Rian: What made you decide to write your first novel? Was it something you’d always wanted to do and finally got around to, or was it on a whim?
Roz: I had been writing young adult series books, RL Stine type material and Nancy Drew, for a few years when I worked up a proposal for, what I thought could be a funny romance novel. The editor seemed to like it, but when he passed it onto other editors for approval, they had major problems with it. Hmm. The editor, my friend John, sent it back with apologies and an invitation to write for him in this new genre – chick lit. He told me to read Bridget Jones’ Diary and watch Sex and the City. He sent me galleys for Patrick Sanchez’s GIRLFRIENDS, which I found refreshing after being so familiar with the “rules” of romance fiction from my years as an editor. I had always wanted to write something more free-wheeling, but it helped to have some specific parameters, like setting the book in a city and making the main characters urban women my friends and I could relate to. And so, PARTY GIRLS was conceived.
At that time, RED DRESS was running its big debut contest and word was out that they were looking for heroines who smoked and cursed and had tattoos and nose piercings. Looking back, I have to laugh. How many chick lit heroines do you know with those qualities? I see chick lit women as mores distinctly human than their romance counterparts, so for me their physical appearance doesn’t matter quite as much as their attitude.
Rian: I understand that you write under the name Carly Alexander. That brings your total novels to 5. I have loved every single book I’ve read from you! Where do you get your ideas for novels?
Roz: Thanks, Rian. (Insert happy dance here.) It’s so great to hear that the books are hitting the mark. As for ideas, I have to credit my editor John Scognamiglio for inspiring and guiding. In some cases, like GHOSTS OF BOYFRIENDS PAST and RETAIL THERAPY, John came up with smashing titles and themes before I even knew I was going to write a book. He suggested a Christmas chick lit loosely modeled on Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL and a shopaholic story with two friends who meet the frugal shopper. John has a gift for alighting on marketable titles that resonate for me and lead me into story concepts I enjoy writing.
Other book ideas evolved from personal crises or were simply in the air. The reality show framework for GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT came along because some of my friends were so glued to SURVIVOR, I realized this trend was going to last awhile and I liked the idea of having good friends overcome the jealousies and heat of competition. The second novella in THE EGGNOG CHRONICLES evolved from a vacation I took with extended family in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The first novella in EGGNOG arose out of my own thyroid “issues” as well as an intriguing NPR program I heard about celebrity obit writers. And when I was plotting RETAIL THERAPY, I drew on the many December shopping trips I’d shared with the women in my family. Every December the women in my family converge in New York City (from Detroit, Maryland, Florida, Virginia, etc.) and we shop and attend shows and visit museums and stay up way too late singing along at the piano bar in the Hotel Edison. It’s a wonderful tradition started by my mother and Aunt Roz, which has afforded me an inside view of some of the pricier retail establishments that I usually walked by – and quickly – as a New Yorker.
Rian: I especially enjoyed reading about the characters in RETAIL THERAPY. Do you plan to continue their stories at all?
Roz: So glad you enjoyed them. John (my wonderful editor) and I have talked about bringing them back for a CHRISTMAS RETAIL THERAPY or some kind of RETAIL REUNION. For some reason the Alana character has sparked quite a bit of email, with many readers relating to her. One reader, Rahiella, told me that if there’s a movie, she wants to play Alana. Writing Alana, I have to say I enjoyed her wholehearted sense of entitlement. How nice to be free of guilt and unsaddled by the Protestant Work Ethic! Though sometimes I related more to Hailey. A few years ago I had the opportunity to hang on the set of a sit-com as an observer, and I felt Hailey’s klutziness and hesitance, the pressure of an underling to stay in line and don’t even think about looking the “diva” in the eye.
Rian: All of your characters are vibrant, realistic and easy to like. (Even the tough-as-nails ones.) Do you base your characters on anyone you know, or are they all completely fictional?
Roz: So glad to hear you say that. One of my missions is to draw characters that people can sympathize with. As a reader, I find it hard to finish a book when the character leaves me cold or doesn’t grab me, and I’d hate to put out a character that is plastic or boring. Many of my characters are inspired by people I’ve known, but once I start developing them and placing them into plot scenarios they evolve into their own beings. Maggie in GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT was inspired by my friend Amy who used to be an editor at Cosmopolitan (although her boss was a sweetheart compared to the evil “Candy” of GNO). The Hailey character in RETAIL THERAPY was inspired by my friend Kelly, an aspiring actress. Whenever I wrote Leo’s scenes in GHOSTS OF BOYFRIENDS PAST I kept hearing the voice of my friend Mark, with whom I shared an office at one publishing job. Very often I’ll plug a character into one of my friend’s jobs or apartments so that I can use certain details of friends’ lives without “sucking their souls” as one friend so aptly put it.
Recently I felt uninspired about a love interest in the first novella of THE SECRET LIFE OF MRS. CLAUS, so I stuck in my seventh-grade sweetie, Ralph, and I think he worked just fine for inspiration. He’s a writer still living in Baltimore where I grew up, and since he’ll probably never come across this interview I can say it was a hell of a lot of fun to fantasize. Oops…hey, Ralphie!
Rian: In your books with multiple characters’ point of view, you did a fantastic job of separating the characters’ voices. Is it a hard thing to do?
Roz: Once I’ve hammered out a character I usually feel comfortable in her voice, though sometimes when switching point of view I have to go back to the roots of the character and remind myself what she’s really about, what motivates her, how she views the world. More than once I have written myself into a corner with a scene that would be better served in someone else’s viewpoint. Usually, I’ll rewrite. Of course, you can cheat a little, but I’m not a big fan of contrived observations like “her friend looked like she was ready to cry” or “happiness warmed her face.” If something important is happening, I want the reader to be in that person’s skin.
Rian: Of all your characters, which ones could you relate most to, and why?
Roz: Zoey McGuire of PARTY GIRLS immediately comes to mind, probably because I was able to use her as a conduit of my feelings of loss over a failed marriage as well as rebuilding a life with the help of friends in New York City. Parts of her journey are quite similar to mine, and writing her was cathartic for me.
More recently I found many of my own attitudes and feelings coming through in the character of Cassie in THE SECRET LIVES OF MRS. CLAUS that will be released in October 2005. Cassie is a single parent whose main goal is to do the right thing for her son. I got a kick out of writing in some of the things my own son did – like trying to invent a humane mousetrap. In fact, one of my next projects is slated to be a “Mommy Lit” book about a Chick lit writer who’s feeling out of touch with the club scene and singles life. I thought it would be funny for her kids to feel the heat of having a mom who writes books with “bad words” in them. Fortunately, my editor loves the idea. That one will probably be a Carly Alexander book.
Rian: Do you have any other books in the works? If so, what are they about?
Roz: Besides the Mommy Lit, which is still in the planning stages, I’m at work on a Roz Bailey summer book that we’re planning to call POSTCARDS FROM LAST SUMMER. It’s the first time so far I’ve come up with a title that the editorial team likes (yippee!). It’s a beach story that spans over quite a few summers, and as I work on the outline I’m soaking up the coco-butter smell, sand between the toes images while I add a few twists in the relationships among the girls.
In September 2005, Kensington Strapless is publishing SEX AND THE SINGLE WITCH, an anthology that will include my novella SINGLE WHITE WITCH. It’s more chick lit than fantasy, more along the lines of BEWITCHED than CHARMED. I’m pleased to be in the anthology with Theresa Alan and Holly Chamberlin, two other witty Strapless authors.
This year I’m ringing in the holiday season early with THE SECRET LIFE OF MRS. CLAUS, landing in bookstores in October 2005. At the heart of that book is a Mrs. Claus suit that gets passed to a different branch of a department store chain each year. Set in Baltimore, San Francisco, Chicago and New York, the novellas reveal the private lives of three very different women who rediscover the spirit of Christmas when they play Mrs. Claus.
Rian: What are your thoughts on the chick lit genre and the people who bash it?
Roz: First, let me say how refreshing it is to read your statement on Chicklitbooks.com about chick lit books finding their niche in bookstores and in the homes of readers, and your enthusiasm for the genre. Working in romance publishing, I used to hate hearing “Category” or “Genre” books, feeling that it was a put-down (and it probably was!) But I’ve come to realize that booksellers need these handles as a sales tool; they need to identify books by genre to help organize stores and help readers find a heaping display of what they’re looking for, thus the mystery or romance section. Personally, I’m always a little surprised to find my books on the FICTION/LITERATURE shelves with Charles Dickens and Pearl Buck. I mean…wow! Could I be more flattered?
On the other hand, if they created a chick lit section in bookstores, I’d love that, too. There’s no shame in writing genre fiction. When I was an assistant editor at Silhouette Books, we were publishing Nora Roberts’ first romances. Take a look at the New York Times bestseller list these days and often half of the writers came from “category romance.” Authors like Nora Roberts and Lisa Jackson, Linda Howard and Debbie Macomber were just starting out with us umpteen years ago, and over the years they’ve crossed the line from being “romance writers” to being “writers,” and best-selling ones at that. Every time I pass by an end cap in the grocery store I’m astounded by the number of romance alums who are now bestsellers. You go, girls!
Rian: What are your favorite books and authors of all time?
Roz: I have devoured every bit of fiction written by Anna Quindlen. BLESSINGS was full of surprises for me, BLACK AND BLUE kept me on edge, and OBJECT LESSONS made me nostalgic for Catholic School and suburban living. There’s breathtaking honesty in her depiction of issues, and her characters are multi-faceted and vivid and unforgettable. I’m so bummed that I’ve read every novel she’s published so far.
I savored Sue Monk Kidd’s SECRET LIFE OF BEES and Anita Shreve’s THE PILOT’S WIFE. Loved Melissa Banks’ THE GIRL’S GUIDE TO HUNTING AND FISHING. I’m convinced my friend Judy (who writes as Jude Watson and Susannah Bamford) is one of the finest writers of our time and I loved publishing her books GILDED CAGE and BLIND TRUST many years ago. I just wish she could find her way out of children’s fiction and back into adult books.
If all those recommendations seem a little too edgy and depressing, check out Jennifer Coburn’s chick lit novels WIFE OF REILLY and REINVENTING MONA. You gotta love her positive spin, her comedic timing and the underlying heart of her protagonists. We’re talking laugh out loud.
Rian: If someone asked you for publishing advice on how to publish their chick lit novel, what would you tell them?
Roz: Read what’s out there (though you don’t have to like it all. And if you don’t like a book, let it inspire you to write something better.) Rent a few seasons of SEX AND THE CITY (and you gotta like it all.) Read Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD which offers sound and sane advice for any writer.
Try to mix discipline and form with inspiration and creativity. And go for what inspires you, whether it’s watching a sunset or listening in on coffee-talk at Starbucks. I can’t tell you the amount of private details I’ve learned from strangers who are sharing their lives with someone else on the other end of their cell phones. Sometimes I’d love to turn around and gasp: “He did what? How many times?”
Books by Roz Bailey/Carly Alexander