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Author Talk: June 5, 2015

Laura Dave is the author of three previous books, and her latest, EIGHT HUNDRED GRAPES, is being hailed as her breakout hit. Set in the lush backdrop of Sonoma’s wine country, it’s a heartbreaking, funny and deeply evocative novel about love, marriage, family, wine and the treacherous terrain in which they all intersect. In this interview, Dave opens up about setting her story in the heart of wine country and her fascination with the winemaking process --- in addition to some of her favorite wines. She also talks about why she is constantly surprised and delighted by her characters and the exciting new novel she’s working on next.

Question: I have to ask, did you have a particular celebrity in mind when you wrote Michelle? How did you research her character?

Laura Dave: Funny. No, Michelle is entirely her own. Michelle serves, in my mind, as kind of a glorified version of Georgia’s insecurity: a person that looms large in Georgia’s imagination and always manages to make her feel inadequate. That’s why I have Michelle show up at the moments that Georgia looks terrible. Symbolically, if not literally, Michelle is going to elicit that feeling for Georgia until she deals with herself.

Separate from Georgia, I have great fondness for Michelle. She is searching for family, for connection. And even if she’s arguably doing it the wrong way, I like that we see her kindness with Maddie, her kindness with Ben. I like to think she holds on to her family despite herself.

Q: Speaking of research, you spent a lot of time in Sebastapol --- home of the Last Straw Vineyard. Tell us what that experience was like. What surprised you about the winemaking process?

LD: Western Sonoma County is such a special place. I started exploring Sebastopol in particular shortly after moving to California, and the more time I spend there, the more it’s become a place I hold dear. There are a lot of changes in Sebastopol, and yet, it remains true to itself.

To really understand that region though, you have to get down and dirty with the winemaking --- and that has been the greatest treat of all. I was fortunate to spend time with some of the best winemakers in the world, and watching their devotion to their craft was so inspiring.

To answer your question about the most surprising part of the winemaking process? The barreling and blending process was especially interesting. My husband equated it to watching a master chef make a stew. It was fascinating.

Q: Do you have a favorite wine? What is your go to? What do you drink on special occasions?

LD: I like prosecco a lot. Even if you’re a champagne drinker, I could share a few types of dry prosecco that would turn your head. And even the great ones won’t run you more than 14 dollars.

My true love though is a red wine. I’ve been indoctrinated. I love a Tuscan red. My passion is for premium domestic wines from small vineyards that believe in low-yields and sustainable harvesting. I’m especially partial to a great California Pinot Noir. Lynmar Estate’s Quail Hill Pinot is among my favorites. It’s jammy and delicious. Their vineyard is my first stop in Sonoma County.

Q: Tell us about your writing process for this book. Did it differ at all from your three previous novels?

LD: Every novel is so different. For EIGHT HUNDRED GRAPES, I was playing with an image for a long time of a woman showing up at her hometown bar on what should have been her wedding day. I didn’t know who she was talking to, and I didn’t know why she had come home, but that woman stayed with me. Somewhere along the line, I also started thinking about winemaking --- how it was such an expression of faith and patience. How it required you to give it everything you had. Which seemed to me a metaphor for marriage and family and building a life that matters. Suddenly I knew where the woman in the wedding dress was going. And this novel was born.

Q: You have vast experience in the media industry, from magazine writing to radio to television. What has been the greatest challenge for you thus far?

LD: I don’t know about that, but it’s been interesting to learn how different mediums require different ways of thinking about story. I’m currently writing the screenplay for EIGHT HUNDRED GRAPES (which is in development at Fox 2000), and even though it’s based on the novel, it has taken on a different life as we turn it into a movie. It’s challenging in a great way to tell the Fords’ story on the big screen.

Q: Which character surprised you the most as you developed the story? Who would you most like to return to?

LD: I don’t write an outline, so everyone is constantly surprising me! I figure if the characters are surprising me, then my readers are going to get to have that same great experience. I have a real affinity for Jacob, who was full of surprises. I knew he felt things for Georgia, but I had no idea what he was going to do about those feelings: How would he reconcile his desire to be a good person with his new position at his company? He couldn’t possibly give Georgia back her vineyard, could he? Yet, could he walk away from this family he was starting to care about? At the moment when I realized what he was going to do, I found it very rewarding.

As for the character that I’d most like to return to, I have to pick Ben.

Q: Do you have a big family? Which Ford sibling do you most relate to --- Georgia, Finn or Bobby?

LD: I have a small and very loving family. Though I’ve always dreamed of a big family --- lots of people running around causing all kinds of trouble. So, with the Ford family, I relate to all of them and, at times, none of them.

I adore the Ford family, but they all feel like wildcards. Especially as I moved deeper into the writing, the Fords were doing things I wouldn’t normally do, and I felt myself holding my breath that each of them would find their way through. My heart breaks for all of them, and I’m rooting for all of them. So I guess, surprisingly, I most see myself in Jen Ford, the mother character, who just wants her children to come through for one another and for themselves.

Q: What’s up next? Do you have another novel in the works? What can you tell us about it?

LD: It’s a lot of fun. The protagonist is unlike any protagonist I’ve ever written about before. She’s a pretty awful person --- at least she appears to be upon meeting her. At the same time, she would be the first to say that about herself, which automatically makes you root for her, probably more than you should. Without spilling too many of the beans, I will say it’s a redemption story about the power of lying and the power of finding something like the truth.