Rian: I’ve found your books to be light, funny and on the daring side. Where do you get your ideas from? Does anything/anyone in particular inspire you?
Valerie: I get asked the ideas question often. Best to explain it this way: In a day, or week or year, we watch TV, see movies, read books, magazines, newspapers, listen to our friends’ problems, go shopping, travel through life. All that input gets tossed into the mental cement mixer, and out comes a tiny hard nugget of an idea that grows into a plot. Case in point: I saw the movie Eyes Wide Shut the day before I had lunch with a friend who hadn’t had sex in five years. The movie was supposed to be a thriller, but I thought that, if twisted just the right way, it could have been a great comedy about the guy who can’t get laid. At lunch, my friend was complaining about her no-sex condition. I put two and two together, and came up with The Accidental Virgin, story of a girl who hasn’t had sex in a long time, tries everything she can think of to get it, but can’t quite pull it off.
I’m often inspired by reporting magazines articles. Before writing TheGirlfriend Curse, for example, I was working on an article for the NYT on Vermont style, and then decided to set the book in that state. I was also doing a story for Ladies Home Journal on personality development, and made that a major part of the story.
Most of all, I’m inspired by my love life. My last three books have been influenced by my new husband Steve. He’s given me loads of material, and his diverse interests (many of which I had never been exposed to before) consistently trigger fresh avenues of thought.
Rian: Which character in which book are you most like? Freida in “Not-so-perfect-man”, Stacy in “Accidental Virgin”, or Francesca in “Smart vs Pretty”? Why? (Or why not?)
Valerie: Was it Freud who said that, in dreams, it’s all you? In novels, even characters based on other people are really the author’s vision of that person, putting her own spin on his or her thoughts and motivations. All of my characters are versions of me. In The Not-So-Perfect Man, I wrote about three very different sisters: The youngest sister was me in my twenties. The middle sister was me when I first became widowed. The older sister was . . . okay, that wasn’t me at all. That was based on my sister Alison, but in a grossly exaggerated form (and she understands that).
Stacy in The Accidental Virgin wasn’t exactly me, but someone I’d like to be. Funny that you, Rian, mentioned Franscesca (the smart sister) and not Amanda (the pretty sister) from Smart vs. Pretty. Actually, Franscesca is a lot more like Alison and I’m more like Amanda. But again, they’re both really both me, or who I’d like to be or have as a friend.
Rian: What do you think of the chick lit genre in general? Are you thrilled to be apart of it?
Valerie: I love chick lit! Are you kidding? I don’t read it exclusively, but I get to at least three chick litters a month. I’m often asked to blurb other writer’s novels, so I read a lot in manuscript and love seeing the finished product in stores, even when it’s not my own book. One of the greatest things about chick lit calls to mind the phenom of Harry Potter novels. Rowlings books turned a generation of kids into avid readers.
Chick lit has also created millions of new book lovers. Not only women, I might add. I get emails from male fans, too.
Rian: I am looking forward to the release of your next book, “The Girlfriend Curse.” What is it about?
Valerie: The hero is Peg Silver, a woman who discovers that each of her last seven boyfriends, after dumping her, got married to the very next woman he slept with. She is the Last Girlfriend. The one who inspires a man to commit for life to another woman. In fact, all of her exes credit their relationship with Peg for helping them grow and mature enough to marry. Peg is thrown into a major crisis with this revelation. She decides to flee New York (clearly not working there), and move to Vermont where she hopes to find a flannel clad woodsman with all his teeth but no facial hair. Instead, a series of unfortunate events leads her to sign up at an adult education seminar called Inward Bound, where romantic misfits go to learn from their relationship mistakes. The program is run by a sexy organic shrink; he and Peg had crackling tension. I love the fish out of water comedy in this book. Her urban cynicism against the Vermont country earnestness. I got lots of sex in there and, as I mentioned above, neat info about personality research.
Rian:I have heard through the grapevine (and we were discussing it on the site forums) that “Accidental Virgin” is being made into a movie starring Heather Graham. What is it like to have a book being made into a movie? Is the movie going to be very similar to the book?
Valerie: Whoa, there, Rian. It’s supposed to be made into a movie, and all the pieces are in place, but you never know what could go wrong. It’s bad luck to say something is a done deal when it could all fall apart at any second.
Okay, protective superstitiousness aside, Heather Graham and her producer partners optioned the book, hired Nicole Eastman to write the screenplay, and also hired Aime Stiers to direct. I believe there is secure financing, but again, in Hollywood, or so I’ve heard, bad things can happen for no good reason. For me, simply having the book optioned was a dream come true. And by Heather Graham! I’ve been a longtime fan. Never dared imagine this would happen with any of my books, or with her. You ask, What’s it like? It’s sweet relief. Acknowledgement, a bit of money, something to look forward to, extra attention, all those good things. I have no idea how similar the movie – if it gets made – will be to the book. The screenwriter told me they were very, very close. Doesn’t really matter. Anywhere in the ballpark would be okay by me.
Rian: What do you think about people who bash the chick lit genre? Any particular thoughts?
Valerie: I met a woman at a party recently who’d tried to sell a collection of short stories. She didn’t get a deal, and said – not knowing I’m a chick lit author – that she and her agent blamed my accursed genre for soaking up all the publishing dollars and leaving literary fiction writers without contracts. That attack was borne of her own frustration, and I wasn’t put off by her. A met a man at a party (you’d think I go to a lot of parties…) who said to me, “You’re the one who writes those silly, silly books.”
He was a drunken buffoon, and I found him more entertaining thanoffensive. The attacks that do bug me are from reviewers, etc., whodiscount the value of a well-told comic story, as if fiction only hasvalue if it’s about dead babies, Nazis, rape, murder, incest or war.Anyone who trashes chick lit novels should try reading one first (mostantipathy is ignorance).
Rian: I saw on your website that you have a non-fiction book out. What is it about?
Valerie: It’s called The Best You’ll Ever Have: What Every Woman Should Know About Getting and Giving Knock-Your-Socks-Off Sex. I’m actually the co-author, or the credited ghost writer for Shannon Mullen, owner of sex-toy website Safina.com. The book is about her experiences doing women’s only sex informational salons around the country. It’s first-person in her voice. I just gave it the professional writer polish and some organization. Shannon is a hell of a woman, and the book is full of good sex tips, tricks, toys, etc. I hope it helps a lot of people.
Rian: How did you get your start in writing chick lit? (And writing in general.)
Valerie: I worked in magazines as an editor for many years (at Mademoiselle for a decade), so that got me started doing journalism. I sold my first novel at 25, a mystery, to Pocket Books. They put out four of them, a series with a female P.I. named Wanda Mallory, and then I decided to try something new. Those mysteries, looking back, were really chick-lit detective stories. It was a natural transition, for my next novel, Smart vs. Pretty, to do another murder mystery, but with standard chick lit main characters, two sisters, single, late twenties, who ran a cafe in NY. I did The Accidental Virgin next. No murders, but a large body count of bad dates.
I can’t really say how I got started writing in general since it’s allI’ve ever done. My college major was English modified with CreativeWriting. I wrote my first novella as my senior thesis (and, when I dareglance at that now, it is PAINFUL). I went through a brief playwriting phase, and then started my first mystery novel when I was around 23. People who try to write a first novel at 30 or 40 put a lot of pressure on themselves. I see it all the time among my magazine friends. I wrote my first as an experiment, really, to see if I could do it. I was too young and stupid to be afraid. My best advice to anyone who wants to write a first novel: Do it as an experiment and write as if no one will ever read it.
Rian: What, if anything, do you find to be the hardest thing about writing? The easiest?
Valerie: The hardest: Hitting daily page counts. Some days are better than others. When I have a magazine assignment, I’m always too tired to work on fiction at the same time. I’m forever playing catch-up.
The easiest: Plots. They come fast and furious. Sometimes, plots come in dreams, which is where I got the idea for The Good Witch, the one I’m writing now. I have a long list of fifteen short story ideas, some really sexy and funny. Hope I can find time to write them.
Rian: What are your favorite books of all time?
Valerie: The only book I repeat read every few years is Pride and Prejudice. Otherwise, I’m most haunted by John Updike’s Rabbit novels.
Rian: And last, but not least, do you have any advice for someone who wants to write a chick lit novel?
Valerie: The difference between a published writer and a non-published one is that the published writer has completed a book. Anyone who aspires to write chick lit or any type of book has got to buckle down and do it from beginning to end. Even if the pages sucks, at least you have something to work with, or show an agent. One page a day is a fine start. Don’t worry about a plot outline. No one sticks to the original outline. It’s be weird if your plot didn’t evolve. And, as I mentioned above, write as if no one will ever read it. That can be quite liberating and fun. As writing should be.