Rian: I found Wanda in TIME OFF FOR GOOD BEHAVIOR very different than a lot of chick lit heroines. Where did you get the idea for her character?
Lani: It’s a funny story. The night before I started writing Time Off as part of the 30-day Nanowrimo challenge (www.nanowrimo.org for any readers who have no idea what I’m talking about) a girlfriend of mine – coincidentally named Wanda, I stole her name for the character – called me up. She told me this story of the time she was in a courtroom testifying against the people who blew her up in a gas explosion and the lawyer was a real jerk and she got up in court and yelled at him! I loved that story, and asked if I could steal it for my opening scene. From there, Wanda is less the real Wanda and a bit more like I imagine I would be if I had made different choices. I’m a bit of a wise-ass, and if I had made poorer choices, I think I could have ended up a lot like Wanda.
Rian: Are you at all like Wanda?
Lani: LOL! I think I just answered that question! In some ways, yeah. I’m tough, on myself and on others. I think (I hope!) I’m less rude than Wanda, and I’m definitely much less angry than she was in the start of the book, but at the core of her being, I think she’s a good person who just got tired of being polite, and I can see much of myself in that. Hope that doesn’t scare anyone away from showing up at my booksignings! I’m really not mean!
Rian: TIME OFF FOR GOOD BEHAVIOR is getting stellar reviews. Do you have another novel in the works? If so, do you care to share what it will be about?
Lani: I will have two books coming out in 2005. The first is a Warner Forever romance called MAYBE BABY, which will be out in June. It’s a romantic comedy caper involving a couple who almost got married six years ago being forced to work together to save the heroine’s mother, who steals a rare and extremely valuable parrot and ends up getting kidnapped. It’s a wild ride! The next, out next fall, is another chick lit novel called THE MIZ FALLONS (working title; it will likely change) which is about a woman who is tricked by her mother into spending the summer in her small, southern hometown with her crazy family of women, and ends up dealing with a lot of issues that she’d been avoiding, and which had been causing her to stagnate. This one is a personal favorite because the love interest is a British writer based in no small part on Colin Firth, and it was a joy to *have* to watch “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “Pride and Prejudice” over and over and over again for my job. Really loved that!
Rian: Wanda was really going through some tough situations in TIME OFF FOR GOOD BEHAVIOR, such as domestic violence, excessive drinking, etc. I think you handled them amazingly well in the story. Why did you include such heavy topics in the book?
Lani: Thank you. It wasn’t really a conscious decision to put those things in, they were just part of who Wanda was, and I had to deal with them. I’ve had some close friends who went through similar experiences, and I wanted to deal with it in a real, non-”Burning Bed” way. I think that when things like this are handled in movies and TV (and sometimes books) there’s a tendency to turn them into after-school specials, and I didn’t want to do that. Women are abused in varying degrees every day, and it takes a toll, but it doesn’t mean they have to go out and kill the bastard. They just need to elevate themselves above it – which is nowhere near as easy as it sounds, but it’s doable without allowing that guy to define everything in their lives. And people drink all the time to get through rough patches; it doesn’t make them alcoholics. I wanted to walk through those things with a character who wasn’t victimized, who went through a tough time and pulled herself up by her bootstraps and got through it without letting those elements of her life define her as a person. I didn’t want to be preachy about any of it – the drinking, the abuse, the smoking, the cursing. I didn’t want to use Wanda to be a lesson to readers about How They Should Live Their Lives (one of the reasons I like chick lit so much is that, as a genre, it preaches very,very little). I just wanted to walk through these things in the way a real, strong woman might. And I love Wanda for giving me a vehicle do that.
Rian: Are you excited to be joining the Chick lit Genre? Why or why not?
Lani: Oh, yes. I love this genre, and am really proud and honored to write it. Alesia Holliday (American Idle), Michelle Cunnah (32AA, Call Waiting) and I are so excited about the genre that we’ve launched a collective blog called Literary Chicks http://www.literarychicks.com just to celebrate what a great friggin’ job we have. And to be on the shelves along with Alesia and Michelle and so many other fantastic authors – Whitney Gaskell, Jennifer Weiner, Melissa Senate, Karen Brichoux, Stephanie Lehman – is truly humbling. I can’t believe I’m in the same clubhouse! I’m all giddy inside!
Rian: Do you have any particular thoughts on people that bash chick lit?
Lani: I don’t get it, really. Most of the time, when I read these articles, I just think, “Pblblbblblt.” There’s a lot of bitterness among the literary establishment that genre sells better than their Booker-prize geniuses. What they fail to understand is that literary fiction is just another genre which happens to have a very small readership. It’s no better than fantasy, or romance, or chick lit – just different. Chick Lit has a wider appeal because the women that come to these titles are looking for an emotional experience, and we give them a story that carries them away from the line at the bank or the doctor’s waiting room and dammit, I’m proud of that. And the fact is, we’re really no threat to the literary establishment because I highly doubt that the wonderful ladies who bought TIME OFF FOR GOOD BEHAVIOR would have picked up David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” if only my book hadn’t been there. But the snobs can get all in a huff and label Chick Lit the forgotten fifth horseman of the apocalypse if they want. It doesn’t change the reality that we write books that touch the women we write them for, and that’s a great friggin’ gig.
Rian: What drove you to become a writer? Was it a lifelong dream or did you just fall into it?
Lani: It was a lifelong dream I didn’t know I had. How’s that for stupid? In elementary school, I was put in a gifted class based solely on my writing (trust me, it certainly wasn’t my math!) In high school, my creative writing teacher gushed all over me. In college, I took a film writing class and that professor really encouraged me. None of this registered with me; I just thought, “Pffft. Who ever makes it as an author?” So I pursued other things and wrote on the side for fun. But I found myself always writing, no matter what else I was doing, and the older I got, the stronger the voices in my head became. Finally, in November 2002, I decided to do the Nanowrimo challenge on a whim, and found myself with this book and these characters that I loved, and I realized that I had to give it a shot, if for nothing else than to know I tried. Six months after making that decision, I had a two-book contract with Warner. Moral of the story – sometimes, teachers are right.
Rian: What did you find to be the most difficult thing about writing TIME OFF FOR GOOD BEHAVIOR?
Lani: Is it horrible to say none of it? I loved writing TIME OFF FOR GOOD BEHAVIOR, from beginning to end. It was by far the easiest book I’ve ever written. It really felt like those characters wanted to be written and I was merely their conduit to the page. Feels like that a lot with my other books, but I’ve struggled more with them. TIME OFF FOR GOOD BEHAVIOR was the gimme book, and I’m grateful for it.
Rian: What are your favorite books and genres to read?
Lani: I love chick lit, obviously, and I enjoy romance. I like funny books mostly. Life’s too short not to be laughing.
Rian: In closing, do you have any advice to give potential chick lit authors?
Lani: Don’t write to the market. Don’t ever write what you think the editors and agents want to read, and don’t write what you see a lot of out there. Write the story that only you can write, and write it with joy. That’s the book you’ll sell.