Vol. 111 (2021) 

Five Questions for Novelist Christina Clancy





Christina Clancy's newest novel, Shoulder Season, is a coming-of-age story like no other. Set in the heady and glamorous days of the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, CNN remarked, "Don’t head for the beach, pool or lake without this glamorous new read tucked in your tote bag." Clancy's debut novel, The Second Home, was named one of Good Morning America's "25 Novels You'll Want to Read this Summer."


Her writing has appeared in the New York TimesWashington PostChicago TribuneSun Magazine and in various literary journals, including Glimmer TrainPleiades and Hobart. She holds a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with her family.


Stay Thirsty Magazine was very pleased to visit with Christina Clancy to learn more about her new book, her writing and her views on the exploitation of women.


STAY THIRSTY: Your latest book, Shoulder Season, your second novel, is the story of a small-town Wisconsin girl who becomes a Bunny at Hugh Hefner's famous Lake Geneva Playboy Club in 1981 and comes into her own amidst the glamour, sex, drugs and rock 'n roll of the Playboy mystique. With a Ph.D. in creative writing and a career teaching English at Beloit College, how did this story, so far from your background, come to you and what did you do to make it authentic?


CHRISTINA CLANCY: Well, nobody is born a Bunny. The type of young women Hefner wanted to work at his resort were a lot like I was in my early 20s: wholesome, friendly and enthusiastic. I didn’t grow up in East Troy, but if I had, and if I’d been old enough in that era, I probably would have jumped at the chance to make a ton of money, mingle with celebrities and musicians, and become more worldly.

Writing this book made me think of all the trouble I could’ve gotten into if I’d been put in some of the same situations my character Sherri got into, but also of the fun I would have had, and also, importantly, the confidence I could have built. The book is very much about the experience of inhabiting a woman’s body from the peak of youth into late midlife, and I know something about that. It’s also a book about place, and how we can think we’re too big for the places we come from, only to realize later that they have irrevocably shaped our world view. Between my own experience and my research, there was so much I could relate to that I didn’t worry about authenticity.



STAY THIRSTY: How did you develop your characters that so seamlessly explore the joys of sisterhood with the headiness of financial independence and first love? Were you guiding these characters or were they guiding you?


CHRISTINA CLANCY: I couldn’t have come up with this storyline without my research. I learned from former Bunnies and employees of the resort that the Bunnies lived together in a dorm, they were closely supervised, and that the resort really did bill itself as "family friendly." It felt like every odd detail I learned helped guide the characters’ motivations and action, from letting a quack veterinarian shoot up the Bunnies with hog tranquilizers to playing basketball in heels and costume with volunteer firefighters for a community fundraiser. It was fun to imagine how different types of women might respond to the way they were received as Bunnies.



STAY THIRSTY: The arc of the storyline travels over 40 years. How important to your characters were friendships, heartbreaks, romance and regrets? How have these themes played out in your personal life?


CHRISTINA CLANCY: The novel actually started with a prompt. Some women in their 60s asked me if I could write about women their age, because they felt they weren’t well represented in fiction. So from the start, Shoulder Season was about looking back, and how we can be haunted by a past that never feels very far away. That’s something I can relate to as I get older. I used to think you just moved on, but the mistakes we make and the people we hurt can haunt us.


I once had a former student tell me they didn’t understand the feeling of regret because they were too young. I thought, oh, just wait! I’d like to think that this book is about letting go of regret, forgiving ourselves for our mistakes, and learning to move forward in our lives.

STAY THIRSTY: What role does the idea of "going home" play in your story? What is it about the small "hometown" experience that is so appealing to readers?


CHRISTINA CLANCY: When my daughter finished reading an early draft of Shoulder Season, she said, "Mom, you wrote two books about coming home." I thought that was so perceptive of her. Even though the novel will be received as a book about Playboy Bunnies, for me it’s about East Troy, the small town my husband’s family is from.


Like Sherri, I’m a person who always thought life was better, bigger and more interesting elsewhere, but I’ve come to appreciate the places we come from and the way they stay with us. We can move, but we can’t shake our place of origin. There’s also a sense of feeling at home with ourselves. Even though this is a coming-of-age story, Sherri doesn’t really come of age until she’s in her 60’s, when she can stop torturing herself for her mistakes.

Christina Clancy

If you had had the opportunity to be a Bunny at the Playboy Club, would you have accepted the job? Looking back in time through today's lens, how does the objectification of women in the 1980s seem to you today? Did you intend your book to show the societal change from then until now?


CHRISTINA CLANCY: I totally would have accepted the job. There were so few opportunities for women to make that much money, and they could be objectified in other ways in different positions, like when Sherri says she doesn’t want a more "respectable" job working at an insurance agency because the owner pinches his female employees in the behind. Most of the women I spoke with exploited a bad system. They didn’t think to themselves: I want to preserve and perpetuate the patriarchy. Far from it.


Sadly, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I just saw that female soldiers in the Ukraine were forced to march wearing fatigues and pumps. Also, I am shocked at how dismissive people are of Playboy Bunnies, as though their stories aren’t worth telling. It seems no woman could be perceived as lighter or less consequential, or less worthy of exploration. I can’t think of another book marketed as "literary fiction" that delves into the lived experience of Bunnies, which is pretty shocking considering the ubiquity of the brand, and the prominence of Playboy in popular culture.




Christina Clancy


All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.