Tuesday, June 10, 2008

GCC Presents: Melissa Senate and Questions to Ask Before Marrying

As if you need a better reason to pick up best-seller Melissa Senate's newest book, Questions to Ask Before Marrying, the title alone should sell you. Seriously, I love this title because, well, because of a lot of things, but mostly because it's simultaneously funny, serious, intimate and probing. And if the title of a book can raise all sorts of questions before I've even cracked the spine, I'm guessing the book itself will do much the same. Thus, I'm super-thrilled to host Melissa Senate and her new book on the blog today. You might know her from See Jane Date or Theadora's Twist, her first YA book. The Boston Globe, among others, raves about her, and honestly, this is a great pick for your beach bag this summer.

Here's a little overview:

A very popular New York Times article lists fifteen questions couples should ask (or wish they had) before marrying. Ruby Miller and her fiancé, Tom Truby, have questions 1 to 14 almost covered. It's question 15 that has the Maine schoolteacher stumped: Is their relationship strong enough to withstand challenges?

Challenges like…Ruby's twin sister, Stella. The professional muse, flirt and face reader thinks Ruby is playing it safe. And that the future Mrs. Ruby Truby will die of boredom before her first anniversary or her thirtieth birthday, whichever comes first.

Challenges like…sexy maverick teacher Nick McDermott, Ruby's secret longtime crush, who confesses his feelings for her at her own engagement party.

But before Ruby can plan the wedding that may never be, Stella announces she's pregnant by a one-night stand whose name might be Jake (or James? Maybe Jason?) and who lives somewhere under the glittering lights of Las Vegas. Ruby and Stella hit the road to find him—with a lot more than fifteen questions.

And after three thousand miles, a stowaway relative and hitchhiking
teen lovebirds bound for an Elvis wedding chapel, the Miller sisters might get some answers.

And now, Melissa stops by to answer my usual questions:

1) What’s the backstory behind your book?: I admit it—I saw the movie Sideways (which I loved) and HAD to write a road-trip book. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, but I had no idea who would be in that car. Then, estranged twin sisters started forming—one, Ruby, a conservative Maine school teacher about to marry her “good guy” fiance when she’s in love with someone else, and the other, Stella, a professional muse and face reader, pregnant from a one-night stand with a guy whose first name she can’t quite recall. She does remember him saying he lives in Las Vegas, so off the two go in search. The closer the engaged twin gets to those quickie wedding chapels, the more she questions what she really wants.

In the middle of writing, I came across a New York Times article, the most popular of 2006, which was just a list of 15 questions couples should ask before marrying—or wish they had. This article gave me my title and really honed the the theme of the novel for me, which is that you need to ask important questions, practical questions, crazy questions—even if you don’t like the answers, even if you don’t know the answers. The list tests quite a few of the characters in the novel. The question that struck me as the most important was the last one, number 15: Is the bond between you strong enough to withstand challenges? How can you know? That’s what my main character, Ruby, is about to find out. Because she’s facing some big challenges. Such as a serious crush on someone else who announces he wants a chance. Such as a twin sister who thinks she’s making the biggest mistake of her life by marrying her fiance.

2) It seems that a lot of readers confuse fiction with real life, assuming that a novel must be an autobiography of the author as well. How many elements of your real life are reflected in your book?: All my novels are autobiographical in spirit, if that makes any sense. All the emotional core issues, what the characters are struggling to understand, are always based on questions, issues, of my own. Sometimes I sneak them in in ways only I can identify, but they’re always there. This relates to what I love most about writing fiction: that I can fix whatever I want in my own life through my characters. A big component of Questions To Ask Before Marrying is taken from my own life, but I’ve never done (and never will) what the sisters decide to do. So I had them do it to see how it would turn out.

3) A lot of my blog readers are aspiring or new authors. How did you land your first book deal?: I still marvel at this. The Friday before Memorial Day weekend in the year 2000, a former colleague at Harlequin called me and said something like: “We’re starting an imprint dedicated to “chick lit” novels, and I’ll bet you have a story in you.” I loved the book Bridget Jones’ Diary and shows like Ally McBeal and was basically a walking, breathing chick lit clichĂ© at the time: single, living in Manhattan, working in publishing, a serial dater, etc. I wrote See Jane Date that summer, which is to me a book about loneliness and breaking free of that within yourself, and I turned it in and waited. Red Dress Ink bought it and launched the imprint with it, which gave me invaluable free publicity. What I marvel at is that I actually sat my tush down and wrote a book when I never though I could. Yes, it definitely helped having an editor encouraging me, but writing The End on the last page of See Jane Date was up there with the greatest moments of my life. I wrote a novel—and one I was very proud of.

4) I have a serious procrastination problem when it comes to tackling my fiction. What’s your routine? How do you dive it? Do you have any rituals or necessary to-dos before or while you write?:
Procrastination is my biggest weakness. I hate, hate, hate that I do it. I’ve learned that I have to psych myself up for sitting down to write. I have to get emotionally involved with the story, the characters, where I left off, or how to begin, before I turn on the computer. If I don’t, I’ll stare at the screen, then check my email, surf, watch a repeat of Law & Order that I’ve seen 10 times, wash the dishes… If I just take a walk or sit quietly and think about the characters and their situation, let it really get inside me (and I mean for a good hour or so), I will get a burst of fresh energy to hit the keyboard.

5) Clearly, your book will be optioned for a multi-million dollar film deal! Who would you cast as the leads, if you were given creative control?: I wish! For conservative school teacher Ruby, who is engaged to a nice guy but in love with someone else: my beloved Mary Louise Parker. I just LOVE her. For flitter, professional muse and face reader Stella: I see Kristin Bell, from Veronica Mars. She’s tough, but looks like an angel. For Ruby’s nice guy fiance: Patrick Dempsey nerdied up. And for her crush: the hot actor who plays Prince Caspian. Cute, cute, cute!


Annette Gallant said...

I bought this book on the weekend and couldn't put it down once I started it. I loved it!

Question for Melissa Senate: Any possiblities of Stella getting her own book?

Anonymous said...

Hey Annette,

I'm so glad you loved the book!

Your question made me smile--Stella totally stole the show for me, and though the book is told through Ruby's POV, I felt like we got to know Stella just as well. I don't have a spin-off planned for Stella and her new life, but you never know!

Thanks again!!

And: Happy Birthday to Allison!

:) Melissa

Annette Gallant said...

Melissa Senate: Thanks for answering my question. I commented about Stella on another blog, just before I saw that you answered my comment here. LOL Sorry, not trying to hammer the point home.