Rian: How did you get your start in writing chick lit novels, and writing in general?
Kim: Like a lot of writers, one day the planets lined up for me and I just sat down and started writing. I guess I was just ready. It wasn’t exactly on a whim — I’d had the characters and storyline for MOOSE brewing in my head for a while — but it wasn’t part of a grand plan either. Certainly, I was always a huge reader, and a tiny voice all my life whispered to me that writing might be a good thing to try, but I didn’t heed it initially because it seemed too farfetched and I was too afraid of failing. Finally, I became so bitter and disillusioned by the soullessness of corporate work that my drive to escape it exceeded my natural indolence and I wrote.
The voice of my first novel’s main character, Jen, was very clear in my mind when I started, and her voice was that of a Chick Lit heroine. I have tried several times to write in third person instead of first — first-person narrative is, I suppose, part and parcel of the Chick Lit reading experience — and it felt too distant and detached. The characters’ voices felt artificial and self-consciously highbrow to me. On another level, I suppose I relate to Chick Lit themes. I’m 35, so I’m just now beginning to reflect on and understand my wild youth, and I find that life stage inherently interesting. Also, I was certainly influenced by a few best-of-breed Chick Lit books, including I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT, the Bridget Jones series and Marian Keyes’ books. I cherish situational hilarity in literature above all else and when Chick Lit is done well, there is nothing funnier or more relatable.
Rian: I’ve greatly enjoyed both of your books so far. What was yourinspiration for writing “Is That a Moose in Your Pocket”? How about”Paging Aphrodite”?
Kim: MOOSE’s origins are twofold. First, I felt most comfortable at that stage writing about a character who was wrestling with the challenges I’d just graduated from, in my late 20s and early 30s. Challenges like how to advance your career when you’re chronically underemployed and negotiating a major recession, and the seemingly endless search for a life partner. And sex, of course. In San Francisco in the 90s, it seemed like single straight gals had a better chance of singing a duet with Madonna than getting laid on a regular basis. The topic seemed worthy of discourse.
It’s funny, but I’ve noticed that I sometimes don’t understand my motivation for writing a book until long after I’ve moved on to other work. PAGING APHRODITE is definitely an affectionate paean to my lifelong female friends. To the kinds of experiences you have with your girlfriends that superficially seem to be all about external factors – men, adventure, travel – but at the end of the day are really about the extraordinary intimacy that develops when you share them with other people. Also, I knew I wanted to throw together women from different generations, cultures and walks of life, because there is something thrilling about watching such disparate personalities go through the school of hard knocks together. I confess I was a little more agenda-ist and less spontaneous creatively with this book, if that makes any sense. For instance, I knew I wanted to write a Latina character, because, well, I live in San Francisco and my life is full of Latina women.
Rian: What do you think of the chick lit genre in general?
Kim: I think the fact that its legitimacy is a contentious subject is predictable and a bit boring. Make no mistake: If this genre was a male province, the subject would not have come up, which is why you see a few male authors successfully writing what is essentially traditional romance and the critics fawning all over them, while the many competent women authors of Chick Lit struggle to gain entrï¿½e to the literary world and have their work assessed on its own merits. At the end of the day, Chick Lit is like every other genre: there is good Chick Lit and there is bad Chick Lit. I tend to not be too precious about the production of entertainment media. I think producing entertaining, commercially appealing fiction is a perfectly valid occupation. Since when should writers have to apologize for not penning ULYSSES? Do veterinarians have to make amends for not practicing on humans? Did anyone actually enjoy ULYSSES? Some literary women have suggested that Chick Lit makes all women look bad, and is bad for women’s social progress in general. My response? There’s a reason it’s called *fiction*. If readers aren’t smart enough to walk away from a few exaggerated romps on the frivolous side with their characters and psyches intact, well, even a couple of months with ULYSSES isn’t going to save them.
Rian: Who are your favorite authors, and why?
Kim: Alice Adams, because she breaks so many rules of “good” writing so brilliantly. Also, she’s a word stylist – her turns of phrase are compelling beyond the story itself, which is also always stunning. I love her women. They are cool and prickly, sexual and strange. Elinor Lipman, because she knows how to keep it deceptively simple while she draws you in. David Sedaris, because he is supremely funny and writes like he’s talking to you over Mojitos at a gay bar in the Marais. Also, he is utterly shameless. And vulgar. And did I say shameless? Diane Johnson, because her stories flow like silk. Her words are elegant without being pretentious. And she has the discipline to attack the same topic – French versus American culture — from many angles for many years, always finding something new. Maeve Binchy and Rosamunde Pilcher, because they are consummate storytellers in the grand, epic, classic sense of the word. Karin Slaughter and Val McDermid, because they bring exquisite prose style and character development to police procedurals. Their ability to manipulate the grotesque to tell a story is awesome and they shy away from nothing human.
Rian: Do you plan to write another book (or are you already writing one, and if so, what is it about?)
Kim: I have written a third book, and it is now with my agent. It’s about an up-and-coming fashion designer who is asked by her evil boss to play the biggest charade of her life. The protagonist decides to do it against her better judgment, and, of course, chaos ensues. It’s a comedy of errors at heart. This main character is, in many ways, more vulnerable than some of my earlier ones, but, I think, just as spirited and funny. I’m also working on a fourth book, a seafaring adventure populated with perfectionistic, tight-assed women, roguish scallywags, cheating fiances and earnest law-and-order types. You know, the usual.
Rian: Are you like any of the characters in “Paging Aphrodite”? If so, which one, and why?
Kim: It is becoming apparent to me that in each of my books, there is one character who is the standard-bearer for the main themes of the book. She is not necessarily like me, but she does possess traits I admire, abhor and that have figured prominently in my life or the lives of people close to me. I guess, if pressed, I could say I have been known to display Parker’s snide prickliness.
Rian: When writing, do you have any particular habits or routines? Or does something have to be just-so in order for your thoughts to flow?
Kim: I am creepily ritualistic, actually. I liken it to baseball players in the batter’s box who have to go through this whole crotch-grabbing, tobacco-spitting routine in order to get a hit. That said, after I had a baby – my daughter is now 13 months old – I had to develop new rituals and more flexible rituals because raising a baby was not compatible with rigid I-must-be-at-the-corner-table-of-Starbuck’s-at-2 p.m.-with-venti-iced-soy-chai-in-hand notions of process.
When I first started writing, I had to stick to the ritual of writing every morning before work, in my pajamas, after I went to the bathroom but before breakfast, because I wasn’t yet addicted. That went on for about a year. Now that I am addicted, I can write at any time of day, in any number of cafes (but never at home).
Rian: What do you think of people that bash the chick lit genre?
Well, obviously they have deeply damaged psyches originating in mother-abandonment issues and poor body image. Just kidding! Please see question number three.
Rian: What do you find to be the easiest and hardest thing about writing, and why?
Kim: The easiest thing about writing is mailing a finished manuscript to an agent or editor, because it has nothing to do with writing. The hardest thing for me is plotting. I am lazy and tend not to plan enough structure in advance. Initially, the hardest thing was writing at all, but once the compulsion to move a real, living story along sets in, that gets easier. Not to be flip or aggrandize the profession – there are many challenging disciplines out there, and I surely respect them – but writing is just a repetitive, workaholism-inducing, isolating, frightening, frustrating, sometimes exhilarating calling and it’s good for people to know that. I do feel great after I’ve had a good writing day, or written a clean, intact scene or chapter.
Rian: What advice would you give a person who wants to write a chick lit novel?
Kim: Read some Chick Lit, but read other genres too. Write something every day, or at least six days a week, for at least a year. Do it at the same time every day, or at one of the same two times. Develop rituals for when you try to talk yourself out of writing. Use them. Think only about meeting the goal of writing that day, not the larger, more intimidating goals of finishing a manuscript, finding an agent or selling a book. In terms of content, heed the voice in your head that finds some particular aspect of life or the human condition compelling, tragic or funny. Spin it in your mind. Ask lots of “what ifs.” If it is too hard to develop a fully fleshed story, think about characters instead. It is possible to develop a book out of a strong character. Get to know them very well.