At what age did you begin writing?
Do Crayola-scrawled books count? I think I began writing almost as soon as I discovered reading! In grade school, a friend and I entered a “Young Authors and Illustrators” contest with our coauthored book—and won first prize. In junior high, I began a series of Nancy Drew-style mysteries starring (naturally enough) a teenaged sleuth who had a lot in common with me—except she had her own horse and I had…a Schwinn. In high school, I tried my hand at poetry and won a statewide contest—which only encouraged me to write angst-ridden poetry about prom dates and pimples. I’ve always been fascinated with the written word. And Oreos. But there weren’t any Oreo-eating contests. More’s the pity.
Did you always have a sense you would be a published author some day?
Given all the above, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? But I guess I’m a little slow on the uptake, because it didn’t occur to me to seriously try my hand at writing (as a career) until after I’d married and had two children. At that point I was a stay-at-home mom with toddlers for company. It’s possible I started writing just to experience conversations that went beyond Barney and Legos—even if they were imaginary! I certainly dreamed of becoming a published author and seeing my books in bookstores. I feel tremendously lucky now that that dream has come true for me.
Which writer is your greatest inspiration?
Do I have to choose just one? That’s like perusing a fabulous dessert menu and trying to say no to the chocolate soufflé cake. Or the crème brûlée. Or the apple pie à la mode. I can’t do it! Every time I read a new book, I’m inspired. I particularly enjoy discovering brand-new authors—there’s always room for a fresh voice in any genre, and it’s inspiring to see other writers achieving their dreams. In more specific terms, right now I’m finding special inspiration in books by Sophie Kinsella, Kasey Michaels, Rachel Gibson, Stephanie Bond, Vicki Lewis Thompson, and Elizabeth Bevarly. And Jamie Oliver, the “Naked Chef.” Hey, a girl’s got to eat.
What was your very first publication, including all literary works?
My first publication was a short contemporary romance called Surrender, about an uptight accountant who gets dumped by her boyfriend and decides to turn herself into a man magnet to win him back. She hires a hunky carpenter to renovate her house and pose as her boyfriend—but her plans get turned upside down when the hunk launches his own plan to woo her for himself. It was a hoot! Much to my delight and amazement, Kensington Books published the book in July 1997. Since then, I’ve gone on to publish fourteen more books, but that first time was very special…kind of like falling in love. Only with fewer Michael Bolton songs.
“I struggle with procrastination like everyone else. The trick is…”
How do you overcome procrastination and writer’s block?
When writer’s block strikes, I take a three-pronged approach. First, I wail and gnash my teeth. Second, I cheer myself up with a little shoe shopping. (That’s always a mood lifter. My feet never change sizes unexpectedly—which is more than I can say for my derriere.) Third, I sneak up on the problem by playing Doctor Mario on the N64 until my thumbs are begging for a change of venue—at which point sitting at the PC starts to sound like a nice change of pace.
Not really! I struggle with procrastination like everyone else. For me, the trick is to pretend I’m only going to work for ten or fifteen minutes. Once I’ve gotten started, finishing doesn’t feel quite so daunting. As far as writer’s block goes…I don’t believe in it. The way I see it, feeling blocked is merely a signal that something needs re-working, either in my current project or in my life. At this point, I’ve developed a sort of sixth-sense that tells me when I’ve gone off-track with a particular manuscript. That’s my signal to go back, reread, rethink, and try again.
What is the greatest challenge or obstacle you’ve experienced thus far?
Aside from squeezing into single-digit-size jeans? (See Oreo-eating contests, above.) I’d say my greatest challenges are definitely internal. I struggle with keeping discouragement at bay, with wanting to write better, faster, and funnier, and with accepting my own limits. As rewarding as writing is, it can also be frustrating at times. At one point early in my career, I quit. I unplugged my PC, packed up my research books, and told my family I was too discouraged to go on. To prove I meant it, I spent an entire day wallowing in daytime TV. The next morning, my agent called with news of a two-book contract offer! I gleefully accepted, and those books eventually became my first single-title contemporary romantic comedies. Since that point I’ve limited my days off to strict emergencies (shoe sales, must-see movie matinees, and lunch with friends), so as not to tempt fate.
How do you, or have you, responded to negative criticism?
Responding to negative criticism is like giving yourself an impromptu haircut—a bang trim, perhaps. You think you’re correcting a teeny-tiny problem. A few snips later, you suddenly look like a female George Clooney. Whoops. Now you have a big problem! As the saying goes…what other people think of me is none of my business. I don’t respond to negative criticism. I occasionally pretend it doesn’t exist…but “delusional thinking” is another question, right?
Do you feel an indefinable drive to write the majority of the time?
The only thing I feel driven to do is sleep late. (I have two school-age children, which means I haven’t luxuriated in a satisfying, slothful sleep-in session for…oh, years. Give or take a decade.) As far as writing goes…yes. I’m driven to write. I love it! I’ve never found anything which fascinated me more, or challenged me more thoroughly. My brain is usually abuzz with characterization ideas, snippets of dialogue, and potential plot twists (along with grocery lists, shave-my-legs memoranda, and wonderings about why the dog suddenly smells so weird). At the same time, writing is now my full-time job, so I treat it with all the seriousness and dedication that implies. I show up at my computer every weekday morning and stay there until I’ve achieved my daily word count goal—no matter how strenuously my subconscious urges me to stop for a latte…or to fire up the TiVo to watch an episode of “Coupling” from BBC America.
“I’m often surprised by the twists and turns I discover…”
Upon completion of each book are you left with a sense of satisfaction or fear, or both?
Yes. Also relief, elation, and an irresistible urge to do a happy dance around the living room. It’s tremendously satisfying to finish a book. There’s nothing like the joy of creating an entire world with nothing but your imagination and a pencil. Unfortunately, the minute I type “The End,” my evil twin arrives and starts nitpicking. What if my mother-in-law freaks out when she reads that sizzling love scene? What if I haven’t created my characters fully enough to make readers fall in love with them? What if I drive the copy-editor crazy by misspelling “non sequitur” over and over again? A part of me honestly believes that knowing the answers to these questions will allay my fears. The rest of me understands that those answers might as well be in a vault in Topeka—they’re that inaccessible to me. I’ve come to accept the uncertainty that goes hand-in-hand with being a writer. A little bit. Okay, so I’m working on it.
Did you know in your heart and gut when you wrote your first best-seller, before its publication?
Achieving bestsellerdom is a function of luck and timing (sort of like experiencing a blind date during which no one sweats armpit stains into their best date outfit or drinks too much), coupled with talent. I believe in all my books. I really love them! I want them to meet nice readers, settle down, and find eternal bliss on a lovingly dusted bookshelf someplace (which rules out my own, unfortunately, since it’s usually covered in fluff). My first official best-seller was Falling For April, a “battle of the sexes” romantic comedy in which a wealthy mogul gives up his wallet for a week in order to woo and win a quirky blue-collar gal. While writing it, I felt the same as I always do…alternately exhilarated and hopeful, with occasional bouts of sheer terror. I desperately want to write a satisfying story every time. The trick is, every reader experiences a book in her own unique, utterly subjective way—which means it’s possible to succeed and fail simultaneously. Usually, I pretend amnesia on that point. Otherwise, my muse goes on strike altogether.
Do you become attached to your characters as if they were real people?
When I’m creating my characters or writing about them, they feel absolutely real to me. This creates problems in my day-to-day life among non-writers, since I’m prone to, say, pointing out how perfect a certain handbag would be for Marley from Perfect Together, or how much Jayne from Reconsidering Riley would go crazy for a fun new bubble bath. “Civilians” don’t understand this. My wonderful husband does, and occasionally indulges me by doing the same thing himself. The other day, for instance, we had a lovely conversation about my various heroes and their love of sports. Any innocent bystander would have believed we were both close buddies of the men in question. This may be because helping me brainstorm has warped my hubby’s mind—I’m not sure. I am grateful for the company, though.
Does it surprise you where you take your characters?
I’m often surprised by the day-to-day twists and turns I discover while writing my books…but to be honest, the answer to this is no. I’m not a “woo-woo” writer. My characters don’t run amuck, chatter uncontrollably in my head, or otherwise hijack my books. I’m the author, which means I’m the boss. Like a cartoonist who can whip out an eraser when things get crazy, I can always back up and delete-delete-delete. My goal is always that my characters surprise the reader—that’s most important to me.
Are your characters a conglomeration of people you’ve known or do know, or are most of them freshly woven from your imagination, or both?
My characters are imaginary…much to the disappointment of friends and family who insist upon looking for themselves in my stories! Quite frankly, “real people” just aren’t dynamic or vibrant enough to sustain good fiction. A novel should be larger than life, and that’s what I strive for. I also strive to achieve thinner thighs, to beat my husband at Trivial Pursuit, and to floss regularly enough not to have to fib to my dentist. I think I’m doing best at the novel-writing thing.