Wednesday, July 16, 2014

And the story changed again....
by Brenda Janowitz

One summer, when I was single, Grandma Dorothy informed me that she would be renting a house in the Hamptons. No more of these silly share houses I was doing with my friends each summer. They were getting me nowhere (read: still single and over thirty). Instead, I was to stay with her and she would help me meet someone. The only problem with this scenario was that I was sure she’d meet a man before I did. She had sparkling crystal blue eyes and a killer figure. My own hazel eyes and good birthing hips were no match for her easy glamour and style.

When she found out that a Hamptons summer rental costs more than the gross national product of some countries, the idea sort of fell apart. But it gave me an idea—what if a young woman spent the summer out in the glamorous Hamptons with her even more glamorous grandmother?

The idea for my third novel was born.  It would be called RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE, and it would feature an impossibly glamorous grandmother and her not-as-glamorous granddaughter.

Both of my own grandmothers really inspired me to come up with the character of Vivienne, the glamorous widow six times over. Neither was a widow six times over, but both of my grandmothers were very glamorous ladies. When I think of my childhood memories, I’m not likely to picture them in aprons baking cookies. I picture them in evening gowns.

I began to write.  My first two novels would be classified as “chick lit,” which is to say they’re smart, funny novels with heart about a single girl living in the city. And that’s exactly what I was at the time. But just as I’ve grown up, my writing has grown up, too.

RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE is different from my first two novels in so many ways. In my first two books, I was really focused on writing a funny story. The sort of book that would make you embarrass yourself in the subway from laughing (I’ve gotten that email from numerous readers and it makes me smile each time someone tells me that!). The sort of book that could make you forget your problems for an afternoon (two different people read my second novel while getting chemo and told me that it helped them to keep a smile on their faces through an awful situation). The sort of book that’s just meant to be read on a plane, or a bus, or a beach (you could also read them on a subway, on a train, or by a lake. I don’t discriminate.).

With RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE, I was looking to do something different. Something more grown up. Something deeper. The idea for the book—a granddaughter and her grandmother out in the Hamptons for the summer—was originally played for laughs. Much was made of the fact that the grandmother meets a man before her granddaughter does.  But the book changed.

I did the first major overhaul of the novel while I was pregnant with my first son. Everything was different for me—I was changing as a person, my voice was changing, and so, too, did this novel. I began thinking more deeply about the ties that bind mothers and children, grandmothers and grandchildren. How we hurt each other. How we can forgive. What that means.

When I was six months pregnant and almost finished writing the book, my mother was rushed to the hospital for emergency open-heart surgery. It was the most harrowing 24 hour period of my life (until I had kids, but that’s another story entirely), and even though my mother made a full recovery, it took me a long time to recover myself. It was the same time that I was writing a death scene for RECIPE and it was impossible to write. I was still so scared from almost losing my mother. I wrote it quickly, tried to get through it quickly, and one of my first readers, author Lynda Curnyn, called me out on it. She told me that this wasn’t the time to write a death scene. I needed time away from it. I needed to heal. I needed to process.

She was right. It took me another year until I was able to get the scene right. And the book changed again.

RECIPE became another book entirely, and I’m happy about that.  I’m always happy to follow the story, see where characters lead me, get lost in the craft of writing.

I’m the author of SCOT ON THE ROCKSJACK WITH A TWISTRECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE, and THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB.  My short story, HOLLYWOOD PUNCH, will be released on September 2nd.

My work’s also appeared in the New York Post and Publisher’s Weekly. You can find me at or on Twitter at @BrendaJanowitz.


  1. We never know when life imitates art or the other way around, but you are right. Timing is everything. Great post, Brenda!!

  2. Well said, Brenda! Great column...and very touching book!

    1. Oh, Leslie, I'm so humbled by your words! Thank you!!