The other day I had lunch with a friend and happened to mention that I just realized Allegiant had been in movie theaters for over a month. I had forgotten this particular friend was pretty angry regarding the ending of the iconic book by Veronica Roth. (Spoiler alert!) In fact, when I finished this book (the third in the Divergent trilogy) two years ago, she sent me the link to a letter written by Ms. Roth to her fans addressing the outrage over the death of her main character, Tris Prior. So when I mentioned the movie to my friend during our lunch, she informed me the only way she would see the movie would be if the ending had been changed. This got me thinking, who’s really in control of a story—the author or the readers?
As an author, nothing makes me happier than hearing how strongly people have connected to my characters. After all, I pour my heart and soul into my books, often feeling like I’m living in my fictional world with the delightful cast of characters I’ve created. (Granted, my first three books were based on my life, but everyone received a bit of a makeover for the world at large, so the characters were ultimately my creation. Mwahahahahaha!) I’ve been lucky enough to have readers tell me how much they related to my heroine, how easily they fell for my hero and how much they would love to slap my heroine’s bitchy sidekick. Score!
As a reader, I become invested in characters—particularly when I’m three books into a series. I’ve gotten to know these people. I’ve laughed with them, cried with them, worried about them, and (figuratively) held their hands through their worst nightmares. I really feel for these people. So when the author takes one of my beloved characters from me, or has a character act in a way that seems completely wrong to me, well, I become distraught. I realize death is a part of life and it can bring meaning to a story (yada, yada, yada), and that unexpected actions on the part of a character provide a level of drama, but these concepts don’t make the loss hurt any less. Tears will be shed.
After considering how I feel in each of my roles, I’m left with a quandary as I begin preparing to write my next book. (Thankfully, I write chick lit, so the level of tragedy is low and it’s unlikely I will find myself in a situation like Ms. Roth’s.) French Roast will be the fourth and final book in my French Twist series and while the basic outline of the plot will come from real life, many elements can be manipulated. For example, while many readers have enjoyed the neurotic behavior exhibited by my heroine (and alter ego), there are others who found her immature and over-the-top. In the same vein, her best friend has been hailed as hilarious by some and heinous by others. Do I tone them both down to make them more palatable to a broader scope of readers, or do I keep them as their crazy, provocative selves?
In my short stint as an author, I’ve learned it’s impossible to satisfy everyone. My plan is to listen to those voices in my head and entertain as many people as possible with the end result. But I’m dying to know—if you were an author, what would you do?
Where are you from? Does the area you live in influence you writing?
I grew up in the suburbs of New York City. Not to disparage my childhood home, but it’s rather quiet—not at all the hotbed of activity one might expect to provide fabulous story ideas. My adult life took me to both Chicago and the Bay Area, eventually sending me back to the suburbs of New York. While I believe the areas I have lived have influenced my writing to some degree (the locations certainly make an appearance in my books), I believe the people I have met along the way have had a more lasting effect. My first trip to France to meet my husband’s family was packed with story ideas!
Tell us your latest news!
I have just released my fourth book, Gamer Girl, which is my first work of complete fiction. I’m so excited! My previous books were based on my life, so writing this book was a little daunting at first. I knew I wanted my heroine to be a gamer because a) I LOVE video games and b) I wanted to tell two stories at the same time—her life inside the virtual world and her life outside in the real world. The most fun was pulling everything together so these two worlds could collide in the end. I like to think of it as chick lit with a hint of fantasy.
When and why did you begin writing? What inspired you to write your first book?
My foray into writing began with a dream. I woke one morning with the idea of writing a book about the whirlwind romance my husband and I had experienced ten years earlier. Given that I had never thought I would become a writer, I dismissed the idea as ludicrous! However, a few weeks later the idea was still nagging at me, so I decided to give it a try. Three months later, I had written the draft of my first book, French Twist! I still wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t had this dream.
What book(s) / author(s) have influenced your life and writing?
I have always had a great love of chick lit. I’m a romantic at heart and nothing pleases me more than following an enchanting fictional character’s journey to happily ever after. I grin from ear-to-ear during the adorable meet cutes, swoon at each and every stolen moment and tear up during confessions of love. I am delighted when there is a good dose of humor thrown in with the romance. Consequently, Sophie Kinsella and Helen Fielding are at the top of my reading list! Becky Bloomwood and Bridget Jones are very near and dear to my heart.
Tell us about your characters and how they came to be? Have they been in your head for a long time?
After watching a video game documentary with my husband, I thought it would be really interesting to have a main character who loved gaming as much as I do. (However, she would also possess the ability to play the games, unlike me.) As I mulled over her character, I imagined tragic circumstances in her life which would lead her to lose herself in a virtual world. Everything else just took shape from there—her feisty grandmother, her histrionic best friend, her obnoxious nemesis, and, of course, her gorgeous love interest. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced!
What motivates you to write?
Making people laugh! Everyday life can be exhausting. I love being able to provide people with a distraction from the pressure of their responsibilities. Nothing combats a stressful day like a nice long giggle!
What is the hardest part of writing?
Keeping things fresh! It takes a lot to write a book which will keep people interested from beginning to end. My aim is to tell a good story, with a colorful cast of characters, good pacing and just the right amount of drama. Finding this delicate balance is a true art form.
I also struggle with finding the time do write. I have two young boys, so my house is constantly filled with activity. I’m one of those writers who needs complete silence to work and this only happens when my boys are in school or asleep–which means my writing window is extremely limited! Especially since my husband now works out of the house and often comes to visit me between meetings.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Writing this book taught me that I have a rather fertile imagination. I was amazed by how quickly all the details of the story took shape after I painted a mental picture of my heroine. Many of my author friends had said, “my voices would talk to me,” but I honestly wasn’t sure if they were pulling my leg or not. (I have quite the reputation for being gullible.) It’s good to know my voices are not only alive and well, but bursting with ideas.
Where do you get your ideas?
The first three books I wrote, comprising the French Twist series, were based on my life—with a little judicious editing and a lot of embellishment. I must admit, making your family members act out your fictional plots is really fun. My fourth book, Gamer Girl, originated from a video game documentary I watched with my husband and was a blast to write. My fifth book, French Roast, will be a holiday novella to continue my French Twist series, so it will have some basis in reality, but my sixth book will again be straight-up fiction. I have no idea where I came up with the idea for this book, but I will be sure to give you more information when it comes out next year. Stay tuned!
What does your family think of your writing?
They are my biggest supporters and have all made important contributions to my books. My sister is one of my editors as well as the genius behind my gorgeous covers. She is also the reason I began writing in the first place. If she hadn’t been my cheerleader, I never would have made it through my first book. My husband is my final beta reader and always provides insightful feedback. (Fun fact: My husband was initially surprised by my stellar sense of humor in prose, which in turn, surprised me since I find myself to be very witty in conversation.) My sister-in-law has enviable story editing skills which have vastly improved my series. And I’m thrilled to tell you that my teenage nieces and nephew have devoured my books! Can you imagine? It feels incredible!
What is the best advice you would give to inspiring authors?
Don’t give up! The road to becoming a published author is long and arduous—whether you choose to self-publish or go the traditional route. It won’t be easy and you will most likely doubt yourself often. Just remember why you began writing and do your best to find joy in it. I also highly recommend taking advantage of the amazing resources and support networks at your disposal. I have discovered many helpful author groups through Facebook and Twitter, which have led to invaluable knowledge and close friendships. It really does take a village!
What book are you reading now?
Funny story! As I mentioned in my guest post, I just discovered the movie version of Veronica Roth’s Allegiant, has been in theaters for quite some time. I have this odd habit of rereading books before I see the movie adaptation, so I just finished reading Allegiant yesterday. (My mind is absolutely full of information for my book launch, so reading a book I’ve already read is not such a bad idea.) I’m still impressed by the complexity of Ms. Roth’ story, the rich quality of her writing and the skill with which she was able to make me care so deeply for her characters. Even though I knew a great loss was coming at the end of the book, I felt the sting just the same.
I tossed a thumbs-up sign over my shoulder as I walked towards my doom. I glanced up to find Morgan beaming at my dorky gesture. Aces, Meri. Way to make an entrance.
I offered him a shaky smile in return. “Hi. I’m here about a package?” Despite our lengthy conversation, I still felt really nervous in his presence.
Morgan gestured to a coffee cup sitting on the counter in front of him.
In complete confusion, I stammered, “I didn’t order…”
“Consider it a thank-you gift.”
When my idiotic nature kept me glued to my current square of carpet, Morgan picked up the cup and brought it to me.
I barely succeeded in taking it without dropping it. “Um, you’re welcome?” I readjusted my grip, silently praying I wouldn’t dump hot coffee all over him. Humiliation of epic proportions wasn’t a good way to start the day.
He took a step closer and gazed directly into my eyes. I was instantly mesmerized by the sea green splendor before me. His eyes should totally be used as some sort of government truth serum. Those tiny flecks of gold that flashed when he smiled? They would ferret out every last secret.
“Remember? Last week you told me about the Adventure Easter egg?”
I grinned, pleased he thought the secret message from the game creator was as cool as I did.
Courtney snorted. “Easter eggs? I had no idea you were so lame, Meri. It’s September already.”
Instead of wasting my energy crafting a witty retort for our obnoxious receptionist, I fought the urge to touch the stray curls which had fallen across Morgan’s forehead. They were alarmingly close to obstructing my view of his incredible eyes.
I cleared my throat self-consciously. “Thank you for the coffee, Morgan. It was totally unnecessary, but much appreciated.” I raised the cup in a toast to him and turned to walk back to my desk.
I came to an abrupt halt and whipped back around. Please let this be over soon. The longer I remained in his presence, the greater my chances of saying something moronic–with Courtney as a witness. Just the thought of it made me shiver.
Concern flashed across his face as he gently rubbed my arm. “I was hoping you might feel sorry enough for me to drop a few more hints my way.” He paused dramatically. “I might even be willing to throw in some appetizers next time.”
Butterflies danced in my stomach. Between the goosebumps from his touch and the prospect of time alone with him, I was left speechless. I both wanted and feared this outcome more than anything in the world. I opened my mouth to say who knows what when I heard Courtney gasp.
She pointed at my chest accusingly. “Is that, like, a cow on your shirt?”
I peered down at my shirt, wondering if I had forgotten to change out of my Ben & Jerry’s nightshirt this morning. Thankfully, my eyes fell on none other than a black and white outline of Yoda, my favorite Star Wars character.
“Blind as a bat, you are.” I slapped my hand over my mouth, astonished my sarcastic comment was actually said out loud. I usually keep much better control of my biting wit.
Morgan collapsed into laughter, clearly understanding my Grand Jedi Master reference.
Fury alighting her delicate features, Courtney spat, “Don’t you have a test roster to develop?”
Panic struck my heart when I noticed she was caressing a stack of lime green paper as she said this. Dear God, not again. Images of Dan’s coveted presentation in fluorescent wonder flashed through my mind. I wouldn’t survive the backlash this time.
“Test roster. Absolutely.” I bobbed my head up and down so fast, my teeth rattled a little. I waved a quick goodbye to Morgan and ran off before he could make any other mention of extracurricular activities. Now was definitely not the time to incur Courtney’s wrath. I had a battle to win, which meant I couldn’t spend late hours in the office correcting her vengeful copying. My instincts told me it wouldn’t be long before the Black Army picked up my trail.
Excerpt from Gamer Girl by Glynis Astie, Copyright 2016
Glynis never expected in her wildest dreams to be a writer. After thirteen years in the Human Resources Industry, she decided to stay at home with her two amazing sons. Ever in search of a project, she was inspired to write the story of how, in only six short months, she met and married her wonderfully romantic French husband, Sebastien. The end result became her first novel, French Twist. As this was just the beginning of their epic love story, Glynis continued to chronicle their adventures in the sequel, French Toast, and the final installment in the series, French Fry. After she finished milking her life story for all it was worth, she decided to write straight-up fiction with Gamer Girl, which infuses her beloved chick lit with a hint of fantasy.
When Glynis is not writing, she is trying to keep the peace amongst the three men and two cats in her life, finding missing body parts (Lego pieces are small!), supervising a myriad of homework assignments and keeping a tenuous hold on her sanity by consuming whatever chocolate is in the vicinity.
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