Rian: 1. First off, I enjoyed your latest book “Do They Wear High Heels in Heaven?” What made you decide to write about a woman dying from Breast Cancer?
Erica: I had two of my best friends both contract the disease within a year of each other. Suddenly, the concept of one woman in eight getting breast cancer was more than a statistic to me. It was my life, the life of women I loved and cared about. I also have struggled with illness in my own life, and when I was near death about twelve years ago, I realized that it makes you view life with great clarity. You cut through ALL the bullshit, so to speak. As a writer, I think I’m always striving for clarity, and so the book was born and was this whole process . . . I got to write all the cutting or humorous things I observed about life when death came knocking.
Rian: In “Mafia Chic”, our main heroine Teddi was the grand-daughter from a mafia family. What inspired that book?
Erica: Well, the real story behind it was my experiences knowing a family that was “connected,” and time spent in their restaurant. And all the funny experiences–like the Christmas that a whole truckload of Nike shoes “fell off a truck,” so to speak. I also spent a lot of years working as a bartender and waitress, and my significant other worked as a chef for many years, so the idea of setting the book in the colorful world of the restaurant business was fun for me. The characters in the kitchen–Leon and and the sous chefs and so on–are all based on various eccentric and funny guys I knew from working in the biz when I was younger. Restaurants are their own culture. I had also written The Roofer for MIRA, which was inspired by some true events and real people, but it was the darker side of the mob. That book was on the Westies–the Irish mob from Hell’s Kitchen. After I wrote that book–with its decapitations and abuse and violence–it was nice to visit the mob with a sort of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” feel. I had a lot of fun with Mafia Chic.
Rian: Speaking of characters in general, how do you go about fleshing out and developing the various characters in your novels? How do you get them to be so realistic?
Erica: As a writer, I always think in terms of back story, almost like films. You know how when an actor from the Method school of acting approaches a role and wants to become that character, and there is this whole back story and this whole complex world of that character . . . only SOME of that will be on film. Yet that kind of preparation makes for a very three-dimensional performance. I do some of the same. The characters have very rich lives–only SOME of which ends up on the page. The rest is back story with sneak peeks into that world. I think it helps me create very “real” people. I may not put in the book that in a character’s purse she carries a lucky plastic rabbit because she’s a member of PETA and the thought of carrying an actual rabbit’s foot makes her queasy–but as the writer I know this quirky thing about her and that colors what I write about her. In my upcoming MIRA book, Invisible Girl, the heroine’s mother is a Buddhist and father is a lapsed Catholic, and her mother used to bring home jelly jars of Holy Water that she would siphon from the baptismal font at church, just so she could “cover her bases” by mixing in some Catholic imagery with her Buddhism. This may be odd . . . and it may be different, but it’s also very human . . . so I look for those types of dichotomies when creating characters. Dichotomies and complexities are the reality of most human beings, I think.
Rian: I see you’ve written at least a couple of romantic suspense type novels as well as chick lit. Which do you prefer to write, and why?
Erica: I love chick lit, but sometimes the pressure to “be funny” is hard as a writer. So I like taking a break from that from time to time to write darker works. I also write YA. It lets me write where I am feeling the most creative. I don’t necessarily prefer one over the other, though lately, the darker books have been so involving . . . I get lost in them and the writing has been flowing.
Rian: What do you find to be the single most rewarding thing about writing fiction? And what about the least rewarding?
Erica: The most rewarding thing is personal. I love writing, and getting to sit at home and “make stuff up” for a living is truly a dream come true, so it’s personally fulfilling. I can’t think of the least rewarding, except, perhaps, sometimes some of the negative back and forth that occasionally comes up between snarky blogs or things like that. I try to avoid any negativity in my life, so sometimes I hate seeing when author or reviewer x comes down hard on author y. It doesn’t so much happen to me, but I have seen some really snide attacks on authors I personally know.
Rian: What do you think about the chick lit genre in general?
Erica: I think this is a very exciting time to be writing chick lit because I think NOW, in order to survive as a chick lit author, you have to be at your most inventive, or doing something very different, and so I think some great stories are going to come to light as writers flex their creative muscles. My next RDI is my best ever and one of the main characters is . . . well, someplace sort of near hell.
Rian: Do you have any upcoming chick lit novels in the works, and if so, what are they about? (If you care to share).
Erica: As I just shared, I am doing one called Freudian Slip for RDI–it’s got paranormal elements, very like Neil Gaiman, perhaps. I also have the upcoming High School Bites, writing as Liza Conrad, for Penguin. It’s a chick lit comedy for the YA crowd–with vampires. And after that I have another YA chick lit called The Poker Diaries about a teen poker-playing phenom whose world is turned upside down when her mother gets engaged to the mayor of New York just as my heroine gets into an illegal poker game with VERY high stakes, indeed.
Rian: How did you get started with writing?
Erica: I’ve always written . . . more short stories, to be honest, and more for myself. I never expected any of them to see the light of day. I got in a few literary magazines, but I couldn’t imagine writing more than 15 pages about anything. I enjoyed the short story as art. Then I wrote a psychological thriller, a novel, as a challenge to myself, which was actually not half bad. I stuck in a drawer and knew, finally, I could finish a novel. Then I got the idea for Spanish Disco. I wrote it in about six months and also stuck it in a drawer. By chance, I met an agent in LA, and then ran into him at a cocktail party in New York a year later. I mentioned Spanish Disco, gathering dust in my drawer, and he said to send it to him. He sold it within three months, and I’ve been writing full-time almost since then.
Rian: Do you have any odd or unusual writing routines, and if not, what are your day-to-day writing habits? (Like where, when, etc).
Erica: I guess the oddest thing is that given I write multiple books per year, I HAVE no routine. I am completely undisciplined with no set anything. I can go two weeks and not write a single word, and I can write forty pages in a day. I have four children, so their lives sort of dictate this nonschedule of mine. I used to write in a “lucky bathrobe,” but it’s rather frayed now. In general, when I can, I wake up and mess around on email for a while, write in my blog, get my kids to school and then deal with the baby . . . and when he naps, I try to fit in two hours of writing. Then I write again starting around 7:00 p.m. However, all of that is subject to change and if I am on deadline, my entire household gets as insane as I do with everyone steering clear of me until I turn in my manuscript. Mommy on deadline is NOT a pretty picture. I imagine they’ll all end up on a shrink’s couch someday regaling their analyst with tales of Mom subsisting on coffee and M&Ms and martinis at night, finishing her book, not showering, and not answering the phone or opening the drapes in the morning, all the while blasting Bruce Springsteen to get inspired. Thank God their father cooks.
Rian: What would you say to a person that claims to have a “story in their head” but just can’t seem to get it out on paper? What would be your advice in a situation like that?
Erica: Well . . . this isn’t meant to be callous at all, but actually sitting down and doing it is what separates the men from the boys and the women from the girls. I am a person of action, so you know, it’s that “Just do it” mentality. Still, I think a good writers’ group can keep you producing pages for meetings every week or two weeks, or however your group is set up. If not that, then SOMEONE you’re accountable to, whether that be a critique partner or what have you. A mentor is great . . . someone who has been through the pitfalls of writing a novel. Beyond that, think of what holds you back. Life isn’t a dress rehearsal. If you’ve always wanted to write a book, start it. Do one of the “Book in a Year” or “Novel in a Month” challenges that are around. Be fearless.
Books by Erica Orloff