Monday, February 12, 2018

Ask an Author: An Interview With Fake Plastic Love's Kimberley Tait [Contributor: Megan Mann]

(Image credit: Flatiron Books via AP)

I’ve read a great deal of books in my life. I’ve read horror and romance, thriller and YA, good, bad and everything in between. But a book that perfectly captures the essence of the millennial generation? Now that is something that I haven’t done. Until now.

Last year I was scrolling through Instagram and came upon a post from Flatiron Books for what was being called “The Great Gatsby meets Wall Street.” And I was triple clicking, wondering how long it would take to get my hands on Fake Plastic Love by Kimberley Tait.

I was not disappointed. The story follows M. as she strikes up a friendship on accident with the most interesting girl on Dartmouth’s campus: Belle Bailey. They’re the lost girls — the girls who go on random adventures and aren’t afraid of the world. Until Belle loses her parents and M. decides rather than marry a banker like her mother wants, she will become a banker herself. The two live in New York City, but you’d never know it. M. is a realist, a girl who understands how black and white everything is. Belle is the Instagrammed version of New York: vibrant colors, but always with her signature red, fun little shops, dreamy dates, and snapshots of inhabitants who are generally overlooked.

But both are brought together by one man, Jeremy, who is best friends with M., but loses himself completely in the presence of Belle. It’s this weird, non-romantic triangle that changes the lives of all three, changes the lives of those around them, and proves that not everything is as black and white as it seems. Not everyone is as glossy and perfect as social media makes us believe and in order to have it all, you have to be vulnerable.

When I read the book, I loved every page. I thought it was thought-provoking and beautiful, a snapshot of our generation that isn’t just that we’re lazy and looking to make a quick buck via Internet fame. I knew that I needed to discuss the story with the author, Kimberley Tait, and pick her brain about all of the ins and outs of the book.

Thankfully, she happily took my email.

First and foremost, congratulations. Your debut book has finally been released! How does it feel?

Kimberley Tait: Thank you so much! It had been a dream to become a novelist for so many years that it felt very surreal when it finally happened. Before and after the book was published, I've felt a great jumble of different emotions that change on a daily and sometimes hourly basis — surprise, delight, joy, fear, insecurity, pride, anxiety, and so many more. It's strange and a bit unsettling to suddenly realize this very personal and private thing you have created is out in the world for anyone to see. It's daunting and thrilling at the same time.

Let's get right into the book. The Wall Street aspect is slightly intimidating. Were you familiar with Wall Street before writing this? If not, what was the research like for that?

It was (unintentionally) first-hand research! For about 10 years I worked at investment banks in New York and London and did my MBA at Columbia Business School, with many friends who also pursued careers in finance and worked at other banks. In the novel, Bartholomew Brothers is a fictional creation that draws on my own experiences, my friends' experiences, and many other real-life accounts I've read about "young Wall Street," including Kevin Roose's fantastic book Young Money, which I highly recommend as a behind-the-scenes look at what it's really like to be a young banker.

You do an amazing job of capturing the dichotomy of the millennial generation with M. — the realist — and Belle, the nostalgic romantic. We're a generation torn between that nostalgia and embracing the future. Was that your intention with the contrasting characters?

I am so glad you think so! You're exactly right — my idea was to have M. and Belle represent the two polar-opposite sides of this strange era we live in. Most of us are plugged in and fully digitized, yet many of us pine for a simpler, more romantic, offline time. In many ways the Internet — so paradoxically — fuels nostalgia. It is an aggregator of memories and an escape hatch from our present realities.

I also wrote M. and Belle as symbols of the Romantic and the Realist that I think are living inside all of us. I think every person is a messy mix of both but ultimately the Romantic has the power to overturn everything in the end — even with a staunch Realist like M.!

Belle is essentially Instagram incarnate. She has this glossy image and admits to fooling herself into believing that's who she is despite all of the drama that she hides from. Was that a reflection of how we operate in the realm of social media?

I created the Belle Bailey character in 2013 when the concept of the lifestyle blogger was really starting to take off on Instagram. Belle was a patchwork of all the visuals and characteristics I was observing — I loaded them all into "La Belle Vie" as a sort of parody.

In 2018, Belle Baileys are a dime a dozen, which I must admit slightly terrifies me. The parody has come to life! Social media is becoming more and more slick and stylized, making it harder to figure out what is real and genuine versus what is fake and choreographed. I think this poses real dangers. Seeing so much strikingly green grass everywhere we look can be very demoralizing. I think it can also muddy people's sense of identities — affecting what we want to achieve, how we present ourselves, and the actions we ultimately take, whether we recognize it or not. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

The friendships in the book are interesting. You have M. and Belle who are total opposites but are tethered together by their shared college experiences, and you have M. and Jeremy who have the same shared career experiences, but are closer than M. and Belle. Is that a mark of maturity in our dear M.?

M. feels a great sense of responsibility for Belle — almost as though she is a caretaker of all of their shared memories and "Old Belle," the girl Belle used to be before tragedy struck and she escaped into her online world of La Belle Vie. M. is the one who truly knew her when. As much as M. is practical, her loyalty to Belle as they drift apart in New York tells us that she may be softer and more sentimental than she is letting on.

After college, the friendship M. builds with Jeremy is rooted in their being misfits at the same bank — though M. appears to fit in, she is miserable inside. Again, she feels the need to play the role of protector to Jeremy. She sees through to the real him, just as she does with Belle, while so many of their peers misunderstand him. M. prides herself on being a sort of guardian of the truth in the novel — and for so long she preoccupies herself with whether Belle and Jeremy are being genuine (both individually and together).

I think she only begins to mature in a meaningful way when she finally confronts the fact that for a very long time she has not been true to herself and needs to do something about that.

A huge thing for M. is that she's afraid of veering off her chosen path and creating something better for herself. Do you think that's something that your readers identify with?

I think there is enormous pressure to succeed today combined with fear of perceived failure. Social media puts everything on display like never before — both personally and professionally — which dials up the need to posture as happy and successful and other desirable things. For a high-achieving person like M., she is terrified of leaving her investment bank and pursuing a less conventional path because she fears it will somehow make her irrelevant, or make her appear to be a failure. I think many people stay in jobs or careers they dislike because of some form of fear. Sometimes they decide it’s better to stick with the devil they know.

I hope the book encourages readers to take an honest look at who and what they are devoting themselves to. At the end of the day, there is no real happiness to be found when you make life decisions based on what other people will think. Or what you think other people will think.

Let's get into the fun stuff: say your book becomes a movie. Who's your dream cast?

It's so fun to daydream about this! I’d cast Emma Stone as M., Lily James as Belle Bailey, Jack Whitehall (clean-shaven) as Jeremy Kirby, and Charlie Hunnam as Chase Breckenridge. (I wasn't aware of Charlie Hunnam until my husband told me he is “Chase incarnate” — I Googled him and totally agree!)

Are you working on something new? If so, could you give us a little hint?

Yes! I'm working on another novel that explores the question: Do you ever get over your first love?

A lot of our readers are aspiring writers. What was the process like from its inception to its release? What could you tell us about sticking to your writing dreams despite any setbacks?

The process is certainly long and requires a lot of tenacity, particularly as a first-time author. Setbacks are inevitable on the multi-year road to publication (just as they are on any road in life), which will be filled with many highs and lows and curve balls. Your passion and commitment is often the only thing that will fuel you. The initial steps of getting a literary agent and finding an editor who falls in love with your book involve a great deal of rejection, which is hard but ultimately helpful. That forces you to develop a thick skin early, which is critical. Because no matter who you are and what you write, there will be people who actively dislike what you are writing. What counts is that you genuinely believe in what you are producing, and have the courage and conviction to push it out into the world, come what may. Always remember that you are your most important ambassador.

What are your best tips for sticking to your writing and meeting your goal?

I think it's very helpful to set smaller goals for yourself with specific deadlines — whether it's finishing a chapter, revising a specific part of the manuscript, or adjusting an entire character. That way you can keep chipping away and feel a sense of ongoing progress. Setting deadlines will also help you prioritize your writing against the many other competing demands of your life!

As someone who very often suffers from writer's block, how do you combat it?

The only way I can fight writer's block is by reading — or by taking in some kind of art form, whether it's going to an art exhibition or play or seeing a film or listening to some music. (Music is very evocative for me. I often write to music and find inspiration in song lyrics. The title Fake Plastic Love and Belle Bailey were inspired by the Radiohead ballad "Fake Plastic Trees." So of course I couldn't resist creating an inspirational soundtrack for the novel on Spotify!

To produce, you need to consume — as they say, you need to read a library to write a book — so I think consuming is the best way to get moving again if you're stuck.

Finally, what's your favorite part of being a writer?

Creating a whole other world that I can vanish into when I open my laptop or pick up my pen. My mantra is, "If reality disappoints, rewrite it"!

Kimberley Tait’s book Fake Plastic Love was one of my favorite books of 2017 and I eagerly await her next book (and hope to get to talk to her about that one too!).  Personally, I think the dream movie casting is spot-on and would love to see that come to fruition.  
This is a story that will resonate with anyone of the millennial generation. Tait is right: It’s getting harder and harder to perceive what is real and what is choreographed in this digital world. And the more we realize that, hopefully the more honest we’ll become.  
... And if not, there are always books! So go pick this one up now and follow Kimberley Tait on Twitter and Instagram for swoonworthy content and updates hopefully on a movie and her next book!


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