Wednesday, June 11, 2008

GCC Presents... Melissa Senate!

I am BEYOND honored to be hosting Melissa Senate on my blog today since I've looked up to her, along with fellow chick lit trailblazers Sarah Mlynowski, Jane Green, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, Laura Caldwell and others, since a career in publishing was but a flicker in my imagination.

Melissa's debut novel, See Jane Date launched Harlequin's dedicated chick lit line, Red Dress Ink (I was an active member of the RDI chat boards, and back then RDI authors were God to me) and was turned into a TV movie. (How cool is that?) Since then Melissa's written five women's fiction novels, and has dipped her toes in YA waters as well with Theodora Twist, and a few other projects she discusses below.

You've been writing since chick lit first caught on in North America. Can you please tell us about the evolution of the genre since See Jane Date up until now - how have the plots changed, how has the readership changed, is chick lit ever-evolving or is it coming full-circle ?

The evolution of the genre is likely a result of the authors “growing up,” getting older and wiser, perhaps settling down into marriage and motherhood—or not. I wrote See Jane Date at age 34. I’m now 42 (she says proudly). Since See Jane Date I’ve gotten married and divorced, had a child, moved from Manhattan to Maine, gave up corporate life for the writing life, and have been through lots of little things in between. I’m such a different person, leading such a different life that I couldn't quite write See Jane Date in the same way again, but I do think the essence of chick lit, what makes it so lovable, so appealing to so many women, will never change: the female experience in the here and now, with its questions and concerns and issues, written with a certain sensibility, a certain tone. There are many books called chick lit that aren’t, and many that aren’t that are! I think there will be as many different types of chick lit novels as there are different types of women in different walks of life. The young writers who might write chick lit now very likely would steer clear of those elements now considered stereotypes, but they’re stereotypes for a reason. Killer bosses and harping moms and bad dates and thank-God-I- have-you-best-friends really and truly exist. I know for a fact!

Name a book that you wish you’d written

Good Grief by Lolly Winston. I love this book, love its poignancy, its humor, its heart. Lolly Winston’s sentences have the most delightful energy. I’d like to write as freely, as lushly, as funny as she does.

Name a book you’ve read over and over again, and you’d probably read again in the future.

Birds of America by Lorrie Moore, a collection of amazing short stories. I’ve read it at least five times and will re-read this summer. There are sentences and paragraphs and ideas that zappers that get me every time with: Wow. Just wow. My favorite book on writing that I reread constantly is Making A Literary Life by Carolyn See. But I love Stephen King’s and Anne Lamott’s too. I’ve read each at least five times too!

What typically sets off your thought process when beginning a new book – a kernel of a character you’d like to get to know better, a flash scene, a gripping ending you need to trace back to the beginning…?

Questions To Ask Before Marrying started off with three very different ideas that had me gripped: The first was my love of the movie Sideways. Oh, how I wanted to write a road trip book after seeing that wonderful film. The idea of two very different people trapped together in a car, being on the road, really gripped me. Enter my estranged twin sisters, one a conservative school teacher from Maine, newly engaged but with serious feelings for another man, and the other a professional muse and face reader from NYC who is searching for the father of her unborn baby (would help if she knew his first name). These two hit the road with many questions and get to know each other—and themselves—very well three-thousand miles later. The second idea was divorce, something I was personally going through while writing this book. I wanted to go “back to the start” and explore what you know when he slips that ring on your finger. The third was a New York Times article, the most popular of 2006, a simple and practical list of questions couples should ask before marrying or (wish they had). The article gave me my title and honed the theme for me, which is that asking questions, even questions without answers or answers you don’t like, is the most important thing you can do.

Can you tell us about any real-life events that inspired a scene or two in your book?

Ruby and Stella have a long-lost father they haven’t seen seen or heard from since childhood—and so do I. But mine didn’t run off with a casting agent and 10% of my earnings as a toddler models (not that I was baby model!) they way Ruby and Stella’s did. I often write about issues of parental abandonment, whether via death or choice. I’ve learned quite a bit about the way I feel about it all. One of the best things about writing!

What up next for you?

I just signed on with a new publishing house, Simon and Schuster’s Pocket Books, for my next two novels. The first is about an unmoored New Yorker who discovers she has a half-sister she never knew existed in a small town in Maine. Off she goes. At this very moment, I’m finishing my second YA for Delacorte. It’s called: The Mosts and the Most Nots, about a Most (most popular) who is recruited by a Most Not to change her into someone who won’t make the Most Not list this year. Both girls go through a major emotional transformation. I was neither a most or most not in high school, but for some reason I love to write about girls on either end of the spectrum who change each other’s lives. This is pretty much the core of all my noves, YA or adult.

What’s the most useful thing, in terms of promotion, that you’ve done?

Honestly, I think blog tours, like the GCC, have been the most successful in getting the word out that I have a new book out, a shot of the cover, links to where to buy, etc. I read a bunch of blogs every morning and always discover new blogs via those blogs and always have a list of books I see noted or recommended. What’s particularly wonderful about the GCC is how varied the authors’ works are.