Skip to main content

Interview: July 27, 2023

In Jamie Day’s THE BLOCK PARTY, an upcoming Bets On pick, the residents of the exclusive cul-de-sac on Alton Road are entangled in a web of secrets and scandal. On the night of the annual summer block party, there has been a murder. But who did it and why takes readers back one year earlier, as rivalries and betrayals unfold. In this interview conducted by Carol Fitzgerald, the president and co-founder of The Book Report Network, Jamie talks about the inspiration for the book, the decision to take readers back to what happened the year prior to the block party, why the story is told from two characters’ points of view, the creation of an online message board that appears in the novel, and what readers can anticipate from Jamie next.

The Book Report Network: Every book has a moment when the idea started. I call it the kernel of the idea. What was it for THE BLOCK PARTY?

Jamie Day: I grew up on a street where my neighbors were also my best friends, a life before screens, when we got together after school with instructions to be home before dark. As an adult, and a parent myself, dealing with different life challenges, I saw those carefree days through a new lens. It’s clear to me now that while we kids were busy gallivanting about, the grownups had a very different experience, with all kinds of unspoken dramas unfolding behind closed doors. I thought a block party would make the perfect setting to bring a group of characters together to showcase these two worlds --- the young and old, the seen and unseen, the faces we present, and the secrets we harbor.

TBRN: The book opens and we know something has happened at the block party, but you quickly thrust us back to “last year” and build up to what happened on that May day. There could have been a decision to take us past that moment. Why did you choose to do the buildup from the prior year, breaking it up by seasons?

JD: The book is about people who could be our friends and neighbors, and I wanted the reader to feel like they were experiencing the events of the novel simultaneously with the characters. So rather than discovering motives after the fact, the reader becomes part of the unfolding drama, discovering motives through the characters' actions. This gives the book more urgency, like you know an accident is coming, but you’re not sure when or where, which adds a sense of urgency and heightens the stakes for the reader.

Another critical factor in this decision came down to who the story is about. If I wanted to tell a procedural, I would have to put the police at the center of an investigation, or a character would need a compelling reason to take on the role of the investigator (i.e., I don't think the police are doing a good job, or they got the wrong person). In that case, the crime would become the larger story, but I wanted this book to be about people. I had the idea to bookend the novel with block parties a year apart, to give the story symmetry and me a timeframe to reveal characters and motives. Once I made that decision, the seasons became a natural and familiar marker to show the passing of time.

TBRN: The story is told through the eyes of Alex and her daughter, Lettie. What drew you to use those two points of view?

JD: I wanted to craft two parallel perspectives from different generations, and show two vantage points of the same scenario that eventually converge. This approach allowed me to demonstrate how these different generations saw things and later help each other grow and evolve. As the younger person considers the lives of her peers, the older character does the same for hers until their worlds collide. The reader will realize in the end that there is tremendous overlap between the generations and that our issues and challenges are less about age and more about being human.

TBRN: THE BLOCK PARTY is filled with intriguing characters. Before you started writing, did you develop all of them and situate them on the block?

JD: I developed basic ideas for characters, but they evolved and changed as I got more precise about their personalities and motivations. While writing the book, I had the chance to go beyond the caricatures (pushy dad, sexy neighbor, pretty cheerleader, controlling husband, suspicious wife, etc.) and delve deeper into their personas, adding layers and histories to give them depth and distinction.

TBRN: Was there one character you enjoyed writing about more than the others?

JD: It was super fun to write Lettie. From my own experience raising a teen daughter, I’ve discovered that while sometimes she employs minimal vocabulary, on occasion, she offers me a glimpse into her vibrant and layered inner world. Writing her first-person made perfect sense because it allowed me to show both worlds simultaneously.

TBRN: Lettie is extremely conservation-minded and ecologically focused. I felt like you had fun ramping up what she would do and say in dialogue. Am I right?

JD: Oh, yeah, I think Lettie is a gas! While she's a super softie at heart, she also gets to say what we wish we said, but think of five minutes after the fact. But her jabs are never mean-spirited, so she is not alienating any of the characters in her life. I like how tortured she is as well. I remember being that age and how all the emotions were so heightened. Calling that to mind made the writing almost too easy.

TBRN: There is a whole lot of whine going on, as well as a lot of wine-drinking. At one point Alex questions her alcohol consumption. But it takes a big wake-up call for her to do that, which is so well done. I felt that including that may be something that a lot of people on that block might want to think about. What drew you to call out her alcoholism?

JD: While the novel's events are extraordinary, the characters' challenges are far more relatable. Alcoholism among women is often cited as an epidemic, and its presentation can differ from our preconceived notions about the disease. It can happen in plain sight and, because of social norms and such, remain hidden even from the abuser. I have family experience with alcoholism, and all my characters need challenges to overcome, so I felt this would be a good issue for Alex to face while bringing some of my personal experience to bear.

TBRN: One subplot has to do with DNA testing, which is something that is so easy to do these days. Weaving that in gave the narrative another air of suspense and gave one character a lot to think about. Why did you choose to include that?

JD: Every day it seems a cold case is being solved with the help of DNA, so it feels like an issue in the zeitgeist. It’s also super intriguing because DNA testing allows us to discover who we are, but it comes with the unintended consequences of, well, finding out who we are. So for that reason, I thought it would be a helpful addition to the story, and the subplot gave Lettie and Riley something essential to bond over, and their journey is of vital importance to the arc of the story.

TBRN: I loved the chatter from the neighbors who did not live on Alton Road who chimed in with their thoughts on the Meadowbrook Community Page. You so captured modern suburbia where everyone seems to have an opinion --- and not be afraid to share it. What spurred you to include that, and how much fun was it to write, especially with those who went off-topic?

JD: Janet Pinkham, our most off-topic member of the Meadowbrook Community Page, is one of my favorite characters despite her limited page time! It was so fun to write these message boards because I just mirrored what I saw on the community pages of my own town. People write things online they would never say to someone’s face, which I find both amusing and fascinating. But these message boards act as a Greek Chorus of sorts and serve an essential purpose to the plot in that they remind the reader, who is back in time, that there is a present-day murder that must be addressed. It brings a sense of urgency front and center as the seasons go by.

TBRN: Was THE BLOCK PARTY always the title?

JD: Always from the get-go. That title was never in doubt!

TBRN: Let’s talk about the cover. Was it the first try?

JD: Oh, that glorious green! I’d lounge in that cover all day if I could! I’d say we were pretty close to the final from the first pass I saw. It really pops online and, most critically, in the stores!

TBRN: The audiobook has two narrators. How are they splitting the narration?

JD: That was a pretty easy choice because there are two clear voices in the story --- Lettie and Alex --- so all we had to do was pick the right talent, and I think Megan Tusing and Suzy Jackson both did an outstanding job! I couldn’t be prouder of the audio team who put this together.

TBRN: What’s next for you?

JD: Next is a story titled ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY, only they aren’t. The novel takes place in Jonesport, Maine, at a funky hotel near Acadia National Park. The book centers on a young woman, Charley Kelley, who lives and works at the hotel while caring for her ailing nana, who suffers from dementia. When the hotel owner dies, his three daughters come to Maine for a funeral and a reading of the will. The Bishop sisters and Charley will discover that getting what you deserve isn’t always the same as getting what you want.