Interview with Michele Gorman
Q: You studied accounting and sociology in college. When and why did you decide to try writing?
I didn’t dream about being a chick-lit writer as a little girl. I didn’t even dream about being a writer. As you rightly point out, I studied accounting at university, but never really got the hang of debits and credits, to the dismay of several managers. One day, sitting in my office, I thought “Why won’t someone pay me for what’s inside my head, without me having to come to an office?” I hit upon writing as an option. But with no practical knowledge or writerly training, it was a rather long road to publication.
I started out writing literary fiction, amassing stacks of rave rejections from agents and publishers that said ‘so close’, but still not publishable. Then one day I stumbled upon my first chick-lit book, in an airport on my way to a holiday in Italy. It was an international best-seller. It was a terrible book. Incensed at having just had my third novel rejected when this book seemed to be in every bookshop on the planet, I decided to change genres. As an American who’d followed my boyfriend to the UK several years earlier, I had plenty of first-hand experience to draw upon, and it seemed natural to write a fictional account about building a new life in London despite constant cultural misunderstandings. Single in the City was born.
Q: How long did it take for you to write Single in the City?
It took 6 weeks to write (spite is a great motivator), and two years to edit so that it was good enough to publish. Generally my books take around a year to write and edit.
Q: Do you have plans for a second novel?
I do. I’m writing 2 in fact. First, my agent and I are going to see if publishers are interested in a sequel to Single in the City. I’m also working on chick-lit for an older target market. There isn’t a genre for this yet, so I’d like to propose: NOT sell-by date chick-lit. Most of the books for thirty-somethings seem to involve cheating spouses, body issues, date-hindering children or deafening biological clocks. But there are a lot of women out there who are happy, well-adjusted and independent, in their 30s, who may not have married yet, or have come out of a relationship, and are optimistic and enthusiastic about their future. There doesn’t really seem to be much out there that reflects that kind of character. So I’m writing one.
Q: What was the hardest part about writing?
The edits. It’s wonderful to write, and see the story develop and the characters become real. Editing is a necessary evil.
Q: Do you have a regular writing routine? Same place you write in, set number of words or hours you write a day, etc.?
I have a ‘day job’ on Mondays through Wednesdays, so Thursdays and Fridays are writing days. I’m cursed with the inability to sleep late, so am usually up by 7.30 or so. Coffee first, then a jog if I’m feeling energetic, or have a plot problem to work out (I do some of my best thinking while plodding through the park). I generally write for 3 or so hours before lunch, then have a break, and carry on for a few more hours in the afternoon. There’s usually a nap in there somewhere. I like to think it’s necessary for creativity. I don’t have a specific word count that I try to stick to (mainly because I don’t want to beat myself up if I don’t hit it), but am thrilled if I write a couple thousand words in a day. My flat is tiny, but I like to write in different places (even though these places are all about an arm’s-length away from each other). So I might start on the sofa, laptop on lap, then shift to a comfy reading chair, then the dining table. And I often write on my bed if it’s sunny because the light is lovely there in the afternoon.
Q: Why did you choose to write in the chick lit genre?
Spite. See answer above. It turns out that I love writing in this genre. It’s style suits my natural writing voice.
Q: What do you say to people that say chick lit is dead?
Tell that to the millions of women who love to read it! I think chick lit gets a lot of unfair criticism. I did a blog post for The Guardian newspaper a few weeks back (the Huffington Post picked it up too), in defence of chick lit. So I’d like to say to those critics that there’s no need to fret over the malleable minds of chick-lit fans. Our poor little female brains aren’t going to turn to mush because we read light and breezy books. We don’t all sitting on the sofa eating cakes and waiting for the next reality TV show. In fact, many of us even have quite intellectually challenging jobs. Is it any wonder we crave a little escapism? And it’s not as if women who read chick-lit read it exclusively. Most of us enjoy chocolate cake, but we don’t eat it every night for dinner.
Q: You were born in America but have since become a citizen in Britain. Was the citizenship test difficult to pass?
It wasn’t really difficult, but you wouldn’t pass without studying! I imagine it would be the same for someone taking an American citizenship test – without cramming, how many of us know the number of congressmen in the House of Representatives?!
Q: You maintained a long distance relationship for many years, which can be very uncommon. How were you able to make it work?
I think the key was not to over-think, or constantly wonder where things are going. We took the approach that we were enjoying each other so we didn’t put any pressure on ourselves or on the relationship. It evolved naturally.
Q: What is your best advice for aspiring writers?
Find your story. My books always spring from a question. What if? Single in the City began with the question: What happens when you take a hapless young American girl and move her to a city where she’s completely ill-equipped to live? Find your voice. We’re tempted to write in a style that we like to read, but like covers of songs, the copy is never as good as the original. It took me three books to find my voice, so experiment and see where you’re most comfortable, what seems most natural. If you want to publish, then find a ‘new’ agent. When you’ve written the book and are searching for an agent, think about this. A new agent is just starting out. She’s hungry, she’s building her writer list and her career. She will have much more time for a new writer. Also, and this is key, she is going to have contacts in the publishing houses who are also starting out, and looking to build their writer lists and careers. It’s very tempting to think that an experienced agent is best, but for a new writer I’d advise a new agent any day.
Q: Where would be your dream vacation?
I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of incredible travelling over the past dozen years, from African safaris to trekking in the Himalayas, from beach resorts to incredible cities, so my dream would be low-key and closer to home. It would be Autumn, holed up in a gorgeous country inn, where I could take long walks, find delicious food at cosy pubs or restaurants, and spend hours sitting snuggled next to a fire reading, playing board games and drinking wine.
You can follow Michele on Twitter (@expatdiaries) or contact her through www.michelegorman.co.uk. Single in the City is available through most bookshops and online, including Amazon (UK, US, Canada, Germany, France, Japan)