Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Interview with Nora Zelevansky

Hi all!

We're interviewing the lovely Nora Zelevansky today, debut author of Semi-Charmed Life. Be sure to check out her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook!

Also, to all those BOOK CLUBS out there, Nora would be more than happy to Skype or iChat about her book. If you're interested feel free to email her at: semicharmedbook (at) gmail (dot) com

1) When did you start writing?

Hmm.  I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing.  In second grade or so, the teachers had us make our own books in school and my “About The Author” described wanting to be a writer.  (I love that they had us write descriptions about our lives that way, at that age.)  After that, I never really wrote fiction, mostly personal essays.  I developed a serious obsession with Joan Didion.  By the time I graduated from high school, I wasn’t thinking of a future in writing at all.  I was a writing tutor at college and always helped my friends with their papers, but I was still mostly focused on this idea of working with writers instead of being one.  Then, after a few years of working in the entertainment industry in LA and in politics for a hot second, I got the chance to write a personal essay for a yoga magazine.  The experience was fantastic and I was hooked!  I took a couple of UCLA classes and was basically a freelance journalist from that moment on.  Eventually, I decided to take a shot at fiction, not sure at all how it would turn out.  And here I am!

2) Tell us a little about your non-writing self.

Well, I grew up in NYC, moved to LA for college and post-college and now I’m back living in Brooklyn.  I grew up with art world parents (a curator mother and performance artist father) and a brilliant sister, who did in fact write the poem at the beginning of the book when she was eight-years-old and taking a standardized test.  That definitely impacted the setting of the book, although the characters really aren’t replicas of my family members.  I’m a journalist, who mostly writes about fashion, beauty, travel, food and design, but also—in my favorite moments—I get to write cultural satire and critique.  Those experiences made it into the book too.  What else?  I’m a salt addict and a bag whore; I hate cilantro, I love TV (without shame) and some of my idols are Dorothy Parker, Jane Austen, Gail Collins and Tina Fey.  My husband is a filmmaker and we have two cats.  Yup.  Cats.

3) Was Semi-Charmed Life your first novel?

It was.  Like many of us, I wanted to try to write a novel and so I signed up for NaNaWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and wrote about 1,677 (I think?) words a day for a month without much outlining or planning.  I wasn’t at all convinced that a plot would emerge as they promised, but it did!  I really recommend that process and this is the time of year to do it.  Anyway, at the end of that month, I had a very messy novel that, of course, required many many rewrites, but at least I had a draft and that made life easier.  The day the book was purchased was probably the proudest of my life.  I sat in my car in LA, after finding out that St. Martin’s was making a bid, and I was just overcome—I felt so fortunate.

4) How long did you query for before landing an agent?

I took a long time to choose an agent; longer than I recommend.  I just didn’t know how to make that decision.  A lot of people recommended picking the person who seemed most aggressive, but I was drawn towards the person who made me feel most comfortable and, in this case, that worked.  As a freelance writer, I’m used to hustling pretty hard, so I just went after whatever contacts I could find, people who had contacted me about my personal essays over the years, and even looked up the agents of newer writers who I liked and thought wrote in a similar genre.  I’m not sure exactly how long it took.  Maybe two or three months-ish?

5) What inspired you to write Semi-Charmed Life?

Since this was my first attempt at writing a novel, I didn’t want to pick an idea about which I felt too precious or attached.  I wanted to be able to just let my imagination run amok, which is what the NaNaWriMo people suggested.  So, I found this dream I’d written down from the year before, when I’d been on vacation in the British Virgin Islands, about this girl named Veruca Pfeffernoose, who had this apartment that was like a carnival for adults and Jerry Garcia was spinning records in a corner.  That was the starting off point.  But I also almost worked as a ghost blogger for a socialite (long story), so my off-the-wall experience with that also informed the plot.  And I guess living in NYC and then LA got me thinking a lot about the cult of celebrity and moved me to poke a little fun at the notion and value of “fame” these days.

6) Did anyone you know inspire Beatrice's character?

I can’t say that any one person inspired her.  But I do like a flawed main character.  Maybe that dates back to reading Pride & Prejudice with my mother as a child?  Who knows?  But I like sort of clumsy female characters, who are at core strong and capable and may even appear to have it all together to the outside world, but who privately feel vulnerable and inadequate when faced with a clean white shirt (too easily stained).  I think that’s a feeling most of us can relate to and that also lends itself to humor.  I like characters who don’t take themselves too seriously.

7) What's your favorite book and author?

My favorite book of all time (and this is hard because there are so many) is probably Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters by J.D. Salinger.  It’s brilliantly written and funny and sad and strange all at the same time; you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, so you do both.  I reread it about once a year.

8) Cookies or cake?

Ooh.  That’s tough.  But, ultimately, birthday cake.

9) What piece of advice do you wish you'd received when you'd started the publishing and querying process?

Oh, gosh.  Well, I guess that along the way there are always going to be rejections.  And, even if you get positive feedback from 99% of the people who read your manuscript, you’ll mostly remember the 1% who were negative.  Sadly, that’s human nature!  So, my advice would be: Remember that nothing is for everyone.  Even the most brilliant works of art don’t do it for some.  So, do the work that feels right to you and that you believe in and, take advice from people who you trust to have your best interests at heart, but otherwise follow your own instincts.  It’s an accomplishment just to have carved out the time to try to write a book!  Make sure to take a moment and just feel good about that.

Thank you, guys!


  1. sounds like a fabulous novel - I'll be adding it to my TBR list right away!

  2. Such a great cover and the descriptions I've seen sound like a great book, too. Congrats!