Becky Chalsen’s debut novel, Kismet, set on a remote part of Fire Island, is the perfect book to take to the beach this summer. Available April 18 from Dutton, Kismet explores what happens to thirty-year-old Amy Sharp during the week before her twin-sister’s wedding, when—already protecting a painful secret and questioning the decisions she’s made in life—Amy realizes that the groom’s best man is the one person she’d hoped never to see again.
Publisher’s Weekly gave Kismet a starred review, saying, “Chalsen’s stunning debut, which walks the line between romance and women’s fiction, beautifully illustrates the power of family and forgiveness…[and] marks Chalsen as a writer to watch.”
Nancy: You are a quadruplet, with three sisters. Did that make writing about twin sisters easy, or more complicated?
Becky: I actually started out writing a book about quadruplet sisters. I’m a die-hard outliner, and I was struggling with the tug-and-pull of four major characters. I didn’t want one sister to fade into the background, but it was also my first attempt at writing a novel, and to be honest, I was afraid I wouldn’t do it justice. So, I settled for twins instead! (My husband, who is also a twin and forever eclipsed my quadruplet status, rolls his eyes when I say that.) Once I narrowed my structure down from four sisters to two, the writing was much more natural and organic. Though interestingly, my fictional twin sisters are more amalgamations of different parts of me than of my sisters.
We also have an older brother, who is a brilliant screenwriter. When he was an undergrad at Harvard, he wrote a play about triplets for his thesis. We joked that he “killed off” one of my sisters, but I think he, too, found writing four main characters a cumbersome task. We might have to save the quadruplet story for my mother’s future memoir!
Where did the idea for the novel come from?
I wrote the first page of Chapter One in my head while I was on the Kismet-bound ferry to Fire Island, back in June 2020. It was our first time out there that summer, due to the COVID pandemic. We were wearing masks and still extremely cautious, but there was also that sense of magic in the air, an ease that a beach weekend can bring. I thought it would be the perfect place for a love story. Kismet was born on that ferry ride!
Setting seems important to the novel. Can you talk about the setting and why you chose it?
Kismet is an incredible town on Fire Island, one of seventeen beach communities off the coast of Long Island. It’s only accessible by ferry—no cars are allowed on the island—so it has this feeling of being transported from time. There are about five blocks from the ferry dock to the beach, and the roads are populated with bikini-clad pedestrians, bicyclists, and groups of kids walking aimlessly with ice cream cones. It’s the stuff of summer legend. I’ve been lucky enough to have spent over a decade’s worth of summers in Kismet with my husband, Zack, and his family. It’s really such a special community. I hope readers will share in the allure.
How long have you been writing, and what else, if anything, have you written?
Kismet is my first foray into fiction! Previously, I’d only written college essays, though I’ve always loved the art of a good email.
How long did it take you to write Kismet?
I wrote my first draft in six months of Saturdays! My husband was taking a Saturday-only program for his MBA at Columbia, which was remote for the first semester because of the pandemic. Our apartment became his classroom, so I figured I’d embark on a bucket list task of my own and write a book. It was a fantastic accountability system. I built the habit of carving out space on my weekends for writing. (I have a full-time job in film/TV development during the week.)
Which character was most difficult to write?
My protagonist Amy was a delightful sort of challenge. I wrote in first person, and really wanted to put Amy through the emotional ringer…but didn’t want her to come across as whiny. I found it a hard balance to strike, to live in someone’s head enough to earn their reactions and responses as true and honest, while still building stakes and propelling the plot. I tried to be protective of Amy and found myself rereading the manuscript for an “Is-Amy-Being-Annoying” pass. I hope it worked!
Which character was the most fun to write?
The mom! She’s a blend of my mom and my maternal grandmother, Grace, who passed away shortly before I started writing. It was wonderful to honor them both through this wise, loving, free-spirted-yet-dependable figure to whom my characters could come to in times of need.
What do you want readers of Kismet to come away with?
When I wrote Kismet, I wanted to explore the doubt and anxiety that came with nearing thirty. I was married to my high school sweetheart, working at my dream job, living in the greatest city in the world—the same city as my quadruplet sisters, where we’d all laugh and see shows and have dinner with my parents at least once a week. It was everything I ever could have hoped for. And yet… I was still nervous. Am I doing everything I should be?
There’s a natural urge for the mind to wander and fill with doubt. I’m an anxious person and also an aggressive planner. Those two traits can make it hard to trust anyone, let alone myself. I wanted to investigate this idea in a novel through a character who was “living her plan,” but still wondering if she made the right choices, which I think is something universal.
This might seem cheesy, but I read a quote five years ago that I recite to myself every day. It goes: “attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.” I feel like this is the ultimate test of life. None of us will ever know if we made the right choice. All we can do is control how we choose to show up and care about the people, the places, and the commitments that surround us. I hope that through Amy’s journey, readers will be reminded that it’s okay to feel doubt, but also feel encouraged that we all have the answers within us. We can bet on ourselves.
At the same time, the best text I’ve gotten from an early reader was, “This made me want to hug my sister!” So any urge to surround oneself with sisters (or sister-like figures) would be an amazing reaction, too.
Do you have another novel in the works?
Yes! I’ve finished the draft for my second book, which is not a sequel to Kismet, but it is a return to Fire Island. Stay tuned for an announcement soon!
What question do you wish an interviewer would ask about the book, and how would you answer?
This isn’t necessarily a question, but whenever I talk about my publishing experience, I always like to flag the immense privilege I have in my life to afford me this opportunity. I wrote Kismet during COVID, when so many people were working on the frontlines, or struggling to make ends meet after layoffs, or caring for immunocompromised loved ones. Others were zoom-schooling their children, or rescheduling weddings, or even attempting to fall in love (or end a relationship) from the confines of their home. I was in none of those boats. I’d been married since 2019, to a person I’d started dating in 2010 (i.e., a person to whom I could say: “I’m going to write for eight hours, speak to you maybe at dinner,” and know he’d say, “Good luck!”) We both had steady jobs and healthy, supportive families who allowed us to turn inward–to focus on nothing else but these advancements (his business school degree, my novel.) What a privilege it was, escaping the stress of the pandemic by opening up a Word doc on my laptop Saturday morning, turning off the Wi-Fi on my laptop and phone, and traveling to Fire Island through my keyboard. It was a blessing that I know most can’t afford, and one I am so grateful for every day.
Becky Chalsen is a writer and film/TV development executive living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Kismet is her first novel.