Jami Attenberg: So far, so good. I think I have around thirty events across the country and I’m doing some stuff in the U.K. as well. People seem excited about it, but it’s kind of hard to know, since we’re about five weeks out. You don’t really know until people start reading it. Then you see if it’s making any sort of impact. There’s all different kinds of ways a book is viewed as successful or not successful. With the sixth book, I’ve gotten better at judging what stuff is important and what’s not. But I’m excited for it to come out and for people to read it.

How long was the process, from the idea through now?
I wrote a little bit of it in 2014. I didn’t throw it away, but just didn’t feel like I had any more to say on the matter. Then, I worked on some other things. But then I started writing it August of 2015, and I finished a really solid first draft in February 2016. I worked on revisions of it through June of that year. It was one of those books that came out really quickly. I’ve had that experience in the past. I am a fast writer. It’s also much shorter than books I’ve written in the past.

When you get to this point, when a book is about to be released, are you relieved, anxious, nervous?
It’s nice to have the final physical object in your hand. I find that exciting. Because it takes so long for a book to come out, like nine months to a year after you’ve finished writing and editing it, there have been so many exciting moments already. Getting a blurb [in the media] is exciting, like if you get a blurb from somebody you really admire. That’s a really exciting thing. Your friends read it and write you a nice email about it or have a nice conversation with you about it. That is deeply fulfilling. Getting early reviews, that can be exciting. By the time you actually get there, it is fun, but it is also a nauseous feeling, because you have to get reviewed—like really reviewed. And that’s scary. I am fascinated deeply with the process of publishing and I like knowing how things work, in terms of publishing and marketing. I feel excited, not just for me, but this incredible group of people who worked on my book, as well.

How is this novel especially unique?
They are all unique and special. This book is different than the previous one (“Saint Maize”), because the previous one was set in the Depression area and this one is set in contemporary times. They are both set in New York and are both women with unconventional voices who lead complicated lives.

“All Grown Up” will be released in March 2017.

The idea of un-conventionalism or living on your own terms, is that important or something you like to explore?
Yes, it’s completely important. It’s important to me to have complicated, strong female characters as the center of my books. I consider that an important thing to do in my writing. I consider that a feminist act. I consider writing a feminist act.

How did your Chicago upbringing get you started or make you want to be a writer?
I’ve always written. I think I would have written wherever I grew up. I very much benefitted from the public schools. I did all my schooling here before college, born and raised. There were lots of great arts programs I benefitted from. I was editor of the school paper at Buffalo Grove High School. I did creative writing programs. I had great English teachers. That was really wonderful that there was a great educational backbone for me to lean on and for me to grow off Buffalo Grove. And Chicago does have a strong history of literature as well, but I think I was always a reader and a writer.

In “The Middlesteins,” you do focus on a northwest suburb. What compelled you to write about the area?
I felt like I was ready to write about. I had never written about Chicago before. I wrote it right before I turned forty. I was ready to look back at that place of my life. I don’t think I could have written that book in my twenties. None of the characters are connected to my family. The Middlesteins are not the Attenbergs. … There haven’t been a ton of books about the suburbs of Chicago. To me, it felt like a very American book. It’s great that the people in Chicago have embraced it, because that’s an honor to me, felt really important to me. But people from across American and other parts of the world, it felt familiar to them too. Just the family dynamic, that dysfunctional family dynamic is universal, every family is kind of messed up. The new book is set primarily in New York City. There is one chapter set in Chicago, or mostly. I had her go to art school for a year in Chicago. I think the people who are from Chicago might find the chapter interesting, but hopefully, find the whole book interesting. There’s a little bit of Chicago in “Saint Maize,” too. I think I always throw a little bit of Chicago in my books. We write about it what we know, the places we’ve been and that have had an impact on us. For me, Chicago is always going to be one of those places. And it’s a really interesting city

Are your characters a reflection of anybody, yourself or just general society?
I want to really represent that voice. I think it’s really important that unconventional, diverse voices are represented in fiction so people can feel clear to be who they are and be more understanding of people around them. I think that art can really promote wider perspectives in the world by giving us an understanding of different characters.

Are you coming to the Midwest on your book tour?
I’m coming to Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison. That’s jut the spring. We’ll see if there’s anything I want to do in the fall. Maybe I’ll come back in paperback. I usually do more in Chicago, actually. I have just a lot going on this time. Also, my parents just moved to Florida. I am excited to come to Hicago. People read here. Great bookstores and great writers. It’s just always a pleasure to come through.

About the author

Joe is the publisher of Chicagoly and 22nd Century Media, where he's worked since 2006. A born and bred Chicagoland native, he is an award-winning features and sports writer and authors What Now? and On These Streets (ghost-writes) each issue.

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