Meet Nancy Crochiere, Author of Graceland
This post was originally published on Dead Darlings, a blog about novel writing run by alumni of GrubStreet's Novel Incubator program.
In Nancy Crochiere’s hilarious debut, Graceland, a single mom is forced to chase her Elvis-obsessed mother and pink-haired teenaged daughter from Boston to Memphis to stop them from revealing a long-held secret. This madcap road-trip novel will make you laugh out loud and move you as these three strong women, each in her own way, careen toward an unexpected destination: self-acceptance, forgiveness, and grace.
“Graceland is a sparkling, warm-hearted, witty debut. I so enjoyed joining these three generations of women on their action-packed road trip to Memphis!” writes New York Times bestselling author Liane Moriarty.
Ann Garvin, USA Today bestselling author of I Thought You Said This Would Work, says, “Brimming with mischief and mystery, Nancy Crochiere’s Graceland is as heartfelt as it is hilarious.”
I was delighted to speak with Nancy about her funny and unforgettable debut novel.
What inspired you to center this novel around a road trip to Graceland?
For some people, Graceland is campy or tacky; for others, it’s sacred. I wanted the destination in my novel to be both. I saw a lot of comic possibility in a road trip to Elvis’s home, but also loved the metaphor of all three main characters (mother, daughter, grandmother) stumbling toward forgiveness and grace.
Did you know that Elvis would be involved in this story from the very beginning?
Not at first. Once Graceland became the destination, though, the King insisted on a role. I had a dream in which I was dating Elvis—admittedly odd, since he’s dead—but it made me wonder about other women, still alive, who had dated Elvis. I decided that Olivia, my Elvis-obsessed grandmother, had a famous date with the King that was pivotal in her life; she wants to see Graceland again before she dies.
Graceland feels perfectly paced and seamlessly structured. What is your writing process like? Are you an outliner, pantser, plotter, something else?
Oh, thank you for the compliment, but you don’t want to know about my process! I’m not a good example, I’m a horrible warning. I probably wrote 500,000 words to get to the final word count of 90-something. I started as a pant-ser, since I knew nothing about novel-writing. After taking the Novel Incubator course, though, and studying books like Lisa Cron’s Story Genius, I’m determined to be more of a plotter going forward. I believe some combination of the two is ideal.
When Hope realizes her daughter and mother have taken off on a trip to Graceland, she says, “I can’t let them do this. My daughter can barely drive. My mother can barely breathe.” That made me laugh even though, as a mom, I would have been hyperventilating! There are so many hilarious twists and turns in this novel. What are your tips for writers on how to blend comedy with drama?
For me, comic writing comes naturally because that’s my particular lens on the world. I love to laugh and make other people laugh. I married my husband because he made me laugh. So, when I write, it’s what comes out. I wish I had some tips to offer in terms of writing humor; I suspect you’re either wired that way or you’re not.
What advice would you give to writers working on their first novel?
Persist. Keep at it. Never give up. I’m a great believer in persistence. I’m also an advocate of workshopping your writing, because it’s hard to have perspective on one’s own work. My fellow writers in the Novel Incubator, Post-incubator, and my writing group have kept me from falling headlong down some odd rabbit holes.
The relationship between Olivia and her granddaughter, Dylan, reminded me of the relationship between Deborah, the aging comedian trying to salvage her career, and Ava, the entitled, ambitious millennial comedy writer, in Hacks. Olivia is an aging, sometimes overly self-involved soap-star, who is obsessed with seeing Graceland one last time. Dylan, meanwhile, is a passionate—and sometimes impatient and impulsive—activist at the beginning of her life’s journey. It was funny and satisfying to see them connect across the generational divide. What were some challenges in writing about their relationship?
At first, I made Olivia and Dylan’s relationship too congenial, when, in truth, each is using the other for her own ends. So, as I revised, I made them more wary of each other, at least in the beginning. Olivia fears Dylan is too impulsive and calls her “a blender with the top off.” Dylan worries Olivia is withholding information from her. Their arc toward mutual appreciation is part of their journey.
Hope is sandwiched between her overdramatic mother, Olivia, and her endearing, exasperating, and sometimes overdramatic daughter, Dylan. Never in the limelight, Hope is a people pleaser, who hasn’t had the chance to please herself, and I was rooting for her all the way to Memphis. What would you like us to take from her story?
I wanted to write a novel about this deep need to please others, often at the expense of our true selves. So Graceland became, at heart, a story about identity. On the journey, each of the main characters grapples with this issue of who she is versus who (she believes) others want her to be. Hope especially. It’s Jordan, Hope’s cross-dressing best friend, who can see what Hope’s doing to herself and how it’s affecting her relationships. As someone who’s fought hard to live her truth, Jordan is in a unique position to call Hope out on it.
It’s tough right now for writers trying to get their books out in the world. Tell us about your path to publication.
It took three years. I began querying in February 2020, just as the pandemic took hold. At that time, no one, neither agents nor publishers, had a clue what to sign or what people were going to want to read. So I queried A LOT of agents for eight or nine months, with some interest but no bites. I finally took the manuscript back for almost a year, forced myself to tighten it, and worked with a development editor to polish. After that, I got an agent and book-deal fairly quickly.
What’s next for you?
I’m hoping for some cake. If I get that, then maybe another novel. But no cake, no novel. A girl’s gotta draw a line somewhere.
Nancy Crochiere’s debut novel, Graceland, published by Avon/HarperCollins on May 30, 2023, is available wherever books are sold. Prior to trying her hand at fiction, Nancy wrote a humor column about family life titled “The Mother Load” for thirteen years. Her essays have appeared in The Boston Globe, Writer’s Digest, and WBUR’s Cognoscenti blog. She is inordinately fond of cake.