Author Emma Straub on ‘The Vacationers’ and the Literary Internet
Family vacations: they never seem to quite go according to plan. Fortunately for us, this fact of life provided the plot and setting for Emma Straub’s best-selling novel The Vacationers, which has been selected as an official MashableReads selection. We’re discussing The Vacationers with Emma Straub at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 5. Bring your own questions for Emma to our conversation via Google+ hangout here.
Follow the Post family, with all their flaws and quirks, as they attempt to reconcile their everyday issues while far away from their New York City home. The Vacationers navigates the perspectives of an entire family, from the teenage daughter to the Florida girlfriend who feels out of place among the New York Posts. Regardless of whether you read it on vacation or curled up on the couch, this book will prove a rich and rewarding read.
Mashable spoke with Straub about The Vacationers, the “literary Internet” and if she cares if people call her book a “beach read” (spoiler: she doesn’t). Read our interview below.
Mashable: For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading The Vacationers, how would you sum up the plot — say, in 140 characters? Multiple iterations of said summary/tweet are fair game.
Emma Straub: Without actually counting characters, here are a few approximations: “New Yorkers go to Mallorca, are irritated to discover that their problems go with them.” “Tapas is sexy!” “Mom, Dad, Sister, Brother, Brother’s Girlfriend, Friend, Friend’s Husband, two bathrooms…” I could do this all day.
Mashable: Your book gives equal weight to the perspectives of each family member — the artistic and cultured mother and father, the prodigal son and the teenage daughter who seems somewhat mystified by the actions of her relatives, not to mention the extended, not-exactly-related-by-blood family that tags along on the trip. Do you consider any particular character your protagonist? To which character do you most relate? How did you get into the mindsets of so many different ages, genders and stages of life?
Straub: For me, the book belongs to Franny and Sylvia, the mother and daughter. Maybe that’s because I am now both a mother and a daughter, I’m not sure, but I know that the book is theirs. I loved getting to explore the thoughts of everyone else in the book, though—that’s the fun of being a fiction writer. Lawrence, the husband of Franny’s best friend, is another favorite of mine, and even though he doesn’t have as much page time, I probably had the most fun writing his sections, because I made him a film accountant working on a Christmas-themed werewolf movie, and I would just crack myself up every time he mentioned it.
Mashable: Family vacations are rarely the walk in the park everyone wants them to be — I think the mishaps that occur on the trip in The Vacationers resonate all too close to home with readers. What made you pick a “family vacation” as the setting for your story?
Straub: I’d been trying to write about this family for a number of years, and it just wasn’t happening—it wasn’t coming together. It was only after I decided to send them on vacation that the book really came into focus. Why is that? Maybe because I needed to have them floating out there, away from the rest of their lives, maybe because it made it easier to highlight their problems, I’m not sure. But once I put them on that airplane, bam, it all came together.
Mashable: Vacations are when many busy people finally take the time to sit down with a great book. Did you imagine your book being read on vacations? What makes a great vacation read? Is it different than other kinds of books?
Straub: I did indeed! I think different people want different things out of their vacation reads—maybe if you’re having a staycation and seething with jealousy that your friends all rented a house in the countryside, you want to read something like The Secret History, where a group of people kill one of their friends. Maybe if you’re a new parent, you’ll pack the Jennifer Senior book but be too tired to open it. I read a few of the Sookie Stackhouse books on my honeymoon, mostly because of Alexander Skarsgard’s naked body.
Mashable: Your setting, an island in Spain, lends itself to an association with relaxing on a beach. Did you have any trepidation about your book being labeled a “beach read,” or have any associations with the term? Did those change at all throughout your writing process?
Straub: I’m no snob. I truly have no problem with people reading my book on a beach, or in a hot tub at a nudist resort, or in a tee pee or anywhere else. I truly could not care less. The book is about people on a vacation, and it was published at the beginning of the summer, and so of course it’s going to fall into that category.
Can the term ‘beach read’ be pejorative? Sure. But I don’t get the sense that people are saying that about my book. If I was getting terrible reviews and people kept instagramming themselves setting the book on fire, then maybe it would bother me, but right now, I say, beach on! Whatever gets the book into more peoples’ hands is a-ok with me.
Mashable: Speaking of your process, it should be noted that you are an exceptionally active author on social media. You tweet regularly, run a Tumblr, and were recently named one of Flavorwire’s “35 Writers Who Run the Literary Internet.” What do you consider “the literary internet?”
Straub: It’s just like that corner of the library you could always go to find your friends and make them go outside and smoke cigarettes with you. Exactly like that. Only minus the cigarettes. And being outside.
How to Join the MashableReads Social Book Club
If you’d like to join the MashableReads book club and read The Vacationers with us, find us on Goodreads and Facebook. We’ll also be hosting a Google+ hangout with Straub on Tuesday, August 5 at 4 p.m. ET. You can sign up to be reminded of the hangout here.
Are you in New York City? Join our Meetup group for the chance to meet MashableReads authors in person. Interested in starting your own Meetup in your community? Message us on Facebook. MashableReads book clubs get exclusive access to new authors.
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