Interview: Elyssa Friedland Author of Last Summer at the Golden Hotel.

By V. Jolene Miller

For bookworms who know the book is always better, how about a book that has the same flair of a classic movie and a quirky television show? It may be hard to believe, but everyone is raving about Elyssa Friedland’s latest novel, Last Summer at the Golden Hotel. Relax during these summer months, and get acquainted with the quirky characters visiting the Golden Hotel. Then, decide for yourself. Do they make you laugh like the characters on Schitt’s Creek? Or, does the Golden Hotel bring back memories from Dirty Dancing? Maybe, a little bit of both…

Last Summer at the Golden Hotel is the talk of the town — the praise list just keeps growing! Tell our readers who and what you love most about the story of the Golden Hotel. 

EF: I am very lucky the book is resonating with so many readers. I think people are nostalgic for a simpler time, for vacations in the mountains where you played cards and tennis, caught up with old friends, and felt like the hotel was your second home. Vacations today are shorter and have constant connectivity because of our devices. I like best that my book transports readers to that simpler escape. I worked hard to make the writing very immersive so that people would actually feel like they were in the Catskills while reading. As for the characters, I love them all. It’s like choosing which is my favorite child. They all have strengths and flaws, like real people. 

Your website says Last Summer at the Golden Hotel is like a cross between Schitt’s Creek and Dirty Dancing, how did you come up with this combination? 

EF: Well, it wasn’t really me that came up with that. Early readers kept saying that to me. Dirty Dancing for the obvious reasons that the Golden Hotel is a similar hotel to Kellerman’s. Both are set in the Catskills and are for primarily Jewish families (though that’s never explicitly stated in the movie). And Schitt’s Creek I think because it’s also about a family with quirky members that grows closer while tending to a hotel. There is a dry humor in GOLDEN that echoes Schitt’s Creek. 

In the early pages of the book, the Goldmans toast tradition. How do you feel about tradition, and in what ways did your feelings about tradition influence the novel?

EF: I think traditions are very important. I’m a big fan of looking backward as well as forward. My grandparents all lived through World War II in Europe and built lives for themselves in America. That’s pretty impressive. I want to honor them by observing their traditions and also learn from those traditions how they helped sustain them during difficult times. I’m not a very religious person, but I enjoy the traditions in Judaism, and not just the food. Keeping simple traditions (like wine and challah on Friday nights) gives my family a moment to pause and reflect on the week. It’s nice to have something regular in our constantly erratic lives. One of the major themes in GOLDEN is how to balance tradition with modernization. I believe there’s a way to synthesize them – readers who finish the book will know what I mean!

To date, you’ve written 4 novels. Next, is a picture book? What made you decide to delve into picture books?

EF: I didn’t specifically decide I wanted to write a picture book. It was more that I had an idea that I fell in love with, and so decided to pursue it. I’d written elaborate letters to my children as the Tooth Fairy for years, and one day it occurred to me – there’s a picture book in this. THE MUSEUM OF LOST TEETH will be out in fall 2022. But I also have another adult book coming out then. MOST LIKELY is set to publish September 2022. It’ll be a busy season. 

You teach creative writing at Yale and you write creative fiction. Do you ever experience writer’s block, and if so, how do you manage the symptoms?

EF: I experience the worst writer’s block when I’m trying to come up with an idea for a new novel. That can take months and months, and I get nowhere. Fortunately, once I hit on an idea that I love, the writing part comes fairly easily. I don’t suffer block once I get going, though I certainly write some pretty terrible bits that need to be scrapped upon a second read. In order to hit on an idea that’s worth devoting a novel to, I’m honestly just patient and wait for it to come to me. Because trying to force a bad idea onto the page is torture. 

Before writing full-time for a living, you were a lawyer…care to share how that change came about?

EF: I’ve always wanted to be a professional writer. But it’s not an easy career. It’s hard to make money, it’s hard to catch a break, it’s confusing how to enter the field. Publishing can feel very opaque, and I was intimidated by that. I took the safer route of going to law school and working at a large firm. I had a terrific job in New York City at a prestigious firm, but my creative impulses weren’t satisfied. I knew I wasn’t in the right profession and so I decided to take a leap and do what I really love. It paid off! 

About the Book:

In its heyday, The Golden Hotel was the crown jewel of the hotter-than-hot Catskills vacation scene. For more than sixty years, the Goldman and Weingold families – best friends and business partners – have presided over this glamorous resort which served as a second home for well-heeled guests and celebrities. But the Catskills are not what they used to be – and neither is the relationship between the Goldmans and the Weingolds. As the facilities and management begin to fall apart, a tempting offer to sell forces the two families together again to make a heart-wrenching decision. Can they save their beloved Golden or is it too late?

Long-buried secrets emerge, new dramas and financial scandal erupt, and everyone from the traditional grandparents to the millennial grandchildren wants a say in the hotel’s future. Business and pleasure clash in this fast-paced, hilarious, nostalgia-filled story, where the hotel owners rediscover the magic of a bygone era of nonstop fun even as they grapple with what may be their last resort.

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Article originally Published in the August / September 2021 Issue: Summer Reads.

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