|Wendy Francis, photo by Claudia Starkey|
Wendy Francis is the author of the new novel Best Behavior. Her other books include The Summer Sail and The Summer of Good Intentions, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Good Housekeeping and The Washington Post. She lives in the Boston area.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Best Behavior, and for your cast of characters?
A: Well, I love any kind of summer celebration – weddings, engagements, graduations – you name it. So, I wanted to focus on one of those, and graduation seemed the most timely and compelling.
Because even though I have an 11-year-old at home, my two stepchildren were in college, and my stepdaughter (before the coronavirus) was supposed to be graduating this May. Many of my friends were also preparing for emptying nests, and I noticed everyone was experiencing a whole range of conflicting emotions.
Of course, none of us could have anticipated where we’d be at this very moment, with our metaphorical nests full to bursting with kids!
Anyway, I wanted to explore the rollercoaster of emotions surrounding graduation and all that Commencement Day implies. Throw in some in-laws and ex-spouses, and it seemed like the perfect recipe for a summer read. As for the characters, they kind of chose themselves – I knew I wanted a big, messy, blended family, and suddenly Meredith and Joel, Roger and Lily, and Dawn and Cody and Carol were born.
Q: What do you think the novel says about blended families and complicated family dynamics?
A: I hope the book gives a realistic portrayal of one blended/extended family. That’s not to say all blended families are alike – far from it! But I do think there are particular things that blended families have to figure out that others may not, especially when it comes to making decisions about the kids.
I also hope that the novel shows that each person in a family’s particular configuration brings something important to the table, whether it’s love, common sense, organizational skills, creativity, humor, a new perspective ‒ you name it. As the saying goes, the more people to love ‒ and to love you back ‒ the better.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: It’s funny you ask! This book went through about a million different titles before we settled on Best Behavior, and now it seems like the most obvious title in the world to me.
Of course, any title has to get the approval of the marketing and publicity departments.
We wanted a title that would suggest a festive event, one where summery cocktails would be passed and everyone would be on their best behavior, but we also wanted the title to have a bit of a wink to it. Because once you’ve read the novel, you’ll see that best behavior soon turns into anything but.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: Oh, gosh, when I wrote this story I wanted it to be an entertaining summer read about one family’s quest to get through a graduation weekend gracefully.
But given that we’re now in the midst of a pandemic, I mostly hope it will give people an escape from the daily grind of being quarantined. Maybe it will even help some readers who are missing out on graduation to enjoy the ceremony (and its attendant pomp and circumstance) vicariously.
I’m so sad for this year’s graduates, who can’t walk across the stage with their friends. My fingers are crossed that they’ll get their chance to celebrate soon– and safely.
If you’re looking for a bigger message, I suppose I’d add that behind every character’s best behavior is a person with flaws and insecurities, no matter how perfect they may seem. And that the sooner we set our facades aside, the sooner we can relate to everyone in a more genuine, meaningful way.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m in the middle of edits for my new novel due out next summer. It’s a story about three guests who stay at a tony, historic Boston hotel over a summer weekend – and a bit of a mystery ensues. Hope you’ll check it out next summer!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Let’s see. . .Summertime is my favorite time of year, and there’s almost no place I’d rather be than at the beach. I love all Mexican food ‒ the spicier, the better – but have issues with social sharing around a fondue pot (especially now!). I try to go for a run a few times a week, although during the winters you’ll typically find me in the hockey rink for one of my son’s games. When I’m not reading, I love to binge on Netflix shows (Ozark is a favorite).
Oh, and the last few weeks of quarantine have taught me that I’m a terrible homeschool teacher. . . but a respectable Bananagrams player. Hope everyone is staying healthy and sane during these challenging times. Thanks for interviewing me, Deb!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb