Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Q&A with Avery Carpenter Forrey


Photo by Lacy Kiernan Carroll


Avery Carpenter Forrey is the author of the new novel Social Engagement. She is also the coauthor of the book How to Skimm Your Life, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Cut. She lives in Connecticut.


Q: What inspired you to write Social Engagement, and how did you create your character Callie Holt?


A: Social Engagement was inspired by my social calendar. When I started writing it in late 2019, my refrigerator was overtaken by wedding invites—I wanted to explore millennial wedding culture and the "bridezilla" trope.


A few months later, the pandemic happened...weddings grinded to a halt and the book became a darker (and far more interesting) animal.


Callie was created as an insider-outsider observer, close to a moneyed circle but never fully absorbed or understood by them. Her interest in human anatomy grew from my sister, Kendall, who's a doctor—her work has always fascinated me and I like the way a body's internal v. external presentation dovetails with Callie's Instagram v. reality observations. 


Q: The writer Caitlin Barasch said of the book, "Social Engagement somehow feels both modern and timeless." What do you think of that description?


A: I love it! The iPhone's presence in the book (each chapter is anchored in an Instagram post or camera roll picture) roots it to our present moment, but I hope that in 10 or 20 years, people will still relate to the emotions provoked by social media curation—regardless of whether or not we've evolved beyond Instagram.


Comparison traps are timeless. The book's external trappings — the frosting, if you will — are modern, but the wedding cake is made from ingredients as old as time: it's ultimately about family (the one we choose and the one we're born into) and the pull of the past (both on our screens and in our minds). 


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The book went on submission with a different title, Human Content, a play on the anatomy and social media themes. Ultimately, it was a bit too abstract. My editor came up with Social Engagement and I instantly loved it.


The double entendre of a diamond ring and a double tap, the elevated way it conveys the book's focus on the visible milestones of one's late 20s and early 30s...it fits the narrative so well. 


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I had an image I wanted to end on (you'll have to read to find out!) and I always knew the main culmination of the plot. The book starts at the end and works backwards - it opens right after Callie's wedding and you know her marriage has already imploded. So I was clear on where the arc was building, but I didn't precisely map out the twists along the way. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm really excited about a new novel I'm writing. I'm reluctant to give too much away, but I will say this: just like Social Engagement is focused on the life stage I was in while writing, so is this new book. Hint: motherhood is a big theme.


I'm not sure I'll ever stop writing about female friendships, which are a particularly complex part of this new project. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I always like hearing about the writing process and previous iterations of books. Social Engagement was originally conceived as a series of weddings—so every single chapter was going to take place at a wedding. Turns out, character development is tricky when you only see people at parties! 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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