The Sweetest Debut: Brit Bennett on Austen, Baldwin and ‘Scandal’ Fanfiction

Welcome to The Sweetest Debut, a new and regular installment in which we reach out to debut (or near-debut, we’re flexible!) fiction, poetry and nonfiction authors working with presses of all sizes and find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and their fan-fiction fantasies.

Brit Bennett’s The Mothers, which follows three young people in a church community over the years after a decision to have an abortion, is one of the fall’s biggest books. The author shared with Flavorwire tidbits about her writing routine, her Jane Austen preferences, and the influence of James Baldwin over her work. Keep reading for a morsel of “Scandal” fanfiction.

What is your elevator pitch to folks in the industry describing your book?

A teenage girl gets pregnant by her pastor’s son and decides to have an abortion. The book traces the ripples that choice causes throughout her life and her entire church community.

What you tell your relatives it’s about?

The effects of a teen pregnancy on a church. I keep it super vague.

How long was this project marinating in a draft or in your head before it became a book deal?

About seven or eight years.

What’s a canonical book you think is overrated?

Pride and Prejudice. Emma is better, fight me.

What’s a book you’ve read more than two times?

Beloved. I’ve read Beloved more than two times in the same year.

Is there a book or other piece of art that influenced your writing for this particular project?

Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin. I read that book as a kid, and it made an impression on me, this book about an ambivalent narrator caught up in a fervent black church community.

Do you have a favorite show to binge watch when you’re not writing?

All of them, but my standbys are Friday Night Lights and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

Hell or High Water. It was pretty good.

Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what kind?

Yes, but it has to be sort of mellow. Blonde (Frank Ocean) is the current writing soundtrack, but other go-tos this year have been The Colour in Anything (James Blake), Sound & Color (The Alabama Shakes) and Lemonade (Beyoncé).

Who is your fashion icon?

Whitley Gilbert.

Do you prefer working in a coffee shop or silent library?

Coffee shop for sure. Writing in a silent library makes me feel way too exposed.

Do you write at your desk, bed or couch?ss

Desk is better for my posture but I mostly wrote this novel on a series of cheap futons.

Are you a morning writing or late-night writing type?

The ideal is morning, before checking email or Twitter.

Do you tend towards writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?

I plan to write one big messy draft and edit later, but it usually falls somewhere in between. Sometimes the writing is so awful, I can’t move on until I fix it.

If you could write fan-fiction about any pop culture character, real or imagined, who would it be?

Olivia Pope, because Scandal obviously ends with Olivia and Mellie realizing that Fitz is the worst and riding off into the sunset together.

Care to give us a few sentences of micro-fiction about that character?

A week after the inauguration, the Oval Office finally aired out after eight years of petulance and entitlement, newly-minted chief-of-staff Olivia Pope sank on the coach across from President Mellie Grant. Who needs Vermont, she thought, as they clinked together glasses of moonshine.