The Grace Kelly Dress by Brenda Janowitz is a book you just won’t want to put down, in fact, I read the whole novel cover to cover just days after its March 3rd release. The novel centers around three women, Rose the seamstress who finds herself in charge of creating a dress inspired by the gown worn by Grace Kelly, to Joan a sorority sister planning for her own wedding in the 1980s, and then finally to Rocky, who has no interest in wearing the dress in her upcoming wedding but struggles to tell her mother how she truly feels.
Throughout the novel, author Brenda Janowitz expertly weaves together the stories all of three women, keeping you on the edge of your seat as you wait to see what happens next. The ending is both surprising, (no spoilers, although I desperately want to share!) and absolutely perfect making The Grace Kelly Dress a must-read for spring.
In this interview, Brenda shares about when she was first inspired to write the novel, her writing process, and a few words of advice for those who are just beginning their writing journey.
You wrote an essay about the inspiration behind your latest novel, The Grace Kelly Dress (featured on your website) where you share the fact that you’ve always had a love for wedding dresses, no matter the fabric. When did you first come up with the idea for The Grace Kelly Dress?
My agent sent me an article from The Today Show about a wedding dress that had been passed down through eleven generations. The moment I heard the story, I knew that I had the idea for my next novel.
Once I decided to write about a wedding gown, there was only one thing I envisioned: Grace Kelly on her wedding day. So, when it came time to describe what this heirloom gown looked like, I found myself describing her dress—the lace sleeves, the cummerbund, the full skirt. I quickly realized that the characters in the book should be as enamored of this design as me, and The Grace Kelly Dress was born!
How much did you plan out the three very different main characters of Rose (the seamstress who made the dress), Joan, and her daughter/modern-day bride, Rocky before you first started writing the novel?
I didn’t plan much—with this book, I did a fair amount of freewriting, where I just sat down and wrote. After doing some free writing to figure out who these women were, that’s when I sat down and did serious character studies and plotted out how I wanted the book to unfold, where I wanted the storylines to overlap and enhance each other.
Writers often describe themselves as plotters (those who outline and plan ahead) or pantsers (those who free write and write by the seat of their pants) and I suppose you could say that I’m a little bit of both!
Each of the characters in the novel has a connection to the dress (first worn by Rocky’s grandmother, then daughter Joan and now the dress is being altered to be worn by Rocky herself.) When did you first decide to have Rocky so set against wearing the dress?
Once I had my inspiration for the dress, I spent a weekend envisioning what the book would look like—my first idea was to show the dress itself being made, which became my 1958 timeline. Then I came up with the idea of Rocky, who would be our not-so-typical bride. I didn’t want her to look like what you normally think when you conjured the image of “bride.” Rocky would have her hair color change as often as her mood, and she’d be covered in tattoos. And once I knew all of that, I knew that the central conflict of the book would be that she wouldn’t want to wear the dress.
Out of all the characters from your novels past and present, is there a character that is the most like yourself?
They say that your first novel is all about you, that each and every character is you, and I think that was true of my first novel. (First two novels, perhaps!)
How much research did you do into the different time periods before you first began writing The Grace Kelly Dress?
I’ve never written in a timeline other than the present, so there was a ton of research to be done! I had to research the two different time periods, 1982 and 1958. Even an innocuous detail like the brand of watch that a character is wearing can throw a reader out of the narrative if the author hasn’t gotten it just right.
The most enjoyable research I did was about Grace Kelly herself, and, of course, her iconic gown. I read Kristina Haugland’s incredible book, Grace Kelly: Icon of Style to Royal Bride, and then had the opportunity to speak with her as well. I loved learning every detail I could about this beloved dress, but by far the most interesting thing I learned was this: Grace Kelly’s gown consisted of four separate parts, each of which needed to be put on separately. What a wonderful secret for a bride to have on her wedding day!
In the story, you go back and forth between the stories of Rocky, Joan, and Rose. How difficult was it to go from one character’s perspective to the next during the writing process?
I like to write in a very straightforward manner, and that usually means writing each chapter in order, from beginning to end. So, I approached this book in this same way, at first.
But then, I realized that in order to make each story have the meaningful arc I was looking for, I’d need to focus on one story at a time. So, I broke the book apart into three different documents and worked on one timeline at a time. This enabled me to fully immerse myself in each protagonist’s life, as well as the time period I was exploring.
Once I’d completed all three timelines, the real work began. I wove the book back together, and that was when the book took its true form, as I made sure that the different timelines all spoke to each other in a meaningful way. It certainly made the book take longer to write, but I think that by working on each timeline separately, I was able to do the individual stories justice.
What was the hardest scene to write (or) the scene you enjoyed writing the most?
I found Joanie, in 1982, to be the most challenging to write. I first created her character while working on the 2020 timeline, at which point we only know her as Rocky’s mother. It took a lot of thought to figure out who she would be at age 20, and how she would grow into the woman we see in 2020. Additionally, since we meet her mother in the 1958 timeline, it was important that the reader see a connection there, too.
On the first round of edits, I completely trashed the original 1982 storyline and re-wrote it from the ground up. I think that I needed the first draft to truly learn who she was, and how to create her story.
In addition to writing six published novels, you are the book’s correspondent for PopSugar. What books are you reading right now?
I just finished my PopSugar Best Books of Spring list, so now I’m reading for my Summer list!
You recently took part in an event at Cebu Bar & Bistro along with fellow author Kerri Maher (The Girl in White Gloves) where you both chatted with Libby Sile, the former Features Editor of Real Simple magazine. What do you enjoy the most about being a part of events like this one?
I love doing events where I get to meet readers and it’s always fun to talk about a book you’ve been working on for years. The event at Cebu, sponsored by The Bookmark Shoppe in Brooklyn, was really special because it was a cocktail party, which made the event festive and fun. The crowd was an incredible bunch of book lovers, and the owner of the bookstore, Christine, was lovely and smart. All in all, a pretty unforgettable night!
What are your words of advice for writers who are working on their first novel while working full-time?
Just write. It sounds simple, but there are so many reasons not to write—work, kids, family, life in general. The main thing is to just get the words down. You can edit later.
Brenda is the author of five novels and the Books Correspondent for PopSugar. Her sixth novel, THE GRACE KELLY DRESS, was published by Harper Collins/ Graydon House. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Salon, Redbook, USA Today, Bustle, The Forward, the New York Post, Publisher’s Weekly, Hello Giggles, Writer’s Digest Magazine, WritersDigest.com, and xojane.