This week we're welcoming author, Dee Ernst to The Edible Bookshelf. Dee was kind enough to answer a few questions about herself and her writing. Keep reading to learn more about what inspired Better Off Without Him and how she developed the book and her entertaining characters.
1. What was your inspiration for Better Off Without Him?
I wanted to write a book that I would enjoy reading. I loved the idea of chick lit, but hated the typical heroines – younger women, not as strong or secure as I’d like, whose happily ever after depended on a man. I wanted a tough yet funny woman who knew that happiness was about who you were and not about who you were with.
2. You stepped out of the typical romance format, but still maintained some of the pure romance aspects regular romance readers would enjoy. How did you balance the two sides?
This book went through lots of re-writes, and several top editors looked at it and passed on it. But each of them had a suggestion or two, and I made it a point to listen to the experts. The ‘romance’ aspect of the book was not there in the first version, but I realized that if I wanted that audience, I’d need something to keep them interested. I’m not a big reader of genre romance anymore, but every time an editor suggested something that brought it closer to the ‘true’ romance book, I worked it in. I must admit, I dug up some old Rosemary Rodgers as inspiration.
3. You write about the life of a romance writer so easily, was this mainly from personal experience?
I am by no means as successful a writer as Mona. My agent had a client, Barbara Pierce, who IS a successful romance writer, and Barbara was generous enough to let me pick her brain. I wanted Mona to not only have a successful career, but an authentic one as well. I couldn’t afford for any romance authors to read this and throw it down in disgust, because what I’d written could never happen in real life.
4. I enjoyed the descriptions of the beach and its culture and residents. Have you spent time on Long Island beach?
Yes. When I was a kid, my family would spend a week’s vacation at the Jersey shore, and as an adult, it’s one of my favorite places to relax. There’s a certain vibe there that I haven’t found anywhere else – and I’ve spent lots of time at lots of beaches!
5. The main character, Mona, has relationships with several different men in the book that vary from working, to friend, and romantic. How did you build each relationship so they stayed unique?
Each of those men were as real to me as my real friends and neighbors. I didn’t base any of them on any one person, but in my head, I knew each of them – who they were, what their backstory was, where they’d be in ten years. And since they were such strong individuals, their relationships with Mona (seriously) wrote themselves. It was like I just threw them in a room and recorded what happened.
6. The many different characters, from MarshaMarsha to Anthony, provide a good variety of personalities. How do you develop your characters?
I try to start with a kernel of something from a real person I know. Then, I cast a movie in my head, and who would be the actor/actress in that role? Once the character is in my head, they take on a life of their own. Being a writer is one of the few instances where it’s good to listen to the voices in your head.
7. Mona goes though significant personal change during the book. She seems rather naive in the beginning when it comes to her relationship. Can you describe how you developed her progression during the book?
For Mona, her journey was an awakening. She was always tough, strong, and capable of making decisions. She was never one of those who took her value from the man in her life – she was always her own person. But she was in a marriage that was bad for her, and she didn’t realize it because it kept moving along smoothly. After Brian leaves, and she can look at her marriage through different eyes, then she sees how he was never good enough for her. That’s when she could shake off those ties and move ahead, and that’s how she’s able to put herself first then next time love comes calling.
8. Who are you favorite writers?
I love Susan Isaacs. I’ll be attending a writer’s conference in a few weeks, and the deciding factor on whether or not to shell out the big bucks was seeing her name on one of the panels. I’ve always loved Mary Stewart – her books were my first ‘romance’ novels, and they’re still my favorite. I like Martha Grimes and Elizabeth George for mysteries , and I have every single Nero Wolfe mystery that Rex Stout wrote. I love the ‘Dresden’ books by Jim Butcher, and anything by Neil Gaiman. I’m all over the map with the kinds of books I read and enjoy.
9. Do you have any interesting habits or rituals when you write?
I generally run things through in my head just as I go to sleep. I try to see where the story is going, and even though my memory about most things is terrible these days, I can always remember when I sit down to write what I thought about the night before.
10. Can you tell us about your other books or upcoming projects?
This past April I released a book call A Different Kind of Forever. It was actually written before Better Off. It’s the book that got me signed with an agent, although she could not sell it. It’s much more of a traditional romance, but the heroine is still my kind of girl – older, tough, wise, and not in need of a man. But she finds one – of course – a hot young rock star. It’s kind a perfect fantasy for me.
But since so many people responded so well to Better Off, what I’m working on now is much more in that vein. This time, our plucky protagonist is a 55-year-old who starts ‘the next phase’ of her life – a new job, new condo, and on-line dating – only to have her adult children start moving back in with her. I’m really enjoying writing it.
Thanks so much to Dee for answering my questions!
And don't forget to enter for a chance to win a copy of Better Off Without Him by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with *Giveaway* in the subject line.
Better Off Without Him is also available on Amazon now!