Blush by Jamie Brenner is a robust, succulent, and divine romance novel about three generations of women; Vivian, the matriarch, Leah, the daughter, and Sadie, the granddaughter are brought together by love, books, wine, and cheese amidst impending changes to their beloved family winery. I devoured the novel, engrossing myself with every turn each of the women embraced as fully honing their power.
I talked with Jamie Brenner about milestones, the immaculate winery as a character, and which song would she use to describe Vivian, Leah, and Sadie.
Ashley: What does feminism mean to you?
Jamie Brenner (JB): Feminism to me means not having to apologize for what you want, and not having to ask permission. It means going for it and lifting others along with you.
Ashley: How did you develop the character arcs, particularly the men?
JB: Character arcs always start with a need that isn’t being met. Once I know what my female characters want or need, I have to put the men in opposition to that in order to have drama in the story. I don’t believe the male/female dynamic has to be inherently full of conflict, but in fiction you have to polarize so in my novel BLUSH the men have a learning curve within their relationships.
Ashley: How do you envision this novel bonding generations of women?
JB: The idea for BLUSH started with conversations I’ve had with my own college-aged daughter. She reads only very literary and feminist works of fiction and nonfiction – in high school she was reading The Powers of Horror by Julia Kristeva and novels by Clarice Lispecter and, and I’d thought, wow, she’d be appalled to see what I was reading at her age, which was Scruples by Judith Krantz and Chances by Jackie Collins. However, I see those 1980s novels as being extremely feminist in their own way, and this is something I wanted to explore. I had a fleeting idea of asking my daughter read one of those old novels together, and thought better of it. I wrote BLUSH instead! I envision BLUSH giving different generations a shared reading experience because the characters are coming at books – and life — from three different generational perspectives. I hope there’s someone for readers of any age to identify with.
Ashley: Grandeur and Camp drip through this novel. How was your experience incorporating them into the novel?
JB: This novel was so much fun to write! I re-read the novels I loved from the 1980s, Chances, Scruples, and Lace. I watched clips of the old mini-series on YouTube – hearing Phoebe Cates says the iconic line, “Which one of you bitches is my mother?” never gets old! And I read Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp (full text!) for the first time, trying to understand what makes something “Camp”, and why an appreciation for camp leads to a deeper understanding of both “high” and “low” art. In BLUSH, camp is the bridge between the generations of women. Sadie, my college-aged character, feels the novels by Jackie Collins and Shirley Conran and beneath her. But Susan Sontag gives her permission to enjoy these “guilty” pleasures.
Ashley: On the 40th anniversary of Jackie Collins’ CHANCES, what do milestones mean to you?
JB: Like a fine wine, these novels have aged in a way that proves they’re classics. We’re still talking about them four decades later. A documentary about Jackie Collins, Lady Boss, just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. We might take for granted in this day and age that women can be bosses, that women can be sexually adventurous, that women can have appetites. But when Jackie Collins and Judith Krantz wrote these books, people were scandalized. I think we’ve come a long way – young women often get the message that they can go for it. But there are still segments of our population that don’t get encouragement or have the resources they need. And I think there’s a stigma against older women – that somehow we should be put out to pasture after age 50. The books still have something to say, and I want to have that conversation with readers.
Ashley: The winery reads with incredible imagery. How did you envision this place to tell the story?
JB: I spent a lot of time at a vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island called Bedell Cellars. I walked the fields with the vineyard manager, explored the room where wine is stored in the barrel, sat in the tasting room watching customers enjoy the wine. A lot of the descriptions in BLUSH came from these visits. It’s difficult to capture the true majesty of a vineyard in full bloom, but I tried! I also read a lot of nonfiction books, like The Vineyard by Louisa Thomas Hargrave and The House of Mondavi by Julia Flynn Siler.
Ashley: Sadie, the granddaughter, is infatuated/crushing on someone who works at the winery. It is also interracial. How did you develop the feelings while honoring the cultures?
JB: Love is universal – it knows no boundaries. And star-crossed love is a story as old as time.
Ashley: Describe Vivian, Leah, and & Sadie in a song.
JB: “What You Waiting For” by Gwen Stefani!
Thank you, Jamie Brenner, for sharing your thoughts on BLUSH with Feminist Book Club. You can follow Jamie on Instagram.