Bittersweet Brooklyn | The Last Woman Standing | Playdate
Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is Bittersweet Brooklyn, the story of a fierce little sister whose protective older brother is a member of the Jewish mob. Set from 1905 to 1935 in Williamsburg and East New York, it dives into the Jewish immigrant experience and follows a vibrant, vital young woman who struggles to make a place for herself, marry, and have a child as the youngest in a complex first-generation immigrant family. I confess to an author’s difficulty in describing my own books, so I’ll leave it to bestselling novelist Caroline Leavitt whose current novel is With or Without You: “Thelma Adams is our new Dickens in her effervescently vivid tale of Jewish hardscrabble living, gangsters, torn-apart families, and a young woman desperate for love, family, and a stable future. Set in a 1920s and 30s Brooklyn so rich, raw, and bristling with life that you can taste the brine on the deli pickles and see the flasks of whiskey hidden in a garter, this is the kind of novel that’s lived, rather than read.”
What's your writing process?
After three published books, and two stuffed in a drawer, my process is always evolving. What remains unchanged is the coffee next to me (just one large cup or jitter-city) and starting right off first thing in the morning. Then I work on fiction for three to five hours. The hardest part is the first five minutes. Getting started. I have written 1000 words per day. I have written on steep summer deadlines. This time around I have an extensive treatment and a strong idea of the story arc. And I am writing each chapter until I get it right: the voice, the characters, the sense of place, the drama and conflict and humor. I definitely have my beta readers and I choose them for their different skills and takes – and an underlying love for the project. If I know a reader gets where I’m going then I can listen and absorb almost all criticism. Love is the key.
Are there themes you like to explore in your books?
I am always writing about fierce women upending the status quo against the odds – or at least trying. In my most successful book in terms of sales, I took on the Western. The Last Woman Standing is the story of the Jewish wife of Wyatt Earp, Josephine Sarah Marcus. So, we see the famed Gunfight at the OK Corral and life in the Earps’ Tombstone, AZ, from the Jewish immigrant perspective – and through the eyes of a kickass heroine. And it is all heavily researched, as is the story in Bittersweet Brooklyn, which was born out of the shards of family stories about my late paternal grandmother. The need for women to find their place in a world that often undervalues their contribution, the battles between mothers, daughters and sisters, the love between men and women that can bring out the true light in an individual, and alternative views of American history are all themes in my novels.
Do you listen to music while you write?
No! Actually, if I’m stressed, and the world’s intruding, I throw on my headphones and listen to concentration music like this ambient concentration music. My go-to cheer myself up song is Nina Simone’s “Blue Skies”.
What's your favorite genre to read?
I am totally a thriller and mystery reader and also love historical fiction. And, of course, the classics. And then there’s ma bella Elena Ferrante, whose emotional writing influenced Bittersweet Brooklyn, particularly the scenes set in the Italian neighborhood of Williamsburg that surrounds Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished Swedish crime writer Camilla Lackberg’s The Golden Cage – what a plot twist! I love Leavitt’s With or Without You. And I am in the middle of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, the third in her massive and bar-setting Wolf Hall Trilogy. Up next: the latest from Ferrante, The Lying Life of Adults, which is my fall read with a good girlfriend.
What's the next project and when can we expect it?
Wow. The latest project is about six generations of fiercely independent women practicing Spiritualism in upstate New York. Their psychic family history explores a powerful alternate, and parallel, narrative on the fringe of the women’s rights movement. The working title is Medium Cool. And I’m still writing it so my guess is early 2022.
Thelma Adams is the author of the best selling historical novel, The Last Woman Standing and Playdate, which Oprah magazine described as "a witty debut novel." In addition to her fiction work, Adams is a prominent American film critic and an outspoken voice in the Hollywood community. She has been the in-house film critic for Us Weekly and The New York Post, and has written essays, celebrity profiles and reviews for Yahoo! Movies,The New York Times, O: The Oprah Magazine, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Parade, Marie Claire and The Huffington Post. Adams studied history at the University of California, Berkeley, where she was valedictorian, and received her MFA from Columbia University. She lives in upstate New York with her family.