1. What inspired you to write Everybody Rise: A Novel set in 2006 about Manhattan's moneyed elite?
I was in New York then, and when I had occasional exposure to that crowd, I was fascinated: money and class were intersecting in this really interesting way. I began reporting out what that world was like, since it’s not the world I come from. Then, I thought that the best way to get at this world was through the eyes of an outsider. My protagonist, Evelyn, comes to New York from small-town Maryland. She’s having a tough time in the city, and thinks she’s getting her last shot at New York success when she gets a job at a social network targeting this group. Soon, she’s lying as she tries to fit in. While her particular focus is this moneyed crowd – she’s suddenly in this land of summer houses and great parties – lots of us, particularly in our 20s, tried to fit in with a crowd that wasn’t quite us. So it’s really the story of what it’s like to twist yourself into knots to be someone you’re not, and ultimately how to undo those knots.
2. How does the title Everybody Rise correlate with the story?
"Everybody Rise” is a line from a Stephen Sondheim song called “The Ladies Who Lunch.” I adore Sondheim – he captures the loneliness and yearning of being young in a city so well. This particular song is about different groups of women trying to stay afloat in New York, which Evelyn is trying so hard to do. Of course, at that time, so many people thought this flood of money and success would go on forever – but a recession was coming and was about to change all of that. All of a sudden, everyone wasn’t rising.
3. In what ways is the lead character Evelyn Beegan able to evolve from an outsider to one of the elite?
She is a smart cookie, and she studies the elite carefully for her social-networking job: how they speak, what they’re interested in. She changes how she dresses. She changes how she talks. However, soon she feels like she fits in for the first time in her life, and she begins to change fundamentally. She gets further and further from herself. It was important to me to write about how, once she loses almost everything, she builds herself back up. So many books about women who get into big trouble end with them dying (Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, House of Mirth); or marrying (lots of modern novels). I wanted a more contemporary take on that. Without the help of a man, how is Evelyn going to fix her life? What exact steps does she have to take?
4. As you were writing the novel, which of the secondary characters was your favorite to create and why?
I had great fun writing Evelyn’s mother, Barbara. The mother-daughter tension is central to the novel. Barbara, who is disappointed with her own life, puts tremendous pressure on Evelyn to succeed socially. Evelyn resists for a while, but when she has some social success, Barbara’s approval is intoxicating. The push and pull between them was so interesting. I especially liked it in the last part of the novel, when Evelyn’s family is in danger of losing its footing – her father is indicted, and the family’s money may disappear. Barbara and Evelyn both have to reckon with who they are and what they want, and they reach a new place in their relationship.
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5. Are you currently at work on your next project? If so, would you mind sharing with us a sneak peek?
The writing of this project was such a long haul for me. I’ve been working full-time the entire time I’ve been writing it – I’ve been at the New York Times for eight years, and I currently cover Brooklyn courts for the Times.
I began taking notes for this book about ten years ago, but I put it aside. I thought that, with a job, I just didn’t have the time to write a book. Evelyn stuck with me, though, and I realized I had to see what happened to her. About five years ago, I decided to squeeze writing into my everyday life. So I began getting up at six, and writing from six to eight. Of course, those five years ended up being even crazier than the preceding years: I got married, I had a child, I moved, I adopted two cats, I switched beats at the Times…but most mornings, I was still able to get up and write, as tired as I was. (My baby was a good sleeper, which helped immeasurably!)
That is all a long-winded way of saying that I’m taking a bit of a break on those early-morning sessions for now – my son is almost 2, and he seems to want to claim those early mornings! – but I’m hoping to get back to them soon. I’m really interested in the criminal-justice world that I cover, so I’m thinking about something that’s set there.
6. Are you involved in any charitable causes that have influenced you in a professional or personal way?
I began volunteering for animal shelters years ago, and ended up adopting my lovely cats, Mac and Mabel, from the shelter I worked for. (One of my favorite New York Times stories was about training Mac to walk on a leash – I still do it from time to time, and get the strangest looks.) I’m starting to get involved in Prospect Park, my neighborhood park, which acts as Brooklyn’s backyard – it’s an incredible way for urban dwellers to experience birds, trees and quiet. I grew up in Seattle, so I miss time in nature, and Prospect Park allows me a little bit of it even in this busy city.
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