Rian: How did you get into the chick lit genre? Did you purposely set out to join the genre, or did you just sort of fall into it?
Whitney: No, I didn’t set out to write in the chick lit genre. I had an idea for a novel featuring a May-December relationship, but originally the story was about a young widow who met and fell in love with a much older widower. Their grief brought them together, even though the age difference caused complications in the blossoming relationship. Not surprisingly, the story felt too maudlin to me. I decided to take a lighter approach, and turned it into a romantic comedy which became Pushing 30.
Rian: I notice your books usually feature women who are not just looking for love, but also looking to better themselves and their lives. Why is this?
Whitney: Love enriches our lives, but no one is made whole simply by finding romantic love. So when I develop the protagonists of my books, I always want to flesh out what their flaws are, and how those flaws prevent them from achieving the goals in life they most want to reach. Ellie in Pushing 30 has to stop living the life her parents want for her, and start defining what she wants in her own life. Claire in True Love (and Other Lies) has low self-esteem, and must learn to believe in herself. Yes, they each find love along the way, but the main purpose of each journey is to overcome their own personal shortcomings.
Rian: What is your favorite chick lit book, and why?
Whitney: I have too many favorites to narrow it down to just one! But if I had to choose, my favorite chick lit book would be Bridget Jones’s Diary. Helen Fielding did it first, and she did it the best. BJD is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, and I think every woman has a little bit of Bridget in her.
Rian: When writing, do you have any particular routine you follow, or something that has to be “just so” in order for your thoughts to flow freely?
Whitney: I used to have schedule where I’d go to the gym and run errands in the morning, and then write in the afternoons. But since writing Pushing 30 and True Love (and Other Lies), I had my son, Sam, and now I just try to write around his naps and after he goes to sleep at night. I don’t have the luxury of a set schedule anymore!
Rian: Do you have any particular thoughts on people who belittle chick lit and say it’s only ridiculous fluff (or similar)?
Whitney: I think these people fall into two groups.
First, you have people who are basically misogynists. Their problem isn’t so much with the books themselves (which I doubt they read), but more that they just don’t like the 20- and 30-something year old women who read, write and appear in these books. I think it’s very telling that those who disparage chick lit don’t expend a similar amount of energy deriding thrillers, mysteries and other forms of commercial fiction.
Then you have a group of effete, literary snobs who think themselves above commercial fiction. They only read “serious” works, and sniff at anything that’s too funny, too light, too entertaining. They’re the same humorless people who will only watch a movie if it’s foreign with subtitles. I do my best to avoid people like that.
Rian: How old were you when you knew for certain you wanted to be a writer? Was there anything in particular that happened to make you decide?
Whitney: I knew I wanted to be a writer at a very young age. My parents gave me an old Smith Corona typewriter as a Christmas present one year, and I’d type up stories and then file them in my father’s cast-off briefcase. I didn’t get serious about it until I was out of law school and discovered just how much I hated practicing law. That was enough motivation to start me writing.
Rian: Are you at all like Claire in your upcoming book “True Love (and Other Lies)” or Ellie in “Pushing 30″? If so, what personality traits are similar?
Whitney: I’m cynical and sarcastic like Claire, and I’m uncomfortable with conflict like Ellie. But that’s where the similarities end. Unlike Ellie, I’ve always been content to march to my own beat. And I think I’m more confident and less guarded than Claire. But my characters always feel like real, discrete people to me, and I get to know them during the writing process the same way a reader gets to know them.
Rian: Where or how do you get most of your ideas for your books and/or characters?
Whitney: Inspiration comes in many different forms. I came up with the idea for True Love (and Other Lies) when I was in London two years ago. I’d been up for nearly 24 hours, and was suffering from jet lag, and suddenly I had this idea for a love triangle that was at least partially set in London. I tried to write down as many notes as I could before passing out from exhaustion, and remember saying to my husband, “Either I have the idea for my next book, or this isn’t going to make any sense to me at all when I wake up tomorrow morning.”
Rian: I really liked the main heroine in True Love (and Other Lies), Claire, because she had morals, was really funny and she stood up for herself. Do you think it’s important for chick lit heroines to be strong-willed and likeable as Claire was?
Whitney: Yes, I do. I don’t think modern women are interested in reading a story that boils down to: woman wants a boyfriend, woman sits around and mopes, man comes and rescues woman. We want heroines who are smart and courageous, and who want more in life than just finding a boyfriend.
As for the likeable part, it’s very difficult to pull off a compelling story starring an unlikable anti-hero. Some writers are able to do it — Zoï¿½ Heller’s, What Was She Thinking, for example, was wonderful — but it’s tough. If a reader is going to commit to 300+ pages they’re going to want someone to root for, and someone they can empathize with. It’s hard to do that if your main character is screwing everyone over.
Rian: Tell us a little about the book True Love (and Other Lies) which is being released near the end of August 2004.
Whitney: I’m really excited about True Love (and Other Lies). It’s about Claire Spencer, a travel writer who doesn’t believe in fate or love, and thinks that if the fairy tale stories do happen, they certainly don’t happen to plus-sized women like her. And then she meets Jack on a cross-Atlantic flight, an American expatriate who’s smart, funny, handsome, and amazingly enough, he seems interested in Claire. It all seems too good to be true . . . and of course, it is.
Rian: Is there any advice you’d give a person who is interested in writing a chick lit novel?
Whitney: Be persistent! Writing is a wonderful career, but it is hard to break into. To be successful, you have to keep plugging away. In the Artist’s Way, Julie Cameron talks about this, and says that it’s not always the best writer who succeeds, it’s the one who has the most audacity. So keep writing, edit your work as many times as you can stand, and keep submitting you manuscripts.
On my desk, I have a paper weight with Winston Churchill’s famous saying: “Never, never, never quit.” That’s the best advice I have for any prospective novelist.