Recently, the editors behind the ChickLit
website asked me to write a short essay
about how my background as a journalist helped me become a novelist. They also wanted me to address the particular challenges involved with writing about people you know.
Here's what I wrote:
My career as a novelist began after I’d given birth to my first child and was freelancing from home for a variety of newspapers. Working on my fiction felt like an indulgence because while I was paid to write for the newspapers, I wasn’t guaranteed compensation for the novel. It was something I did for me and for fun. And that’s probably why I kept at it—because writing fiction didn’t feel like work, but play.
That said, I don’t think I would have been able to become a full-time writer if I hadn’t first worked as a journalist. In terms of process, journalism teaches you discipline. It also helps you deal with criticism and rejection, which are as much a part of novel writing as anything else. In terms of relevant skill, journalism teaches the basics of writing and writing well. Those are: communicating ideas clearly; writing with efficiency; and appreciating detail. If you can master all these, your work will be easy to read (that’s where the clarity comes in), engaging (the plot moves forward at an nice clip) and dynamic (the scenes and characters come alive through visual and sensory details).
Readers may also note that my books are peppered with characters that work for magazine and newspapers. For example, Jill Tischman, a character in my second novel, Hedge Fund Wives, was inspired by a handful of women I know who work for glossy magazines in various capacities. Jill, in her role as an editor, is a trendsetter, but she’s also a slave to her own materialistic impulses. Even worse, she’s power-drunk and has no sense of loyalty, which are, unfortunately, character traits I see all too often in publishing.
I will say this: It is tricky writing about types of people who are in your life. No one has ever come up to me and said "Oh that character is based on me and how could you!” because, as my good friend, the author Karen Quinn once told me, “people only recognize themselves in the good.” It’s human nature not to see how nasty and weak we are, so how can we recognize those aspects of ourselves in a fictional character? Most of us, and especially those of us who have some, shall we say, personality issues, aren’t self aware enough to know when we’re being satirized.
My books are fun and fictional, but I do like for them to ring as authentic, which is why I try to use real-life anecdotes and base characters off of composites of real-life people. Perhaps it’s the journalist in me that wants the reader to feel like they are getting inside access to a world they wouldn’t otherwise get to know.
Still, as a novelist, my first goal is to entertain. I’m a mother of two young children. My days are long and sometimes trying. At night, all I want to do is get in bed with a mug of tea and read something enjoyable. I write books that I’d want to read, and it’s my theory that if something is fun to write, it’s also fun to read.