Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Q&A with Jennifer Hamm




Jennifer Hamm is the author of the new novel One Friday in Napa. Also a travel writer, she lives in London and Los Angeles.


Q: What inspired you to write One Friday in Napa, and how did you create your character Vene?


A: My friend, Kelly Hail, was a house guest for a week and wanted to cook a thank you dish at our Sunday family dinner. She took out one of my cookbooks, found the recipe that she loved and proceeded to write notes all over it!


When I stopped her with a “what are you doing with that pen in my cookbook” question, she was perplexed at my surprise as all of her cookbooks read like a diary of sorts. Her annotations had more to do with the emotions behind the dishes and the people she was cooking them for than any spices or extra dashes of ingredients.


That got me thinking…what if you found your mother’s cookbook and it read like a diary? What would happen if secrets were revealed that described a woman you didn’t recognize? That is what happens to Vene, and in her search for some sort of reconciliation with her mother and their tumultuous relationship before her mother dies, she discovers much more than she ever anticipated.


Q: As the title indicates, the novel is set in Napa--how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: Very important. The setting triggers emotions. A love story at a seaside in Ireland evokes different emotions for me than a love story set in Barbados. My mind immediately jumps to different ideas, feelings.


As I sit here writing these answers right now, I am in Rome, on a rooftop looking over the city and the Vatican is in the near distance. It is summer and really hot. My first thoughts of my day here are nuanced towards fantasy, so I play with that before starting each day properly.


The setting for me is the beginning of everything. And Napa was no different. It is the land of dreams for so many who choose to live there, and their stories usually involve risk, love, and a lot of passion.

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “The mother-daughter dynamic at the heart of the narrative remains nuanced, complicated, and not easily reconciled.” What do you think of that description, and how would you describe the dynamic between Vene and her mother, Olivia?


A: I was very pleased that the reviewer felt all of my intended layers of their fraught relationship. Like all family dynamics, the mother-daughter one can be very complicated. I have always been fascinated by different interpretations of one moment or event; how two people who love each other deeply can still experience something between them so emphatically opposite.


I wanted to take that and ask the “why” of it all, peel the onion, and hopefully reach some sort of genuine appreciation of the other.


By using the time jump I was able to go back and discover the unanticipated shaping of Olivia’s emotional life and set that against the present, and Vene’s discovery of her mother’s cookbook that reads more like a diary, providing an unforeseen window of revelations.


And all of this within the confines of a ticking clock where the end is in sight for Olivia and therefore the pressure on both of them to reconcile themselves to the other is more important than ever.


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 knew how the novel was going to end, but getting there changed many, many times. Ironically, if you are trying to fully understand another, it takes time. Vene and Olivia needed to go through quite a few drafts to get to acceptance.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: The film script of the novel.😊


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’ve been writing in some format or another my whole life. I took the long road getting to this moment of publication, and while I wouldn’t change a thing, I am very excited to be here! I took my own personal journey inward writing this novel, and I am hopeful it will touch those interested in family nuanced dynamics and heartfelt love relationships.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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