Interview with Gail Ward Olmsted, author of “Jeep Tour”

How important is research to you when writing a book?

It’s definitely important to me. Although I write fiction- contemporary romance, I like to make sure that I’m authentic. When I describe the beauty of Sedona, Arizona- the setting for my first book JEEP TOUR, I really wanted to get it right. One reader said she could actually taste the dust from the red rocks in the desert while reading, and I was thrilled. Same with Ireland, the setting for my most recent novel- Driving on the Left. I had a beta reader from Dublin fact check distances, names and neighborhoods for me. Also the use of slang. I would hate to have a Dubliner say- ‘that’s not what we sound like.’

What works best for you: Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand?

I am a MacBook fan. I take mine everywhere!! I frequently scribble notes by hand (half the time I’m like- what the hell? when I try to decipher them) but most times it’s all about the keyboard.

What inspires you to write?

I am a very visual person and I like to picture my main characters as real people- the whole time I wrote JEEP TOUR, the actress Kristen Wiig was in my brain. Flawed characters, snippets from my past and snappy dialogue keep me going. Sheer physical beauty- the red rocks of Sedona and the sweeping beauty of Dingle Bay in Ireland are truly inspiring as well.

Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?

Not for me! I have a very active family life, love to spend time with my friends and I seek out social situations. That being said, I do enjoy the hour or two I can carve out to write or read. There has to be a balance, but most times, I am with my husband, kids or my close friends.

Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?

I have a general idea of the storyline, but it’s not until I am 75% or more through the story, before I really know how it will end. Although I generally look for a ‘happy ever after’ ending, there are lots of ways to be happy and it’s not always what you might think.

What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?

Dialogue, hands down is the easiest for me. I get to know my characters really well and as I am typing, I edit myself with ‘She would never say that’. I love to have my characters interrupt each other or trail off in the middle of a sentence. Drives my editor crazy, but I think it’s more realistic.

Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?

I have always been an avid reader and I enjoy so many different genres. My favorite authors are: Dennis Lehane (brilliant, met him twice- I’m a certified stalker) Claire Cook (she’s just so relatable) and Stephen King (what more can I say?) My favorite books are Trinity by Leon Uris, Gone with the Wind, The Stand (King) and The Given Day (Lehane).

What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion?

I have to be able to relate to the main characters. I don’t have to like them or even respect them, but I have to get them, to be able to picture them in the situation. The setting is also important to me. I like contemporary novels best, but an occasional flashback to an earlier time works too.

How would you feel if no one showed up at your book signing?

I would be very upset with all of the friends and family members who I had bribed to be there. But yeah, that would be awful. My first reading, I had 3 attendees. I tried to look at it as good practice, but I was very disappointed. Since then, I pay friends and family to fill seats. Not really, but maybe?

Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?

Don’t worry so much. Don’t concern yourself with people who suck. Use more sunscreen and floss regularly. Talk to your mom every single chance you get.

How much of yourself do you put into your books?

I put quite a bit of myself into my characters. When my husband read JEEP TOUR for the first time, he said it was like looking into my brain. He could hear me in every word I wrote. Jill Griffin from Guessing at Normal and I share very similar backgrounds- blue collar, dysfunctional households, alcoholic dads. I change a lot of the details, but there is a deep vein of truth in everything I write.

How realistic are your books?

Extremely realistic I think. I write likeable, flawed women and men trying to get to their happy place, making some pretty stupid decisions but ending up okay.

Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?

I am working on a sequel of sorts to Guessing at Normal. Jill Griffin is now a single mom trying to succeed as a songwriter. She lands a hot new client (former lead of a top boy band, now a solo artist) and despite a significant age difference (she’s 42, he’s 28) they get romantically involved. I will not type the word ‘cougar’ into the manuscript, I swear. I hate that word. I mean, what do you call an older man who’s with a younger woman, besides ‘lucky’ that is?

Who are your books mostly dedicated to?

My husband of 32 years, Deane, the love of my life and/or my late mom Anne Brennan Ward. Unconditional love from both of them has influenced me so positively. Also my lovely daughter Hayley and my amazing son Conor. They have enriched my life in ways I never could have imagined. I have been blessed.

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?

I wore my heart on my sleeve as a young woman and dated many truly inappropriate boys/young men. Back then, I felt like my heart got broken often, but now, in hindsight, I can see that there were only two relationships prior to meeting my husband that were truly significant. One of them, alas, did break my heart. But I was fully recovered by the time I met my future husband at the age of 26.

If given the opportunity to do it all over again, would you change anything in your books?

I would have made my male love interests billionaires, zombies or cowboys. Not really, but that’s what sells.

Do you have a day job other than being a writer? And do you like it?

Yes, I do have a day job and I love it. I am a college professor and I teach marketing. I have been teaching for over twenty years following a career in marketing. Every class is different, every semester is a new challenge and every summer is free!!

From all that we have been hearing and seeing in the movies, most writers are alcoholics. Your views on that?

Hmmm. I know lots of other writers and I’m pretty sure that none of them have serious drinking problems. I also know plenty of alcoholics and none of them write, so… I don’t drink, haven’t for over twenty years (just a personal choice) but don’t mind when those around me do drink. I think it’s a Hollywood thing- the brilliant writer, sitting alone drinking. It’s romantic in a perverse way, but not very realistic. Writing is hard work and requires a great deal of discipline.

People believe that being a published author is glamorous, is that true?

Why yes, yes it is! I can barely carve out writing time, what with all of the red carpet events, awards shows and interviews. This jet setting lifestyle is exhausting. But seriously, I spend most days with my 3 cats, wearing shorts and flipflops and scrounging around for leftovers in my fridge.

Do you enjoy book signings?

Yes I love them, especially if I get to read excerpts as well. I have several coming up in the next few weeks and provided my family and friends accept my bribes and fill up some of the seats, I’ll be thrilled.

Have any of your books been adapted into a feature film?

Not yet, but I am sitting by the phone and waiting for the call from Hollywood. Kristen Wiig can play Jackie Sullivan (JEEP TOUR) and Emma Watson is my choice for Jill Griffin (Guessing at Normal) but I am willing to discuss other choices.

Have you ever taken any help from other writers?

Yes, all the time. Other writers in the contemporary women’s fiction/chick lit genre have helped me with plots, pacing, character development, blurbs, settings, publishing and marketing. It is the most supportive community I ever could have imagined. Hats off to the members of ChickLitCHtHQ on Facebook.

What do you do in your free time?

My husband and I just moved to our forever home on a lake and we spend a lot of time boating, sailing, tubing, floating and hanging out this summer. I also love to entertain, travel and shop!

What is the secret to becoming a bestselling author?

I have no freaking idea, but I would love it if someone would tell me. Seriously though, a good story, memorable characters and lots of cowboy billionaire vampires!!

Have you ever considered writing an autobiography?

No, never. My novels are autobiographical enough, thank you very much!

What does the word ‘retirement’ mean to you? Do writers ever retire?

For me, it would be an extension on my summers. More time to read, write and spend time with my family and friends. I plan to write until I can no longer balance my MacBook on my lap!

How did you celebrate the publishing of your first book?

The day that print copies of JEEP TOUR showed up at my home, my husband was out of town. My girlfriend Eve took me out for sushi and we snapped lots of photos. Me with the goofiest grin ever!

Which book would you want adapted for the silver screen?

My first book JEEP TOUR would make a spectacular movie set in beautiful Sedona, AZ. Kristen Wiig, call me, seriously!

Doesn’t it bother you that when books are turned into movies, they are often changed to suit the audience needs?

I tend to be very pragmatic about these things. The experience of reading a book is very different from that of viewing a film. A movie based on a book is first and foremost, a movie! Changes are inevitable. That being said, the book is the genesis for the film and the writer’s work needs to be respected.

Do you pen down revelations and ideas as you get them, right then and there?

Yes, frequently. Post-its, the backs of envelopes and the notes section of my iphone are my constant companions.

Although all books say that all the characters in the book aren’t real or related, but are they really all fictional and made up?

Mine tend to be composites of both real and imagined people. The physical appearance of one, the expressions of another, a setting not related to either. But a few of my characters are very close to real people from my past.

Have you ever written a story you wish you hadn’t?

No, but there were a couple of minor storylines I wish I had omitted.

How big of a part does music play in creating your “zone”?

Music is very important to me. Each of the chapter titles in both of my first two books are song titles. They create a soundtrack for the main characters and sense of the times. Guessing at Normal is all about a young woman’s relationship with a rock star and the ups and downs of the music industry. I have zero musical ability, and I’m a sucker for 70’s rock, anything by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or R.E.M. and Carly Simon and Alanis Morrisette are two of my favorites.

What’s your favorite movie, which was based on a book?

Gone with the Wind. It has it all- drama, passion, history- still my favorite go-to.

Do any of your family members make occasional cameos in your books?

Yes, but don’t tell them. They will want a share of the royalties.

How do you think concepts such as Kindle, and e-books have changed the present or future of reading?

The Kindle is truly the best invention ever. I love mine, but occasionally cheat with print books. I gave my mom a Kindle when she was 87 and after a few tries, she was able to use it like a champ. She suffered from arthritis and found it difficult to hold traditional books in her hands. With the Kindle, she was reading 3-4 books a week. She never understood how I was able to download all those titles however!

Is there a particular kind of attire you like to write in?

Shorts, tank tops and flip flops in warmer weather and sweats and wool socks in the winter. I should never attempt to leave the house on writing days, even to get the mail. It’s generally not a good look.

How long do you take to write a book?

I have published 3 books, each 14 months apart. The first draft averages maybe 9-10 months, editing and proofing another 2 months and formatting and publishing 2 more. It’s not a fast process and I’m amazed that some writers are so prolific.

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