Author Interview with Joanne Serling

Thursday, April 19, 2018

I just finished reading GOOD NEIGHBORS, Joanne Serling’s debut novel.

In this thought-provoking debut novel, Joanne Serling takes us on a picture perfect neighborhood and group of friends with children. This story pulls you in from the very beginning, with the question of what would you do if you thought your friend was being abusive to his/her child? 

How well do we really know our neighbors/friends? 

Are there secrets from our own past that we keep hidden?

“A searing portrait of suburbia, friendship, and family strained by a devotion to false appearances”.

I was hooked from the very first chapter and actually went to bed very late because I couldn’t put it down.

In my opinion, this novel makes a perfect pick for a book club discussion...

1) What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

I wanted to write about parenting and community, and how difficult it is to “do the right thing.” I thought it was important for everyone to be completely right, and completely wrong, and to explore that gray area where our flawed humanity is on display. In many ways, I think I achieved what I set out to do, although it saddens  me when I hear from readers who disliked every single character. It makes me question whether I failed to get on the page what was in my heart.

2) Is it safe to assume that Nicole was your favorite character?  Why? 

Yes, it’s definitely true. I couldn’t write in the voice of Nicole for so many years if I didn’t have a certain love and connection to her. She is a guarded yet vulnerable mother who is always watching, observing, and wondering if she’s “doing it right.” She’s far from perfect, but she has a big heart, and wants to do better, which is my favorite kind of character.

3) How much research did you conduct before you started writing Good Neighbors?  

I read a lot about international adoption and steeped myself in the stories of adoptive parents. Some extol the pleasures of adoption, while other share the very real and sometimes insurmountable problems their children face. I wanted the book to be balanced, and to sow doubt in the reader’s mind about the nature of the problems next door. Ultimately this is a book about community and imperfect parenting, and at the end of the day, I don’t think there are necessarily “right” answers, just more honest relationships.

4) What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I loved being immersed in a big creative project. That story felt both pleasurable to write and important, which is a rare gift.

5) What was the hardest part of writing this book?  

Probably the hardest part for me was tying loose ends together. If you see Nicole scratches herself early in the book, then it better mean something or lead to something important later in the book. Life is random, but the world of the novel needs to make sense.

6) There were a few moments in the story that I personally related to.  I was surprised to see how accurate some of those thoughts were (once I read them out loud).  Do you feel that we all project/reveal only what we want others to know about us?

I think we are all, everyday, curating the way we present ourselves to the world. Its human nature and probably starts in middle school when we first become aware of ourselves as separate, sexual beings. But as we get older, I think we know ourselves better, and are more comfortable with who we are, so we become more authentic. At least this has been the case for me. I am always striving now to be truly myself. Yoga helps.

7) Do you read all the reviews?  How do they impact you?

I read most of my reviews. I think they’re helpful to understand how a wide swath of people react to your book. I had a very wise writing teacher, Michelle Huneven, who said that when you publish a book and read the reviews, you often wonder if they read the same book you wrote, but that it doesn’t matter, that’s the book they read. I have taken this philosophy to heart.

8) People believe that being a published author is glamorous, is that true?

I think for some people it is very glamorous, but I think for the vast majority of authors, it’s more like everyday life. There are definitely highs--when you have a successful reading or someone sends you a note and says they love your book--but generally I’m at my desk doing pretty much what I always do: reading and critiquing friends’ work, writing, paying bills, organizing my kids’ lives, wishing I didn’t have to cook dinner.

9) Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?

Like most writers, I’m a voracious reader. I have two stacks of reading materials next to my bed at all times--one with novels in progress or that I want to get to and another with literary magazines--The Paris Review, Tin House, The New Yorker. I tend to go back and forth between the piles and also read on my kindle. My favorite authors are Meg Wolitzer, Curtis Sittenfeld, Alice McDermott, Edith Wharton, Amy Bloom, Junot Diaz, Lily King, Joan Silber, Elena Ferrante, and Adam Haslett, to name just a few. I’m sure I’ve left off half a dozen.

10) What is your take on the importance of a good cover and title?

I love a good cover and title--and yet most of my book selections are the result of friends’ recommendations and book reviews, usually in some combination of the two. I have a very old friend who reads even more than I do and we trade book ideas every week or so. Plus, my writer friends always have a great list going. I could read for six months and still not catch up with my current list. It probably doesn’t help that I’m adding to it every day.

11) What did you find most useful in learning to write?  What was least useful or most destructive?

I studied at The Writers Studio in NYC, moving through the various levels of instruction for two years until I joined the Master Class where I remained for five years. The Writers Studio was hugely instrumental in my growth as a writer for a number of reasons. For one thing, I had to write every week, and nothing improves your writing faster than practice. Secondly, I was exposed to a tremendous amount of very well written poetry and fiction in their biweekly craft classes--which meant reading and analyzing text from the point of view of a writer. And lastly, I formed  lasting friendships with a community of other writers, many of whom I’m still in regular contact with today. Having people you trust to read your work is essential.

The most destructive thing to my writing life was impatience. Writing is nothing like work where you can set a goal and then check it off your To Do list. You have to embrace the process and enjoy the act of doing it, without being so focussed on the end game. Once I understood this simple yet profound principal, everything about my writing changed.

12) How long was the entire process: writing, editing, publication?

The first draft of GOOD NEIGHBORS came quickly--about two years while working part time as an editor. But after getting some early rejections from agents, I decided to deepen the material and spent another eight months adding a secondary storyline. Searching for an agent the second time around took a long time, about eight months of near constant pitching. It doesn’t sound long now, but when I was going through it, it felt endless. When I finally found a home, though, it was a great fit and my agent, Duvall Osteen at Aragi, sold the book fairly quickly.

13) If you could pick that one author you would love to write the biography of, who would that be?

I’m not sure I want to know too much about my favorite writers. I prefer the mystery, and to know them through their work.

14) What projects are you working on at the present? 

I’m fooling around with a bunch of short stories with repeating characters and different points of view. My guess is that the material will eventually find its way into novel form, but it’s really too soon to say.

Joanne Serling’s fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in New Ohio Review and North American Review. She is a graduate of Cornell University and studied and taught fiction at The Writers Studio in New York City. She lives outside of New York with her husband and children and is at work on her second book.

You can Find Her at:

Twitter: @joanneserling
Instagram: joanneserling


  1. Very interesting interview! It's always so exciting to get a peek into the mind of an author who wrote the book. This book sounds really interesting and I might have to read it now :) Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you for the comment! Go ahead and read the book! I would love to know your opinion on it :-)

  2. What a fantastic interview!! I love the philosophy of her writing teacher re: reviews, there's some real wisdom there. Thank you so much for sharing!!

  3. Nice interview. Sounds like an interesting book.

  4. I like that philosophy on reviews ;)

  5. Oh fantastic interview! I love the comment about tying lose ends. How if the main character scratches her arm in the beginning, it better mean something at the end!

  6. Wonderful interview, I'd not heard of the author or book until today.

    1. It's really interesting when you think about how much do we really know our neighbors...

  7. Authors are so interesting! Great interview!


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