Last year, author Eleanor Gwyn-Jones debuted her novel, Theatricks, about a girl from England who falls in love with a man from Pennsylvania. The book ended on a suspenseful moment, so it’s only fair that this year brings us Gwyn-Jones’s follow-up, Jazz Hands (Book Two of the Brit out of Water series.)
By Eleanor Gwyn-Jones
Dec. 2014, Omnific Publishing, 254 pgs
Tell me a bit about the process of writing this book.
Well when I was received the information about writing the second book, I was just about to go on a cruise to Bermuda with my friend, Matt, and so I ended up spending the entire week sailing at sea with ideas traveling and bubbling around by brain. Matt was just a great sounding board, because the whole time I was asking, “What do you think about that and what do you think about this?” and that really helped, just being away. I find going away to be incredibly helpful in my writing. I don’t have to talk to or worry about other people as much and I can just concentrate on my work. I think it allows me to quiet myself a little and tune into me, and the way that I write I need to tune in to the character. You know, I don’t come from a writing background, I come from a theatrical background, so I almost have to method write, like “What we should do here and how would she act if this happened?” I throw obstacles at her and wonder ‘What would Enna do?’ And then I try to listen to her voice and write, and that’s the work of my process, and going on vacation helps me work that way. I don’t get into the typical writers’ process in that I don’t really get writers’ block — I get more into the editors’ process and if anything I get editor’s block (laughs) like, ‘What should I change what should I take away?’
What was it like writing about Scranton in your book? Were you hesitant in any aspects, in terms of how local readers (and of course I understand that your readership extends far beyond just Lackawanna Valley) would read your interpretation of their hometown?
You know, that really didn’t dawn on me because I live here, and I choose to live here, and it’s my hometown now, too. I thought far more about the community because the community is so strong in Scranton and supportive and I really appreciate that. I thought more about what I think about the buildings and the businesses and the things that I like. You know, Jazz Hands picks right up where Theatricks left off: she’s abandoned in Scranton. She is left alone at the Radisson, so I thought, ‘What would I say about this place if it were still a bit new to me?’ I almost get to live vicariously [through Enna] to see what she would think about seeing these places for the first time. So included some of my favorites, Carl Von Luger’s and Northern Light (Espresso Bar), and put her in those real places. I know people really like to name-place and identify, and not just with the characters, but with the places, too. So of course I’m going to set the story in places I know, in real life businesses and buildings that she comments on. It wasn’t something I held back on. And the book doesn’t just stay in Scranton, I sent Enna to Brooklyn, where I spent some time as well, and I did the same thing with Brooklyn. It was lovely to go back there.
So your first book, Theatricks, really left readers on a cliff, in terms of what might happen next. Without including any spoilers, of course, can you tell us what readers can expect from Jazz Hands?
Well, you know we meet Enna at the beginning of this novel and she’s pretty low. Everything that happened in her life before sort of defines her, the theater, her American un-fiance, Cole, and she’s really fallen out of love with the theater. She’s coming from a world where she was left to decide what was truth and what wasn’t real. There was so much pressure there, in her old world, and she’s growing away from it, figuring herself out, so I got her started into doing yoga, something she was reluctant about at first but ended up really helping her. You know, in theater, you’re doing it for other people. In yoga, it’s an audience of one. There are no mirrors on the wall; you’re just doing it for you. In Enna’s previous life, she wasn’t being aware, she was being swept along in the hub-bub, so this was a great device to let her tune in to herself, to find out who she truly is, what she really wants. So Jazz Hands takes on this process of trying to find herself, without being cheesy (laughs), with sweat and tears, until she knows what she really wants and can follow her heart. During this time when she’s in Brooklyn, too, she’s two hours away from Cole, and we get to see them both changing and growing, and not necessarily in the same direction. So I will say that where Theatricks left the readers on a cliff, Jazz Hands is about a mile from the cliff’s edge – it’s not quite inland and settled, but you’re not completely hanging there, either (laughs).