Interview with Writer Diana Snyder

Diana Snyder found a way of turning her love of writing and dating into an actual job as a TV writer on Freeform’s hit comedy, “Young & Hungry.” In addition to writing for the show, Diana is the co-author of the book, “Young & Hungry: Your Complete Guide to a Delicious Life,” which is a girls’ guide to being young, single, short on cash, and passionate about food. The book came out on April 11th. Snyder explains the inspiration behind the book, the message she hopes readers take Young & Hungry and how she became a writer for one of the hottest shows on TV.

Tell us the story behind the story. How did YOUNG & HUNGRY: Your Complete Guide to a Delicious Life come to be?

With the success of the TV show “Young & Hungry,” Freeform was looking to expand the Y&H brand with a lifestyle guide/cookbook. Gabi Moskowitz, whose blog inspired Y&H, was tapped to create the recipes but when it came to finding someone to write the advice and lifestyle section… the network needed someone who could capture the voice of the show and understand the “young & hungry” girl. David Holden (who created the show and runs it) chose me. As the youngest writer on Y&H I am constantly talking to the writer’s room about the dates I’ve been on (too many to count), the exercises I’ve tried (hello spin class), the drama in my friend group, and the career advice that helped me get promoted from writer’s assistant to full time writer in the span of less than two years. I developed and pitched about all the things I’ve learned as a twenty something girl trying to make a kick ass life for herself and sent it to Freeform’s publishing department. They felt that my pitch matched the tone of “Young & Hungry” which is all about Gabi Diamond, a young & hungry girl with big dreams trying to make it happen in San Francisco and hired me for the job!

What was the most challenging aspect of writing YOUNG & HUNGRY?

The most challenging aspect of writing “Young & Hungry: Your Complete Guide to a Delicious Life” was melding all the recipes, the advice, and the tie ins to the show in one book. I wanted the book to appeal to both fans of the show, and people who were just looking for some great advice and some simple (and affordable) recipes.

What is the message you want readers to take away from your book?

I want readers to realize that they can create the life they want! Gabi Diamond, the main character from the show “Young & Hungry” has a big dreams and a small bank account, but that doesn’t stop her from going after what she wants. I wanted to instill the “Young & Hungry” message in the book. For example, if you move to a new city and know absolutely no one… you can make new friends (there’s a chapter in the book on this). If you don’t have a budget to decorate your apartment, you can do some pretty great things on the cheap! If you’re single and depressed about it you can make yourself a Tinder profile and get out there! I want people to read this book and realize that they can easily turn their life from tragic to magic. I believe if you’re hungry enough you can make it happen! This book will give you some tips to get a head start.

Describe your background.

I went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and studied film & television production. During my junior year I wanted more real world experience, so in addition to being a full time student I was a full time personal assistant to an Oscar winning actor (which was the best learning experience ever). While I quickly realized I didn’t want to be an actor’s personal assistant for the rest of my life, it was an amazing gateway into Hollywood. After two and half years of living and working in New York, at 23 I packed my bags and left for LA. My first job in LA was working as a writer’s assistant for “Young & Hungry” during the very first season. After one season of taking notes, working crazy hours, and managing to pitch some episode ideas… I got bumped up to staff writer!

Describe your writing schedule. Do you outline? Any habits? Differences between writing a book vs. a television script.

When I’m writing on the show, majority of my writing gets done during the weekend since the week is so busy! During times when we’re not writing the show, I typically wake up; force myself to work out, and then head to either a coffee shop or my boyfriend’s office to write. Being around people forces me to actually write instead of spending hours reading blogs and watching videos (which I can totally do). As for my writing habits, I would say my style is write a quick outline, spit out a draft, and then edit the heck out of it! Writing a television show and a book are actually incredibly similar. They both require an outline and a structure (in this case the book was divided into five sections: basics, career, health, friendship, and love). However, an episode of “Young & Hungry” has to be less than thirty minutes whereas a book usually does not have a specific length. I think one of the reasons I enjoyed writing this book so much was the ability to deviate and go off on longer tangents. When writing a tv show you have very specific plot points you have to hit (sometimes even jokes you have to write in) and there’s not as much room to explore.

What books are on your nightstand? What are you currently reading?

I LOVE to read. I’ll read anything with a strong female character. I just finished a book called “Sweetbitter” about one girl’s experience working in the restaurant industry. It was fascinating! I’m also reading “The Devil Wears Prada,” because even though I’ve seen the movie a million times I was curious how it translated from the book. Ooh, and I always have the Meg Wolitzer book “The Interestings” on my nightstand because I think it’s just an absolutely genius piece of writing. Any book about a girl trying to follow her passion and make it happen is going to peak my interest.

Which authors inspire you?

I have such a girl crush on Jennifer Weiner! I think her writing is grounded, real, warm and unexpected. Every time I pick up one of her books I know I’m going to be reading an authentic female story. I also love Dani Shapiro, her memoir “Slow Motion” was one of the most honest and heartbreaking books I’ve ever read. Ooh, and Mindy Kaling! She’s just so funny and every time I read one of her books it feels like I’m talking to a super cool best friend or older sister.

What have you learned from this experience?

I’ve learned that if you want to improve your life (and your cooking skills) it’s totally possible. Three years ago I was air bnb’ing someone’s couch, barely had a paycheck, lived on Chinese takeout, and didn’t know a single person in LA. Now, three years later, I have a cute apartment in West Hollywood, I’m writing for a hit TV show, I have friends, a boyfriend, and I cook! As my sixth grade math teacher once said, “Inch by inch life’s a cinch… yard by yard… life gets hard.” I’ve learned that life is about growing in inches. Looking at this book I’ve seen how much I’ve learned and I’m so excited to share that knowledge with the readers of this book!

What is your advice for aspiring writers?

To have a writing career you have to do two things: write and then hustle. Spending nights writing your novel or script is ah-mazing but if you don’t have anyone to show it to… it’s useless! Writers have to spend equal time hustling and writing. Write your script… and then make sure you’ve got an amazing agent to show it to! If you’re writing a book, go to a networking event and make contacts in the industry. I’ve had to work for every single good thing that’s ever happened to me, nothing has come easily. You gotta work for it!

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on a bunch of things! First, we are in the middle of writing the fifth season of “Young & Hungry.” It’s turning into one of my favorite seasons and I think the audience is going to be very surprised to see where Gabi and Josh take their relationship this year. At the same time, I’m writing a proposal for a new book called “Instafamous” about an instafamous supermodel (think Kendall Jenner) and her slightly chubby best friend who move to New York to navigate the fashion world together after high school. It feels super fun and current and I’m having a great time writing it!

Give us your typical day-in-the-life of a television writer in Hollywood.

I wake up at around seven thirty and immediately make an entire pot of coffee. I check emails, read the “Young & Hungry” draft from the day before (and pitch some jokes) and then slowly listen to a podcast as I get dressed. I then drive to the “Young & Hungry” sound stage at CBS Radford and I call my mom to give her the life updates. Once I get to the office my boss, David Holden (who is the nicest human ever) usually brings all of the writers into our writer’s room to hear ideas. David loves ideas that come from real life. The best pitches come from a place of truth. For example, we did an episode last season where Sofia has a huge crush on her neighbor. That came from a time when I was dating my neighbor! So… once all of the writers pitch ideas David decides on the one he likes best and we all pitch on it to make it better. Once the idea is developed further someone goes off and outlines it and then we all split up and write scenes and eventually put the script together. On weeks when we’re shooting the show, around 2pm or 3pm every day we go to a rehearsal and watch the actors (who are fantastic) read the lines and depending on how things play (or not play) we do a rewrite. At all times we’re usually working on two scripts… the one we’re shooting that week and the one we’re shooting the week after. Working in television is for people who love fast paced schedules and red bull!

Do you have a favorite “Hollywood” anecdote about your life in LA?

Every single day driving up to the “Young & Hungry” set on the CBS lot feels like magic. I’m just a girl who grew up in suburban Westchester County, New York and working with so many talented people is a dream! Recently one of my best anecdotes was having Hollywood legend Betty White on the show! Having Betty White say one of the jokes that I wrote was one of the coolest moments of my Hollywood career thus far. Ooh, and we had Heather Dubrow of the “Real Housewives of Orange County” on the show and I totally fan girled out on her too! It’s so much fun getting to meet talented, fun, amazing people in entertainment that I admire.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

I think the best piece of advice is that you have to “zig and zag.” Life isn’t a straight and narrow path. One minute you’re working as a personal assistant in New York, the next you’re writing on a TV show in LA. I think it’s important to be open to possibilities and go after what you want with tenacity and courage. Don’t let fear hold you back…. as Gabi constantly tells herself in “Young & Hungry”, “I got this!” I think every day you should wake up and tell the world that!

Interview with Author Patricia Perry Donovan

To say that author Patricia Perry Donovan is inspiring is an understatement. When disaster strikes we often hear the familiar refrain, “look for the helpers.” Patricia Perry Donovan is a helper. She based her second novel, AT WAVE’S END on her own personal experiences during Hurricane Sandy. After seeing so many families torn apart and displaced by this devastating super storm that happened in her own backyard, she volunteered in any way she could. But this wasn’t the first time Donovan displayed selfless actions, over ten years ago she and her husband started a teen service group to offer volunteer services across the world. She writes “Hopeful Family Dramas,” and AT WAVE’S END is that and so much more!

Tell us the story behind the story. How did AT WAVE’S END come to be?

Three key ideas came together to inspire this book. The major catalyst for AT WAVE’S END was Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the East Coast in October 2012. When the storm hit, I was in the midst of writing my first novel, DELIVER HER. We lost power for about 12 days. In my coastal community alone, more than 500 families were left homeless in the storm’s wake. Fortunately, my home was far enough from the beach to escape damage. In the storm’s aftermath, and for many months afterward, volunteers helped wherever we could: shoveling sand from homes, community cleanup. My husband and I started a teen service group about ten years ago, so of course we found many opportunities to assist.

In the wake of such devastation and the bureaucratic red tape that hindered recovery, it was easy to feel helpless.  One thing that was always needed, however, was food, whether for the first responders at the beachfront or for the displaced families who came together to eat at a local church.  That’s partly why I placed two chefs at the heart of AT WAVE’S END—that, and my six-year expatriation in Lyon, France, the gastronomic capital of the world, which turned me into a foodie.

As we volunteered, it was impossible not to be touched by the emotions, courage and determination of the storm’s survivors as they coped with their losses and began to rebuild their lives (efforts that continue today). I wrote a few short stories at that time based on my own experiences or stories I heard, which later formed the framework of this book.

Secondly, several years ago, a friend mentioned she was considering entering a “Win a Bed and Breakfast” essay contest for a property in New England.  It was the first I’d heard of those contests, which I later learned are fairly common.  I tucked this away as a possible story idea; later, I created The Mermaid’s Purse bed and breakfast as a shelter for the storm survivors, and a place for Connie and Faith Sterling to repair their frayed mother-daughter relationship.

Lastly, there had always been a gold moon-and-stars locket in my mother’s jewelry box.  Its origins were vague, but I ended up with it and began wearing it a few years ago.  People always remarked upon it. I decided to make it part of Connie and Faith’s history.

A note on the book’s structure: AT WAVE’S END is divided into five sections, each named for a common stage of disaster recovery that I learned about during post-Sandy volunteer training: Pre-Disaster, Impact, Heroic, Honeymoon, and Disillusionment. Some experts believe there is a general pattern or cycle of phases that a community and the individuals in it go through from the time of impact of a disaster to establishing a newly reconstructed life. I found this an apt structure for the story I wanted to tell.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing AT WAVE’S END?

Even though the book is primarily Faith and Connie’s story, my greatest challenge was honoring the storm’s survivors and showing sensitivity to their plights. Above all, I wanted readers to feel their strength and courage and not to feel sorry for them. For this reason, I asked some friends who experienced great loss in the wake of Sandy to read my early drafts.

What is the message you want readers to take away from your book?

Ultimately, AT WAVE’S END is a novel of family drama and suspense. But it is also a story of love, loss and recovery. During the most devastating periods of our lives, we often are forced to reorder our priorities, and discover what is most precious. The things (or persons) we can’t live without. I want readers to feel hopeful after reading this book, and to understand that no matter how great one’s loss, whether it is trust or a relationship or material things, life is never so desperate that you cannot rebuild.

Describe your background.

I am currently a journalist covering the business of healthcare (a subject that creeps into my writing). I have a degree in journalism and urban communications, and have made my living as a writer my entire life. I began as a newspaper reporter for a small weekly paper in central New Jersey, then segued into corporate communications.  Following that, I spent about fifteen years as a technical writer and editor in the IT field before returning to journalism in 2004. In 2010, I began taking classes in fiction writing as a lark, and found that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Some of the short stories I wrote at that time were published in literary journals.

Interestingly, I never set out to write a novel.  However, in 2012 I won a novel-pitching contest on the basis of twenty or so pages I had written. Since my prize afforded me a consultation with a literary agent, I needed to come up with a completed manuscript. I spent the next few months writing the story that ultimately turned into my debut novel, DELIVER HER.

Describe your writing schedule. Do you outline? Any habits?

Typically, I rise early and try to write for a few hours. I try not to edit myself too much in the early stages but go back and edit once I have a solid draft. As far as habits, I start the day by reading the last page or two that I wrote the previous day to get back into that mindset. As my writing career progresses, there are many distractions: social media, proofreading galleys, perfecting pitches for future novels. I devote about 30 minutes each morning to social media. But the ideal I strive for is to block out everything else and write 1,500 to 2,000 words each day.

And on the “pantser or planner” question, I aim to be somewhere in the middle. For my first book, I spent several weeks creating an extremely detailed outline. Once I started writing, however, I never even looked at it! I learned I am a “seat of the pants” writer at heart. However, being under contract, looming deadlines don’t permit me to stray too far off course. So now, I work from a very high-level outline, but allow the story and characters a certain amount of leeway, letting them guide me but periodically reining them in. I do pause periodically to read and take stock of the story, recalibrating if necessary, but with a firm eye on the calendar!

What books are on your nightstand? What are you currently reading?

Of course, topping my TBR pile are the July and August releases from my fellow Lake Union authors: THE COMFORT OF SECRETS by Christine Nolfi, THE TRUTH WE BURY by Barbara Sissel, MRS. SAINT AND THE DEFECTIVES by Julie Lawson Timmer, and A BEAUTIFUL POISON by Lydia Kang.

Also in queue is BEARTOWN by Fredrik Backman. I recently devoured MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE’S SORRY and A MAN CALLED OVE. I’m a devotee of his character development.

Finally, I’m dipping in and out of MY BRILLIANT FRIEND, the first in Elena Ferrante’s trilogy. Her books require a particular mindset.

Which authors inspire you?

See Fredrik Backman above. I’m also in awe of Anita Shreve and Elizabeth Strout. Early on, I envisioned AT WAVE’S END as a series of linked stories a la Elizabeth’s OLIVE KITTERIDGE. I still aspire to write that sort of novel one day. Also, I’m currently analyzing Lisa Scottoline’s books. She is a master of suspense, instantly drawing her readers into her stories. I’m trying to learn from her.

What have you learned from this experience?

Many, many things! First, that you are never too old to try your hand at something new, and discover a new passion. That it IS possible to write a novel, word by word, paragraph by paragraph. That I should try not to be discouraged by negative reviews or other writers’ success, and instead remind myself that I HAVE WRITTEN BOOKS. That I should be receptive to ideas from talented editors, but that ultimately, the story is mine to tell (and sell!). That there is nothing more exhilarating than occasionally ceding control to your characters and watching where they will take you. (It’s a bit like using a Ouija board.) That book reviews matter for authors, and I should try to write a review for every book I read, even though I find that process a bit intimidating.

What is your advice for aspiring writers?

Clichéd, but put yourself in the chair. Make writing a priority. Find time every day to write, even if it’s only a few paragraphs. Good writing takes practice. Find a writing partner or writing group to critique your work.  It’s tempting but ultimately very isolating to write in a vacuum.

Also, read as much as possible. Read outside of your genre if you can bear it. Read about the craft of writing. (Stephen King’s ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT is required reading for all writers!) And please, please, please: write reviews for those authors.  Even one sentence matters. You can ask them to do the same for you one day once you’re published.

What are you working on now?

Besides ramping up for AT WAVE’S END publication, I’m polishing synopses and early chapters for two forthcoming (fingers crossed!) novels of family drama and suspense. The first centers on a case of medical identity theft, and the second on a teenage volunteer who goes missing while on a school service trip to Central America.


Interview with Author Jaime Hansen

According to Jaime Hansen, Expanding the Conversation started as a book, “but it’s really a much broader theme. It’s a call-to-action to get more people involved in the discussion around entrepreneurial ideas, leadership, women in business and bringing together different perspectives in business ideas. Hansen has built a website that is becoming a central portal for anyone interested in business and the dissemination of ideas to gather, learn and discover.”

In today’s rapidly changing business atmosphere, it is more important than ever that women stay one step ahead of the conversation. Working with Jaime and helping to spread the word about gender differences in the workplace was inspiring and energizing. She spoke to us about her book, her business and the future.

Tell us the story behind the story. How did EXPANDING THE CONVERSATION come to be?

Most of my career I’ve worked in male-dominated industries.  I’ve been very fortunate and never found this to be a problem; if anything, I felt it gave me an advantage in standing out.  That said, I’ve always been very aware of the gender imbalance in business.

In the last five years or so, I’ve watched this subject heat up in the media.  I think all talk on this topic – good, bad, and ugly – only helps bring more light to an issue that certainly needs to be fixed.  The problem for me is that the rhetoric has become very angry, and accusatory, and . . . one-sided.  Consequently, I feel like it has fallen on deaf ears.  People only seem to be talking (and listening) to like-minded people. There has also been a lot of talk about fairness and equality – which are great in principle, but sort of irrelevant in business.  For all these reasons, I think the last few years of heavy attention have actually brought about very little change to women in business.

So the idea behind the book, was as simple as the title. I really just wanted to expand the conversation – honestly and objectively – and get more people (women and men, current leaders and future ones) included in the dialogue.  A big part of the problem, from my perspective, is that we don’t incorporate different, sometimes unpopular, points of view to some of these age-old challenges.  My goal for this book was to start to do that in a thought-provoking, data-driven, and collaborative way.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing EXPANDING THE CONVERSATION?

The most challenging aspect of writing Expanding the Conversation was probably around keeping my ‘voice’.  I don’t write like a conventional business genre writer nor, to be honest, do I speak like one in real life.  But while it’s acceptable to be different in this way once you’re an established author, for a first-time writer – an atypical voice is not necessarily a selling point. There were many times I thought about (and was often advised to) switch over to write with authority and die-hard conviction, in other words to use a more ‘professional’ voice.

But ultimately those parts always sounded fake to me, and felt sort of like the antithesis of my entire premise.  Expanding the Conversation is NOT an expert account or a how-to manual of any sort.  It’s intentionally about opening up the dialogue to include new – sometimes opposing – points of view in an effort to look at things differently.  So in the end, I’m glad I stayed with my genuine voice, as I personally think it’s one of the biggest differentiators for this type of book.

What is the message you want readers to take away from your book?

There are actually a few messages in the book, including: leading with intent, taking the time to reframe perceptions, and maintaining authenticity.  But I think the biggest take-away is that leaders need to actively start seeking opportunities to leverage different characteristics for a competitive advantage.

People have started to see ‘equality’ as ‘sameness’ and that is a huge mistake.  Men and women are equal, for sure, but not for a minute the same.  Gender differences should be embraced and exploited – meaning made full use of and applied strategically for complementary, competitive advantages in business.

Describe your background. 

After graduating from Northwestern with a degree in the mathematical methods of the social sciences, I started my career as an economic consultant with an incredible firm in Washington, D.C.  A few years later, while earning my MBA at Duke, I “discovered the Internet,” became enamored with the technology sector, and moved to California immediately after graduation.

I got a job at Yahoo and found I was really good at business development – building relationships with strategic partners and collaborating with cross-functional teams.  I worked in digital media for a while (first at Yahoo, then for a stint at Fox), before switching over to software technology and a company called Cornerstone onDemand, doing similar business development and strategic alliances, but this time on a global scale.  I’ve worked with so many great people, with different leadership styles and teams, and after a while I decided it was time to take a pause and write this book on expanding the conversation.

Describe your writing schedule. Do you outline?  Any habits?

Ha!  Although I’ve read countless books proclaiming that the most successful people tend to be early risers, my life – and my mind – just simply do not work that way.  I spend the early morning with my kids before school, then a couple hours reading news and social media feeds, with the rest of the day dedicated to research (books, articles, podcasts, and sometimes live interviews).  Then it’s back with my family for dinner and early bedtimes (I have young kids).  Almost all my creative work – brainstorming, outlining, and the actual writing etc. – occurs at night.  The two notable exceptions are that I find myself doing some of my most creative thinking while driving and in the shower.  The driving is less intentional, but I often find myself taking very long showers in the middle of the day when an idea starts to brew and I want to flush it out a little.

What books are on your nightstand? What are you currently reading?

I recently finished Humilitas (John Dickson) – which I enjoyed and have just started Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself (Dr. Joe Dispenza).  I am also reading Venture Deals (Feld and Mendelson) for the second time and I’m in the middle of Delusions of Gender (Cordelia Fine)

Who inspires you?

In a word, I’d say: Entrepreneurs.  And to clarify, I don’t only mean that in terms of a profession, but rather those that have an entrepreneurial state of mind.  Real entrepreneurs boast three characteristics that I find truly inspiring – guts, passion, and creativity.  By nature, this type of person thinks beyond the norm.  An entrepreneurial mind is always curious and willing to try new things.  The kicker is that they have to put themselves out there to do it – so they often risk pushback or critique by merely mentioning their non-mainstream idea.  That’s not an easy thing to do, at least not for me, and it’s an especially difficult trait out of which to make a habit.  So those people that do this on a consistent basis – those are the people that inspire me to keep trying to change things on my end.

What is one of the most important lessons you have learned in business?

 One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in business is that everyone has a story.  Or more appropriately, everyone has his or her own story.  In my experience, business (like life), basically thrives on people and relationships, and no two are alike.  Almost every time I assumed to know a person’s story or background, I missed a crucial element.  Once I learned to see people as unique individuals with their own histories, interests, and motivations, it was easier to collaborate and devise plans that inspired everyone involved.  From my perspective, it merely takes direction to execute, it takes understanding to inspire.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

“Do more things that scare you.”   At first, I thought this was advice to just loosen up or become a better risk-taker.  But gradually I learned that the things that truly “scare” us, rarely present real danger.  More often than not, the reason we’re scared to do something is simply because the outcome is unknown. We don’t know if people will react well to it, if we’ll like it, if we’ll be good at it.  And thus, this fear stops us from even trying new things in the first place.  That’s crippling because it not only stunts personal growth, it also prevents us from being inspired by new experiences.

Once I was able to look at things through that lens, the opportunity cost of NOT doing the things that scared me became far greater than the so-called risk of doing them in the first place and it changed almost every facet of my life, both personally and professionally.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a few things now.  I’ve had the opportunity to do some great interviews and speaking engagements around Expanding the Conversation, which have been a fantastic way to engage further on additional ideas around these topics.  In addition to promoting the book that way, I’m also continuing to collaborate on videos, articles, and round-table discussions to continue that dialogue.

I’ve also been doing a bit of research and due diligence around a new venture fund, specifically directed at “underdogs”, or people who historically lack access to capital.  My hypothesis is that many of these overlooked, underestimated entrepreneurs would create great (and very successful) companies, if only given a chance to get started.  So part of what I’m working on now is a potential plan to put my money where my mouth is in order to give them the opportunity to prove me right!

Interview with Marci Nault, author of THE LAKE HOUSE

Marci Nault is living proof that dreams come true. In 2008, Marci asked herself a question that would change the trajectory of her life forever. She asked, “What do I want from this life? If I wasn’t afraid, and didn’t play by the rules, how would I live?” Her answer was a life-list of 101 Dreams Come True that led her on a journey of self-discovery and adventure. Having completed almost ninety of her life dreams including publishing her novel The Lake House, Marci knows what it means to take risks, go after her deepest desires, live beyond fear, and to fall in love with life, the world and herself.

Hear what Marci has to say about inspiration and taking chances.

1.     Tell us the story behind the story. How did THE LAKE HOUSE come to be?

I was living in California in an apartment where I wasn’t happy, and every day I desperately searched for a new home. While in Boston for Christmas, I had a dream that I found my perfect house on a lake and bought it without doing any research. When I moved in, everyone in the small community was over the age of seventy, and some of the women were determined to set me up with their grandsons. I woke and knew that I had to write the story.

2.   What was the most challenging aspect of writing THE LAKE HOUSE?

I’ve never been a patient person. The saying, “God grant me patience now!” has always been my motto. Writing takes incredible patience. This book took many revisions, in part because there were many characters, and it spanned over fifty years with numerous flashbacks, and also in part because I was a new writer learning the craft. Each time I did a revision I wanted to finish it as quickly as possible, but writing doesn’t work that way. The characters speak when they’re ready. Sometimes I have no choice but to work around the clock, and at other times I stare at the television hoping my emotional and mental state will fire up.

But there’s something magical about finding a storyline or figuring out a plot. I feel fulfilled when a story is buzzing in my brain. I love getting to know my characters and seeing the world through their eyes: I laugh, fall in love, cry and get ticked off with them. I feel incredibly blessed to be able to write and share my stories with people.

3.   What is the message you want readers to take away from your book?

The main theme of the book is the human need for a place to belong and the softness of home. I wanted to create a world where the reader could escape into the nostalgia of the Norman Rockwell time period.

I also wanted people to realize that our elders are important in our lives. We can learn from their stories and their life experience. We tend to care so much about youth and fear age that we don’t want to see our elderly. When I researched this book I spoke to women from the World War II generation, and they told the best stories. I was surprised by their spunk and liveliness in spite of illnesses or injuries. I think we’ve lost something in our lives by dismissing older people because they might not keep up with modern technology or are possibly set in their ways. We have this idea that life is over after a certain age, but in truth many people fall in love, travel the world, or take up new sports in their final years.

Also, sometimes what we think we want in life is the exact opposite of what we really need. If Heather had moved into a community with all young people, she probably would’ve continued to be uncertain of herself, always trying to keep up with what she believed she should be. By moving into a place where everyone was older, she was able to gain confidence and find what her heart desired.

4.     Describe your background.

I’ve been obsessed with the mind and how it either gets in our way or helps us to achieve great things. For most of my childhood I knew the person I wanted to be in the world but had no idea how to become it. This caused me to study psychology, mental training, and those around me. I think this is what allows me to write emotions well. Though I was an honor student throughout school, in some ways I’ve been rebellious about going the traditional route in life. I chose not to go to college because I didn’t want to start my life out with the heavy debt of an Ivy League school. I went to Massage Therapy School so I would always have a trade to rely on. I started speaking about the mind and meditation in my late teens, which led to me starting a small publishing and distributing business that I sold in my mid-twenties to pursue a career in fiction. I invested in real estate – buying, living in and fixing up a few select properties and then selling them for a profit, which allowed me to take a few years off to write The Lake House.

5.     Describe your writing schedule. Do you outline? Any habits?

I wish I had a writing schedule—it would make my life easier. But in truth, I never know when inspiration is going to strike: shopping, running errands, driving, hiking in the woods, and quite often on planes. I get some of my best ideas on flights. When I was writing The Lake House I had a “Beautiful Mind” thing going on. My walls were covered with papers: doodles of the community, historical time lines, character descriptions, and plots. Once the first draft was done I printed it all out and marked each character’s storyline with different colored post-it-notes. Then I worked out the entire plot on a dry-erase board to see the arc of the story.  This time, I’m starting with the dry-erase board.

I tend to laugh at my first outlines because I know the story and the characters are going to lead where they want to go—I’m going to find out where they’re taking me when they’re good and ready. I like it this way, even if my editor and agent would prefer that I know the entire story ahead of time.

6.     What books are on your nightstand? What are you currently reading?

Bel Canto by Anne Patchett is my all time favorite book. It’s like eating really great chocolate. Chocolate because I love her descriptions. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle because it helps me with my patience issue and Stephen King’s On Writing. At the moment I’m reading Love Anthony by Lisa Genova.

7.     Which authors inspire you?

Anne Patchett, Lisa Genova, Kristen Hannah, Jodi Picoult, Mary Alice Monroe.

8.     What have you learned from this experience?

First of all—PATIENCE! Just because something doesn’t happen in my timeframe doesn’t mean that it won’t happen. I’ve also learned that sometimes, even though it’s hard for me, I need to ask for help. Writing a book can be consuming and challenging, sometimes even a little exposing emotionally and you need the help of friends and family to get you through.

9.     What is your advice for aspiring writers?

Writing is an art that takes revisions and patience. The first draft is just a sketch, the second colors in the lines, the third bring out the details that you forgot to see because you were busy writing the big picture, and the fourth is the flow to make the story seamless and easy for the reader to follow. With each revision I learned and I became a better writer.

I liken the editorial process to a coach and an athlete. I think it’s important if you’re not working with an editor to get a professional critique. Many times these aren’t expensive and they can help strengthen your weaknesses.

10.    What are you working on now?

I’m working on my second novel, The Memory of You (working title).

11.    In 2008 you asked the question, ‘What do I want from this life?’ It was that question that prompted you to create your inspiring website, Can you tell us about

In June of 2008, I was probably the saddest I’d ever been in my life: I had recently left an eight-year relationship and was living in California away from most of my family and friends; my brother had almost died from MRSA and was still in the hospital; my family was fighting; and the house I was renting was being sold. I didn’t have a career or a plan and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d laughed. I sat under a tree in Sonoma, CA—lost, scared, and trying not to cry while praying for reprieve.

Something told me to make a list of all the times I’d been happiest in my life, and I wrote down about fifteen things that included some previous travel or learning something new. I looked at the list and realized I was happiest when I was going after my dreams. I decided to ask, “What if I wasn’t afraid of failure? What if there weren’t any rules? What if I didn’t worry about money? What would I want?”

I began to write with conviction: I wanted to live in Florence for a month; return to figure skating and really train and compete; learn to dance salsa and tango; travel the world; lift someone up who’d lost all hope; find an incredible group of friends; become a published author and have writing be my career; own my own business. When I was done, I looked at the list and I had added 85 items to the first fifteen. I wrote one last thing—to laugh so hard with a stranger my sides hurt. I looked at the list and thought, yeah right, there’s no way I can complete 101 of my biggest dreams. I folded it up and put in my pocket planning to throw it away.

That night, at the hotel in Napa where I was staying, the concierge invited me to have a drink with her and some other guests. Within an hour she had me laughing so hard that I had to go to the bathroom because I was coughing and crying so hard that my stomach hurt. I saw myself smiling in the mirror and I realized that one of my dreams had come true, and I thought about the list. I took it out of my pocket and wondered, “What if?”

I went home and wrote all of the dreams on a dry-erase board. Across the top I wrote, “Settle For Nothing Less Than Magnificence in Life.” At that moment, I made the decision that I would pursue my dreams with everything I had. I would go after the life I desired with all my heart. One by one, my dreams began to come true and as my life drastically changed people asked me what I was doing. Friends encouraged me to share my story, and though I wanted to keep it private, I realized that maybe my story could inspire others.

12.    How has “101DreamsComeTrue” changed your life?

Since beginning my journey, my life has drastically changed. I have the career of my dreams. I live in a house I own outright. I train in figure skating and compete as an adult at the national level. Incredible friends who love to get the most out of life surround me. My family is back together (my brother is healed and healthy). I have an amazing community of salsa dancers. I own my own online bridal business, Elegant Bridal Designs. I’ve traveled the world and had incredible experiences that have made me realize that this earth is an incredible gift and it’s filled with the friendliest people.

More importantly, I’ve changed as a person. In the past I believed that I had to make everyone else happy in order to deserve my happiness. I thought by being selfless and putting myself last that I would be loved in return and someone would put me first. I didn’t stick up for myself until I was near the breaking point and I let people walk on me and use me. That person no longer exists. Now I know that I’m responsible for my happiness, and that when I give to myself, I have more for others, but I give only what I can. Most importantly I’ve realized that we are so much bigger than we can see ourselves being, and only in dreaming can we know how amazing our life is meant to be.

13.    You’ve checked off a lot of items on that list. Will you be creating a new list or adding to your 101 Dreams?

The list is almost 90% complete and as I strive to finish all of my dreams I’ve wondered about what’s next. I’m always going to want to explore and learn. This world is an incredible playground so I’m certain I’ll keep adding to the list. But most of all I want to enjoy the life I’ve built: figure skating, salsa dancing, writing novels, traveling, spending time with loved ones, and inspiring others to go after their dreams. People think of this as a “bucket-list” of what I want to do before I die, but for me it is a “life-list” of how I want to live.

14.    What is the best piece of advice you can give someone who would like to create his or her own Dream List?

It’s funny because I feel like a motivational poster on Facebook when I say this, but it’s completely true. Dream bigger than you can see yourself being. Go after the things that will hurt if you don’t accomplish them. Those are the things you fear the most because they matter the most. You won’t have any idea how you’re going to accomplish any of your dreams, but doorways will open where you least expect them. And I know it’s kind of a cliché, but you have to be willing to walk through them. The fear will never go away. I always feel like I’m jumping off cliffs wondering if I have the right materials to build my wings on the way down before I crash. I still get scared each time I attempt something new or go after the unknown, but the fear just means I want it more than I even realize. And age doesn’t matter!

The K Street Affair by Mari Passananti {Interview}

1. What was the inspiration for The K Street Affair?

I’m a bit of a political junkie, and I’ve always been fascinated by the nexus of money and politics. At this point in our nation’s history, large corporations hold unprecedented sway over laws and lawmakers. Which is problematic, because as Lee Raymond, the CEO of Exxon/Mobil famously said, his multinational corporation isn’t a U.S. company, so he doesn’t make decisions based on what’s good for the United States. Think about that. These are the people with nearly bottomless resources. They employ armies of lobbyists and spend mind-boggling sums to shape the laws of the land in their shareholders’ favor. Since the Supreme Court decided Citizens United, there is no way to prevent corporations and even foreign interests (whose agendas may conflict directly with our economic and national security interests) from making enormous donations to political causes. In writing The K Street Affair, I set out to answer two questions: What if a politically wired multinational corporation set out to start a war to advance its own economic interests? And if one relatively ordinary citizen stumbled upon their plans, should she risk everything, including her life and the lives of her family members, to stop them?

2.     The K Street Affair is very different from your debut novel, The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken. What inspired you to go in this direction?

I actually wrote a draft of the novel that would become K Street Affair before I wrote The Hazards. The most interesting rejection that manuscript received said something along the lines of “You can write, but the world isn’t ready for a female Jason Bourne. Try something less far fetched.” I shelved the project and focused on The Hazards, which is a less quirky women’s novel. Once The Hazards was published, I decided to dust off K Street Affair. It was a fascinating exercise. Plots involving secret offshore money laundering and terror finance (whether witting or unwitting) by politicians and their corporate friends somehow seem less far fetched that they did five years ago. Ultimately, both novels feature a young woman protagonist forced to find her backbone through a series of unwanted events.

3.     Did you do extensive research into politics and corporate America while writing The K Street Affair?

Yes. I cite some of the books I devoured in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. I had extensive conversations with a private equity executive, who for obvious reasons wishes to remain anonymous. He was the first person to whisper the words “offshore money laundering” to me, and for that I am grateful. The central crimes in K Street Affair wouldn’t have been feasible without the series of blind trusts and blocker corporations the villains set up outside the reach of the IRS.

4.     What is your typical writing day like?

Sometimes I wish I had a typical writing day. I usually write while my son, a newly minted three-year-old, is in preschool, which gives me twenty uninterrupted hours a week (if I’m lucky). I wish I could say I’m one of those people who can work late into the night, but I’m exhausted by the time my son goes to bed. Whenever I work during the wee hours, I write the most awful drivel, which I inevitably end up deleting. Once in a while, if I’m on a roll, I’ll hire a sitter. I get nothing done if I try to work while watching my kid. Because he’s three, he’s permanently set to self-destruct mode. I’m pretty sure that any parent who claims to work while minding a preschooler either gets accomplishes very little. Small kids are wired with invisible antennae that alert them to rivals for parental attention. In our house, my work is my son’s nemesis.

5.     Can you tell us about your writing process? Do you outline? Are you a planner?

I always know how things will end for my main characters when I start writing, but I don’t write extensive outlines. The downside of this method is that I write myself into corners every so often. I suppose that’s part of my process. If something a character does isn’t working, I go back, unravel and re-write until the scene makes sense.

6.     What is the best writing (and/or life) advice you have ever received?

Failure isn’t an option. If you suffer a set back, you dust yourself off, maybe even lick your wounds a little, but you always get back on the metaphorical horse.

7.     What books are on your nightstand? What are you currently reading?

THE SHOEMAKER’S WIFE — My book club’s pick this month tells the intertwined stories of two young people from the Italian Alps who emigrate to America before the First World War. A well researched novel, told in a charming voice and presented on a nearly epic scale. The Constant Gardner—John LeCarre’s best spy novel ever, in my humble opinion. I saw the movie years ago but never read the book until this summer. DRIFT—I confess I’ve been waiting to read this look at the military-industrial complex until the galleys for K Street Affair shipped, because when it released in May, I was making the last edits to my manuscript and I was terrified this critically acclaimed book would inspire another massive re-write.

8.     What do you think is the biggest myth of being a novelist?

I think there’s a perception among many non-writers that if you publish a book, you’ll make a good living. While that certainly happens for some authors, it’s not the norm.

9.     What advice would you give to an unpublished writer?

You need thick skin. Writing involves a staggering amount of rejection and criticism. As to process:

(1.) Write a draft.

(2.) Put it away for several weeks.

(3.) Take it out a revise ruthlessly.

(4.) Show the manuscript to an editor or writers’ workshop—people other than your mom or best friends.

(5.) Revise again.

(6.) Repeat steps 2 through 5 until satisfied.

10.  What are you working on now?

I’ve started work on my third novel, about a woman who sacrifices her legal career in order to follow her celebrated humanitarian husband to the third world. If he works tirelessly to save countless children, but treats his own family abominably, is he still a great man? In aid to the developing world, do appearances matter more than results? Does modern marriage have room for two big, ambitious personalities, or does one partner always end up yielding? I also have an entirely different book percolating: a courtroom tale about a big firm lawyer assigned to a capital case. I want to look not only at the legal system, but at the personal toll a case with such stakes takes on the lawyer, a young wife and mother.

Read more about Mari on her website and be sure to pick up a copy of THE K STREET AFFAIR.

Interview with Jan Surasky

We are kicking of the New Year by bringing the fascinating lives of our authors to the Kelley & Hall blog. We will be featuring interviews with our authors and giving readers a glimpse into the writer’s life. Today we start off with Jan Surasky. Jan has worked as a book reviewer, movie reviewer, and entertainment writer for a San Francisco daily newspaper. Her many articles and short stories have been published in national, regional and local magazines and newspapers. She has also taught writing a t a litterer center and a number of area colleges near her home in upstate New York. She is graduate of Cornell University and has studied English literature in the graduate department of the University of Rochester. Her novel Rage Against the Dying Light has won the Eric Hoffer Award for commercial fiction. You can find her at

Q:     Tell us the story behind the story. How did Rage Against the Dying Light come to be?

While I was researching an entirely different topic, I came across the entry on Boudicca to which I was immediately drawn. I was impressed with her courage and the beautiful and tragic life she had lived. I knew I wanted to tell her story.

Q:     What was the most challenging aspect of writing Rage Against the Dying Light?

Imagining Boudicca’s story based on the very few facts available and trying to get it right was the greatest challenge. I wanted to do justice to the society and culture in which she lived. Also I wanted to depict the beautiful English countryside which so inspired her courage.

 Q:     What is the message you want readers to take away from your book?

I want readers to see that although Boudicca was a queen, she was also under the same constraints as any human. I want to show that courage lies in all of us to be tapped when necessary.

Q:     Describe your background.

I have worked for a San Francisco daily newspaper as a book reviewer, movie reviewer and entertainment writer. My many articles and short stories have been published in national, regional and local magazines and newspapers.

 Q:     Describe your writing schedule. Do you outline? Any habits?

I write every day. I do not outline but for this book, I had a one word chapter heading for my use only as a guide. I edit my work daily.

Q:     What books are on your nightstand? What are you currently reading?

The book on my nightstand is a book of Hemingway’s letters recently released from Cuba and so far unpublished. The book I have enjoyed the most this year is The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramango.

 Q:    Which authors inspire you?

Many authors have inspired me including the authors of the many fairy tales I have read, Louisa May Alcott, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Thomas Hardy and Ernest Hemingway.

Q:     What have you learned from this experience?

I have learned that a woman who summoned her courage inspired so many.

Q:     What is your advice for aspiring writers?

My advice to aspiring writers is to hang in there, be true to your work and believe in it, and never give up.

 Q:    What are you working on now?

My second novel Back to Jerusalem is in the launching stage and I am working on a third novel.