Q&A with Alex, Approximately author Jenn Bennett

April 10, 2017

Hi all! I’m Andi from Andi’s ABCs. I’ve been running my blog since January of 2013 as a way to share my love of accessories, books and clothes. I focus mostly on young adult books with a few new adult and adult romances mixed in. On occasion you will come across a clothing or accessory kind of post and more often than not a post about the cards I have been making. I also offer guest opportunities for readers, authors, publicists and bloggers to share something they are excited about with my new weekly feature Book a Date.

Last November, I had the opportunity to interview the wonderful Suzanne Young for a Riveted guest post and I was equally thrilled to have the opportunity to do the same for Jenn Bennett, the author of Alex, Approximately. Jenn’s book is a magical, YA take on You’ve Got Mail, a movie I absolutely loved! It’s a fun look at the differences between who we are online and who we are in real life, and what happens when those two worlds intersect. That, mixed in with a ton of movie references—you will be hooked! I know I was. You can read an extended excerpt here on Riveted, but only until April 17 so be sure to check it out!

Now, on to the Q&A:

First off, this book was everything I needed and more, Jenn! I was super excited when I heard about it and how it was based off You’ve Got Mail. What was it like to write a book based off a wildly popular movie?

Aw, thank you so much! I’m a fan of Nora Ephron’s movies, and YOU’VE GOT MAIL is one of my favorites. The Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie is actually inspired by a 1940 film called THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (and a nod is given to the earlier film in YOU’VE GOT MAIL, as Meg Ryan’s bookstore bears this name). I definitely set out to do a retelling of this basic story from a teen perspective: a couple who can’t stand each other in real life doesn’t realize they have been falling in love via anonymous correspondence—in my book’s case, through an online film lover’s community. One reason I like this structure is because the reader knows from the beginning that Porter is the online identity “Alex”, and that Bailey is “Mink.” But THEY don’t know that, and it’s such delicious, excruciating fun to watch them fumble their way to realization.

Film is a hugely popular theme in Alex, Approximately. What made you decide to use movies as a way to further the story? And why did you decide on the movies you did?

I’m a movie fan. My husband is, too; he studied film in college. We have an enormous collection of movies that span multiple genres and eras. (Like, seriously, we could open up a DVD store.) Because we bonded over film early in our relationship, it seemed like a natural thing to write another couple who did the same. I wanted to create a female character who was dazzled by classic film stars from the 1940s and 50s, so a lot of the movies in the text are from that era: NORTH BY NORTHWEST, ROMAN HOLIDAY, THE MALTESE FALCON, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, BRINGING UP BABY (which is a freaking delight, and one of my all-time faves). The modern film references are generally coming from the male character, Porter: THE BIG LEBOWSKI, BLAZING SADDLES, THE GODFATHER. Even though he shares Bailey’s love of classic film, he likes contemporary movies, too. So the movies sort of echo and reinforce bits of their personalities.

Speaking of movies, each chapter has a quote from a movie on the title pages. Was this something that was important for you to do to set a tone for the chapters or was it more for fun?

It was actually my editor Nicole Ellul’s idea, and a fantastic one! It was both fun and functional. I spent a lot of time picking out all the movie lines to quote, because I wanted to give readers a little hint about what was coming in each chapter. Some will be familiar to all readers, and others may be films they’ve heard of but never seen. I hope they inspire readers to seek out new-to-them movies.

Besides movies, family and friendship is a huge theme, for both Bailey and Porter. Bailey is struggling to know her relationship with her family, a mother she left behind and a father she is learning about again while Porter is struggling with how far he will go to help a friend. Why were these learning moments so important for each of these characters?

Exploring the concept of a family unit plays a big role in all of my books. I’m interested in families that are broken, families that aren’t…families that are lost and found and made. Bailey’s parents, for example, are divorced. At the beginning of the book, Bailey leaves her high-powered attorney mother (and step father) to reconnect with her father in California. Subliminally, I think Bailey made the choice to do this because she was seeking self-care. She’s been through a trauma, one that involved her mother, and she needed her father’s support to face her fears, and to learn that even though the family unit she knew as a child has changed, it doesn’t mean that it’s lesser. Porter’s family, on the other hand, is a more traditional unit. Everyone in town knows them. His parents have been together since they were teens, and along with Porter’s sister, they share a business and a multi-generational tradition in surfing. I think because Porter’s family unit is so rock-steady and has weathered tragedy and financial problems, Porter assumes that he has a responsibility to help his troubled friend, who was taken under the family’s wing in the past. He stubbornly believes that he can save him, because, in his experience, that’s what family does.

Speaking of Bailey and Porter, they had a fantastic love/hate relationship with the perfect amount of banter. What was it like writing their relationship?

I’m all about the banter. That’s what I live for, writing-wise. And I enjoyed every second of writing dialogue for Bailey and Porter, who are quite good at getting under each other’s skin. Of course the whole thing is verbal foreplay, because this is a romance, after all. I aim to bring the swoons, and I like to do that through wit.

The setting for Alex, Approximately almost serves as a main character for the story. It 100% gives off the laid back California beach vibe and makes you think about days on a boardwalk with sand between your toes. How essential was the vibe of the town for your story?

Here’s another “all my books” thing. All my books are love letters to Northern California: San Francisco, the Bay Area, and a couple of hours down the coast, where I set this story. Personally, I’ve traveled up and down California, and I used to live in the Los Angeles area, in Southern California, which is an entirely different beast than NorCal. Bailey and Porter’s surfing town, Coronado Cove, is based on Santa Cruz. I like my settings to come alive like characters, so I do a massive amount of research, draw on memories, and try to imagine I’m there when I’m writing. I think the fact that I’m also an artist probably helps. Visual details come naturally to me.

The cover of Alex, Approximately has a unique story where the readers got to vote and decide on the cover they liked the most (personally I picked the one that won). How fun was it for you to have the readers decide on such an important part of the book?

It was so much fun to have readers pick the cover! Barnes and Noble approached my publisher with the idea to do a national “you pick the cover” experiment, and at first, I was nervous. At the time, we already had an amazing cover. One that I adored. One that made me tear up when I saw it. Then all of the sudden, a second cover was in the mix. One that I hated. It was a perfectly excellent cover, but it didn’t fit this book. It said, “I am a teen romance!”, and it needed to say, “I am a quirky teen romance about movie lovers that will make you laugh, cry, and swoon!” So I threw some ideas to to my publisher, and the designer created the gorgeous cover that’s on the book today: a couple watching a movie together. That’s the one readers picked. Honestly, when I saw this cover, I couldn’t decide which one I liked more—the original or this one—so it was a win-win situation with readers choosing, and I’m totally happy with the results. (And just wait until you see the rest of the book’s final design. So lovely!)

Lastly, when I interview authors on my blog I always ask the same final question. What is the one item of clothing you could never live without?

A year or so ago, I would have said flip-flops. I KNOW. They are gross. But I live in Atlanta, and it’s !@$& hot here. But then I lost weight, like, 80 pounds of weight, (go me!), and I discovered I could fit into nice, tall boots. SO MANY BOOTS. Because of the heat, I can only wear them 3-4 months a year, but I’m wearing a pair now, and nothing makes me happier.

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