Rian: I loved Three Bedrooms in Chelsea – the characters were all unique and very likeable, despite their flaws. What was the inspiration behind that book?
Liz: Thank you very much! The idea for that book came to me when I was sitting in front of a cheesy but incredibly watchable sixties movie called “The Pleasure Seekers,” which is a remake of “Three Coins in a Fountain,” the classic three-girls-in-an-apartment movie of all time. And I realized that I simply had to write a three girls in an apartment book. I’m also a big fan of Rona Jaffe’s book “The Best of Everything,” though that book only has two girls in an apartment. It’s the blueprint for the women in the big city story–sort of a Sex and the City from the fifties. Also, the character of Greta had been floating around in my head for a long time. I wasn’t sure she would make a good heroine on her own because she’s so overpowering. But when I put her in the same apartment with the goofy young thing from Texas, I felt she had found her place.
Rian: I also loved your latest novel How I Stole Her Husband. How did you come up with the idea for the plot in that book?
Liz: Thanks again! That’s very nice of you to say. I really wasn’t sure how people were going to react to this story. I actually (almost) pulled this idea from real life. A woman I know mentioned that in her twenties she had almost gone for a job interview (as a nanny!) for a person she went to high school with. This woman found out in time and backed out of the interview, but what if she hadn’t found out? I couldn’t stop thinking about that.
Rian: Of all the characters in your books, which one are you most like, if any?
Liz: They’re all me, in one way or another. Even the villains (which are the characters I love to write most!) are just my id run amok. The character closest to my autobiography is probably Danielle in Three Bedrooms in Chelsea – I grew up in Texas and ran off to New York when I was twenty-one–but I hope I’m not that much of a ditz. (Though I did carry on a fifteen-minute conversation with a homeless guy in NYC on my first day there before I realized he was just waiting for me to give him some change, so maybe I’m flattering myself.)
Rian: You have also written books that would fall into the “romantic comedy” category. Which kind of books do you find you like to write most?
Liz: I like to switch between genres. I love romantic comedy, but chick lit allows a little more freedom when it comes to plot. I also just started co-authoring a series of Regency romances with my sister (we write under the name Alexandra Bassett, and our first book comes out in July), and those are a gas to do, too, because they’re pure fantasy. Not sticking with one genre might not be the best idea career-wise, but I like having a lot of irons in the fire.
Rian: Do you have any other novels in the works? If so, what are they about?
Liz: Apart from the aforementioned Regencies, I just finished a novella for this year’s Strapless Christmas collection, and I’m working on my next novel for Strapless, which is a story about a woman whose ex-boyfriend (and current roommate) becomes a romance writer. The title is “The Pink Ghetto,” and it should be out early next year (fingers crossed).
Rian: What do you think of the chick lit genre in general? What about the people that put it down?
Liz: I’ve been a fan of chick lit before it had a name, I think. For a couple of years there I owed my soul to Amazon.co.uk, where I got my periodic infusion of witty books about twenty-somethings. The thing I love about chick lit (besides the obvious fact that the writers tend to look at the humorous side of things) is that the protagonists can be just a little bit bad, or loopy. As I reader, I love it when heroines just aren’t victims of circumstance or evil people, but are also having to contend with their own faults and bad decisions. Books like The Wife of Reilly and The Thin Pink Line have such great (twisted!) premises, but would they have found publishers if it weren’t for chick lit? I wonder about that sometimes.
As for people who put down chick lit, I’ve spent ten years writing romances, the Rodney Dangerfield of book genres, so I’m used to getting no respect. I can still climb up on my soap box when it comes to the issue, though, which I think boils down to snobbery, or sexism. Entertainment marketed to women usually gets second-class treatment. It happens with movies, too. I don’t know a remedy, except to vote my taste with my wallet and not care what other people think.
Rian: When you are writing, do you have a set schedule and place to write, or do you just kind of sit down and write any time, any place?
Liz: I have an office, and I have really good intentions. Really, I’m amazed I get anything done because I’m so easily distracted. So for a while I’ll stay up till three a.m., because it’s easier to concentrate at night, and when I get tired of that I’ll try getting up early. Or I’ll decide to go to the public library and work in one of their quiet rooms. If I hear an author say she writes her first drafts with pad and pen, I will try that. Someone told me I should try working in coffee shops, so I spent a month downing cafe au lait and eavesdropping on people instead of writing.
Rian: How did you get started writing fiction? Was it always a dream, or did you just kind of fall into it?
Liz: I started writing in college, when I was involved in theater. I took a playwriting course and was hooked on writing at once. After college, when I realized getting a play produced was about as easy as winning the lottery, I started writing prose and found it suited me better. I like being the sole creator–playwright, director, and actors all rolled into one. It was another five years before I got anything published, though.
Rian: What, if anything, do you find to be the hardest thing about writing fiction? The easiest?
Liz: The easiest part is beginning. I’ve got an entire file of first pages of novels. I love to start work on something new. The hard part is that awful stretch, which usually occurs when I’m halfway through a first draft, when I start thinking that what I’m working on is a disaster. I begin to worry that the idea is a stinker, that I can’t possibly finish the book, and even if I do, it will be the last thing I’m ever allowed to publish. I waste time looking through want ads for other ways to make a living. It’s a mental quicksand I get stuck in every time. My answers to these last two questions make me sound like a nut, don’t they? I’m not, I swear…
Rian: Who are your all-time favorite writers and books?
Liz: This is such a hard question! I suppose my favorite writer, my stuck-on-a-desert-island choice, would be Anthony Trollope. He’s highbrow and pop fiction all rolled into one, and even though his books are a hundred and fifty years old, to me they could have been written yesterday. I read and re-read Jane Austen, Barbara Pym, and Ann Tyler. (One time I discovered I had three copies of Tyler’s Morgan’s Passing in my house. I guess I worried there would be a shortage someday.) I also love Elinor Lipman, Stephanie Lehmann, Leslie Stella (Fat Bald Jeff!), Jennifer Belle, Jennifer Cruisie…and about a hundred other people.
Rian: In closing, if there was one piece of advice you’d give to potential writers, what would it be?
Liz: Don’t look back! Start writing your book and don’t stop till you get to the end. Don’t go over your first chapter obsessively till its perfect before you begin the next one. Don’t stop to show a wonderful chunk of your unfinished novel to your best friend. Once you get to the end, you can re-write to your heart’s content and show it to all your loved ones, but until then, it’s too easy to become discouraged by your own perfectionism or a bit of criticism that can stop you cold and make you not finish. And if you don’t finish, you won’t have a book. Period.