Interview: May 9, 2008
May 9, 2008
Jane Porter’s latest book, MRS. PERFECT, is a companion novel to her 2007 release, ODD MOM OUT.
In this interview with Bookreporter.com’s Bronwyn Miller, Porter describes how she originally envisioned these two narratives to be written, and compares and contrasts the romances she has penned with her more recent mainstream fiction titles. She also explains how her work ethic has gradually shifted over time, shares her experiences on the set of Lifetime Network’s adaptation of one of her previous books, FLIRTING WITH FORTY, and talks a bit about an upcoming work, MORE THAN A PRETTY FACE.
Bookreporter.com: MRS. PERFECT is a wonderful complement to your last novel, ODD MOM OUT. How did you get the idea to continue the story, but from a different mom’s perspective?
Jane Porter: These two books actually started out as one book, told from alternating points of view, but my editor encouraged me to divide the stories into two books with each woman getting her own “story.” I think it was a great suggestion as it really allowed me to develop each woman’s inner world and create a more rounded story. And in terms of where these women came from, I have no idea. I wake up and there’s just a story there with characters who suddenly seem very real to me.
BRC: Why do you think appearance is so important to Taylor Young? Do you think many women are plagued by “Keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome?
JP: MRS. PERFECT, like ODD MOM OUT, explores the theme of appearances, self-image and what lies beyond the public image. We women tend to be so hard on each other and I wanted to write about two women who didn’t like each other, and yet were forced to deal with one another on a regular basis. I discovered that these women, although quite different from the other, actually had a lot in common. I also discovered that at the end of the day, we women have to be compassionate towards each other, but also ourselves. I really love this new book, too. It’s a story very close to my heart and I hope readers will enjoy it, too.
BRC: In the novel, Taylor has to take a cold, hard look at her lifestyle and learn to scale back and be self-sufficient. Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation?
JP: I haven’t had to ever face Taylor’s situation, but as a single mom I am responsible for my family, and there is definitely pressure in raising my boys. Becoming the head of my own family meant I had to do a lot of growing up very quickly, which meant learning how to budget and invest my money better, as well as coping with life’s problems without another adult to consult or to lean on. I’m a better parent now. A better person.
BRC: The scenes involving Taylor’s local book club are very interesting --- particularly when Leslie Bennetts’s recent book, THE FEMININE MISTAKE, is chosen and some of the housewives balk at reading it. Why did you choose that particular book?
JP: I think THE FEMININE MISTAKE chose me! I loved that book. It had a huge impact on me. It’s been a bestseller, but I wish even more women read it, and that even more women would be open to the message rather than fear it and assume that Bennetts’s book is an attack on stay-at-home moms. I found the book insightful and educational, reminding me that women must not “trust” that all is well financially. Instead, they need to remain informed and involved in family finances so that they’re not caught short by death, disability or divorce. It’s such a basic, practical message with the bottom line being that women must protect themselves.
BRC: Taylor finds sympathy and compassion from the least likely source --- Marta Zinsser. Why is Taylor so prickly with Marta in the beginning?
JP: Taylor puts tremendous pressure on herself to excel, and she sets very high standards for herself as a woman --- being the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect friend; and let’s face it, that pressure is exhausting. Taylor sees Marta, who is far more free-spirited, and resents Marta’s freedom. The truth is, Taylor would love to operate under less pressure, but she doesn’t know how to give herself permission to be less than perfect.
BRC: You’ve mentioned that as a teenager, your family spent a year in Europe and instilled in you a love of travel. Where have you traveled to lately?
JP: I took my boys to London and Italy last summer, and the year before, we spent several weeks in Australia. Dubai, Morocco, Egypt and Greece are at the top of my travel wish list, but I find myself torn between taking the trips I want to take for me, and then the trips I want to take my boys on with me. I’m willing to take more travel risks for me than I am for my kids.
BRC: Your novel, FLIRTING WITH FORTY, is now being filmed for Lifetime Television, and will star Heather Locklear. Have you been on the set at all? What can you share about the movie?
JP: The movie thing is great. I just spent the last week on the set in Hawaii and had a lot of fun. I got to be an extra in beach scenes on two different days, and then wear a headset and sit behind the director and listen in as they filmed. I have to say that it’s been a bit surreal having a movie made of my book, especially starring Heather Locklear. She, by the way, was lovely. I had the chance to chat with her every day and she made a great Jackie. I’m very lucky that Lifetime moved forward with the film, versus leaving the project languishing.
BRC: Once you’ve hit upon your inspiration for a novel, what’s your process for writing? Do you keep to a strict writing regime, or do you write when the spirit moves you?
JP: I used to be very strict with my writing, and extremely disciplined. It took me nearly 15 years to get my first book sold, and during that time I wrote while I was working other jobs, wrote while earning my Master’s degree, wrote while getting married and having babies. The first five years I was published, I was still very driven but my productivity has slowed down, and it’s partly due to the fact that the business of writing has begun to impact my actual writing. Promoting books takes an increasing amount of time, and that’s time away from writing something new, or revising a book so that it’s ready for publication. Now, I tend to write the most when a deadline is breathing down my neck. Not a good way to write! I’m determined that for the rest of 2008 and for 2009, I put the real writing first and all the speaking, blogging, interviewing and emailing further down on the list of priorities so that my readers will have more books to read sooner!
BRC: You began by writing romances for a Harlequin series before penning the more mainstream novel, THE FROG PRINCE. What’s the major difference between the two, from a writing standpoint? Do you approach the two genres differently?
JP: I don’t approach my Harlequin and 5 Spot books that differently. Each time I sit down to write I want to believe that there’s a different process at work, but then it turns out to be the same: write and write and write until I find the passion in the story, and the truth, because every story has its own truth. Every story has a reason for being written. My goal is to find the meaning and then grow it, flesh it, blow it up like a child’s beach raft. I want every story as full as it can be, and in that respect, writing is the same. It does help, though, that I write the Harlequins in third person and the 5 Spot novels in first. I also like to think of my Harlequin heroines as modern-day fairy-tale princesses, while my 5 Spot novels are the women next door, or the woman sitting across from me in the airport lounge. One is more mythic while the other is more realistic, but at heart, I am telling the same story, and it’s a story I’ve been telling a long time --- we all deserve love, we all deserve a wonderful life, we all should take risks and go for more because this is the only life we’ve got, and we want it to be the great adventure we’re hoping for. I don’t know if there are advantages to straddling category and single title. Sometimes switching back and forth between the two is really hard for me, and I lose some significant writing time. But the positive is that it keeps me and my writing and voice fresh. So perhaps that’s the advantage --- it doesn’t allow me to get too comfy. I’m always switching it up and hopefully, ultimately, it improves the quality of my writing and storytelling.
BRC: You have a great website (www.janeporter.com) that’s a wonderful resource for fans of your books, as well as for fledgling writers. How involved are you in its content and design?
JP: Emily Cotler is the genius at www.waxcreative.com and we’ve worked together for eight years now. She handles 40 some authors and I love her designs. They’re smart, pretty and very personal. A couple years ago we completely overhauled my site and we worked together to create a fresh, modern image that reflected me. And Emily will brainstorm new ideas for the site and present me techie updates, but I’m very hands-on and have lots of opinions regarding my site since it is “me” online.
BRC: You often speak at writers’ conferences across the country. What advice would you offer would-be writers? What has been the best advice you’ve received?
JP: Public speaking isn’t as difficult for me as for some because I grew up doing theatre, but not all writers are as comfortable speaking. My advice to introverted writers is to focus on the message you want to give/share. Believe in the message, know why you want to share it, and if you find it difficult to believe in it, then maybe you don’t want to do the whole public speaking thing. One can be a New York Times bestseller without ever speaking at a single conference or awards ceremony. Do promo to the extent that works for you and nothing beyond that.
BRC: Your upbringing in Visalia, California, sounds like an idyllic childhood. How did that inform the person you are today?
JP: Although I’ve lived in Bellevue, Washington just across the bridge from Seattle for 10 years now, I’m originally a Central California girl, which means I know farms and ranches better than beaches and glitz. I didn’t grow up on a farm, but having friends who did was very grounding. We weren’t spoiled by any means, and we were all given a lot of responsibility quite young. If I wanted to get to ballet class I rode my bike there. If I was going to buy pointe shoes, I needed to pay for them by babysitting. My mom and dad did a great job raising me. I learned to work hard for what I want, set goals for myself, and dream big knowing that the only way to reach your dreams is by muscle, sweat and good old-fashioned grit.
BRC: What are you working on now? Will we see more of Taylor Young and Marta Zinsser?
JP: My next 5 Spot novel will be out in July 2009, and it follows Tiana Tomlinson --- a character introduced in ODD MOM OUT and one of Marta’s best friends. We might see a cameo of Marta and Eva in MORE THAN A PRETTY FACE (Tiana’s book), but otherwise, we’re done with Bellevue and Marta and Taylor.