Q: Why were you drawn to fiction writing?
A: There is a wonderful quote in Lorrie Moore’s “How to Become a Writer” about this: “First, try to be something, anything, else. A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/missionary. A movie star/kindergarten teacher. President of the World. Fail miserably. It is best if you fail at an early age—say, fourteen. Early critical disillusionment is necessary so that at fifteen you can write long haiku sequences about thwarted desire. It is a pond, a cherry blossom, a wind brushing against sparrow wing leaving for mountain. Count the syllables. Show it to your mom. She is tough and practical. She has a son in Vietnam and a husband who may be having an affair. She believes in wearing brown because it hides spots. She’ll look briefly at your writing, then back up at you with a face blank as a donut. She’ll say: “How about emptying the dishwasher?” Look away. Shove the forks in the fork drawer. Accidentally break one of the freebie gas station glasses. This is the required pain and suffering. This is only for starters.”
I tried to be practical out of university and get a business-y job in publishing, but I discovered very quickly I had a calling and nothing else would do. I started to tell people I was a novelist, doing this “international licensing thing” on the side. In a week I had a job assisting a writer.
Q: What is your favorite part of the writing process?
A: Easy—the first draft, when everything is possible and you’re research grows the story by leaps and bounds every day. There is a point when you hit the sweet spot and you just know it’s working…I can’t help but feel there’s a little magic that happens there.
Q: Your first novel, Diary of a Working Girl, recently became adapted into a feature film. Beauty and the Briefcase, starring Hilary Duff, premiered in April. How did you receive this exciting news, and what was your reaction like?
A: When I found out Hilary Duff was going to play this character—my very first character, inspired by my new journo-in-the-city adventures at the time—I nearly fell off my chair. She was such a wonderful pick! What she did with that character was amazing; she really made Lane her own. Hilary, like Jennifer Aniston, is a fantastic physical comedian, and that was key to her portrayal of the character as a lovable girl.
Q: Did you have input on the adaptation, such as selecting actors?
A: I got to see the script and comment on it, and I got to see early on who they were considering for the parts. But I wouldn’t want to play too big a role because they’re the movie experts! And I’m thrilled with the final product.
Q: Your latest novel, Vivian Rising, follows a character after she loses her grandmother. Where did the inspiration for this novel come from?
A: Vivian Rising began to take shape a year after the death of my best friend and grandmother, Sylvia. When once again head-on with the blank screen, there appeared a woman named Viv, locked in an ensuite bathroom, faced with the terrifying prospect of losing the one person who’d always cared for her. She had her own unique circumstances and sensibilities, but we shared our grief and the seemingly unanswerable question: “now what?” As the novel unfolded, it became an ode to the grieving process that at one point or another we all go through. Along with a gigantic thanks to the influence and support a grandparent can be, my wish is that the novel provides a flicker of promise—that the hopeful place we emerged from can once again be ours if we learn to adjust to the inevitable realities of loss and change.
Q: How long do you take to research your characters or plot before you begin writing?
A: For me, the best way to create characters is to dump them into the action and see what they do. Sometimes later on, I’ll create some backstory, in the character’s own voice, if I feel they need some filling out. Sometimes you wind up using that actual text, sometimes it just serves to help you know the character better, how they would act and feel in situations that arise, what their motivations are. The general research for the story and plot is ongoing and in many ways drives the narrative. For instance, in the novel I’m writing now, gardening is a key metaphor throughout. Until I do that research, I wouldn’t know what options I have to work with. For this particular book, I’ve also read books about male psychology, motherhood, babies’ eating, sleeping, and learning patterns, pregnancy, the history of feminism, and of course, tons of wonderful novels!
Q: How many projects do you work on at a time?
A: It really depends. Sometimes three books at once—one in the morning, one at lunch, and one in the late afternoon. Often you have one book at some edit stage while you’re working on a draft of another. I find you learn a lot from one project, which then illuminates something in the other one. But sometimes you’re so focused on the one book you’re spending all your time writing, interviewing, researching, and reading about it.
Princess of Park Avenue is a re-launched title. How did you make this decision and what goes into a re-launch?
This is a very exciting time for authors–especially those with backlist titles like I have. If you can get the rights back, you’ve got the freedom to re-edit and re-design so the book is exactly the way you want it. I am going to do just that with all of my backlist titles. I started with my first novel, Diary of a Working Girl, and I’m continuing chronologically until I get through them all–Princess of Park Avenue, The Velvet Rope Diaries, Fear of Driving, and Vivian Rising (Australian and NZ editions).
There were so many times I thought of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” when I was reading Princess of Park Avenue. Re-reading the book, do you find those similarities as well? Where were these characters inspired from?
I know you aren’t going to believe this, but I’ve only watched “Jersey Shore” once! My entire family is from Brooklyn, and I lived there after college, so I know these people like, well, like my own family!!
Are you currently working on any new projects?
Yes, I am just finishing a novel about the magic of novels–the way they affect each of us so deeply and so uniquely, it’s called THE BOOK CODE, and it’s packed with suspense, drama, and characters I’m quite fond of.
Q: You are from New York but now live in Australia. Why the change?
A: Love, of course! Plus travel is the best food for novelists…
Q: Where is one place that you would love to travel to that you haven’t visited yet?
A: Can I say “everywhere I haven’t visited yet?” If not, Italy and Thailand.
Q: What are you currently reading?
A: In addition to about twenty pounds of non-fiction that I lug around with me everyday, I just ordered three books from Amazon: Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Timber Creek, Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom!, and The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. I have been exploring a lot of the Australian authors, which are new to me, and in the past few weeks I’ve read Truth, The World Beneath, and Rhubarb. I like to switch around between genres—the best-written of each have so much to teach writers. This week I finished Sue Miller’s When I was Gone, and I dove right into Candace Bushnell’s Four Blondes after devouring her novel One Fifth about a month back.
Q: What is your advice for aspiring writers?
A: Read, read, read! And write, write, write! Don’t wait, just start now!