Every woman remembers her firsts: her first kiss, her first lover and her first time contemplating an affair. At least, that's the premise of Friday Mornings at Nine, a new novel by award-winning fiction writer Marilyn Brant.
This morning, we have the pleasure of visiting with Marilyn who has been a classroom teacher, a library staff member, a freelance writer and a national book reviewer. She lives in a Chicago suburb with her husband and son, surrounded by towers of books that often threaten to topple over and crush her.
Marilyn's novels have won the Golden Heart Award, Single Titles Reviewers' Choice Award and Booksellers' Best Award, and they've been selected for the Doubleday Book Club and the Book-of-the-Month Club. Marilyn tells me that when she's not working on her next story, she likes to travel, listen to music and find new desserts to taste test.
Hey, she's a girl we can all identify with — especially that dessert part. Be sure and drop by her blog or website to visit sometime soon. If you'd like email her, send mail to: marilynbrant AT gmail DOT com.
Before we pop over to the Windy City for a chat, let me give you her book info because I know you'll want to get a copy.
Book Title: Friday Mornings at Nine
by Marilyn Brant
Available: B&N and other book sellers
Inquiring Minds Want To Know
Joan: Let's start with a fun question to break the ice. Which celebrity is your guilty pleasure, the person you just have to read a gossip tidbit about? Why?
Marilyn: I've always liked Jensen Ackles from "Supernatural." He doesn't inspire the same degree of celebrity gossip as, say, Robert Pattinson or Johnny Depp (who are fascinating to read about, too!), but I find Jensen's character on the show to be skillfully portrayed and it's made me curious to see him in other roles.
Joan: While we're talking about guilty pleasures, tell us if you have a fave TV show that you just can't stand to miss? What about it draws you?
Marilyn: There are a lot of shows I like, but the first one that came to mind was "Castle." I think that's largely on account of Nathan Fillion and the banter/on-screen chemistry between him and the Kate Beckett character. Plus, with the lead character being a novelist, it's such fun to watch these fantastical portrayals of the writing life — which do not remotely resemble the typical writer's reality! I love seeing what special perks Richard Castle gets or what wild cocktail parties they have him attending, etc.
Joan: A lot of people say they're going to write a book one of these days, as if time were the only element required to complete the task. Of course, you and I know there's a lot more to it than that. Why don't you tell us how long you've been working at your craft and something about your first published book, the journey from the idea that you wanted to write a book to finally writing one for which you received a publishing contract.
Marilyn: I wrote songs and poems and little stories in elementary school, worked on the school newspaper and yearbook staff in high school, etc., but I didn’t take writing seriously until I was about 30. I was a stay-at-home mom/former teacher with a baby and in desperate need of a creative outlet, so I began writing poems again, essays on being a parent and educational articles for family magazines. A surprising number of these were published, but I’d gotten so many rejections, too, that I was beginning to get desensitized to them.
I began my first novel in 2000, having never taken a creative-writing class or even having read a book on the craft of fiction. (The lack of craft is very evident when I reread chapters from that first book, by the way! I don’t recommend this level of ignorance.) I got some feedback, though — mostly negative — from a prominent literary agency, which led me to study fiction formally, delve into craft books and, eventually, go to my first writing conference and join Romance Writers of America.
I wrote 3 more unpublished manuscripts and, then, came up with the idea for According to Jane. An agent signed me on this book and submitted it to editors, but it needed to be significantly restructured before it sold. Nine months after it had won the Golden Heart Award (RWA's highest award for unpublished fiction), and I'd revised the book yet again, it sold to the Editor-in-Chief of Kensington Books on an extremely exciting day in April 2008.
Joan: The book, about which we're talking today, was what number book for you? 1st, 3rd, 7th?
Marilyn: Friday Mornings at Nine is my 2nd published novel, but my 7th completed manuscript. (I've written five books that have never been published. Two of them never, ever should be!)
Joan: Tell us something about the book from its inception to its birth. How did you come up with the title, and do you have a 1 sentence blurb or log line to tease readers? What do you think accounts for the popularity of your book?
Marilyn: The one-sentence blurb: "Friday Mornings at Nine is the story of three forty-something moms who begin to wonder if they married the wrong man...and what would happen if, just once, they gave into temptation with another...."
Coming up with the teaser was easy. Coming up with the title was a process that took months. The book actually had several different titles before my editor settled on this one.
As for the popularity of the story, I know a lot of woman of all different ages and backgrounds, and many of them would consider themselves happily married. Even so, there are very few women I've spoken with in private who did not admit that they'd wondered — at some point in their marriages — what would have happened if they'd chosen a different spouse. In some cases, they were haunted by the "what ifs" of an ex-boyfriend.
In others, it was someone new who brought out a different side of them, or paid attention to them in a way their husbands did not. In all cases, they were forced to reevaluate who they were and what they wanted. So, in my book, I really tried to show my characters going through the process of examining their lives and making a conscious choice as to where they were headed next — and with whom.
Joan: If they made a movie of this book, and that's a real possibility, who would you cast to portray the characters?
Marilyn: I'd love to see this onscreen. I imagine someone like Kate Winslet for Bridget, Calista Flockhart for Jennifer and Kim Cattrall for Tamara. Definitely a cast I'd enjoy seeing together!
Joan: We know this business is rife with rejection. Sometimes, it's hard to take. What keeps you going when you get rejected?
Marilyn: Oh, I get disappointed just like everyone, but good friends or close family members never fail to raise my spirits. I think, too, having been doing this for a decade now, I know everything happens in cycles. A genre that wouldn't sell five years ago can suddenly be the hottest thing on the market now. Editors or agents who said, "No, thanks," to working with you on a project can and do change their minds when an idea comes along that they love. There's a lot of doors closing but windows opening in this industry.
Joan: What's your favorite "oh crap I got a rejection" food and/or drink to soothe the savaged ego?
Marilyn: All forms of chocolate. And lots of it.
Joan: Who are your writing influences?
Marilyn: Aside from a lifelong love of classic Jane Austen, I really enjoyed the domestic dramas of Sue Miller, Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Berg, as well as the lighter touch of Pamela Redmond Satran, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, Susan Wiggs and Jane Porter.
Joan: What are you working on now?
Marilyn: I just finished my 3rd novel, which will be out next fall. The title is still up for debate, but it's kind of a modern "A Room with a View" story. This woman gets a summer trip to Europe as a 30th birthday gift from her eccentric aunt and, so, leaves her comfort zone to travel from Italy to England with the members of her aunt's Sudoku and Mahjong club. There, she inevitably meets someone very interesting (and attractive!) and eats a lot of gelato and linguini. And I just want to emphasize that the inclusion of these food items was absolutely necessary to the plot. MAJOR turning points happened as a result of my heroine devouring these things. And the fact that I had to eat them while I was writing these KEY scenes was equally necessary...so I could get, you know, the tastes and textures just right. I'm all about the authenticity.
Joan: Oh, I would have been delighted to help out with the eating — especially the gelato. Turning my attention from my stomach to writing though. . . . What's the best thing about writing?
Marilyn: Getting to do something creative every single day. Truly, that’s been such a gift. Even when the plotting of a scene is giving me fits or the synopsis doesn’t seem to make sense at all… I love knowing that I have a place to play with these characters and storylines. My hope is that by writing about women’s dreams and experiences as honestly as possible, I might get closer to helping readers recognize truths about their own lives. It was this sense of recognition that my favorite novelists gave to me, and I'll always be grateful for that.
Joan: What's the worst thing about writing?
Marilyn: For me, it's the difficulty in maintaining a healthy balance between all of the different expectations put on a writer within the industry and the life the writer is supposed to live outside of it.
In the writing world, I'm juggling the promotion of one novel, the copy edits of another, the drafting of a third, the design/updating of my blog and website, newsletters, speaking engagements, writing loops/Facebook/Twitter and reader emails.
In my home life, I'm still supposed to magically make dinner, shop for necessities, clean on occasion (ha!), keep up with my son's school/extracurricular/social life, stay in touch with friends, help care for aging family members, handle all the bills, and exercise once in a while... I never feel as though I'm managing everything smoothly or getting the balance just right.
Joan: I liken it to juggling bowling balls and chain saws. Marilyn, if there's someone in the audience who's interested in writing, what advice would you give them if they're just starting out?
Marilyn: Don’t follow trends just because you think it’ll be an easier sell. And write the books that fit your voice. If what you love writing happens to be a hot-selling genre, great. If your writing voice happens to be perfect for the genre you want to write in and love to read, that’s awesome, too. But — if not — write long and hard enough to find what DOES fit you and your style best. Because then, even if it takes longer to make that first sale than you expect, you’re writing the kinds of stories you most enjoy, and that passion has a way of working itself into the projects you’re creating.
Joan: Do you have any final thoughts you'd like to share or is there anything else you'd like to tell us about anything?
Marilyn: Just to say Thank You (!!) to everyone who's taken time to read my novels. There would be no need for storytellers if there weren't avid readers. I'm so honored to know that people have spent their free time with my characters, and I always look forward to hearing readers' thoughts on my books. Best wishes to you all!
Meeting authors is always a delight because most of them, like Marilyn Brant, are generous with their time and their insights. Thanks, Marilyn, for joining us today. You've been a delight.