~ Interview By Melina Kantor
I first met Marilyn over three years ago at the RWA Conference in San Francisco. It was my first conference, and I’d just finished my very first novel. Being surrounded by wonderful and supportive authors was an incredible feeling, but I felt like the lone chick lit writer of the bunch.
Then I met Marilyn, who introduced herself by saying that she wrote “light women’s fiction.” She could not have been nicer or more supportive.
Meeting and getting encouragement from a successful, Golden Heart winning chick lit writer was an experience I will never forget.
Plus, she’s been known to give me coffee and chocolate. 🙂
Hi Marilyn! Thank you so much for being here with us today!
Hi Melina!! It’s my pleasure. Thanks so much for inviting me!
What I enjoy most about your books is that you clearly write about what you love (80’s music, Jane Austen, friends, coffee. . .). Your interests seem to naturally lend themselves to the chick lit genre. Have you always been a fan of the genre? What inspired you to start writing it?
Oh, thank you! And, yes, I’ve always been a chick lit fan and read quite a lot of it (from Jennifer Weiner to Emily Giffin to Helen Fielding). I’d written a couple of short stories with a chick-lit voice, too. However, writers read a lot (yes, I know this is an understatement), so I’d also read everything from literary fiction to gothic mysteries to sci-fi…and I’d written full-length manuscripts that ranged from romantic comedy to domestic drama. I know some writers who are happiest when writing in only one genre and with one narrative tone. I’m not that kind of writer. My debut novel—According to Jane—is definitely more chick-lit-esque and quite different from my second book—Friday Mornings at Nine—which is pretty firmly in women’s fiction.
What inspires me to write almost any story, though, is that I feel strongly about women needing to take their own journeys of self-discovery. That they need to pay enough attention to the people around them so they can figure out who is genuinely on their side. They also need to really listen to their inner voice, long enough to hear what their heart is telling them. For me, Jane Austen is the author who paved the way for the rest of us—the great-grandmother of chick lit *grin*. Books like Bridget Jones’s Diary and films like “Clueless” show us how seamlessly Austen’s themes and plotlines can be adapted to modern-day situations. To me, they were very influential projects and both played a part in inspiring me to want to write my own homage to Austen and her wisdom.
In your opinion, what are the most important characteristics of a chick lit heroine?
A smart, insightful woman with a good sense of humor—whether or not she shares her amused opinions with the world at large or merely thinks them to herself. Also, a woman who’s willing to risk learning more about herself, even if that means she’ll realize she’s made a mistake in some area of her life. She has to be open to exploring the opportunities around her, reflecting on her experiences and—when necessary—making changes so she’ll grow.
What separates chick lit from romance? Why do you think chick lit is important to so many women?
When I was an RT reviewer, I had the pleasure of reading/reviewing both chick lit and contemporary romance and, in a few areas, they’re quite different. Romance guarantees a happily-ever-after ending with another person. Chick lit only guarantees an upbeat ending—and sometimes the most optimistic thing that could happen for that book’s heroine is for her to be comfortable being alone. So, I think chick lit offers a unique, fun and sometimes very true-to-life glimpse into the experiences many women have during this youthful and exciting period in their lives. And it’s exciting for readers, too, since they don’t necessarily know from the first page where the story’s characters will end up.
What do you think of the term “chick lit?” Do you think there’s a more appropriate, more socially acceptable name for the genre or should we leave well enough alone?
I personally don’t mind the term “chick lit” at all when used by anyone who enjoys light contemporary stories about women. I find myself getting a bit irritated with people, though, who use it dismissively, as in, “Well, that’s not worth reading—it’s just chick lit,” because I’m never certain where their disdain originated. Do they object to the focus of the story being on women? To the lightness of the tone? I don’t know what term for this style of book would make everyone happy, though. The problem, in my opinion, is far less about the genre’s name than about people who pass a judgment on a novel of any genre without reading it.
Community is so important to writers. How has belonging to organizations like Romance Writers of America been beneficial to you?
I can say with certainty that the Chicago-North RWA chapter is a large reason why I’m now a published writer. RWA as a whole is a fantastic organization, but on the local level, having hometown chaptermates who will read and critique manuscripts—offering decades of wisdom and experience—has been SUCH a gift. It’s not as though a writer has to work less when she has a great chapter behind her, but that the lessons the multi-published members teach by example are so inspiring that I know I found myself wanting to work harder to make them glad they took the time to help me. I’m now part of other groups, too, like my Golden Heart sisters from 2007 (the “Bond Girls”), the Cherries (!!), the Girlfriends Book Club and the Austen Authors. It so nice to connect with people—online and off—who really understand the crazy process of bringing a novel to life and who are willing to share the journey, with all its ups and downs.
Do you have any advice for chick lit writers who are discouraged by those who claim that “chick lit is dead?”
Short answer: Ignore people who say that!
Slightly longer answer: In my opinion, chick lit is more about the tone of a story than the plot. The old days of having the twenty-something heroine talk mostly about shoes and bad boyfriends and her crummy apartment and her job in the big city…well, those stories would have a hard time selling now, simply because they’re rehashing the plots of many successful books that showcased those storylines already (like Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada). However, set the book elsewhere and expand her experiences to include some more original ideas while still keeping the woman’s journey and the fun, upbeat tone (like Maria Geraci does in her latest release, The Boyfriend of the Month Club) and the doors swing wide open again.
Would you like to tell us a bit about your books? What are you working on now?
Of course—I love that question! My debut novel, According to Jane, is the story of a woman who has the ghost of Jane Austen in her head giving her dating advice. It’s light and quirky, but the heat level in certain spots is very high in this book, so consider yourselves forewarned! My second novel, Friday Mornings at Nine, is a modern fairy tale about three forty-something suburban moms who begin to wonder if they married the right man… Can you just feel all the soul-searching angsty-ness that’s going to happen?! I really wanted to explore that “what-if” fantasy a lot of women share when they get into a marital rut and start imagining other paths not taken. And my upcoming third novel, which will be out on November 29th, is called A Summer in Europe. It’s about a woman who gets a 5-week trip to Europe as a 30th birthday present from her eccentric aunt. The only catch? The trip is a bus tour with her aunt’s wacky senior-citizen Sudoku and Mah-jongg club! And while abroad, she has some adventures—both educational and romantic. It was a LOT of fun to write and, I’ll admit, I ate tons of Italian gelato while doing “research” for the story *grin*.
Thanks again Marilyn! I’m so looking forward to A Summer in Europe!
Melina, thank YOU!! Wishing you and all the readers here a wonderful week 😉 .
Marilyn’s favorite indulgence is gelato, what’s yours?! Leave your answers in the comments!
Marilyn Brant is the award-winning women’s fiction author of ACCORDING TO JANE (2009), FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE (2010) and A SUMMER IN EUROPE (coming 11-29-11), all from Kensington Books. She’s been a classroom teacher, library staff member, freelance writer and national book reviewer. Since turning to writing, her novels have won the prestigious Golden Heart Award, as well as the Single Titles Reviewers’ Choice, the Booksellers’ Best and the Aspen Gold Reader’s Choice Awards, and they’ve been selected as Doubleday Book Club and Book-of-the-Month Featured Alternate Selections. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and son, surrounded by towers of books that often threaten to topple over and crush her.