You are here

50 Years of Island Books: Laurie Frankel

Laurie Frankel is the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of four novels. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Publisher’s Weekly, People Magazine, Lit Hub, The Sydney Morning Herald, and other publications. She is the recipient of the Washington State Book Award and the Endeavor Award. Her novels have been translated into more than twenty-five languages and been optioned for film and TV. A former college professor, she now writes full-time in Seattle, Washington where she lives with her family and makes good soup.

Miriam: Let's start with your first visit to Island Books. Where were you in your career then, and what stood out about the store?

Laurie: Which is also the answer to your question, I’m afraid. I can’t remember my first visit to IB which I actually think speaks to what a great bookstore it is: it feels like it’s always been there and always been a part of my world. Island Books is my favorite kind of bookstore which is to say big enough to have a wide selection, small enough that good, smart readers have culled and curated, with booksellers (said good, smart readers) who are warm and welcoming but also give you space to browse and get lost looking for what you want to read next, plus the children’s section of my (and my kid’s) dreams. I also adore a neighborhood bookstore, and IB is the best kind (since your neighborhood is an island). MI is the perfect size — big enough to have everything you need, close enough to get anywhere you need to go, but small enough to be a community — and it seems to me that Island Books mirrors that exactly.

Miriam: I agree with that description! That's nice that IB feels like it has always been a part of your world. Many of us feel that way. Let's get a little more personal now. Your Instagram is visual ecstasy for a soup lover. If you were making a soup to bring to one of Island Books' Cookbook Club meetings, what would it be? Are we comforting like chicken noodle soup? Good for your health like a carrot lentil? We accept recipes on this blog, fyi, in case you feel like sharing...

Laurie: I mean the good thing about carrot lentil soup is it’s also vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free…really whatever dietary restrictions your group has, lentil soup probably works around them. Also it’s super good for you. Mine has, in addition to lentils and carrots, piles and piles of kale. It’s my most-made soup by a mile, probably every other week at least in winter. All that said, it’s not very fancy, is it? So if I wanted to show off a little, I might do gumbo in the winter, gazpacho for summer.

And alas, I cook like I write: very by-the-seat-of-my-pants, no outlines, no recipes, lots of revisions/adding and adjusting till it sounds/tastes right.

Miriam: So you're a pantser. Well, what's that saying, "The way you do one thing is the way you do everything?" I'm thinking about your books now, mainly This is How it Always Is, which is a particular favorite of mine. Did you know how it would end when you began writing, or did that evolve as you wrote deeper into the story and the characters? That book felt well-structured, so I'm curious if you reverse-engineered it. How does a person become a good cook, anyway? (Asking for a friend, of course.)

Laurie: So first off, thank you much for your kind words about the books. They mean the world, truly.

Secondly, I think I’m not a pantser in all aspects of my life. I’m a planner when I travel, for example. I like to plan when I can. But I can’t when I’m writing (and, I suppose, needn’t when I’m cooking). If I could make an outline, I surely would. It would save a lot of time and lost words. I cut 250,000 words from This Is How It Always Is. If there had been a way to not write them in the first place, that definitely would have been the cheaper way.

All of which is to say, yes I reverse-engineered that book (and all my books). Or maybe less reverse-engineered and more looped. I wrote from the beginning to the end of that book a few hundred times, each time tweaking and improving by teeny bits then going back and fixing what those teeny tweaks broke, again and again and again until it worked. So it gets well structured by cutting away everything that’s not working and going back and planting what’s missing and then connecting up what’s left. I love it, but it’s not a process I would describe as linear.

Miriam: That's fascinating and an excellent process to think about in this space, as we explore how an indie bookstore comes to be, evolves, and endures. The entire literary community is constantly tweaking and improving little by little, all of us in our individual and communal ways. The bookstore is just an amplification of all the minds like yours contributing to the discourse.

Speaking of contributing, I understand you have a new novel coming in 2024. Would you tell us about it before signing off?

Laurie: Yes! Thank you for asking. The new book is called Family Family. Out 1/23/24. It’s about adoption—many different kinds of adoption, in fact—and Broadway and Hollywood and a movie star and a bunch of totally unrelated but actually sort of related kids and how a dream job is still a job and how large, strange, sprawling, non-traditional families are also after all just families. I hope everyone in the whole world will love it!

Miriam: It sounds wonderful and we are looking forward to sharing it with the world. Thanks so much for your time and thoughtfulness, Laurie. Come visit us soon!

To our store community, the next edition of 50 Years of Island Books is a double dose! I'll have Rachel Linden (Recipe for a Charmed Life is coming in 2024) share a special recipe that I've unofficially named "Rachel-Linden's-Take-a-Trip-to-Island-Books-Luscious-Lemon-Bars," and Martha Brockenbrough (her next nonfiction book for teens, Future Tense, will also hit shelves in 2024). As a Bellevue native, Martha says she has no memories of life without Island Books.