Wendy Wax has an attention-grabbing way with words, from the almost-too-snappily-good-to-be-true name she writes under (it’s her maiden handle) to some of her earlier novels’ catchier titles:
“Single in Suburbia.” “Hostile Makeover.” And — who could resist?— “Leave It to Cleavage.”
“Apparently I’m very popular in prison because of that one,” Wax said wryly.
That’s one way to ensure a captive audience. An even better one, “While We Were Watching Downton Abbey,” arrives in bookstores on Tuesday, just in time to fill the yawning void left by the recent disappearance from TV of Carson the Butler, the Dowager Countess, Anna and Bates.
Even — eek! — Thomas the Evil Footman.
It’s the ninth romantic comedy novel from East Cobb resident Wax. And maybe her most irresistible premise yet: Three women living in an historic Peachtree Street building become friends during a personally tumultuous period in which the one constant is a weekly group screening of “Downton Abbey.”
“I’m sort of stunned by the fact that it appears to be the only contemporary novel coming out that’s inspired by ‘Downton Abbey,’” Wax, 57, said in an interview at a coffeehouse near Piedmont Park and her characters’ fictional home, The Alexander. “I have a huge amount of respect for the series, and for [creator] Julian Fellowes. That’s why I dedicated my book to him!”
Plenty of other people “respect” (read: obsess over) “Downton Abbey,” a period drama set in early 20th century England that’s won nine Emmys in two seasons (Season 3 ended last month) and almost singlehandedly made PBS the hippest grandma on network TV. The joint British-U.S. production about the titled, colorfully troubled Crawley family and their servants has spawned numerous non-fiction “companion” books and birthed entire blogs devoted to actor sightings and“spoiler alerts!” for Season 4, currently being filmed.
That excitement is carrying over to “WWWWDA” (Wax’s shorthand for her latest). In England, where the real Highclere Castle in Hampshire plays Downton Abbey onscreen, Orion will publish the book in August. That’s a first for Wax, who’s been published in other countries, but never before in the U.K. A book-inspired sweepstakes being announced in the April 15th issue of Woman’s World magazine includes a trip to London and a visit to Highclere.
In metro Atlanta, meanwhile, five author events/signings already are scheduled. FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock hosts a “pre-launch” party March 30 featuring “Downton”-themed contests, traditional English tearoom fare, even a “Crawley” cocktail.
The backdrop of “WWWWDA” might be an Edwardian England TV show, but much of the plot feels unmistakably modern Atlanta: Brooke, the frazzled young divorced mom, despairs of ever making it through rush hour traffic to Lenox Mall; Claire, the writer who’s just moved intown from the suburbs, occupies her time walking to Piedmont Park and other Midtown hot spots when she should be home working.
Yet other aspects of the story are timeless — and tantalizingly Downtonian. One character has mother-in-law tensions (who doesn’t?), with a Dowager Countess-like creature living in Buckhead. A handsome cad (aren’t they all?) is no less a workplace headache for the Alexander’s dignified concierge than “Downton’s” Thomas is for Carson.
But that’s about as far as any similarities go. Wax instead uses the real-life issue of “Downton Abbey’s” appeal as a jumping off point for a story about characters who grow, individually and together, into their more fully realized selves.
“I write stories where women are brought together through one outside thing,” said Wax. “I write about people who are on journeys.”
The Florida native’s journey began at UGA’s Grady College of Journalism (she’s a University of South Florida grad), followed by producing and reporting at the Tampa PBS affiliate. Later, she did voice over work, hosted a radio show called “Desperate & Dateless” (the inspiration for her first novel, “7 Days and 7 Nights”) and, with her husband, John Adler, raised two sons who are now in college.
“WWWWDA” ends satisfyingly, but many readers still might want to know what happens next to its endearing characters. While Wax doesn’t rule out writing a sequel if there’s a demand, right now, she shares the same pressing concern as most other “Downton Abbey” fans:
“I just want Season 4 to get here!”