A few weeks ago we hosted a Fireside Chat at Random House with Mandy Berman, Author of Perennials: A Novel. Mandy tells us about her breakout first novel, her inspiration and what’s next.
Emily Merrell: Congratulations on your first published book! How does it know that “x” amount of people are reading your book at a given time?
Mandy Berman: It’s still very surreal. It took me three years to write Perennials, and because it was my first novel, I had no idea if it would ever see publication. Only a handful of people read my drafts during that time: my classmates and professors, and then eventually my agent. But once we sold the book, I wasn’t quite prepared for the fact that the novel became public domain – something to be judged and appraised. It really drove home for me the notion that a novel needs to speak for itself, because once the book is out of your hands, there’s no getting it back. This is a terrifying notion for any writer, I think. There are always more edits to be done.
EM: Perennials is set back and forth between the summers at camp as well as the lives of individuals living in NYC and Westchester. Did you yourself go to camp and if so how similar/different is the camp in Perennials to the one you experienced?
MB: I attended Camp Sloane, a sleepaway camp in the lower Berkshires of Connecticut. The landscape and geography of Camp Marigold are very much based off of my own camp experiences. The lake, the trails, the horse stables, the tents – those all come from my own memories of the place. The events that happen throughout the novel, though, are of course fictional.
EM: The book follows several characters, some more than others, through various ages and perspectives at their lives. How did you choose this writing style and do you have a favorite character?
MB: Perennials began as a collection of short stories. I tend to be a very character-driven writer, and I started with the idea that I might write a series of stories about different characters at the same sleepaway camp. Over time, though, it became clear that this project was begging to be a more cohesive, chronological narrative rather than divergent stories.
I don’t have a favorite character, though Fiona and Rachel are probably the most similar to me – or at least who I was at age nineteen – and therefore the closest to my heart. Nell is the character I’d most want to drink a beer with.
EM: What was your writing process like when conceptualizing the book? Did you know it was going to end the way it did?
MB: I didn’t know the novel was going to end the way it did until about halfway through the writing process. Once I figured out the ending, I realized this was no longer a collection of stories, because it said something bigger about girlhood, adolescence, and the loss of innocence in a way that applied to every single one of these characters. Plus, it was such a major event that the ending felt much more novelistic than the ending to a single character’s story.
EM: If you had to cast your book for a movie, who would you have play Rachel and Fiona?
MB: Rachel: Emma Roberts
Fiona: Elle Fanning
EM: As an adult, what do you miss most about camp? What are your feelings on adult summer camps?
MB: Camp was an escape from the responsibilities of the “real world.” It was also a place where you could reinvent yourself, especially at an age where everything in life was changing. I do miss that I’ll probably never have another chance to start everything over again or get such a long break from the responsibilities of work and life. That being said, I don’t think I would ever want to go back to camp as an adult. Camp was such a formative time for me as an adolescent and part of its magic was that it existed for me during that period when everything was shifting. It was such a gift then that time could stop for a summer.
The quintessential summer read, Perennials: A Novel by Mandy Berman is available now: a sharp, poignant coming-of-age novel “skillfully captures the details and rituals of camp” (J. Courtney Sullivan, The New York Times Book Review), the magic of summer and the enduring power of female friendship. Perennials is Berman’s first novel.