Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Q&A with Katie Cotugno




Katie Cotugno is the author of the new novel Meet the Benedettos. Her other books include the novel Birds of California. She lives in Boston.


Q: What inspired you to write this modern take on Pride and Prejudice, and why did you decide to make the family reality TV stars?


A: A thing I sometimes feel like gets lost in contemporary Pride and Prejudice discourse is what a joke the Bennet family is among their contemporaries.


They have an old name, but no money. They’ve got a million flighty daughters and no sons. They’re strivers, they’re not subtle, and they’re openly mocked for it even as they’re grudgingly admitted into polite society.


I feel like it’s kind of impossible to transpose that set of circumstances to a modern setting and not think, “It’s giving Kardashian.” 


Q: What did you see as the right balance between your story and Jane Austen’s?


A: I think fans of the original will be able to see the spirit of Pride and Prejudice in Meet the Benedettos, but it felt important to me that the story stood on its own—I didn’t want to feel married to the beat-by-beat plot of the original at the expense of these new characters and what they might realistically say or do. 


Q: In our previous interview about your novel Birds of California, which also deals with female celebrities, you said, “Birds does have a really strong point of view regarding our impulse as a society to put young, female celebrities in particular up on a pedestal for the pleasure of tearing them down later on.” Would you say that's true of this novel as well?


A: I would! I think, to be fair, the Benedettos actively sought fame in a way I don’t think is necessarily true for Fiona, the heroine of Birds of California, but I’m definitely still grappling as a writer with our society’s relationship to celebrity, particularly when young women are involved. 


Q: Have you always been a Jane Austen fan, and what do you think keeps people returning to her books?


A: I actually wouldn’t call myself a giant Austen fan! I have loved the novels of hers that I’ve read, but I’m not a completionist.


I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, her work resonates because the themes—class, sisterhood, societal expectations, hot but annoying men—all feel really modern, even if the settings are not. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on bunch of different things, actually! An early-reader chapter book, some YA, a domestic suspense, and an elevated romance about a pop star and a baseball player at the end of his career. It’s a busy time! 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Katie Cotugno.

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