It’s an absolute honor to have Lani Diane Rich (aka Lucy March) as a guest today! In addition to being the author of a bunch of fabulous chick lit and contemporary romance novels, she’s a born teacher. Through her podcasts, online classes, and blog, she’s been a mentor and an inspiration to countless writers.
Today, Lani’s here to share some of her insights on chick lit, NaNoWriMo, and being a writer:
You were the first previously unpublished author to have a NaNoWriMo book published, right? What a claim to fame! What made you decide to participate in NaNoWriMo?
Yes, I am, and I’m so proud of it. Not necessarily because of the publishing, but because Nano is such an incredible experience, and I think it’s valuable for every writer to at least try it, because the opportunity to write and be social comes along so rarely. Well, once a year.
Was Time Off For Good Behavior a book you’d been planning to write, or did you just sit down on November 1st and start writing?
It was actually Halloween night when I decided to do it! I’d heard a lot of people in my online writer’s group talking about Nano, but I had no idea what it was. Then, on Halloween, a girlfriend had called me and told me about the time she got blown up in a gas explosion, and when she went to testify against the gas company, their lawyers tried to convince the judge that she deliberately blew the building up. She stood up in the courtroom and got in that lawyer’s face, and almost got thrown out. I had a sudden strike of inspiration, asked her if she minded my using her story to start a book, and I joined Nano that night. I had no idea what I was going to write; it just came out.
We’re especially proud of the fact that your first NaNo book was chick lit. What made you decide to write chick lit? Were you a fan of the genre before you started writing novels?
Well, here’s the thing about chick lit, and genre in general – it’s a function of marketing, more than the writing. Any first-person story with a spunky heroine was labeled “chick lit” because it was a hot market at the time. I’ve always been a fan of funny women’s fiction, so yes, I loved chick lit. But it wasn’t my intention to write to any particular genre; I just wrote the story that came naturally to me.
What’s the difference between writing a book during NaNoWriMo and writing under “normal circumstances?”
Nano has the unique party atmosphere to it. During that first Nano, about seven or eight of us would gather every night and do word sprints to get our words down, and it was so much fun!But there’s more than that. It’s my strong belief that there are two elements to the work of any skilled writer; one is the magic that makes that story uniquely theirs, and the other is the craft that allows that magic to fly. We tend to focus on the craft, on the things we’re doing wrong or that we can improve – structure, characterization, dialogue, weeding out adverbs and infodump – because it’s something we can put our backs up against. And don’t get me wrong; I love craft. Craft is essential to making your book the best it can be. But that kind of inner critic can kill the magic, the ephemeral wonders that just come to you, those qualities of voice and sentence structure and storytelling that are not about anything you can learn, but just who you are as a writer. It’s the magic that makes a novel great, and it’s also the magic that terrifies the writer, because we can’t identify it or control it or point to it and say, “That’s it.” It is much easier to identify an adverb than it is to know what it is that makes your magic tick.Nano makes you work at such a pace that outrun that inner critic giving you crap about your craft, and you start to just revel in the magic. And let me tell you something – give me a choice between a perfectly crafted book with no magic and a book that’s full of magic but is riddled with adverbs and infodump, and I’ll choose the latter every day of the week and twice on Sundays.But, give me a book that’s full of magic and wonderfully crafted… now that’s an author I’ll follow to the ends of the earth.I’m sorry – did I answer your question?
What’s your revision process like? Does it change from book to book?
I’ve developed a standard process for all three phases of a story – discovery (pre-writing, when the world just comes to you and you indulge whatever flights of fancy you wish), writing (the wild Nano rush where you go so fast you outpace your inner editor) and revision (post-writing, in which I go through the magic I’ve created and apply my craft so other people can read it without going, “Huh?”) Right now, after ten books, I’ve got it down to a process that really works for me, and it’s what I teach in my Storywonk classes. That said, yes, it varies from book to book. Wish You Were Here, I did nine months of discovery while finishing my other book, planned out all my anchor scenes (the big, important ones) and pantsed the rest in 28 days of Nano, and had almost no editing to do on the back end. That was glorious. In contrast, A Little Night Magic, my first Lucy March book, has been on my back for three years. I’m just finishing it now. So, yes, I have a process for every stage of writing, but every book is still different. It demands its own tweaks and adjustments to the standard process, and I give it. In a perfect world, it’s six weeks of discovery, six weeks of writing, six weeks of revision, and off to the editor. Someday, I hope to actually achieve that.
You’re doing NaNo again this year, right? How’s it coming?
Well… I had intended to do Nano. My revisions for A Little Night Magic are taking a tad longer than I’d hoped, but the project I wanted to do for Nano is my part of a collaboration I’m doing withJennifer Crusie and Anne Stuart, and it’s only 30k words, give or take. So I’m hoping to be able to jump in for the back half of Nano. I try, whenever possible, to coordinate my writing schedule around Nano; when I can write a book during Nano, with all that energy and enthusiasm coming from everyone, it’s the absolute best.
What motivates you to keep writing? What gets you to sit down at the computer and give it all you’ve got?
I’m ashamed to say… what motivates me most of the time is that I’ve signed a contract, and if I don’t write, I’ll have to give the money back. But what motivates me to stay in this business instead of getting a job with a reliable schedule and paycheck is that I love telling stories. There are those moments when you fall into the manuscript like Alice down the rabbit hole, and hours go by and it feels like seconds… that’s when you know you’re doing what you should be doing. It’s wonderful, and it’s because of that that I keep doing it.That said, getting myself to sit down and just do it can be tough. I’ve found two programs (sadly, currently only available for Mac, although I’m pretty sure there are analogous programs out there) that have helped a great deal. One is Scrivener by Literature and Latte. This is a fabulous program that allows me to easily write out of sequence so I can write the scene that inspires me that day, rather than slogging through chronologically. I find that the energy I get out of writing the scenes I’m really excited about fuel me through the rest of the book. It’s totally not cheating.(I’m not familiar with the program personally, but I’m told that Writer’s Cafe is similar to Scrivener; I’ve heard nothing but great things, but haven’t used it myself.)The other is a program called Vitamin-R, made by Publicspace, and it divides your work into little slices of time. So, for instance, I may be completely intimidated by a revision of the whole book, but if I create a slice of time – say, fifteen minutes – in which my goal is to fix just one scene, I can do that. I start with that, program it in, and at the end of the fifteen minutes, I can choose to take a break, or move into the next goal. Setting tiny goals and timing myself gives me that sense of accomplishment that you don’t often get with big projects like novels. And by working for 15 minutes at a time, I can slowly scratch my way through a project that seems daunting. Before I know it, I’ve done a good load of work. It’s wonderful.I’ve personally requested to both of these companies that they make Windows and Linux versions so that my students can buy them; most people are still on Windows, and it’s a crime that this fabulous software isn’t available to absolutely everyone. So if you’re on Windows, and you want this software – write to them! And tell them Lani sent you!
I’ve heard some rumors that you’re shifting genres a bit. I’ve also heard something about magic waffles, which, by the way, sound delicious. Care to tell us more?
Well, the waffles themselves aren’t magic, but… yes, I’m writing a book tentatively titled A Little Night Magic, which I’m writing for St. Martin’s Press as Lucy March. It’s about a small town waffle waitress who discovers she has rare magical powers. It’s been an uphill climb, definitely, but I’m pretty happy with the final product. The first chapter can be found here.
Last but not least: What do you think about the wide spread belief that chick lit is dead?
I touched on this a little before, and I know y’all are going to throw things at me, but here’s the thing: chick lit isn’t chick lit. It’s a marketing label slapped on funny, first-person women’s fiction. It’s just what you call it. You can’t call yourself chick lit anymore, because people who don’t understand what it means will turn up their noses, but it doesn’t matter. Pardon my cynicism, but when you send it to an agent or an editor, just call it something else.There will always be space on the shelf (or, as it’s going, in the e-reader) for great stories, and you can write great stories in funny, first person style and find a market for them. So, yes, you can’t call it chick lit anymore because the people who market will shy away from that. But funny, smart women’s fiction will never be “dead.” Great stories will always be relevant, and will always have a place in the market. Write great stories in whatever style you want to write them, and don’t ever let anyone tell you that what you’re writing is “dead,” because anyone who says that about any genre is just wrong. Great stories in any style will always prevail. Naysayers are people who don’t understand that in the end, it’s always about story. Tell a great one, and you’ve got no worries.
Thanks so much for having me over here! It’s been fun!
Thank you Lani! We hope you’ll come back and visit us again!