Writing duo Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman discussed their debut novel “Girls With Bright Futures” during a virtual gathering of the Northwest Passages Book Club moderated by the Spokesman-Review’s Kristi Burns Thursday.
Longtime friends, Katzman and Dobmeier supported each other through their respective children’s college admissions experiences. Whether it was the heightened competition or “toxic self-doubt” that they started to see plaguing the other mothers around them, they were there for each other, but they were also fascinated by the unusual social dynamics surrounding them.
Irreverent and suspenseful, “Girls With Bright Futures” explores the dangers of college prep culture as it follows a group of mothers in an elite Seattle community as they become embroiled in an admissions scandal.
Burns opened by asking how the early success of the book affected them.
“This is kind of a dream come true for us,” Dobmeier said.
“Our hope had been to write a book, and get it published,” Katzman said. “For so long the story had lived in our heads, and so to see it shared with other people and see their reaction to it … it sounds corny, but it’s magical.”
Burns followed up, asking how they’ve managed to keep their partnership positive and productive.
Dobmeier explained a lot of it has to do with the length and depth of their friendship. After meeting through their husbands, their families moved from the east coast to Seattle around the same time.
“Neither of us had any extended family here, so we filled that role for each other,” Dobmeier said. “We raised our kids together, celebrated a lot of milestones and supported each other through a lot of ups and downs.”
They worked so well together that whether they ended up starting a business, building an app or writing a book together, collaboration seemed inevitable, Katzman explained.
When Dobmeier’s older children “entered the college admissions pipeline,” both families suddenly experienced their own separate health crises.
“Everyone’s fine now, but it was those odd, terrifying coincidences, during these college frenzy years that gave us this unique perspective,” Katzman said. “That juxtaposition between health and college admissions was our original inspiration.”
With their inspiration squared away, they just had to figure out how to write a novel.
They had plenty of writing experience; Dobmeier was a lawyer, Katzman was a marketing executive. But they had no formal training in creative writing.
But reading Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly” convinced them to skip the MFAs and dive right in.
As they were finishing their first manuscript, the 2018 college admissions scandal was breaking on national news.
“We weren’t all that surprised that there was this type of criminal behavior, but we were definitely surprised by how brazen it was and the extent of the conspiracy,” Katzman said.
Burns asked what kind of research they did outside of their experiences supporting their own children through the admissions process.
They recommended “Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite” by William Dershowitz, among other works.
They spoke at length about the process of writing back and forth, and crafting characters together. Marin, the heroine of the story, proved the most difficult but also the most rewarding.
“Girls with Bright Futures” is available at Auntie’s Bookstore. For information, visit dobmeierkatzman.com.
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