Debut author, Elizabeth Gonzalez James, joins the Spotlight this week to talk about Mona at Sea
Author Name: Elizabeth Gonzalez James
Book Title: Mona at Sea
Book Genre: Literary Fiction
Release Date: June 30, 2021
Publisher: Santa Fe Writers Project
Welcome to the Spotlight, Elizabeth! How would you describe Mona at Sea?
Mona at Sea is the tragi-comic story of Mona Mireles, a smart and ambitious young woman who has lost her job on Wall Street during the Great Recession, and must figure out what she’s going to do with the rest of her life.
What sparked the idea for your book?
I was inspired to write Mona at Sea after I experienced my own bout of long-term unemployment during the Great Recession. The book was a way for me to vent my feelings about what happened to me and others in my generation in a way that was a little more constructive than a series of angry Facebook posts.
How long did it take for you to write the book? Did you have to do any research?
I had never really written anything before starting this novel, so I had to spend a lot of time figuring out how to write a book. Once I actually sat down and forced myself to put my fingers on the keyboard, I had a rough draft in about six months. But subsequent drafts took much longer because I had kids, other commitments, and because I also had to figure out how to edit my own work, which is not an easy thing to learn. All told it took ten years from when I first decided I was going to write a novel, to now, when it’s finally coming out in the world.
As far as research goes, I did do some reading up on boredom–a major theme of the book–as well as self-harm and the psychological consequences of engaging in that behavior.
What drew you to contemporary fiction?
This story was loosely based on my own experiences, and so it had to be told in fairly contemporary times. I started writing it in 2011 and it’s set in 2009, and so in its early stages it was extremely contemporary. Now that some years have passed (I think 2020 alone counts as one full decade) I have a fair amount of nostalgia for those long-ago days.
Where do you get ideas for your writing?
I’m a filter feeder. I take in books, songs, billboards, overheard conversations, stuff I found lying on the ground, memories, grudges, fleeting thoughts, philosophy, religion, history, and celebrity gossip like a sponge, and the stuff that I remember, the stuff that sticks, is what I then put into my work.
What’s your favorite part about writing/being an author? What do you find challenging?
My favorite thing about being a writer is getting to think about all the above topics and having the space on paper to try and sort out my thoughts. What I find challenging is more logistical than anything else: I like it to be quiet when I read and write and, with everyone home during the pandemic, silence is not really an option.
If you were speaking to someone who hasn’t read your writing before, why should they want to read Mona at Sea?
Hopefully they would find it smart and funny, and hopefully they would see themselves or their own situation reflected in the story. I read an interview once with Carlos Fuentes when he said that people go to the movies to see themselves up on the screen, and I think that may be true with literature as well. We want to be entertained, yes, but I think we also want to be validated, and see our hopes and fears and dearly-held beliefs there on the page.
What about the writing/editing/publishing process has been the most surprising to you so far?
How collaborative it is! No art is created in a vacuum, and no art is the work of a single genius.
What advice would you give your pre-published writer self?
Be more patient and have more faith in yourself. Actually, that’s great advice to my post-published self as well!
Indeed! What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
I love love love knitting and crocheting. I would listen to audiobooks and knit and crochet all day if I could. That’s my dream life.
Are you working on a new project? Please tell us about it.
I have a second novel that I’m working on. It’s a complete departure from Mona at Sea–it’s a magical realism western about my great-grandfather.
How are you adjusting to promoting your books during a pandemic?
Everything has moved online, and so I’m doing a lot of virtual events, podcasts, and IGTV spots. It’s not exactly the book tour that I imagined, but it’s actually great because it’s allowing me to visit a lot of places that I wouldn’t otherwise get to visit. I’ve also been able to attend a lot of great talks that I wouldn’t have been able to see before the pandemic, so I actually hope virtual events stick around. I think they’re great.
Where can readers find you?
My website is https://www.elizabethgonzalezjames.com, and on there readers can also subscribe to the Elizabeth Monthly, a hilarious newsletter where I talk about knitting and demons and all the rando stuff that pops into my head.
And please join me on July 2nd when Green Apple Books will be hosting my virtual book launch!
Thank you, Elizabeth! Mona at Sea releases TOMORROW.
Mona Mireles is a quintessential overachiever: a former spelling bee champion and valedictorian of her college class, she has a sterling résumé and a wall of plaques and medals in her bedroom that stretches floor to ceiling.
She’s also broke, unemployed, back at home with her parents, and completely adrift in life and love.
Mona is seven months out of college and desperately trying to reassemble the pieces of her life after the Wall Street job she had waiting for her post-graduation dissolves in the wake of the Great Recession. When her reaction to losing her job goes viral and she is publicly branded the “Sad Millennial,” Mona begins a downward spiral into self-pity, bitterness, and late-night drunken binges on cat videos. Mona’s the sort who says exactly the right thing at absolutely the wrong moments, seeing the world through a cynic’s eyes.
Set in suburban Tucson amid the financial and social malaise of the early 2000s, 23-year-old Mona must not only find a job, but quickly learn to navigate the complexities of adult relationships within the black hole of her parents’ shattering marriage.
At her mother’s urging, Mona grudgingly joins a support group for job seekers, and slowly begins to see that all is not lost, and that perhaps losing the job on Wall Street was a blessing in disguise. She might even learn what it is she finds meaningful in life. The question is:
Will she be brave enough to go after it?
Elizabeth Gonzalez James – Author and noted smartass
Before becoming a writer Elizabeth was a waitress, a pollster, an Avon lady, and an opera singer. Her writing has appeared in The Idaho Review, The Rumpus, Ploughshares Blog, and elsewhere and has received numerous Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. Her debut novel, MONA AT SEA, was a finalist in the 2019 SFWP Literary Awards judged by Carmen Maria Machado and is forthcoming in July 2021 from The Santa Fe Writers Project. Originally from South Texas, she currently lives with her family in Oakland, California.
Read more of her work at http://www.elizabethgonzalezjames.com