In honor of the last Rocketgirls post by Kim Green this week, our Rocketgirls website has just launched! It will have minor tweaks yet, and changes to come, but please do check it out.
Today, Kim reveals (and she claims, embarrasses) herself just a little in this brief interview. Enjoy!
1. What comes first, character or story, for you?
Character by a landslide. I wish, wish, wish it was story, because plotting is so difficult for me. Generally, a character pops into my head with a sort of “what if” attached. (What if a disgruntled soccer mom was misdiagnosed with breast cancer? What if four women from different walks of life, even different countries, met on a remote Greek island one summer? What if a diehard city girl was forced to live in the country for a year?) Then I have to grow the idea into a premise, then into an actual story with a proper arc. I can conceive characters till the cows come home—which sometimes results in my books having too many sub-characters and subplots that ultimately require killing—but story is very challenging for me.
2. Fiction that stars women who have sassy attitudes and wild capers (which I think your work qualifies as) tends to get called chick-lit, a title many writers hate. What would YOU call it instead?
Glad you asked. Personally, I have no issues with the Chick Lit label, patronizing though it may be. If sassy characters and a spirit of adventure are my biggest literary crimes, I’ll accept the tag! If pressed, I suppose I might call it Commercial Fiction (grin). (I tried on Postmodern Romance, Women’s Adventure, Women’s Lit, Sass Lit and Attitude Adjustment lit, but they were all so wrong.)
3. Are you a nose-to-the-grindstone type of writer, or a let-inspiration-strike type?
Nose-to-grindstone. I’m a Capricorn through and through. I’m very unprecious about my process, which consists of sitting down and staring into space, writing a few words or paragraphs, answering emails, bitching and moaning, drinking, Web surfing and writing some more. I used to have to have a chai in hand, but now that I’ve had my second child and am on my second round of horrific calorie restriction in an attempt to regain access to my clothes, I have green tea. Seriously, though—it took me a solid year of writing six days per week at exactly the same time and place to build the muscle required, the discipline. Now I can play with it a little, but I had to earn it first, and it was hard, because, in the beginning, you are constantly finding ways to rationalize why you can put it off. This is not to say that inspiration never strikes, just that I don’t wait for it and it doesn’t interest me much as a way to solve problems and produce material. Strangely, it always strikes when I’m running, and have no access to pen and paper. So I have to repeat the idea like a mantra all the way home, which is not a great way to make a run go quickly.
4. You have a degree in political science from UC Davis. This must have been great character-study work for the writer in you.
Er...not so much. I am old enough that poli sci was something of a pseudoscience in those days (the 80s). It was all realpolitik and game theory and other crap I can’t even remember. No real characters to speak of. Then the Iron Curtain fell and everything changed (I think the theories were all there to explain the Cold War or something). I have often pondered why I chose to study what I did—poli sci at UC Davis and UC Berkeley, then international relations at the University of Amsterdam—and have come up with the theory that I wanted to be a character in one of my books: girl studies world affairs, girl moves to exotic foreign locales, girl sleeps with exotic foreigners whilst saving the world.
5. Was writing something you always did, or took to later on?
I’m a late bloomer. I didn’t start writing seriously until I discovered how much I hated working for The Man in my early 30s. I will say that I was always a voracious reader—I mean voracious—and from a young age truly lost myself and lived in the worlds of my books. I always wanted to be a writer but it seemed so farfetched—how could I aspire to such a thing? I wish I could say I was motivated by something magical and positive and touchy feely, but it was truly my inability to do corporate work without developing acid reflux and homicidal mania that sent me to my computer.
6. You have a daughter—when on earth do you find time to write?
Actually, I have a 4-year-old daughter who never stops talking and a 10-month-old son who never stops yelling. To wit: I wrote before they were born, I wrote in between while my daughter was at school and I wrote when family members volunteered to watch them. I am just now getting officially back in the saddle after my son’s birth. I really missed working this time. I’m almost 39 and very set in my grumpy, solitary writer ways. That said, you only get one shot at being there for your kids’ babyhood and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. But now that I’ve officially started working again, I am absolutely fascist about my schedule. There is no room for compromise in this profession; you have to be a little obsessive-compulsive to succeed. Freakish, but true.
7. What influences show up in your writing (these need not be other writers)?
Well, I am influenced by other writers, including Susan Isaacs, Jennifer Belle, Olivia Goldsmith and Candace Bushnell. I also like the director and screenwriter Nicole Holofcener. I like dark situational humor and people who are not afraid to write about our baser instincts with rawness and honesty, even if it’s embarrassing. I’m also inspired by the sensibility of some of my good friends and family members, people whose voices are often reflected in my characters’, and whose senses of humor helped shape my own view of the world.
8. The excerpt from Live A Little is about a woman being diagnosed with cancer—a sober topic, yet you manage to make it funny. Does this ability come naturally to you?
I think maybe it does. I don’t know why, but every time I set out to write something more serious and sober in tone, some sort of comic voice trickles in. So far, I am a complete failure at Substantive Literature That Takes Itself Seriously and Is Terribly Serious. Still, I like to believe that there are truths and valid observations about human nature in my own work, even if my characters often have a comical perspective on their own trials. Here’s a funny story: When it came time to shop this manuscript, two editors wanted it—my old editor from my first two books, who had landed at a new house, and the person who became my new editor. But my old editor was overruled by committee because they were scared of the cancer angle, and one of their comments was something like “We like it. Can you do it without the cancer?” I was like, um, no. Actually, I can’t.
9. If you could have any other writer's career, whose would it be and why?
Oh, this is so easy. You see, I’m a really envious, competitive person by nature and I think about this all the time (it’s one of those staring-into-space time-fillers). It’s very unattractive. Short answer: I would want Jennifer Weiner’s career because she is so fucking successful, celebrated, prolific, intelligent, rich, well-spoken, opinionated and gets to travel all over the place. But I would want to have written Jennifer Belle’s, Alice Adams’s, Eleanor Lipman’s, Candace Bushnell’s, Maeve Binchy’s, Val McDermid’s, Madeleine L’Engle’s and Rosamunde Pilcher’s books, because I adore them so.