Friday, February 03, 2006

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Melissa Senate

Today I've got a very special guest on the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit, but first a quick writing binge report: I topped 100,000 words last night. I didn't stay up quite as late, but I did start work while the sun was still up. Still couldn't sleep, though. I think I may have two and a half or so more chapters to write. It's hard to tell. I got the advance payment for this book yesterday, so I guess that means I actually have to finish it, huh?

But enough about me. My guest this time around is Melissa Senate, author of the new book The Breakup Club. She launched onto the scene in 2001 as author of the bestseller See Jane Date, which was made into a movie for the ABC Family Channel starring Charisma Carpenter (of Buffy and Angel fame).

But Melissa and I go way back beyond that. Let's indulge in a little time travel here. In 1991 I wasn't long out of college and had decided it was time I stopped just thinking about being a writer. I needed to do something about it. I'd taken a couple of community college seminars. I'd joined the local "Writers Connection" organization (which turned out to be mostly older ladies writing poems about their cats, but hey, it was still a step in the right direction), and from there found myself in the local chapter of Romance Writers of America. I guess one of those things got me on the mailing list for a conference being put on by a local writing group and hosted by the University of Texas at Dallas. It was expensive (at least, it seemed to me at the time), a pretty big investment for someone with less than a year in an entry-level job (and a state job, at that, where the legislature had frozen salaries a couple of weeks before I was supposed to get my six-month review and a raise), but I decided to go for it. The conference turned out to be an odd, interesting experience. I honestly don't remember much about it, but near the end of the first day, I went to a workshop session hosted by an editor from Silhouette Books. Her name was Melissa Senate.

I'd never met a real, live editor from a New York publishing house before. I'm not sure what I expected, but I certainly didn't expect the editor at the conference to be the person most like me. I'm sure I was by far the youngest person there (I know everyone at my luncheon table was a grandparent), and Melissa was in my age range. Plus, she had curly hair! I stayed after the session to chat with her, and we ended up hanging around together at the reception that followed that session. After all that, she asked me to send her something.

I think that was the first moment at which I thought this writing thing might be a real possibility. It was no longer an abstract dream, but something I could actually do something about. The problem was, I had nothing to send. I'd never finished a project. I was notorious about starting stuff, getting a new idea, and then playing with that. But I did have a first chapter written and an outline for a book that might be something she'd look at because I'd entered the conference manuscript contest. (The fun irony here is that was my "primary" entry and it didn't win. But you could enter two categories, and I wanted to get my money's worth, so I'd thrown together a fantasy entry, and that was what ended up winning the contest.) I rushed home from the conference and got to work on the book. This was in September, and I finished the book in February. I remember mailing the proposal on Valentine's Day.

And that was when Melissa became the first editor to send me a rejection. And yes, I'm still speaking to her. She still had nice things to say, and I ended up selling that book elsewhere. I feel like I owe her a lot because I'm not sure I'd have ever gone through with really writing something and submitting it if I hadn't met her and had her encouragement. A few years later, she started up a new line at Silhouette, so I sent her a query letter, and she asked to see a proposal. That book did sell. And then both of us moved on with our careers, moving in different directions. She started writing instead of editing, and now, here we are! I'll let Melissa describe her own book below, so here's the interview:

What inspired you to write this book?
A good friend who had the courage to leave a bad marriage said one day, "Thank God I have my breakup club meeting tonight" and my ears perked up. She and a few coworkers met for lunch/drinks/dinner to commiserate over their broken hearts and cheer each other on. I was so inspired by that. My four main characters immediately came to life.

Describe your creative process.
I wish I could be a seat-of-the-pantser, but I'm a serious outliner! I write very detailed synopses and then I break that down into chapter by chapter outlines, just bullet-points. I rarely veer from my synopses, but I always veer from my outlines. I always revise as I go when writing the manuscript. I'd like to just write a draft straight through, but I don't seem capable of letting anything go until I'm satisfied.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
My wriitng habits totally don't work for me! My writing hours are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m when my son is in school, but my best creative time is at 6 a.m., when I first wake up. Once I'm out and about and playing, "Mommy, be a scary monster and chase me!" and packing his lunch and driving in the endless Maine snow-flurries to his preschool and back, it's very hard for me to come home to my office and jump back into the narrative thread. (It might require something I've always had a problem with: discipline!) I've finally started working at night when my son goes to bed. What helps me write is Earl Grey tea, which I'm addicted to (lots of sugar and a little milk). And my office does inspire me--I love having my "favorite stuff" all around me, my covers up on the wall, and my collection of tiny angel statues that I got from the Vatican Museums and family photographs and books, books, books all around.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your main characters?
This time, absolutely zippo! Usually I have everything in common with my main characters, and even though The Breakup Club has four points of view, I'm nothing like any of them! I think I did that consciously; because I usually do write autobiographically, I wanted to try to actually MAKE UP my characters. :) It's much easier for me to steal from my own life, though!

What was it like having one of your books turned into a movie? Were you pleased with the result, or did some of the things they changed surprise you? (I personally thought that most of your bad dates in the book were far funnier than what they came up with.)
It was one of the highlights of my life. It was such an unexpected gift. I couldn't believe it then, and I still can't. The entire experience was pure joy. The screenwriter/producers changed some things and left out some important things, but the spirit of the book remained. I absolutely felt I was watching my Jane. Now that I think about it, that's probably the most important point. Thanks for liking the blind dates that I created better! I have no idea why they changed stuff that seemed arbirtary, like the dates. Or her last name, which still would have worked for one of the date jokes they had in the movie. They changed her last name from one male first name to another for absolutely no reason. Anyway, I loved the movie so much. And it's on next weekend (Sunday, 2/12 at 6pm Eastern Time on ABC Family).

How has your background as an editor affected your writing career (either positively or negatively)?
It had a HUGE effect, since I'm 80% sure I wouldn't have even attempted to write a novel if a former coworker hadn't called me up and asked me if I were interested in trying my hand at writing for this new "chick lit" imprint Harlequin was developing. Also, I'm pretty good at being my own editor as I write, though that's what stops me from being able to write a draft all the way through before revising. So maybe I should shut myself up as I write!

Chocolate: dark or milk?
Dark. Not only isn't it delicious and decadent, but you can't eat as much of it at once. I can eat a pound of M&Ms, but dark chocolate I savor.

What are you working on now?
A chick lit mystery! It's about a woman whose worst ex-boyfriends keep turning up dead or seriously injured... I'm having a blast writing it. It's also fun to write a book set in my adopted home state of Maine. I'm so used to writing with a New York state of mind, but now it's all about nature and LL Bean. It'll be interesting to see if you can take the girl out of New York, but not the New York out of the girl.

(Hmm, I wonder if she needs some additional ex-boyfriends to kill off. I have a few I'd be willing to offer for the greater good.)

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
Meet the members of The Breakup Club, four co-workers at a New York City publishing house who revolt when they're assigned to work on a high profile celebrity biography about perfect love. Okay, they don't revolt so much as talk about their personal lives more than their puke-worthy project... :

Lucy Miller-Masterson... She's a superstar editor of bestselling books, the wife of a hot-shot doctor, and the mom of a precocious pre-teen. Everything changes when she finds a list of her husband's New Year's resolutions--make that resolution: to leave her.

Miranda Miller... She hates her job as an editorial assistant at the publishing house where her older sister, Lucy, is a big cheese. She hates that her ex-boyfriend, the guy of her dreams, doesn't seem to be coming back with an engagement ring and an apology. So she gets proactive--and actually manages to make her ex propose to another woman. Now what's she gonna do?

Christopher Levy... The newly-separated thirtysomething dad has weekend custody of his one-year old baby and not a clue how to handle fatherhood as a single guy. Unluckily for him, the sanctimommies at the playground are full of advice. Luckily for him, he's got the breakup club.

Roxy Marone: Hmmm... marry the guy who's been her boyfriend since first grade (her wedding's only hours away!) or, say, run out the backdoor, race for the subway (in her veil and makeup and chignon) to go on a potentially life-changing job interview? Twenty-five-year-old Roxy risks the wrath of her super-traditional family and fiance to fulfill her own dreams . . .

If I ever finish the current monstrosity, which is growing like a radiation-exposed mutant, I will be treating myself by reading this book. For more info on Melissa and her books, visit her web site.

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