A Q&A With Michele Gorman

17212148What would life be like if you pursued your passion in ballet instead of law school? Or if you reconnected with the one who got away? What if you dropped the monotonous office job and ran off to the bright lights of Hollywood? So maybe none of these situations apply to you, but you get my point, right? To live life to its fullest, you’ve got to take some risks. That’s the underlying message in Michele Gorman’s new novel Bella Summer Takes a Chance. Although everything seems hunky-dory in Bella’s lovelife and career, she knows that it’s just not enough.  With some help from a colorful cast of friends, she takes life by the horns and chases her dream to become a musician.

Michele was kind enough to chat with me about her new book. Read on to learn more about her writing process, character development, and…ahem…how she goes about describing some rather blush-worthy bedroom scenes.

What compelled you to write a story about a woman risking it all to pursue a career in music? And how can some of her struggles resonate with women readers?

I started to toy with the idea of what’s “enough” for a woman (complete with giant quotation finger movements). Where is that line? As I started to play with Bella’s situation (oh the fun of toying with my characters’ lives!), I found myself feeling very disgruntled on her behalf, in all spheres of her life. Why should a life in which nothing is wrong be a life that’s right? Just because society, or your friends or family or boyfriend say so? Nuh uh. I wanted Bella to grab the golden ring with both hands. She may fail, fall off the horse and end up in a heap on the ground with her underpants showing, but she’s going to try.  

The fragility of identity also interested me. Having taken ten years and four books to get my first publishing deal, I knew how hard it was to continue on a creative path when anyone else in her right mind would have given up. As Bella says: When do you stop becoming a musician-with-a-day-job and start being an accountant-who-is-musical? I think that having that experience helped me write her musical pursuits realistically.

Could you tell me a little about the setting, and why you chose that particular location?

michele-gormanThat’s easy. Bella is set in London, where I’ve lived for the past 17 years. I absolutely love my adopted hometown, so it’s the natural setting for my books. My debut, Single in the City, is about an American who moves to London, so the city is the other main character in that story. It’s easy to write about an American when you are American (I have dual nationality), but I’ve wanted to write about a British character in London for awhile. I got halfway there this time (Bella is Canadian-American who has lived in London for a decade, so her speech and characteristics are more British than American). My next book, The Reinvention of Lucy Winters, will finally have all British characters in London.

What was the most interesting thing you had to research for Bella Summer Takes a Chance?

Ooh that question made me snort my coffee! Well, okay, I’ll tell you. There is a threesome scene in Bella. Don’t worry, it’s not gross or explicit; I get terribly embarrassed writing about sex, so if I have to do it, I do it with humour rather than detail. Anyway… I felt I needed some help with this, since I had no first-hand experience (Bella gets kissed by a girl). So I invited one of my closest male friends out for lunch. Since he’s bisexual I figured he’d be able to tell me about the differences. Oh boy, could he ever. Unfortunately he described every detail with theatrical glee, in a very quiet restaurant full of old people. As he talked, I noticed the two couples beside us staring over their main courses. I got my research notes, and they got more than petit fours with their coffees.

Who was your favorite character to develop?

That’s a hard one! Usually I have just one or two favourite characters, but I loved Bella, Marjorie (her ninety-one year old friend) and Frederick (Bella’s flatmate). I couldn’t possibly choose!

What message do you hope your readers will take away from this book?

When I began writing, I saw the book as an exploratory journey for Bella but it soon became clear that this is a girl-power story J Each character faces “societal” pressures (there are those ditto fingers again) but lives her life exactly as she feels she needs to. Their stories are all very different but involve balancing ideals (whether that’s in love and relationships, or career or motherhood) against reality to find out what’s possible, and what’s right for them.

Now, a little more about you! Do you have a writing routine? What is your average writing day like?

I do have a writing routine of sorts. I’m an early riser, so usually get up, make a coffee and spend an hour or so answering emails and doing admin. Then I’ll go for a jog or a walk (otherwise the day can go by without me setting foot outside the house) and settle down for a few hours of writing before lunch. I’ll either carry on writing after lunch if I’m on a roll (or haven’t hit my word count – I aim for around 2,000 a day). I always have a nap, then spend the afternoon marketing. Marketing might involve doing Q&As for lovely bloggers, or working on the million little details that each soon-to-be published book needs doing. I try my best to stay off twitter and facebook when writing, but I always fail miserably. I do have a software programme called MacFreedom that I can turn on to block my internet (saving me from myself) when I really need to concentrate.  

And lastly, but not leastly, how do you spend your “free” time — when you’re not writing?

I’ve always been a homebody, so I hang out with my friends and boyfriend (technically he’s now my fiancée, but that’s very recent and I’m still getting used to that title!). Cooking, watching films, reading, going to the local pub or restaurants, having walks in the park. It’s a very low-key lifestyle and I love it!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks so much Jessica, for having me on Chick Lit Café! And if anyone would like their eBook copy of Bella Summer Takes a Chance signed and inscribed, there’s a genius website called www.authorgraph.com where you can send me a request (if for a friend as a gift, just tell me in the Comments). I’ll e-Inscribe your book and you’ll be able to add it to your kindle (or print it out, keep it as an email or send it to your friend). I’m happy to do that for any of my books – they’re all on there.

A Q&A with Jane Heller

With more than a dozen books under her belt, Jane Heller has gained a steady following of chick lit fans around the world. If you love fun and frothy “girl in the city” novels filled with quirky protagonists, rollicking misadventures, romance and humor, give one of her books a test drive. Since I’m no stranger to sibling rivalry, I’m especially intrigued by “Sis Boom Bah,” a saucy little whodunit filled with romance, murder and sisterly bonding. Stay tuned for the review!

Please join me in welcoming Jane Heller to Chick Lit Café. She was kind enough to take the time to answer my questions about her obsession with the Yankees, pending Hollywood productions, and her upcoming nonfiction memoir “You’d Better Not Die or I’ll Kill You: A Caregiver’s Survival Guide to Keeping You in Good Health and Spirits” (November 2012).

No matter how crazy the situations or characters, readers can relate to them. How do you approach writing your characters?

I try to put myself in the character’s shoes and imagine what I would do in that situation. And then I layer onto that: What would this particular character do in that situation? So while the situations may involve elements of fantasy (“Infernal Affairs,” “The Secret Ingredient”) or family rivalries (“Sis Boom Bah,” “Lucky Stars”) or even murder (“Name Dropping,” “Clean Sweep,” “The Club”), which I’ve never dealt with, thank God, the tone is grounded in reality because the character comes from my own perspective, my own voice. Friends say that reading the novels is like talking to me on the phone!

If any of your books could be adapted into a movie, which one would you choose?

I’d choose all of them! Actually, I’ve had nine of the books optioned for film and television and each time we make a deal, I say to my husband, “This is it. It’s finally happening.” And then the movie doesn’t get produced. One of the novels, “An Ex to Grind,” is in active development now at Fox with Cameron Diaz and Benecio Del Toro attached to play Melanie and Dan, the two main characters. The studio hired the screenwriter of “The Break-Up” and “The Hangover” to write the script and he did a few drafts. But now they’re looking for another writer, which is typical of the development process. I thought we were very close to having a movie of “Lucky Stars.” It’s a mother-daughter comedy and the option was renewed several times, but then nothing. And when Julia Roberts optioned “Sis Boom Bah” for her production company, I was sure I’d be walking the red carpet. Haha. Didn’t happen. I live in hope.

How did writing “You’d Better Not Die or I’ll Kill You” help you cope with your husband’s illness?

Writing the book isn’t so much about helping me cope as much as it is trying to help others cope if they’re caring for a child, spouse or parent with a chronic or critical illness. My husband Michael has been sick, on and off, for the 20 years of our marriage and it hasn’t always been easy. I want the book to be the cheerful, upbeat companion I wish I’d had during those 20 years. So many of the 65 million caregivers in this country are women and I’ve been talking to women through my novels for a long time. I thought this book would be an extension of that conversation. I will always have the goal in my books, fiction or nonfiction, to lift people up with a laugh or a smile. Life is tough. If we can’t laugh, no matter how grim the situation, we’re in trouble.

Why is humor an important tool for you?

My father died when I was six and my mom remarried when I was nine. Suddenly, my older sister and I were in this big, blended family of six kids, and there was a lot of tension at times. I can remember sitting around the dinner table, wishing we were more like “The Brady Bunch,” but inevitably someone would get angry and storm off. I tried to cut the tension by telling jokes at the table. I’d do imitations of the teachers, the mailman, our family doctor, you name it. Being funny has always been my way of saying, “Hey, we need to laugh or we’ll go nuts.”

Let’s talk about “Confessions of a She-Fan.” Was it a risk to write a chick lit novel centered around baseball? And would you recommend this book to girly girls like me who aren’t into sports?

“Confessions of a She-Fan” isn’t a novel – it’s nonfiction – but I hope it reads like chick lit. That was my intention. I wanted to write about a female who happens to love a baseball team almost as much as she loves her husband. It evolved from a piece I wrote in the New York Times in which I announced (as a joke) that I was suing the Yankees for divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty because they were playing so poorly. That piece became the #1 emailed story in the Times the week it ran. I think it struck a chord because it cast a love for a sports team as a romantic love and people identified with that. Would you like it if you’re not into sports? Probably not. But I hope you’ll recommend it to girly girls like me who are into sports!

What’s the best piece of advice you could give an aspiring novelist?

To just sit down and write. I know that sounds sappy and cliché-ish, but it’s true. So many aspiring novelists tell me they want to write but don’t know what to do to get an agent or publisher. I tell them to forget about what will happen after they write. Don’t project into the future. Stay in the moment. Sit down and start with a sentence, then another. Then try a page, then a whole chapter. Before you know it, you’ll have 300 pages and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. Some aspiring novelists say they don’t have time to write. To them I tell the story of a woman with whom I was on a panel a few years ago. She’d written her first novel and it was getting great reviews. She was a single mother of 10 kids, following the very sudden death of her husband, plus she had a full-time job at a newspaper. If she could find time to write a novel, so can anybody.

You are a prolific writer! How do you keep the momentum going?

My problem isn’t coming up with ideas for novels. It’s which idea to settle on for the long haul. Too often I start a book, only to realize the story is fizzling because it doesn’t have enough energy propelling it forward. So I try to pick what-if scenarios that interest me and that I’m sure others will relate to – from sibling rivalry to losing all your money to feeling stuck in a sinking romantic relationship. I’m also a voracious reader of magazines and blogs to get a sense of what women are talking about. And I listen to what my friends are talking about. Are they having issues with their husbands? Their kids? What’s on their minds? I zero in on a situation that feels right to me and off I go.

Can you give us a sneak peek into what you’re working on now?

I’m working on a novel about a woman who has lost her job and her man and is trying everything to stay afloat – I mean everything. She finally lands a new job, only it turns out to be anything but what she expected. I can’t say any more, but I hope it’ll go smoothly so we can talk about it next time!

Want to know more about this talented author? Go here to peruse her books and visit her blog.

Listen Up! Joni B. Cole on Writing Strong Women Blog Talk Radio

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Joni Cole , author of Another Bad Dog Book: Tales of Life, Love, and Neurotic Human Behavior, will Imagediscuss her book and her approach to writing strong women today at 1 p.m. on Sylvia Dickey Smith’s Writing Strong Women Blog Talk Radio Show!

From Sylvia’s blog: She also taught writing for years, and has a book out for writers (Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive). About writing strong women, Joni says:

“I write strong women because they’re the most interesting! But of course even the strongest women have quirks, flaws, insecurities, and neuroses. Those are the things that often test their strength, sometimes as much as external challenges. In my book of personal essays “Another Bad Dog Book: Tales of Life, Love, and Neurotic Human Behavior” I write about times when I find myself in funny but also heartfelt situations–dealing with issues related to my aging parents, losing a best friend to suicide,  feeling insecure as a writer or parent. But in each essay, I don’t just outline the struggles inherent in these difficult situations, but also the opportunities for insight and triumph and even humor.

For more about this fabulous radio show, visit this website. Read my review for Joni’s memoir, “Another Bad Dog Book” here.