Becky Chalsen has recently published her debut novel, Kismet, a story which contrasts the beautiful shores of Fire Island against family secrets and tested relationships.
The novel focuses on the Sharp twins, Amy and Jo, as well as Ben, Amy’s high-school-sweetheart-turned-husband. For as long as anyone can remember, it has been this trio. These relationships are about to get put to the test, however, as Fourth of July weekend approaches. What would normally be a celebration of the twins’ long-awaited 30th birthday has instead become Jo’s wedding weekend – after a whirlwind engagement that just doesn’t sit right with Amy. Recent arguments with Ben have left her marriage feeling on-the-rocks. And to top off all the turmoil, an unexpected wedding guest threatens to topple the delicate structures Amy has spent the last decade building.
The synopsis poses: “As Amy finds herself balancing the ghosts of her past with the heartache of her present, she’ll be forced to confront her worst doubts: What if her fastidiously planned life hasn’t been her destiny all along? And what if the people Amy loves the most have been the very same things standing in her way?”
I recently had the privilege to interview Chalsen about her book and what’s coming down the pipeline for the author:
Q In your book, you explore several types of love, including romantic and familial, and you confront the idea that neither type is a guarantee; that love of all kinds takes active work and care. Can you speak a little more on this?
A “What I wanted to explore in the book was what happens romantically after the ‘happily ever after’… That work of saying okay, you fell in love, you had the fun, sort of easy part, which is the fall, but how do you actually grow together and change together?… I have these long-term relationships that I wanted to honor in the book through Amy, between the high school sweethearts’ story and also her sisterhood story with Jo.”
“[My sisters and I] have done a lot of reflection ourselves as we just turned 30 on how different we are since we were kids, all of the changes along the way… Through it all, it’s that consistent work of coming back to the people you love, with communication and trust and showing up and being there for people, instead of turning inwards. I wanted Amy, through Kismet, to relearn that she can trust the people that she’s built those relationships with, and trust that foundation. With Amy, she’s stressed and thinks that keeping things secret, putting on a happy face, will be the solution. But she has to relearn that those people in her life are there for a reason, and she can really count on them when times are tough.”
Q You’re able to create such a visceral feeling when discussing some of what Amy and Ben are going through leading up to the trip. What was it like delving into something so personal and, frankly, taboo?
A “It was really cathartic, the whole idea of future planning… For women like Amy and myself who like to have a plan, say ‘This is what I am going to do, and when I’ll move here, and this is the job I’ll have…’ There’s not always a way to plan things out, especially when it comes to family. It’s a humbling reminder that there’s only so much we have control over. I wanted to encapsulate that for Amy and Ben, who are turning 30 and doing everything they thought they wanted to do, but then something happens that they have no control over, and how it can make you feel powerless.”
Q Your book captures so many elements similar to your own life; how did your own experiences morph or develop into the plot, location, and characters you settled on?
A “The most fun part of writing the book was being able to decorate it with odes to my own life. There’s lots of fun Easter eggs for my family and my friends!”
“I was writing the book during the pandemic; I started it in summer of 2020. I had decided to see if I could to this thing I’ve always wanted to do; write a book. I definitely leaned into that idea of ‘write what you know’, especially with the constrictions of going out into the real world and doing research. It was really fun to write a book in the town of Kismet… It’s the most fun place in the world, getting out there on the ferry and hearing the bands play at night. It seemed like the perfect setting for a love story. It was so fun to be able to honor a place that is so close to my family’s heart.”
Q What’s been the best part, now that the novel is out and ready for readers?
A “It’s been amazing! So next level, and out of this world to go into bookstores and see Kismet on the table with authors whom I’ve esteemed and admired. It’s been a pretty emotional week… I just love talking about Kismet with people who have picked it up or read it… It’s been something that existed just in my head for so long, or in my editors’ inboxes for so long, I almost forgot it would be a real product… Of course, now people are wondering how much of this story is me [laughs], and am I more of an Amy or a Jo?”
Q What are you most excited about going forwards? Any plans for more writing on the horizon?
A “I’ve actually written a second book and have begun the process of edits! It’ll be a return to Fire Island, but with different characters, and it’ll be more of a friend story than a family story.”
For those who can’t get enough of Kismet, Chalsen says to stay tuned for some details on an upcoming event at Fire Island on August 6th, where she and other writers will be giving a talk on Kismet Island.
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