What if you had everything everyone thought you should want, only to realize it wasn’t what you wanted at all? That’s the dilemma facing Lily Wilder, who is about to marry the perfect man at the beginning of I Take You. However, tying the knot means the end of her romantic freedom—something that fun-loving Lily has always reveled in. Eliza Kennedy answered a few questions about her debut novel and its unconventional heroine.
Can you tell us a bit about your path to publication? Where were you when you found out your book had sold?
Before I queried agents, only two people had seen my manuscript: my husband and my father. So I went into the process having no idea whether my book would be met with eagerness, horror, or—worse—total indifference. Still, out it went, and after a slightly excruciating weekend, a few agents responded. They were enthusiastic, and I was over the moon. I eventually went with the wonderful Suzanne Gluck of William Morris Endeavor. She made some editorial suggestions and came up with a list of editors. The wait was on. A few days later, my husband and I were at the playground with our son when I got a call from Suzanne. Josh says he watched as I sat down under the jungle gym and covered my mouth with my hand. He could tell from my face it was good news.
For a novel about a woman who’s not sure she wants to get married, your book takes on a lot of serious topics. Was this your original intention for the book?
My goal from the outset was to write a fun, funny, lighthearted novel about a free-spirited woman rushing calamitously toward the altar. I wanted it to be the kind of book you race through and don’t want to put down. But describing Lily’s out-there behavior and point of view raised certain questions in my mind—about why monogamy is our romantic norm, how messed up our beliefs about female sexuality are, and the realities of happily-ever-after. I realized that I had things to say, and just so happened to have created a forum for saying them. After that, it was a matter of balancing the froth with the weightier stuff.
"Describing Lily’s out-there behavior and point of view raised certain questions in my mind—about why monogamy is our romantic norm, how messed up our beliefs about female sexuality are, and the realities of happily-ever-after."
The wacky atmosphere of Key West provides a great backdrop for this book—can you tell us a little bit more about why you chose it and what it means to you?
Key West is one of my favorite places in the world. I love its bizarre combination of lush tropical beauty, gorgeous architecture, swashbuckling piratical history, and unabashed smuttiness. It’s a place with a sense of humor, with light and dark sides—much like my main character.
More to the point, my husband and I got married in Key West, and as I was developing my idea for the book, I realized that it was the perfect setting for the slightly unhinged wedding I had in mind.
Lily isn’t perfect, but she’s a lot of fun to spend time with. What’s your favorite thing about her?
Her outspokenness. She says exactly what’s on her mind, all the time. It never occurs to her to do otherwise, even though it often gets her in trouble. Out here in the real world, women are often taught, in ways subtle and more overt, that we should hold their tongues, defer, be diplomatic. Lily didn’t get the memo.
I Take You questions a lot of the traditions around and beliefs about relationships. Which was the most challenging to explore?
The most challenging was the notion that someone can be a serial cheater but a fundamentally good person. I was trying to question our collective impulse to judge people in terms of their success at monogamy—cheating equals bad, faithfulness equals good—which fails to recognize the extraordinary complications of actual people and the realities of life and coupledom. Lily loves her family, she’s a loyal friend and she works very hard at her job. She also just happens to love to sleep around. I didn’t want to apologize for her conduct any more than I cared to suggest that she was behaving well. But I did want to show someone who is more than the sum of her misbehavior.
Women who cheat typically face more social censure than men. Did you ever worry that readers wouldn’t relate to a character like Lily?
I did wonder whether some readers will be turned off by Lily’s behavior, whether because she’s a woman, because they’ve been personally affected by infidelity or because they simply think it’s wrong. With any luck, those readers will appreciate other aspects of her personality, or enjoy the book enough that relatability becomes beside the point.
But I’m actually not sure I agree with the premise of the question. I feel like men are condemned and excoriated for cheating more often than women are. Although perhaps that’s because they do it more often. Or, I should say, they get caught more often.
You’re married to the author Joshua Ferris—do your writing routines differ? Are you the first to read each other’s work?
Our routines are pretty similar: We park ourselves at our desks in the morning and work throughout the day. We currently write in adjoining rooms, which has taken some adjustment—apparently I’m an offensively loud typist, and he feels free to call out random questions like I’m his personal Wikipedia. We are each other’s first reader, and have gradually learned how to accept criticism with grace, good humor and only occasional threats of violence.
RELATED CONTENT: Read a review of I Take You.