Q&A with Wendy Francis, Author of Best Behavior

by Heather Caliendo
wendy francis interview - book club chat
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Wendy Francis is the author of Best Behavior, which will publish on May 5. 

Wendy Francis is a former book editor and the author of four novels: Best Behavior, The Summer Sail, The Summer of Good Intentions, and Three Good Things. Her essays have appeared in Good Housekeeping, The Washington Post, Yahoo Parenting, The Huffington Post, and WBUR’s Cognoscenti. Born and raised in the Midwest, she now lives outside Boston with her husband and her soon.

Here’s the synopsis for Best Behavior:

Meredith Parker has made the journey to Bolton, her twins’ college, dozens of times. This weekend, though, is different. Dawn and Cody are about to graduate and move away to separate corners of the country. Meredith is proud of her kids, and she’s proud of herself for helping them get this far. She just never expected the tidal wave of emotions sweeping over her—or the tangled family dynamics complicating everything.

Meredith doesn’t miss her cheating ex, Roger, one bit, but sitting across from his very young, very gorgeous second wife threatens to unravel the graceful facade she’s trying so hard to maintain. Joel, Meredith’s husband, can see she’s feeling the first pangs of empty-nest syndrome and wants to soften the blow—but he’s distracted by a familiar face. Meanwhile, Cody and Dawn are sitting on their own secrets, and Roger’s new wife, Lily, wonders if she really wants to be a part of this wild, mixed-up family.

As tensions simmer with each passing appetizer tray, Meredith’s vision of the perfect weekend goes up in flames. But before the party’s over, as best behavior gives way to brutal honesty, there’ll be a chance for this new blended family to truly come together—in all its messy and glorious imperfection.

Let’s get to know Wendy as she talks favorite novels, writing inspirations and much more!

What are some of your favorite novels?

One of my all-time favorites is Middlemarch. And The Great Gatsby. But I also love Jane Hamilton’s A Map of the World, Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, and Kathleen Norris’s Dakota. I’m drawn to books with a strong sense of place and even stronger characters. Right now I’m reading Elizabeth Strout’s Olive, Again, and it’s wonderful. I also have a separate shelf devoted to favorite summer authors – Elin Hilderbrand, Mary Kay Andrews, Jamie Brenner, Nancy Thayer, Kristy Woodson Harvey, and Jennifer Weiner, to name a few. Every one of them has a new book coming out this summer, so keep your eyes peeled! And then there’s Stephen McCauley’s My Ex-Life and Laura Zigman’s Separation Anxiety – both deliciously funny and perfect reads for quarantine.

When did you know you wanted to become an author?

Ha! I’m not sure that I ever “knew,” per se. I more or less fell into it. I never got my M.F.A., but before becoming a writer, I was a book editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I’ve always loved language and grammar. Then, when my son was born and I was spending more time at home (eleven years ago now!), my first novel, Three Good Things, began to take shape in my head during those late-night feedings.

Is it strange, though, that every time I start a new novel it feels like my first? Each time I have to give myself a little pep talk that I can do this again. There’s nothing scarier to me than staring at that first blank page before you start.    

What inspired you to write Best Behavior?

When I began Best Behavior, I was closing in on fifty and starting to think about next steps (like Meredith in the book). My step-children (not twins) were both in college, and even though I still had a young son at home (and still do), my friends and I were asking each other those existential, mid-life kinds of questions: What’s next? In terms of family? Career? Personal development? And because I love summertime, I’ve always wanted to set a novel over a college graduation weekend with a big, chaotic family. I guess you could say Best Behavior weaves these various threads together. 

Is the story based on any real people and/or events?

No, not really, although as I say about every book, all the characters have a slice of me in them. And I’m a mom and a stepmom, so I’m familiar with being part of a blended family (fortunately, ours is nothing like the family in Best Behavior!).

What do you like the best about writing fiction about families and relationships? 

I’ve always been intrigued by the way people interact – how we behave around one another‒and families provide such a rich microcosm for those interactions. What family doesn’t have its own share of hilarity and fun and misery and heart-stopping love all rolled into one? There’s ample tension and reconciliation in our everyday relationships, and those are the very things that attract me to storytelling.  

What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read) list?

When quarantine first began, I found I couldn’t concentrate long enough to read. The whole unknown – not knowing what to expect and when – was almost paralyzing. But now that we’ve adjusted somewhat to the “new normal” (for the time being, at least), I’ve been able to go back and escape in a good read like before. Right now, I’ve got Mary Kay Andrews’s Hello, Summer and Jamie Brenner’s Summer Longing on deck. I’m reading Elizabeth Strout’s wonderful Olive, Again. Oh, and anything by Mary Oliver. I find her poetry very reassuring during times of stress.

Thanks for inviting me on your blog, Heather!

Click here to order Best Behavior on Amazon. 

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