We’re giving away a copy of Everybody Rise here!
“It starts with something that we can all understand,” Stephanie Clifford tells Paste, “yet it ends with massive fraud.” The Loeb Award-winning reporter covers Brooklyn courts for The New York Times, and she explains that the defendants’ crimes “always start small.” Their gradual spiral out of control inspired her to write Everybody Rise, her debut novel following 26-year-old Evelyn Beegan’s desperate descent into chaos.
The book opens with Evelyn starting a new job at People Like Us, an exclusive social networking site for the wealthy elite. Tasked with recruiting new members, she quickly immerses herself in a world of Adirondack camps, fashion shows and debutante balls. But when Evelyn attempts to pass herself off as “old money,” her web of lies begins to fall apart at the seams.
Paste caught up with Clifford to learn about the challenges of writing Everybody Rise, her early experiences in New York City and the slippery slope to criminal behavior.
Paste: What sparked your imagination to write Everybody Rise?
Stephanie Clifford: We’ve all been in a place where we’ve wanted something that’s not good for us, and I wondered what it would be like to take that to the extreme. I cover Brooklyn courts for the [New York] Times, and one interesting thing I see at sentencings is that the defendants’ crimes always start small. It starts with something that we can all understand, even if we wouldn’t do it—say, fudging office expenses—yet it ends with massive fraud. What do people tell themselves as they’re getting into hotter water? How do they justify it? Writing about how Evelyn gets deeper and deeper into trouble was a really interesting process.
Paste: What was your research process like for this novel?
Clifford: Part of that was reading (sociology studies, etiquette books, memoirs of people from this world). I also did a lot of reporting to understand what the world Evelyn joins is all about. For instance, one of the gigs I did when I first came to New York and was freelancing was covering fashion shows for a Fashion Week supplement. I’d never been to a fashion show before, and I was fascinated by the anthropology of it: Why were these people in the first row, and these in the second? Why did these attendees get there early, and these walk in at the last minute? What did the front-row denizens talk about, what did they wear and how did they move? That was one of the sparks for the novel—trying to understand this rather foreign world.
Paste: “Evelyn found herself in her mid-20s without any semblance of the life she expected to have.” I feel like this describes many individuals, myself included. Why did you choose to set the novel in Evelyn’s mid-20s?
Clifford: I’m glad it felt familiar—it was my experience in my 20s, too! I moved to New York at 24 and expected the city would welcome me with open arms. Instead, I found it really hard. I couldn’t get a job for two years, and I was freelancing, taking every assignment I could to try to make rent. Meanwhile, it felt like the people around me were on these secure career paths while I was just flailing. I wanted to write about what that felt like, and, for someone like Evelyn, who so wants to make it in New York, what decisions that might lead her to.
Paste: What was the most challenging scene for you to write in Everybody Rise?
Clifford: It got difficult as Evelyn got more and more caught up in this world of glamor and money. She wants to fit in so badly that she becomes close to delusional. I wanted to keep it from going into farce or pure satire and still have her motives be understandable, even if they don’t provoke sympathy. That was a difficult line to walk.
Paste: Can you share any details about what you’re writing next?
Clifford: My court coverage for the Times is everything from the Mafia to terrorism to gang cases to wrongful convictions. There’s so much human drama going on every day here, so I’m interested in writing something set in the criminal-justice world.