We Talk With Author Ilana Manaster About ‘Doreen’

Authors are our people. We were excited to sit and talk to Ilana Manaster about her book Doreen.

Here’s the synopsis:

If Doreen Gray were to take a selfie upon her arrival at the elite Chandler
Academy, it would capture a face marked with acne, a head full of frizz, and eyes looking anywhere but at the lens.

What Chandler queen bee Heidi Whelan sees is a desperate hunger for acceptance and the makings of a willing and useful protégé. Heidi’s roommate, Biz Gibbons-Brown, works her Photoshop magic to create a stunning profile pic of Doreen—a glossy, digital makeover that Doreen initially rejects . . . only to wake up the next morning transformed as the girl in the picture.
But Doreen quickly becomes accustomed to her newfound power and lives without considering consequences of her actions. Only the picture knows the truth, and she will do anything to protect her secret.
In this sharp, scandal-filled retelling of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the men of nineteenth-century London become three girls of twentyfirst-century New England.

Q: What is your favorite Oscar Wilde story and why?

A: The man himself said “I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my works” and I think my favorite story is the one he lived. A brilliant scholar, epic socializer and theorist, he lived with size and was made to suffer for that.

Q: What time period do you think you would prefer to live in and why?

A: Oh boy, I have thought much about this over the years. I think that life has only gotten better for women, and so, in many ways right now is the best possible time to be living as a woman. That said, I would have loved to go to a party or two at Gertrude Stein’s house in Paris in the twenties. Also, to be a fly on the wall at Birdland in the fifties to see Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Betty Carter, Lester Young, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone and on and on and on. And then to drop by the Cedar Tavern in the village and hang with the abstract expressionists, Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollack, Mark Rothko. Plus the Beats hung out there. I could totally have been friends with Allen Ginsburg and Frank O’Hara. Jack Kerouac would not have liked me, I have a feeling. Too serious. In any case, I think I have talked myself into 1950s NYC as the best possible time and place that I can think of. It was when the art world was moving from Europe to America and the country was beginning to find itself, aesthetically.

Q: Is there any song that spurred you on during writing Doreen?

A: I work in total silence whenever I can.

Q: How would you describe your book beyond its obvious inspiration of Dorian Gray?

A: Doreen takes as its inspiration, not only the story of Dorian Gray, but also the themes. What struck me about the original, in particular, is the exploration of influence—the dangers of being both influential and influenceable. Doreen is in many ways Heidi’s story. Up until the arrival of Doreen, Heidi has allowed the influence of others to poison her feelings about herself and her background. She has to learn, as a result of this book, how to stand up for who she really is, how to own where she comes from. It’s a morality tale, about discovering and defending your true self.

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