Had any of your literary teachers ever tell you growing up that you were going to become a published writer one day?
I told them I’d be an author and they agreed, so yes. In particular, one of my elementary school teachers encouraged me to write and shared my first “book” with the other teachers on her team. She said her favorite part was the “About the Author” bio I’d written under my self-portrait at the end.
Were your parents supportive of your choice of career?
Yes and no. When I was a kid, my mother would read my stuff and say “Maybe you’ll be an author,” and I held onto that until high school. In my senior year of high school, my AP Composition teacher admonished us not to major in English because we’d never get a job. I took his “advice” and majored in Psychology. After college, I worked in mental health. I didn’t have the emotional resilience to survive the profession and I hated it.
I had an identity crisis in my mid-twenties, did a lot of work on myself and realized I’d wanted to be an author from the very beginning. I wrote an essay about the experience and after Cosmopolitan rejected it (and subsequently wrote a copycat article) a college recruiting magazine published it. That week I’d had to give up my dog, my roommate had just moved out and I was crying on my couch, trying to process the whole thing when the phone rang. The editor thanked me for the “wonderful” piece I wrote and offered to help me get a job writing. And that’s when I really knew.
That was 24 years ago, and I’ve been a professional writer since. I’ve had different types of jobs, including one as an energy lobbyist like Angie in Down to Business, and my AP English teacher couldn’t have been more wrong.
Despite a long writing career, my dad supported the concept of a paycheck but nothing else. After 17 years as a professional writer in the journalistic, nonprofit and government arenas, I was working as a freelancer. After rambling on about this “brilliant” right-winger who wrote a leaflet every month, sold advertising and dropped copies on supermarket counters, he’d asked me about my work. I told him about the national and local pubs I wrote for and he said “I guess you’ve become a writer, of sorts.” That was the most recognition I got from him.
Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?
Absolutely. Hold your heart stronger than your doubts.
What did you want to become when you were a kid?
Before I wanted to become a writer, I wanted to be “a famous woman.” I wouldn’t want that kind of fame now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m cool with millions of people reading my books and knowing my name, but fame destroys people. If I asked you right now to name five famous people who took their own lives or overdosed on drugs, you could do it in as many seconds. No one should have that kind of life.
Do your novels carry a message?
I think there’s always going to be a message, whether we intend it or not. “Down to Business” is an erotic romance, so nobody’s reading it for new insight, but its message is that plus-size women are beautiful and sexy, and we should pick a partner according to our hearts, not some idea that we should take who we can get because we’re less than society’s “ideal.”
A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, how true is that?
Depends on the situation. I’m an extrovert, but I’m not good at starting conversations with strangers, so networking is painful for me. But I’m a Parrot Head (Jimmy Buffett fan, for the uninitiated) and our raison d’etre is to be social. I entertain a lot at home too. I am alone a lot, so I need that social interaction.
It is often believed that almost all writers have had their hearts broken at some point in time, does that remain true for you as well?
If you could find someone who hasn’t, you should put her on display and sell tickets. Of course. They say comedy comes from pain and at my very core, I’m a comedienne.
From all that we have been hearing and seeing in the movies, most writers are alcoholics. Your views on that?
I prefer the term “Parrot Head.”
Is it true that anyone can be a writer?
Who said that? My husband must’ve heard it from them. He comes up with one idea for a commercial every quarter and insists he should’ve gone into advertising.
I think you need two things: Talent and passion. You need the talent to rise above all the competition and you need the passion to keep you going. That said, anyone can be a better writer. It takes practice, attention to feedback, and the desire to improve, but mostly practice.
Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?
Listen to yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be a writer. It may not happen exactly the way you planned it, but as long as you keep your goal clear, it will happen. The more you practice, the better you’ll get.
Are you “there” where you wanted to be?
Career-wise, heck no. But as a person, yes. I have reached the age where I don’t care what people think anymore, and that’s very freeing.
Has it ever happened to you that someone published your story in their own name?
Why would anyone do that? Isn’t the purpose of publishing work that you share YOUR voice? I belonged to a writing group once where we were supposed to read work posted online, and there were heartfelt pleas to respect others’ work and not plagiarize it. And to this day, I don’t understand why any “writer” would do that. I mean, on a high school research paper you’re trying to game it’s one thing, but why on earth would you sign your name to someone else’s creative work? But not understanding stuff like this is probably why I wasn’t any good at psychology.
Did you ever have a rough patch in writing, where nothing in the story seemed to fit or make sense?
Not so much in the story, but in my ability on any given day. Some days are meant for different talents. I’ve had days where nothing sounded right and the best thing I could do was quit and do something else. I was writing something for my kids’ school once and it was due the next day so I kept doing it. For two hours. Still wasn’t right. The next day I tried again and finished in 15 minutes. Sometimes we need a brain break.
Can you tell us about your current projects?
My idea for my next novel started with a character from a favorite TV show. It’s also set in Washington and my guy’s separated and vulnerable. He gets into this seriously unhealthy relationship that consumes him and he’s got to get out.
I am also working on a weight-loss book detailing the plan I followed to lose 44 pounds last year. Please understand, I’m not one of those women who makes her name being plus-sized and then loses weight. It’s not about voluptuous women becoming skinny. It’s about feeling good about your body and letting it tell you where it wants to be. The goal is to find a comfortable, sustainable weight for you.
My plan is also not about deprivation. I’m a foodie and life is too short to deprive yourself of one of its greatest pleasures. My plan is painless, sustainable and it works.
Do contemporary writers have the kind of animosity that competitors in showbiz seem to have?
Envy, yes. Animosity, no. I have a friend whose book was published last year. I was envious, but I asked myself, “Where’s YOUR book?” I could’ve done the same thing if I’d worked as hard as she did. At first, at writers’ conferences, I looked at everyone as competition. And then I helped another author write a pitch. His book was nowhere near my genre. There are so many different types of books, authors and readers, that the vast majority of other writers are just contemporaries and more likely to be collaborative than competitive.
That said, we are critical. You’re talking about a collection of grammar snobs and artisans who field regular criticism to hone their craft. When a poorly-written book becomes a blockbuster (I’m not naming names), we’re gonna grumble, because we work so diligently at making our work better by the day.
Some writers create a bubble around themselves until they’re finished with their project – how true is that in your case?
When I wrote “Down to Business,” nothing changed in my everyday life, except in the bedroom. When I conceived a sex scene, I had to stay excited and frustrated in order to make it work, so I couldn’t have sex until I was done with the chapter. My husband thought the project would be a big boon for him, so he was more than a little disappointed. Oddly enough at the time, the same thing was happening on “Mike and Molly,” and it helped that we were able to laugh about it.
How many children do you have? Do you see any young writers in any of them?
My husband, who’s a mathematician, and I, have two children. My daughter definitely got the language and writing skills from me. She loves to read and if she can focus until the end, she writes stories. My son got the analytical stuff from my husband, as well as his artistic talent. Lately, my son’s writing and illustrating little books, but my daughter did the same thing when she learned to read, and her interest eventually fizzled out, so who knows?
What advice would you like to pass on to young writers of today that is unconventional but true?
Pay attention to negative feedback. You’ll learn much more than you do from the positive. And the best thing you can do for your work is walk away from it, let it cure a bit, and come back with a fresh eye.
Which genre of book do you think should be most adopted for kids in school?
I think every genre should be adopted for kids in school. I mean, nothing damaging or inappropriate, definitely not erotic romance, but they should be exposed to every genre to give them an opportunity to get excited about reading. I have a friend who retired from teaching when the district decreed that her middle schoolers would no longer read fiction in school. I agreed that the district made a huge mistake. Kids learn voluntarily when they read fiction. Feeding them strictly non-fiction will sour reading for a lot of kids. You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.
Being an author, how susceptible are you to getting recognized on the street?
I’m nowhere near that level yet, and my author photo hides my face for a reason. Sex can bring out irrational behavior in people, so I need to protect myself and my kids, especially, from any overzealous fan.
I did have a pretty cool recognition experience once. At my high school reunion, a classmate I’d never really knew approached me. He said his wife had been reading my old blog and it mentioned his hometown, so she showed it to him. He saw my name and told her we went to school together. I guess he read some more because he told me, “You’re really brave to put all of that out there.” It was validating that I was reaching organic readers.
Were your parents reading enthusiasts who gave you a push to be a reader as a kid?
My mom read books – light fiction – all the time. My dad read the newspaper. I was an only child so I had a lot of free time alone and reading was a natural pastime. They read to me every night, and then I read to myself every night. The first time my mom let me read one of her books – I was in my teens — it was a huge rite of passage. I felt like I’d arrived as a grownup.
Do you encourage your children to read?
I hope everyone encourages their children to read.
Do you have a library at home?
I know this seems weird for an author, but no. I have a few reference books and some Dan Zadra books, but I never reread novels because life is too short. A library to me would just be clutter. I read mostly e-books now anyway. My Kindle doesn’t collect any dust.
Have you ever written fan-fiction?
I like to take a character I like and build a story around him or her. For me the character’s just a jumping-off point. He or she changes and becomes mine, and so does the story.
Do all authors have to be grammar Nazis?
“Nazi” is an antiquated term. We are the Alt-Write. Heil Webster!
If you’re going to master a language, you should respect it. You can’t break the rules until you know how to follow them. There are so many writers working for free on the web, just to be published, they don’t ensure that their editors are legit. Once you’ve got sloppy work out there, every potential employer/customer/reader can find it. Sloppy work is the quickest, easiest way to lose credibility. Writing is a competitive business so you can have thousands of competitors for one job/story/book contract. And once you lose your credibility, it’s gone.
If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
“Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” because it’s the best manual for life ever written, and let’s face it, Dr. Seuss was a genius.
What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special?
I didn’t pick chick-lit erotic romance. It picked me. It encourages women to explore and express their sexuality, without judgement or double-standards.
Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long do they usually last? Any tips you would like to share to overcome it?
I don’t believe in writer’s block. I’ve been unable to write what I intended on a given day but there was always some other subject I can explore. I’ve discovered that the result was not what I wanted to write, but it was what I needed to write. And it’s like mining for gems. Once you get the garbage around it out of the way, you can uncover something really beautiful.