S&G’s Julie Grau on Author Janelle Brown and Her New Summer Page-Turner
In our Three Questions for an Editor feature, Julie Grau, Senior Vice President, Publisher, Spiegel & Grau, opens a window into the editorial relationship between her and author Janelle Brown, with a focus on WATCH ME DISAPPEAR. Published July 11, this “spider’s web of a novel” draws readers in from page one. The disappearance of a beautiful, charismatic mother, Billie, leaves her husband Jonathan and daughter Olive to piece together a maze of secrets and hidden truths. The author’s ability to probe the dynamics of intimate relationships will make you question the stories you tell yourself about the people you love, and, as you read this book, keep you guessing until the very last page. Now on to three questions for Julie and her responses.
What were some of your first impressions when reading the WATCH ME DISAPPEAR manuscript and how its characters, plotting and themes played out on the page?
I knew from her previous novels how smart and skillful Janelle is about sketching characters, particularly teenagers, and how good she is at shading and adding nuance as events unfold. From the start I had a real fondness for Olive, the introverted teenaged girl on the cusp of self-discovery. I didn’t particularly like Billie—she reminded me of someone I used to know—which is to say that she was so convincing, she evoked a visceral response in me. And Jonathan is kind of nebbishy and a mess when the novel opens, but then gathers strength and becomes more compelling. The novel runs on the premise of the unknowability of the people you hold close, which to me is deeply intriguing and propulsive.
How did you first discover Janelle and how has the editor/author process evolved from working on her first book to this new one?
Agent Susan Golomb submitted Janelle’s first novel, ALL WE EVER WANTED WAS EVERYTHING, to me in the early days of the imprint. I remember reading the novel the day it arrived, flat on the floor of my office (my back hurt) and marveling at Janelle’s amazing braided storyline and characters—so impressive for a first-time novelist. I knew she had a long career ahead of her—she was so good and assured. We have now worked together on three novels with two more (hooray!) on the horizon. We speak in a sort of editorial shorthand—Janelle is really great at taking notes and coming back with a second draft that is fresh, inventive, and surprising. By book four we’ll be approaching old married status, which makes me happy.
Who do you see as the primary reader/audience for this novel and what thoughts and discussions it may trigger?
WATCH ME DISAPPEAR was the book club read at the spring Random House Open House event and it provoked lively discussion. It drew comparisons to GONE GIRL and BIG LITTLE LIES. Pretty much everyone loved hating Billie and had no idea how the novel would end until the very last lines of the very last paragraph. The book club participants said they’d recommend it to friends who were parents—the question of whether Billie was a good mother or a horrible mother is ripe for debate.