Top Ten Questions People Ask Me (in no particular order)
National Read Across America Day is March 2, 2022. This "holiday" celebrates the joy of reading, and just happens to coincide with the birthday of an author who believed joy was the number one reason to create books for children: Dr. Seuss. In keeping with the idea that reading is a fun activity, I thought this month I would share a peek through the looking glass and offer some insight into what it's like to write a book intended to elicit a happy response from a reader.
I began writing novels in 2019 when I started my MFA program. I learned early on that I tend to write pretty quickly, and after three semesters, I'd written three complete first drafts of novels that all had similar themes. They were all slightly heavy, women's fiction, and by the time I was getting ready to pen my fourth novel in my final semester of graduate school, I decided that maybe it was time to try writing something different.
My mentor asked me what I enjoyed reading most, and I told him the truth: I read light fiction - the funnier, the better - and I like love stories. I read all the time for work, so when I read for pleasure I want it to be as enjoyable as possible! As a result, I wrote a romantic comedy for my final semester in graduate school... and wouldn't you know? That was the story that landed me a literary agent - and a book deal! So now, I'm sticking to rom-com as my genre of choice - at least for the foreseeable future.
People have interesting responses when they find out I'm a writer, ranging from "Oh, that's a cute hobby," to "What have you written that I would recognize?" and everything in between. Here are some commonly asked questions that I've gotten, along with my answers to them.
1) What's your "process?"
When I write, I need my space to be as quiet as possible and free of distractions. I use the computer to write. (I'm not a paper and pen kind of person, and my handwriting has gotten worse as I've gotten older!) I have a candle that I sometimes light - it's from Yankee Candle and it's called Autumn in the Park. It just sort of helps me get into a more "zen" place. I sometimes listen to music on my headphones, but not always. I set aside at least three hours per writing session. I find that if I don't have at least that much time, it's really hard to get into the zone.
2) What's your book about? My debut novel is called The Yearbook. It's about a woman named Gracie who writes romance novels for a living, but is struggling (both financially and emotionally) because she can't seem to figure out her own happily-ever-after. After a particularly bad breakup, she goes out with her friends and drinks a little too much - and ends up e-mailing her high school crush, Colin Yarmouth, at his office. What happens afterwards is the meat of the story, and it's basically like a yummy bag of homemade Chex Mix: a combination of sweet, salty, and spicy. (That last sentence might make you wonder if I'm hungry right now. The answer is yes. Always!)
3) How long does it take to write a book? That depends. It varies greatly from one author to the next. Personally, I have grown accustomed to writing one manuscript per semester - so, two per year. I like the semester schedule because in the summer I try to spend as much time in Cape Cod with my family as possible, and in December I try to be fully present for the holiday season. Writing from January - May and September - early December makes that possible.
4) When did you start writing? I've been writing since I was a kid, but I only started writing novels when I entered my MFA program. I've been fascinated with the English language from a very early age, and I used to (and still) write song lyrics as a hobby. I majored in English in college because I preferred writing papers to taking tests. I wrote my first piece of creative non-fiction when I was 21 years old, and it was an incredibly transcendent experience that made me see writing in a whole new light. I learned it could be used therapeutically, a lesson which has stayed with me throughout adulthood. And, of course, I ended up working in a field where there's a lot of writing - grants, reports, newsletter articles, etc.
5) Have you ever had writer's block? Hm. Not really. There are definitely times when I struggle with a scene or with a plot twist, but I don't think I've ever had a real block. Usually, I push through it by creating dialogue for my characters. I feel like they're most alive in active scenes, and this might sound weird, but during dialogue, my mind just takes off, and the story kind of writes itself.
6) What's your favorite book? This is a tough question, because I love so many books. I'll say my favorite book this past year has been The People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry. But my favorite book of all time? It might be 28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand. She's my favorite author.
7) If your book was a movie, who would you choose to be the actors?
I could see Gracie being played by Aimee Teegarden and Colin being played by someone like Ryan Reynolds but younger (oh, how it pains my heart to say that - as if Ryan Reynolds is old?!)... maybe Zac Efron? Supporting actors would be Michelle Trachtenberg as Melly (I went to college with her sister and think she would be a perfect fit!) and possibly Bryan Greenberg for the role of Dom.
8) Are the characters in your novels based on people in your real life?
No, although there are pieces of me in every female protagonist I write, and sometimes there are character traits or little anecdotes that I steal from other people who I'm close to. For example, Colin Yarmouth pitches a no-hitter in high school. My husband did that, and we joke that as a result of his adolescent athletic prowess, he peaked in high school. (He didn't, of course, but it's still a running joke in our house.)
9) Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer?
Read!! Seriously. Read all the craft books and all the books you can get your hands on in your genre. My favorite craft books are Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway and Story Fix by Larry Brooks but there are tons and tons of other amazing books out there! And then, write. Religiously. At least five times a week. Once you make a practice of it, you'll get better and better at it. Lastly, don't be afraid to ask for feedback, but if you do, make sure you listen to the feedback you get, especially as a new writer. Criticism is tough but the publishing world is filled with it on so many levels that you'll need to develop a thick skin if you want to pursue writing as a career.
10) So... where can I buy your book?
Ha! You can't - yet. My debut novel, The Yearbook, won't be released until early 2023. But once it's out there, you'll be able to find it at Barnes and Noble or on Amazon, and hopefully at lots of indie bookstores, especially on Long Island and Cape Cod, since those are my twin hometowns.