First, many thanks to all of you who sent good tidings for my son's college graduation. It was a great weekend/celebration filled with hugs and laughter and tears. I wrote about it today on the new group blog, CHANNELING ERMA, I've put together with four other writers/moms/friends. Please pop on over; I'll be posting every Wednesday.
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Now, to more pressing matters. Melissa Senate joins us today to chat about her new book, Questions to Ask Before Marrying. The title sure grabs you, doesn't it? Here's some more scoop that'll pull you all the way in:
A very popular New York Times article lists fifteen questions couples should ask (or wish they had) before marrying. Ruby Miller and her fiancé, Tom Truby, have questions 1 to 14 almost covered. It's question 15 that has the Maine schoolteacher stumped: Is their relationship strong enough to withstand challenges?
Challenges like…Ruby's twin sister, Stella. The professional muse, flirt and face reader thinks Ruby is playing it safe. And that the future Mrs. Ruby Truby will die of boredom before her first anniversary or her thirtieth birthday, whichever comes first.
Challenges like…sexy maverick teacher Nick McDermott, Ruby's secret longtime crush, who confesses his feelings for her at her own engagement party.
But before Ruby can plan the wedding that may never be, Stella announces she's pregnant by a one-night stand whose name might be Jake (or James? Maybe Jason?) and who lives somewhere under the glittering lights of Las Vegas. Ruby and Stella hit the road to find him—with a lot more than fifteen questions.
And after three thousand miles, a stowaway relative and hitchhiking teen lovebirds bound for an Elvis wedding chapel, the Miller sisters might get some answers.
Now, let's hear from Melissa in her own words . . .
1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?
A: I was inspired by three things: 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 backstory is my divorce, which I went 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.
As for the second part of your question, I tried to be more driven with plot when I turned in the proposal for this book, but my editor MADE ME be more driven by character! She basically took away what she called my “plot gimmicks,” situations that gave the characters reasons for what they were doing. She wanted me to pare down the book to the essentials: these twin sisters and their issues. Best advice I’ve ever gotten and it has definitely shaped how I approach my work.
2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?
A: I love both sisters, but I must say that Stella stole the show for me. Even though she didn’t have her own point of view, she came so alive for me that I felt we did have her point of view. Her story, her past, was so emotional—the sudden death of her first love, her job as a “muse” to a married artist, her job as a face reader, her flitting from country to country, and her search now, for the father of her unborn baby, whose first name she isn’t so sure of. For the baby’s sake, Stella wants to get a grip, and her struggle to do so really captured me.
3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?
A: I’m a single mom, and my son’s kindergarten is a half-day program, as were the previous two years of preschool. Three little hours! I didn’t even bother to write during his school hours because by the time I’d get the characters and storyline and threads in my heart, mind and soul enough to work, it would be time to pick him up. So I do my writing at night, with a lot of Coke Zero and on the weekends. First grade, coming in September, is SIX entire hours. SIX free hours. Child care and child care costs have been such a huge part of my life that I can’t believe this is really coming!
I like to write on my laptop, in my living room, on the Victorian-ish sofa, with my cat Blue curled at my feet (my other cat is not a feet curler), a tall glass of Coke Zero on the table next to me, and absolute silence. (One of the best things about living in Maine is the quiet.) I work from a detailed synopsis, which I then break into chapters and then scenes. I’ve never been able to “just write;” I need a road map. I always take detours, but I need to know the end destination and write to that. I always have my last line written in my head when I first start to write.
4.) What's your favorite part of writing?
I love being about 100 pages in, when I finally understand my characters, when I know them, have their voices inside me, heart, mind and soul. The beginning is such a struggle for me until I hit that point. Then the characters take over. Ruby, the conservative one, in Questions To Ask Before Marrying, really surprised me twice in this book.
5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?
Back to my editor’s suggestion for Questions To Ask Before Marrying: get rid of the gimmicks and focus on the characters, who they are, what they want, what they need, what they’re striving for. Raise the stakes emotionally, not plot-ally. (Yes, I know that is not a word!)
Thanks for stopping by, Melissa--and I for one am going love the non-word "plotally"!