How did you start writing?
I was working as a private investigator, and a lot of my work was done at home on the phone. My office is located at the front of my house, and the office's windows overlook the street. While I was on the phone, investigating people, I would stare at the house across the street, and slowly a story came to my mind. The story really took shape while I worked late at night (which I did every night) when the house was dark and everyone was asleep. It was the perfect environment to let my imagination turn to "what ifs" and murder mysteries. That was the beginning of my first book, An Affair to Dismember, and you can see the influence in the first passages of the book when the heroine Gladie is looking at the house across the street:
The house across the street caught my attention. It had a falling down, shingled roof. The house sat directly across from my grandma's, right in line with the office window. I had memorized its roof during the last three months in my new profession, in my new house, in my new town. A bunch of shingles had fallen off and some had been repaired haphazardly. I counted twenty seven crooked shingles, and one downright hole. I often pictured the family inside lining up buckets during raining days.
How did you first get published?
I was very lucky to sell my first three books to Ballantine (Random House) at auction through my agent. Several weeks after I signed the contracts, I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. As the cancer doctors were giving me the news, I cried and said: "But I just got a three-book deal!" My surgeons suggested that I could write about my experience, and again I cried and said: "But I write comedy!" It was inconceivable to me that I would ever be able to write comedy, again. A couple of months later, I underwent a huge surgery, and when I got home from the hospital, I was in bed for months. I was surprised to discover that despite the cancer, my funny bone was still intact, and lying in bed with my laptop propped on a pillow next to me, I wrote my second book Matchpoint with only my right hand tapping away at the keyboard. That book might be my funniest.
Why do you write?
I wrote for a living as a journalist for many years before I ever wrote fiction, but I've always been a story-teller. My mind is bursting with stories, probably more than I can ever write, and they're screaming at me daily to get them told. I'm known for a certain writing voice, which is humorous, and I think that's because I see humor in day-to-day life. I'm a single mother, and the humor has helped me get through hard times. It's very exciting to be doing what I love to do for my career, and I'm grateful for the opportunity, every day. After writing so many books, I've noticed that I enjoy writing certain things the most:
The heroine usually starts out in the middle of a nervous breakdown or at least with her life in the toilet, and through adventures and misadventures, rebuilds herself and grows. I love to see my heroines overcome and become empowered.
The hero and the heroine go on a road trip and have a fabulous adventure. The adventure can be dangerous or not, but I love the bonding that happens between the couple when they're taken out of their comfort zones.
Crazy, weird things happen. All right...so you're wondering about the crazy things in my books that couldn't possibly happen in real life. Well, I collect weird news stories and most all of the crazy things have happened at some time in real life (at least a close facsimile to the real story). A donkey flies over a town? Yep, it really happened. A group of mercenaries takes over an island? Yep, it really happened. Firefighters work to save an endangered owl on a pole, and it turns out the owl is plastic? Yep, it really happened. A man was imprisoned in a bus in Chechnya? Well, you get the picture.
Where do you get your ideas? Are the characters real people?
I have no problem with coming up with ideas for stories. It's the writing them down that's hard. And once I start writing one story, my brain starts bothering me about another story. I'm a big "what if" person, and that question usually takes me where I want to go in storytelling.
My characters are created by my imagination. However, I think that of all my characters, Abby in Bounty is most similar to me, and Gladie's friend Bridget in the Matchmaker Series was inspired by a very proud lapsed Catholic friend of mine. One day I was passing a church, and I thought: Wouldn't it be funny if she was secretly religious and I saw her come out of the church right now? And of course, that happened in An Affair to Dismember.
How long does it take you to write a book?
A novel takes me anywhere from six weeks to nine months to write. Each book has its own rhythm.
What is your writing process?
Oy. My writing process is all over the place. The only constant is that I'm not a morning person. I have writer friends who write at four in the morning, and I wish I could do that. There's no internet happening at 4am, and everyone's asleep, so that would be the perfect time to write. But my brain doesn't function in the morning. Some books I've written in my office, some in my bedroom, a couple in the library. Some books I've written a couple thousand words a day, every day. Some books I've procrastinated over and did it all in a marathon session in a short time with little sleep. I like to write with the television on in the background. Comedy has its own rhythm, and so I can't have music on while I write. People talking in the background (The Gilmore Girls is the perfect rhythm, for example) helps me write. I'm a mixture of a plotter and a pantser. In other words, I know more or less what's going to happen in a book before I start writing—especially for the mysteries—but I let a lot of magic fill in the blanks.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Don't quit. Nobody got anywhere by quitting.