I recently had the opportunity to meet Molly Jong-Fast and speak with her about her new comic novel, The Social Climber’s Handbook (Villard, 2011), in which Daisy Greenbaum, an unlikely serial killer who lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, volunteers at a soup kitchen and cares for her family. Molly Jong-Fast is the likable author who also lives on the Upper East Side and has twins and an incredibly smart husband, just like her heroine. The Social Climber’s Handbook is the third book from the 32-year-old daughter of Erica Jong and Jonathan Fast. She has adeptly woven a fun-filled story that blends bits of Wall Street, Desperate Housewives, and a Jewish Gossip Girl, into a unique tale that’s all her own.
Susan Marque (Rail): Molly, I absolutely love your new book The Social Climber’s Handbook. It has everything: sex, intrigue, murder. Did you know the surprises from the beginning, or were they surprising to you too?
Molly Jong-Fast: I wanted to write something like The Talented Mr. Ripley (Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel). That is my favorite book. I didn’t think that the character needed to be a fake. I thought she could just feel like a fake, which we all do in some way or another.
Rail: How long did it take to write?
Jong-Fast: On and off for five years; I can only write when I have an idea.
Rail: Did you discuss the book with your husband and/or family while writing it, or keep it a secret until you were finished? What is your process like?
Jong-Fast: I start 10 books and then I throw them out, then I write another book and throw it out, and then, somewhere, I figure out the story I’m trying to tell.
Rail: Do you write all the time or have set working hours?
Jong-Fast: I try to work when the kids are in school or camp, or at night.
Rail: Do you feel there is an expectation that you must produce something sensational or surpass your last book, since you are known as a writer?
Jong-Fast: Personally, I just want my books to sell enough so I can write more. I’m like a heroin addict that way.
Rail: You grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. What are your favorite things about Manhattan? What are your favorite things about Brooklyn/other boroughs? If you were to live anywhere in the world, would the Upper East Side be your top choice? Why?
Jong-Fast: Love the Met, the Natural History, the NYPL, the boat pond, Washington Square Park, Saint James Church. If I could live somewhere it would be Venice, Italy, but it’s not so nice in the winter.
Rail: This book is set in New York but I think it has worldwide appeal. Would you ever go and live in another country, for example, for a piece of writing? Where would you like to go?
Jong-Fast: I would if I could move everyone somewhere. I would love to. London?
Rail: Do your own twins like that there are twins in the book? Did you do that for them?
Jong-Fast: I think when you have twins you are slightly obsessed with them. They are like siblings on crack. They are the sibling experience times 1,000!
Rail: This is a work of fiction, but it seems so real and viable that it could be a true story. Did the writing start out like that, or did you have to really keep revising to make it look so easy to write?
Jong-Fast: A lot of revising, a lot of editing, a lot of leaving out the scenes that I couldn’t get right. I know my limitations as a writer.
Rail: Did you grow up writing a lot? What other things do you like to do for fun? Hobbies?
Jong-Fast: Needlepoint. I wrote poetry as a kid. I do like the way things sound; I like a good sentence.
Rail: Do you think there might be a sequel to The Social Climber’s Handbook? I keep thinking about what will happen next for Daisy and Dick and their kids. I really want to know.
Jong-Fast: Why not? She could go on like this for years.