Michelle Cunnah

Rian: Emma is such an endearing and funny character in your books “32AA” and “Call Waiting”. I also loved Rachel, the loud, outspoken genius friend of Emma. Tell me, where did you get the idea for these characters? Are they based at all on anyone you know?

Michelle: I’m so glad you enjoyed them, Rian! And my ideas for Emma and Rachel (and for all my other characters) came from everyone I’ve ever known, every character I’ve ever read in books, and every TV show or movie I’ve ever seen . They are pastiches, and I borrow elements from different characters as I’m character building-and yes, some of my own traits do get in there-I love Led Zeppelin, but not quite as much as Emma . Before long, as I’m adding traits and writing, the characters begin to take on a life of their own, and hopefully sound like unique people. They certainly become real in my head!

Rian: The character Emma deals with telemarketers in some pretty ingenious ways in both of your books. Is there a story behind that?

Michelle: LOL, yes. I have to confess that this aspect of Emma is based on me but she thinks up sometimes silly, sometimes clever, sometimes ingenious ways to fob off telemarketers, whereas I am just a wimp who has spent a lot of time trying not to be rude on the phone J.

When I first moved to America six years ago, I hadn’t encountered anything like the telemarketer phenomenon before, so when I began to receive calls from very worthy charities, and from other very worthy causes, I found it really hard to say no and just hang up (I blame my British upbringing ). Obviously I had to rein in because let’s face it, I couldn’t keep handing out fifteen dollar donations ad infinitum. So I offered one telemarketer five dollars, my logic being that I could support three worthy charities for the price of fifteen bucks, thereby also keeping my bank manager happy. The telemarketer told me that the minimum donation was fifteen dollars. My five bucks wasn’t good enough!

And when an American friend told me that telemarketers are mostly paid solicitors, and that only a portion of my donation went to the actual charity, I stopped. I still can’t bring myself to be rude, though, because I think it must be a very difficult job to do, and why give someone a hard time when they are only trying to earn a living? This is one reason why I turned Emma into a telemarketer in CALL WAITING and had her ignored, put on hold, etc.-kind of a nod to the telemarketers from me to say that it’s really nothing personal, guys .

Rian: On our phone chat earlier you mentioned you are soon moving back to Europe, where you are originally from. What will you miss most about America?

Michelle: Secretly, I think of myself as a nomad from nowhere in particular. I was born and brought up in Sheffield, Yorkshire (home to the Full Monty and Calendar Girls) in the north of England, but spent six formative years of my childhood in Zambia in central Africa. Then back to Sheffield for a few years, then London for a few more, then the Netherlands for yet a few more, and then America. Whew. Were did the years go? After six wonderful years here we’re currently in the process of moving back to the Netherlands.

And I will miss absolutely everything about America-including the telemarketers J. I live about six miles from Manhattan, so that will be a wrench to leave behind. Plus all my friends, particularly my writing buddies. But that’s the beauty of e-mail-we can keep in touch. And I’m already planning my first trip back here in October. I’m taking part in a chick lit panel at the New Jersey Romance Writers’ conference. I’m doing the same thing at the Romantic Times convention next May in St. Louis.

Rian: You also mentioned that you are a pretty big fan of chick lit yourself and have around 200 chick lit books. Who are your favorite writers and/or books, and why?

Michelle: I’m going to say the obvious ones very, very quickly (sorry to be predictable!). Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones books, everything by Jane Austen, and everything by Jennifer Crusie, who is technically not a Chick Lit writer, but she’s really influenced my writing. Whew. Moving swiftly on.

Newer writers and books that I currently love:

AMERICAN IDLE by Alesia Holliday. It really puts a whole new spin on reality TV. Just finished this book, and it had me laughing and rolling around on the floor. Plus I loved Jules Vernon, the female lead-hot, sexy, funny-what more could a reader want?
DO ME, DO MY ROOTS by Eileen Rendahl is more serious, featuring a young widow getting her life back together after her husband dies of a brain tumor. At times sad, at times funny and a wonderful poignant read. Especially how the main character interacts with her sisters and her parents.
ARE YOU IN THE MOOD by Stephanie Lehmann, because I love Stephanie’s funny, at times sarcastic voice, and her depiction of life off off Broadway. The main protagonist completely changes her life expectations, and has to learn to live with her new circumstances. I also loved Stephanie’s THOUGHTS WHILE HAVING SEX.
BOY MEETS GIRL by Meg Cabot, because that, too, had me laughing aloud just as much as her earlier THE BOY NEXT DOOR.
A GIRL NAMED ZIPPY by Haven Kimmel, which although is a diary, and is non fiction, and is not Chick Lit, was quirky and funny and sweet.
An upcoming book which I’m dying to read is TIME OUT FOR GOOD BEHAVIOUR by Lani Diane Rich. I’ve read the first chapter on Lani’s website. She has a really funny, kick-assy heroine and I cannot wait for more in October this year.

I could go on and on, but I’ll send you to sleep (if I haven’t already), so I’ll stop now J.

Rian: Now for the question that many are wondering: Do you plan to write another book with Emma and Jack? Why or why not? (Sorry, I know I already asked you this a couple times, this time it’s for everyone else). :-)

Michelle: I would love to write another book (or two) about Emma and Jack because I had such a lot of fun with the first two books. Sadly, there are no publication plans at this moment. I do have two more books plotted, and perhaps if 32AA and CALL WAITING do well (and if people are not bored with the characters after the first two books), I’m hoping that I might get the opportunity to do so. But we’ll just have to wait and see.

Next from me is CONFESSIONS OF A SERIAL DATER which will be released August 2005. It’s based in London and features a heroine who runs an odd-job agency in Notting Hill (includes finding jobs for an ex-porn star who is sick of sex, and a sitter for a super-rich kitty). It also features a quirky assortment of friends, an evil cousin, and a wacky grandma who is embroiled in a love triangle. It also has garden gnome theft, and, of course, falling head-over-heels in love with a totally inappropriate, nonsensible man who literally sweeps the heroine off her too-large, too-wide feet. It was a lot of fun to write!

Rian: Now for the question I’ve been asking every author: what do you think of the people who belittle and bash chick lit? Any particular thoughts?

Michelle: Before I sold 32AA I’d been reading and writing romance (unpublished) for years. Romance, like Chick Lit, has had its fair share of genre bashing, too, and I guess I’ve just developed a thick skin over the years because I don’t let it upset me.

Bottom line: I write commercial fiction because I love it so, and think it’s the best job in the world (on account of being able to do it in my pajamas ). I want each book to be the very best it can possibly be. I want to have lots of fun while I write it, and I want to give my readers lots of fun when they read it.

I don’t expect everyone to love the Chick Lit genre, and yes, it can be irritating if someone belittles a genre without having actually read it. But Chick Lit is doing so well in the bookstores, and satisfied readers and strong sales say it all.

Rian: What made you decide to start writing books? Was there something in particular that made you decide?

Michelle: Lots of reasons made me start. I’ve always read widely and written, right from being in school, where I wrote scripts for plays (wild pastiches of favorite movies and books). I think the idea really took hold of me after I fell in love with short series romances in my teens, had a run-in with a school librarian who took away my romance books, and told me I had to read “real” books, and then there was that teacher who told me that my current English assignment was “too women’s magazine.” And various other similar, yet unrelated incidents in my life.

But twelve years ago, when I finally had some free time on my hands and sat down to write my first series romance (rejected, boo hoo, along with seventeen or eighteen more short romances) I was bitten by the writing bug. I think most writers will agree that if writing is in you, it’s just something that you have to do, even if you’re jotting a blog journal or a diary. Or a “To Do” list .

Rian: You are one of the founding members of www.chicklitwriters.com, a cool website for chick lit authors that are part of the RWA. What made you and the others decide to start the site?

Michelle: It was Marley Gibson, our president’s idea, and we owe her so much for getting us organized into a founding board.

The main reason I wanted to be part of this whole, new adventure is because I think it’s great for the Chick Lit writers to have a “home” of their own. A place where we can help and encourage our pre-published writers (that sounds much more positive than unpubbed, in my opinion), and can share industry and craft news. It’s also a place where we cheer each other on when we get great news, commiserate with each other over rejection and foul reviews, and I could go on, but let me just say that it is a hugely supportive place to be-a bit like having a large, extended family.

Rian: If someone handed you $500 and told you to go buy something, what would you buy?

Michelle: A plane ticket to somewhere I’ve never been before. Or possibly more books J.

Rian: What advice, if any, would you give someone who wants to write a book? What’s the hardest thing about it that you have found, if anything?

Michelle: The hardest thing for me: self doubt, and letting it stop me from getting to those two magic words “The End.” The other hardest thing: taking rejection in the face, over and over, then starting a new project and getting it out there. But it does get less hard over time.

Advice to anyone who wants to write a book: I have to be completely predictable here and agree with absolutely every other writer. Read your target genre extensively. Write what you love. Write all the time and submit. Join a writing organization so that you have people who understand that you hear voices, and will tell you that it’s perfectly normal because they hear voices, too. Additionally, they will be there to (a) commiserate when you receive a rejection letter, (b) cheer you on to keep going, and (c) teach you about the craft of writing. You get to make some great new friends, too.

Oh, and one last thing. Don’t give up.


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