When Writing a Best-Seller, Give It Room to Breathe

From a New York Times Inside the Best-Seller List story by Elizabeth Egan headlined “When Writing a Future Best-Seller, Give It Room to Breathe”:

Nina de Gramont is the author of eight books — four for young adult readers and four for grown-ups — but her latest novel, “The Christie Affair,” is her first New York Times best seller. “If this had happened when I was 25, I’d think that it meant I was really brilliant,” she said. “Happening at 55, I know it means I’m really lucky. So I’m appreciating it, for sure.”

In “The Christie Affair,” de Gramont explores the events surrounding Agatha Christie’s puzzling 11-day disappearance in 1926. The case made international headlines, including a handful in this newspaper: “Mrs. Agatha Christie, Novelist, Disappears From Her Home in England,” “500 Police and Planes Search for Mrs. Christie” and “Mrs. Christie Found in a Yorkshire Spa.”

In 2015, before she’d read a single one of Christie’s novels, de Gramont learned about her vanishing from an article on a true-crime website. She said, “The detail that made me want to write a novel about it — that sort of made a story start to come into shape — was that she had used the last name of her husband’s mistress to register at the hotel.”

In real life, Col. Archibald Christie’s girlfriend was Nancy Neele, whom he later married; in “The Christie Affair,” she is Nan O’Dea, an Irishwoman with a tragic back story. De Gramont worked on the book on and off for five years while teaching writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. There was a period of time when she felt overwhelmed by the project, so she put it aside to write a different novel, one that never sold. “I have a habit of doing that,” de Gramont said. “I’ve started a book, I’ve written about 100, 150 pages, and then I just become overwhelmed. In this case, it just felt like, I’m American, I’m living in the 21st century, I don’t know enough, I can’t do this.” When de Gramont found her way back to Christie’s story, her attitude was, “I’m going to give this writing thing one more shot, and if this book doesn’t sell, I quit.”

Reese Witherspoon selected “The Christie Affair” as her February book club pick — a secret the author had to keep for two months, even from her teenage daughter. “At one point I asked my daughter if she liked Reese Witherspoon,” de Gramont said. “Which is kind of a weird question, since she’s got ‘Legally Blonde’ on an endless repeat loop, and she said, ‘Yes, do you?’ And I said, ‘I love her. I love her so much.’”

“The Christie Affair” is at No. 11 in its fifth week on the hardcover fiction list.

Elisabeth Egan is an editor at the Book Review and the author of “A Window Opens.”

Speak Your Mind