Chick Lit for the Good Girl
Book Spotlight: The Book of Jane
By Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt
Reviewed by Lisa M. Hendey
Broadway Books, June 2007, paperback, 304 pages
Your chance to win! Publisher Broadway Books has generously offered several promotional copies of this book for our readers. To enter to win, simply send an email with the subject line “The Book of Jane Contest” to firstname.lastname@example.org by August 31. Please be sure to include your full name and mailing address. Winners will be selected by random drawing and will be notified by email on September 1.
Chick lit based on the Old Testament character Job? Who comes up with an idea like this? The answer is writing partners and cool chicks Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt. The Book of Jane is the duo’s third outing into the world of “Good Girl Lit”, a squeaky clean take on the popular women’s genre.
The thing is, it works. I’ve been known to pick up a chick lit book from time to time, guiltily turning a blind eye to the “adult themes” that run so rampant in these tomes. But I’d much rather just read good, clean, fun fiction. This is where Dayton and Vanderbilt come in. The Book of Jane is a great book about a young woman named Jane Williams who seems to have the world by the tail. She has the perfect career, the perfect Manhattan apartment, and the perfect boyfriend. She’s also a faith-filled person who wears her values on her sleeve. But the thing is, Jane’s faith has never truly been tested. Sure, it’s easy to profess a profound belief when everything is going according to her perfectly scheduled agenda for life. But will the same hold true when the wheels start to fall off the cart? Who among us hasn’t faced this same dilemma? It’s easy to say we are believers when life is smooth sailing, but when the going gets tough we may begin to question whether or not our loving God is paying attention to our prayers.
The Book of Jane is a page turner from start to finish. With a non-denominational approach to religion, the book will appeal to women of any faith background. I loved the book’s message about searching for what you truly want in life – it turns out that sometimes what seems “perfect” on the surface is not really what’s best after all. Finding the strength to emerge through life’s myriad challenges seems easier if you have a solid relationship with God to help you through. Sometimes you have to step away from what may be considered the safest path in order to find satisfaction in this life. So often, the greatest happiness comes in being of service to others.
I’m pleased to share the following interview with Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt, authors of The Book of Jane.
Q: Please briefly introduce yourselves to our readers.
Hi! We're Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt. We write fun, frothy fiction with a Christian world view. Our books are modern-day re-tellings of classic Bible stories. Our first book, Emily Ever After, is the story of Esther. Our second book, Consider Lily, is the story of Samson and Delilah. And our third book, The Book of Jane, is the story of Job.
Anne Dayton lives in New York, where she is an editor full-time and goes to grad school part-time. May Vanderbilt moved from New York to San Francisco a year ago and is now a writer for an Internet company. We met when we both worked together at a publishing company.
Q: How does the process of writing as a team work for you logistically, with the two of you living in different cities? What are some of the advantages of writing collaboratively?
Anne: Now that we live on opposite coasts, it is a bit more difficult to write together than when we worked together. Luckily, we have a great foundation to build upon. We were friends and writing partners for several years in New York before May moved to California.
May: But our method is quite simple. We meet once a week (now we just talk on the phone) and plot out what should happen in 10 pages. Then one person writes those 10 pages and turns them in to the other at the end of the week. The other person edits her work and then it's her turn to write 10 pages. This swapping back and forth happens all the way until the end of the book!
There are so many advantages to writing together. For one, you always have a very honest friend who is looking over your shoulder and helping to guide your path. Plus, there's always someone to help out with writer's block.
Q: What was the inspiration behind The Book of Jane? Did the Job parallels come before the plot or afterwards?
May: We definitely started with the Job idea. We love to base our books on the heart-pounding, gut-wrenching stories of the Bible, the kind of stories that really resonate with life today. We decided that we wanted to adapt the Book of Job because everyone knows exactly how it feels when your world is crashing down around your ears.
Anne: The difficult part was making the story work in modern-day Manhattan and turning Job into a single woman named Jane. But we had a ball trying to adapt it.
Q: Please say a few words about your "Good Girl Lit" concept. How have readers reacted to your books and this genre? What made you take this route as opposed to going the mainstream chick lit route?
May: We both loved the chick lit genre but we also felt that it didn't really speak to us. We hoped to be able to write a chick lit style book that reflected the kind of lives we were trying to lead in Manhattan. We try to make our characters strong women of strong faith who are still live normal lives and are a real hoot to be around.
Anne: And people seem to really love the "good girl lit" concept. We get mainstream readers who don't think they like Christian fiction to pick up our books, and that means the world to us!
Q: Your faith shines through so lovingly in this book. Would you please share a few thoughts on your own faith journeys?
Anne: Every single person in my family has a different idea about faith, so it was always more individual for me. But I was lucky enough to see God’s hand in my life early on, and even though my family didn’t go to church, I was constantly trying to get friends to take me or get my hands on books that shared more about this God who loved me. As I’ve gotten older, I have definitely seen that the more I cling to God, the more he uses that to teach me.
May: I was raised in a very loving Christian home, but when I went to college I woke up and realized that I had never questioned a single thing that I had been told. It was then that I began to take my faith seriously and study the Bible and scholarly works about Christianity and other faiths to figure out what I truly believed. I'm not saying I have all the answers now, but I do hope that my faith is something that anyone who knows me can see and that influences every decision in my life. It's so easy to be a grump on BART in the morning and forget to really love your neighbor!
Q: I caught several Job references in the book, but could you point a few of them out for our readers who may not be too familiar with the Old Testament original?
May: We tried to make Jane's downfall mirror Job's, but it was difficult in some cases. Job's children die, but we were writing a chick lit book about a single girl! Instead we had Jane lose a group of children that she had been working with and loved very much. She also gets a strange rash on her face to mirror Job's boils. And just like Job’s roof collapses, so does Jane’s. Job lost all his cattle and whatnot, but Jane loses her dog (well, almost loses her dog… we’re not that heartless).
Anne: We also tried to make sure that Jane's friends give her really bad advice as she's going through all of this. What made Job so special is that even when he was down and out and all of his friends were telling him to turn his back on the Lord, he kept the faith.
There are lots of things you can take from Job, but what stuck out to us was that even when the world doesn’t seem to make sense, God is still in control. We find that amazingly comforting.
Q: Do you ever consider sequels to your books? I'd love to see what happens to Jane and Coates once they start a family. Is it hard to say goodbye to your characters when you finish a novel?
May: We don't have a sequel planned at this time for Jane, but you're right that it's really hard to let our characters go.
Anne: I used to be a youth group leader, and the best piece of advice I ever got about leading events was “quit while the game is still fun.” If the kids are still loving an activity, that’s the time to bow out. In other words, we want readers to continue to love Jane and Coates, which means that we’ll probably leave them alone for now.
Q: What are your plans and dreams for future projects?
May: We're currently very hard at work on a series of books for 'tweens and we're having a ball! What a fun age to remember and what a critical point in young women's lives.
Anne: In a way, it almost makes all those horrible high school moments worth it. Almost.
Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you'd like to share with our readers?
Thanks so much for having us. Your site is so awesome! We've been reading all your posts. Blessings!
For more information on the work of Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt, check out http://www.goodgirllit.com. For more information on The Book of Jane visit http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0767926552/catholicmomcom
Lisa M. Hendey, wife and mother of two sons, is and avid reader and the webmaster of numerous web sites including http://www.catholicmom.com and http://www.ProductivityAtHome.com. Visit her at http://www.lisahendey.com for additional information.