You asked. I answered.
My fourth novel, Adulation, was released in the midst of quite a bit of activity--a presidential election, a hurricane, and a person move from North Carolina to New England. That's quite a lot for a li'l ol' novel to compete with, so I wanted to give it a sort of re-release. Kind of like what new television shows do midway through the season in case you haven't tuned in yet, or tuned in late.
Given Danny Masters's profession, Oscar season seemed to be a good time to do that. And so, here's a collection of questions offered by my faithful readers, answered by me. Please feel free to share with your friends.
Each of the characters in Adulation seems to be very realistic, as if I know what the characters like doing, what gadgets they use, how they dress, what they love eating, etc. Did you design each character separately, or did all get developed slowly and sort of together?
Great question! I would say they were each developed over time as they appeared in my consciousness. I spend a lot of time with my characters when I take long walks or drives or showers, so I get to observe their behaviors and listen to their conversations to the point where I know them intimately and care about them deeply.
Sunny was the hardest to get to know, however. I’m not sure why, but I had to do some additional writing exercises and talking to and about her before she finally let me in. Danny, on the other hand, spilled his secrets early on. And Georgie just walked in, sat down, and made himself at home. He was the most fun to write.
What was involved in the decision to write Sunny’s narration in first person and Danny’s in third person?
I knew I wanted to tell the story of both protagonists, and not just a one-sided view. I’ve also never had a male protagonist, and didn’t feel comfortable writing him in first-person. Using alternating narrations as well as points of view enabled me to make the two voices and experiences distinctive while showing them living somewhat parallel lives. As a result, the reader was able to clearly follow both, and got a more well-rounded story.
Do you sketch out the entire plot structure before you begin writing, or do you just have a general sense of the characters and see where they take you? Has a direction the plot has taken ever surprised you?
I’m much more character-driven than plot-driven. Thus I do very little sketching—maybe just a line or two, a what-if, an exchange of dialogue as it comes to me, and that’s more so I don’t forget the idea. More often than not I just go where my characters take me. I’m very instinctive that way. If I do any outlining, then it happens well after the first draft, and it’s to make sure the timeline is in sequence and action is rising at a good pace.
I think I was a little surprised when Sam came into the picture in Faking It. And in Ordinary World, even though the plot turns didn’t surprise me, I had moments where I found myself not wanting Andi to go down that road because I knew it meant trouble. But she was adamant. With Adulation, I don’t think I expected Danny and Sunny to spend so much of the book physically apart and yet somehow still feel so close.
Which of your books is your most personal? How does one draw a line between fiction/ “inspired by” and personal experiences?
Another great question, and one I’m asked a lot. They’re all really personal to some degree. I don’t think I could write them if they weren’t. Faking It is probably the most personal not because it’s autobiographical, per se, but because I related most to Andi’s childhood insecurities, albeit hers were more extreme. I also relied on a lot of familiar details (rhetorical theory, Long Islander, musician brothers, etc.) to push the story forward because I wasn’t an experienced fiction writer at the time. And yet, there’s no way the story could’ve worked as well without them.
Recently I used the Food Network show Chopped as an analogy. The basket ingredients become “re-purposed”: Fruit Loops cereal becomes breading for chicken, jellybeans get melted down into a sauce, and so on. Thus, rather than writing autobiographically, I’m re-purposing certain witnessed experiences, events, emotions, etc. into something very different. They become a symbol of the truth of the story I’m telling, but not the actual truth itself. It’s the only way I know how to write fiction.
For example, the scene in Ordinary World, when Andi goes food shopping shortly after Sam’s death and comes home with nothing but a bottle of milk and a box of cookies, was based on a real experience I had on September 11, 2001. In an attempt to do something very normal and ordinary in the midst of this abnormal, extraordinary event and shock and grief, I went food shopping. But I was so overwhelmed that I needed to numb out, and I used the milk and cookies to do so. Andi was going through her own personal, overwhelming shock and grief. Her world had collapsed on her. I needed a way to show her trying to cope with ordinary, everyday tasks and falling short. There was no other symbol, no better illustration than my food shopping experience.
The idea for Adulation had been gestating for awhile—at least five years prior—when I saw the original Duran Duran lineup in concert. My original idea was for a woman to meet her teen idol, both now in mid-life. But then the movie Music and Lyrics came out, and it kinda killed my buzz. At the time I started writing Adulation I had been following Aaron Sorkin and the lead-up to The Social Network on his now-extinct Facebook page. My interest in screenwriting was also increasing. When I finally met Sorkin in person, I wondered what happens after the handshake. And I wondered if it was possible to have some kind of relationship, platonic or otherwise, with someone you’ve admired when it’s been so one-sided. Do celebrities ever date their fans, or even just become friends with them? (And I’m not talking the literal fanatics, but the level-headed admirers.) The fictional what-if was born: What if celebrity and fan meet, and there’s something more to it than a one-sided infatuation? What if these two people are really meant to be together, and always were, regardless of celebrity/obscurity? And if they are, then how does it happen? How do two people negotiate such a relationship? The story was the answer to those questions.
But the truths I was dealing with at the time had more to do with the rising success of my novels, Faking It and Ordinary World, as well as turning forty and coming to yet another crossroads in my life. Yes, I wanted a readership and I wanted to make a living from novel-writing, but how much of a life-change would be involved in that? Did I want to give up my privacy? Did I want to be famous? The answer was no. But the number of Google hits on my name was growing every day.
As for the similarities between Danny Masters and Aaron Sorkin, I would say that Danny has had a “Sorkinesque” career; additionally, both have a daughter and both have had somewhat publicized addictions. Any shared qualities after that are coincidental. Danny is a fictional character, as is Sunny and all the rest. And no, I don’t think Aaron Sorkin and I are soul mates (that said, I wouldn’t turn him down for a date), I don’t have a gay best friend, and I’ve never wanted children.
Do you have a favorite author? Has he/she influenced your style or choice of genre?
I tend to go through cycles with my favorite writers/authors. It’s only now that I’m realizing how much of an impression Judy Blume left on me. Ditto for Dr. Suess. I tend to be a creature of habit, so when I like an author I read as much of them as possible and nothing else. And there are a few screenwriters (the aforementioned Aaron Sorkin, and Nora Ephron, to name two) who have influenced my novel-writing as much as other novelists, if not more so. I really like Marian Keyes, and I liked Jennifer Weiner’s earlier work. They’re considered “chick lit authors,” although I hate to constrain them to that. And although my friend Rob Kroese writes in a completely different genre, he’s so funny and such a good storyteller that he makes me want to step up my game, especially comedicly. (And although he appreciates and supports my talent, my novels don’t have enough explosions in them to suit his tastes.) It also goes without saying that my Why I Love Singlehood co-author, Sarah Girrell, is one of my favorite writers. Ditto for my twin brother, although a lot of his stories go over my head the first time I read them.
Interestingly, I never set out to write women’s fiction (and I think there’s a difference between chick lit and women’s fiction, although some of the characteristics overlap). Sometimes I don’t even think it’s an accurate description for what I write, but it seems to best fit the demographic of my readers (although Faking It has drawn quite a male readership, to my surprise). I’m definitely not a romance writer, although every story I’ve written has been, to some degree, a love story.
In which stores is Adulation available?
I’m not sure which brick-and-mortar stores are carrying Adulation—most likely some independents across the country. However, if you go into a bookstore and request it, they’ll be able to order it for you (and hopefully they’ll start stocking it if they see a demand for it!).
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.