Jennifer O'Connell

Rian: I loved both of your books “Dress Rehearsal” and “Bachelorette #1″. Do you have a third book in the works? If so, what is it about?

Jennifer: My third book, Off The Record, should be out in September. It’s about a woman who discovers that she was the inspiration for a song that was a hit when she was in college. The idea came to me because I used to be called “Jenny” when Tommy Tutone’s infamous “867-5309″ song came out. Everyone was dialing the phone number and asking for Jenny, and wondering who the Jenny in the song was. I always thought it would be cool to have someone write a song about you (which my husband has since done, however it hasn’t quite hit the Billboard chart yet). In Off The Record, the woman is nothing like the muse for the song, which causes her to look at herself and figure out who she wants to be.

Here’s a brief description from the back cover of Off The Record:

There’s no way a rock star would ever write a song about Jane Marlow. She isn’t the type to wear red garter belts or rhinestone butterfly thongs under her conservative navy blue suits. She’s a true-blue good girl: a plain, predictable, and perfectly responsible estates attorney.

But then Jane’s brother, Andy, catches an episode of Music One’s “Off the Record,” and discovers that former pop sensation Teddy Rock is actually their childhood neighbor Theodore Brockford…and his one hit wonder twelve years earlier wasn’t just a catchy tune that took the charts by storm – it was a song about Jane Marlow. Jane can’t believe it-especially since she’s nothing like the lively girl in the song.

When Teddy Rock’s reluctant muse is forced into the public spotlight, lawerly Jane has a chance to live life Off The Record – but is she ready for the changes it brings? And even if she’s willing to take the risk, is she willing to face the music?

Rian: Of both of your books, which was easiest to write, and why?

Jennifer: Definitely the first one. I had a dream I was on the Bachelor and decided I wanted to write a book about someone like me – married with a young child – who goes on a reality dating show to expose how demeaning the entire concept is to women. Of course, while she’s there she also discovers that getting wined and dined by a good looking guy isn’t so bad after all, especially when compared to the predictable life of a married mother. The idea just poured out so quickly, and easily, that I thought writing a book was just about the easiest thing in the world. Then came book number two. And my opinion changed. All of sudden I had a contract to fulfill and expectations to meet. Naturally you want to get better with every book, but of course you fear the idea that the first book was a lucky fluke and it’s downhill from there.

Rian: Regarding “Bachelorette #1″, What made you decide to do a book about T.V. Reality shows?

Jennifer: I’m not a fan of reality shows, but when I dreamt I was on the Bachelor (during the second season, when Aaron was the bachelor) I started watching them. It wasn’t so much the reality show that I wanted to write about, although it provided such great material to work with. I really wanted to write about a woman who gets to leave the life she has and see if the grass really is greener on the other side.

Rian: Why did you decide to set “Dress Rehearsal” in Boston?

Jennifer: Originally I had it set in New York City – for all of three chapters. One thing that bothers me is if I discover inaccuracies in a book I’m reading. I’m familiar with New York, but I realized early on that I couldn’t do it justice. I felt that in order to write about someone living and working in New York I either had to move there or spend a lot of time there doing research. I couldn’t imagine that readers would be forgiving if I had a restaurant located at an address that just happened to be in the middle of the Hudson River. So, I went back to the beginning, packed the characters up, and moved them to Boston. I used to live in Boston, and went to school in Cambridge, so I was a lot more familiar with the different parts of the city and what it’s like to be there. Newbury Street was also the perfect setting for an upscale wedding cake boutique. Now, having completed the book, I actually can’t imagine Lauren, Robin and Paige living anywhere else.

Rian: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Jennifer: I’ve always loved to write, but I’m not one of those people who has a stack of unfinished (or finished) manuscripts in my desk. I have always devoured books, and thought I’d become an editor rather than a writer (As a kid I used to circle the typos in the books I read, and once, on the train from New York City to Connecticut, I was pointing out all these typos in a book I was reading and it just so happened that a man who worked for Dell, the publisher, was sitting across from me. He handed me a business card and told me to feel free to send him any mistakes I found in the future). I attended the Radcliffe Publishing Program after college, but wanted to move out West when all the job offers were coming from New York (there was also a guy involved, and so I chalk this pathetic choice up to youth and hormones). So, actually, I’m a frustrated editor masquerading as a writer.

Rian: Do you have any favorite authors or books that have inspired you to write?

Jennifer: When I started my own business I began reading when I went to the gym during lunch. The first book I purchased was Bridgit Jones’ Diary. Needless to say, I was hooked. I devoured every British “chick” book that came out. Anna Maxted’s Getting Over It just floored me. I loved it. Adele Parks’ Playing Away is still one of my most favorite, and I even recently re-read it. The Trials of Tiffany Trott was wonderful. After reading all these great books I wanted to write. I think that great books do that, they make you want to tell your own stories. But, if I had to pick books that shaped the way I think and the characters I write about, it would have to be The Women’s Room by Marilyn French, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, and The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. The female characters in these books are all strong, independent women who refuse to sacrifice who they are just to meet the expectations of others (okay, so they all end up alone and/or dead, but that’s beside the point – in the words of Frank Sinatra, at least they did it their way).

Rian: Do you have any peculiar writing habits or things that have to be “just so” in order for your thoughts to flow freely?

Jennifer: One thing I think most people who write will agree upon, is that writing is one job that truly becomes an obsession. I carry around a notepad in my purse. I leave myself voice mails when I’m in the car. At night I’m composing sentences in my head (and learned that no matter how hard I try, I never remember the best ones in the morning). I hear people say things or do things and immediately make a mental note of them. I even hop on and off the treadmill to jot down ideas. So, I’m always collecting ideas and sentences and events, but when it comes to writing I need to be in the mood. I can’t sit down at my desk everyday at nine o’clock and start writing because my “real job” and e-mails and the laundry that needs to be folded tend to get in the way. Usually I drive right to Barnes & Noble after dropping my son at school. Nothing gets you motivated to write like being surrounded by books.

Rian: What are your thoughts on people that bash the chick lit genre?

Jennifer: I think they should probably be spending their time addressing the disturbing fact that more and more people aren’t reading, than bashing the books people are reading. I’m a perfect example of someone who loves to read but never found the time. All of a sudden I discovered books that I loved and so I made the time. I think that if writers continue to write books that resonate for women, then we’ll continue to interest readers. If all I had to choose from were sci-fi and James Bond novels, I probably wouldn’t be kicking back with a book as often. So, the only thing I’d say to someone who bashes the genre is that there are plenty of people interested in reading stories about contemporary women. Nobody’s putting down Julia Roberts for starring in Notting Hill and Pretty Woman; or Meg Ryan for being successful in When Harry Met Sally or You’ve Got Mail. I think that they shut their critics up by showing that they can make films that make money. If chick lit authors continue to write books that make money, then we’ll be laughing all the way to the bank. Success is the best revenge.

Rian: I liked how both main characters in your book were strong, independent and didn’t put up with stuff. Do you think that’s important to have the main character be that way in a chick lit novel? Why or why not?

Jennifer: I don’t know that all main characters should be that way, but I like mine that way. I think we write about women and people we’d want to meet in real life. The women I write about would be my friends in real life. But, just like real life, you don’t necessarily like everyone you meet. I think what’s really important is that we portray women as they really are, warts and all. Nobody is all confidence or all career-indifferent, so we need to see that women can be all those things at the same time. That’s what makes it so much fun to have a drink with us.

Rian: Any advice for people who are interested in writing a chick lit novel?

Jennifer: Write! I think that this is one field where you truly can be an “overnight success” or have years of writing pay off when an agent rings you up on the phone out of the blue. It doesn’t matter where you live, what you do, how old you are, your college major – it’s how you use those things to tell a story. That’s one of the great things about writing, it’s all up to you. If I had one suggestion, it would be to not try to succeed by mimicking the books that have been successful. It’s very hard these days to write a book about a twenty-something woman in a dead-end job who dates a crappy guy who leaves her on her birthday. Sure, we all love to read about that, but it’s the fresh perspective or new take on situations that will give our genre longevity. So, use your unique point of view and experiences when you write. I haven’t read a chick lit yet where the character kills herself, but almost twenty years after I read The Awakening, it’s one of the books that still sticks with me. I think a contemporary version of The Awakening would be chick lit, even if the ending isn’t exactly cheery. It’s all in how you write it.

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