Interview: April 27, 2007
April 27, 2007
Wendy Corsi Staub realized at the age of eight that she wanted to be an author and has since published over 60 books. In this interview with Bookreporter.com's Joe Hartlaub, Staub recounts the event that inspired the plot of her latest novel, DON'T SCREAM, and describes her rigorous work schedule and ethic that allow her to divide her time equally between her career and family. She also names some of the authors who have influenced her work, compares and contrasts writing series and stand-alone novels, and shares what she has in store for the next year.
Bookreporter.com: DON'T SCREAM is your latest stand-alone novel, although there is a character in it who was also featured in MOST LIKELY TO DIE, which was published in February 2007. The events in MOST LIKELY TO DIE had their genesis in high school, while the plot of DON'T SCREAM is based on an occurrence that takes place during the college years of some sorority sisters. The theme of reunion, voluntary and otherwise, runs through both books. Was there a real-world experience that jump-started this theme for you?
Wendy Corsi Staub: Last summer, I was in my hometown on vacation and found myself at an impromptu get-together with former classmates, some of whom I hadn't seen since high school. What struck me most: despite co-existing for the better part of two decades, some of us were virtual strangers back then because in my world, small-town kids tended not to delve past surface perceptions. Some should have been virtual strangers to me now, but instead actually felt like close friends; we found common ground not only in hometown roots, but also in the similar paths our lives have taken since --- parenthood, travel, relocation, careers.
Naturally, as an author, I was thematically intrigued. Still in the memory-lane mode, I came home and immediately wrote my segment of MOST LIKELY TO DIE, followed by DON'T SCREAM, and those reunion elements came readily in both tales.
BRC: DON'T SCREAM features an intriguing set of protagonists --- four sorority sisters, 10 years removed from college, who are reluctantly brought together when they are each contacted by a fifth sister, apparently from beyond the grave. Each of these women are very different, yet share some common, if tenuous, elements. They are certainly among the most highly developed characters you have featured in a novel. Did you base each or any of them on any particular person in your own life? If so, do you think they would recognize themselves?
WCS: Occasionally, I do loosely base some traits of my characters --- almost always secondary characters --- on people I have met or known. The four women in DON'T SCREAM are pure fiction. If anything, there are elements of my own life in theirs. For example, I have two sons like the heroine, Brynn, does, and I've always been a stay-at-home mom like her, albeit a working one. Fiona's love of U2 music reflects my personal 20-year crush on Bono!
BRC: When you write, do you see the entire story before you begin, or does it evolve as you sit down at your computer?
WCS: I see the big picture, but the vast majority of the details --- including most of the characters --- aren't there until I do the writing, so it definitely evolves. That is to say, of course I know where I'm going, and I have a general idea how and when I'm going to get there, but I love to meander off on interesting side trips because I never know what --- or who --- might pop up as I travel along. It's like setting out on a road trip with a general sense of direction, more than one possible route to the destination, freedom to wander on the way and no specific route map.
BRC: You write novels in a number of genres, at a rate that most, if not all, writers would envy. What is your work schedule like? How did it develop? Is it one that you have adhered to for an extended period of time, under a "if it's not broke, don't fix it" theory, or do you constantly change it or adapt it to what is occurring in your life?
WCS: I'm a working mom --- I've got two young sons --- so things are crazy around here! I have to set up a monthly calendar based on how soon I need to get a project finished, and how many pages I'm projecting it to be. If I have eight weeks to write a 500-page book, I figure out how many pages I have to write per week to reach my goal and stick to that schedule until it's done. When you break it down that way, it's not as daunting and I simply don't allow myself to deviate from my personal production plan.
Luckily, I'm blessed with a high-energy level, plus I drink a lot of coffee. I set the alarm for the wee hours and get up in the dark seven days a week with precious few exceptions. I always eat breakfast and lunch at the computer, and I work until about 6:30 or 7 most nights, then unwind by cooking dinner and eating with my family. I spend every possible moment with my husband and children, who are my priority. If they need me --- if, say, someone gets sick at school, or has a Little League game --- I do have the flexibility to drop everything and be there.
Yes, I've had to give up a lot along the way --- hobbies, pleasure reading, TV, a busy social calendar, sleep! The sacrifices are worthwhile because I'm passionate about both writing and motherhood; I feel blessed and fulfilled to have successfully combined the two. Yes, my work schedule is rigid and exhausting --- there's no way around it at this stage in my career, with five publishers --- but in fact, it was pretty similar in all the years leading up to bestsellerdom, because I was hell-bent on making it and knew hard work and long hours were the only way to succeed. Someday when my children are grown, I'll reclaim some leisure time, but I'm loving --- and holding onto --- every moment now.
BRC: You have said elsewhere that you had wanted to be a writer since you were in the third grade. What was the inspiration behind this early, and fateful, decision? Did you ever --- even for a short time --- deviate from your chosen career path?
WCS: I devoured books as a child and I simply sensed that I was born to write them. Never once did I deviate from the path, as hard as that is for me to believe, looking back. I mean, I have a third-grader now! I always had a burning, single-minded ambition and wonderfully supportive parents who believed in me, not to mention a number of dedicated instructors, including my third-grade teacher, with whom I've reconnected! Plus, I can be stubborn and a control freak, or so I'm told. That helped.
BRC: The only thing that is more amazing than the quantity of your work is the quality that informs it. Given your production, what do you do to avoid becoming burned out? And, though this would seem highly unlikely, do you ever experience writer's block? If so, how do you work your way through it?
WCS: As much as I love what I do, my deadlines are often tight, so I have to rely on good old-fashioned discipline, organization and sweat to push past writer's block when it strikes (which is mercifully rare). If I don't feel like writing, too bad! I keep my butt in the chair and I write, even if it's drivel and will have to be re-written later. No shirking allowed because I can't afford to waste time. Typically, even if I'd written a page of drivel, the dam bursts quickly and I'm right back to it. And I love to rewrite --- that's a constant, daily process.
BRC: If you weren't writing for a career, what would you be doing?
WCS: I'd love to be a party caterer --- what's not to love about being part of countless joyful occasions? It's creative and entrepreneurial, and I can't imagine having a career that isn't. One of my favorite things about being a mom is throwing annual theme family birthday parties for my boys --- I love to have a houseful of family and friends, and I have a blast pulling things together: recipes, music, favors.
BRC: What authors, regardless of genre, have influenced your own work? And are there any authors whom you favor when you are reading for pleasure?
WCS: I was a voracious reader as a child and decided to become an author when I was just eight, so the prolific authors I read back then probably had more influence over my career than what I read now --- which is mostly historic nonfiction, travel books, or research material. My childhood favorites: Laura Ingalls Wilder at the top (I'm still obsessed), plus Lois Duncan, Beverly Cleary, Louisa May Alcott, Richard Peck, Judy Blume, Norma Klein, Mark Twain...it's an eclectic list that could go on for pages!
BRC: You are very actively writing both stand-alone and series works. Compare and contrast, if you would, the advantages and disadvantages for you of writing both.
WCS: Writing a stand-alone means starting with a clean slate. You can feed your whims and wander anywhere you want with the characterizations, settings and plot, which can be incredibly freeing. Then again, you do have to lay a lot of groundwork and make decisions on every page, so the early chapters can be a painstaking, time-consuming process.
With a series, you've already done all that, which spares you the initial process...but also requires that you conform the latest installment to all you've created before. In that regard, I'm forced into a lot of tedious fact checking to see, for example, what color eyes a secondary character had back in book 2, or where the heroine's cousin works. Keeping track of details is the biggest challenge when writing a series. The best part? Revisiting characters who feel like old friends!
BRC: You are in the middle of an amazing release schedule, from 2006 into the end of 2007, which involves the publication of 10 novels, including DON'T SCREAM. You are also, with the publication of DON'T SCREAM, commencing what is planned as a two-year, 50-state book tour. Not that I can imagine where you might work something else in, but do you have any additional plans for 2008? And are you working on new books at the moment? Do you have a new series planned, in either the thriller or romance genre?
WCS: I've got a number of exciting projects coming in 2008 --- I've been coordinating next year's publication schedule and things are now falling into place nicely.
I'm currently writing a pair of connected paranormal thrillers, the first of which, DYING BREATH, will be out next April from Zebra. Right before that, in March, Walker will release the second title in my young adult supernatural suspense series, LILY DALE: BELIEVING. That series was just optioned for television, so that's an exciting possibility as well!
In July 2008, as my alter-ego Wendy Markham, I'll publish another romantic comedy about the Chickalini family --- it's coming from Grand Central Publishing (formerly Warner). Also in 2008, as Wendy Markham, I'll be releasing the fifth title in my popular chick lit series about Tracey Spadolini. This time, she's SLIGHTLY SUBURBAN.
Finally, I'm writing a comedic screenplay with my husband and a screenwriter friend, and we're hoping to complete it soon so we can shop it around.
BRC: Can you share with our readers what inspired your 50-state book tour and talk a bit about how you plan to approach this?
WCS: Traveling to promote or research my books is just about the only thing that regularly takes me away from my writing these days. I can't stand being away from my husband and children for such long stretches, so they join me on tour whenever the school schedule allows. Researching and even store events have become a family affair, with the boys taking notes, brainstorming plot twists, handing out bookmarks, placing Autographed Copy stickers...
Struck by our boys' enthusiasm for these road trips --- and all they've soaked up along the way --- my husband and I decided last year that we'll take them to all 50 states (and all the Major League baseball stadiums) by the time my oldest son graduates high school. We have about six years to go and we're already halfway there! My readers can check to see when I'll visit their state on my website at www.wendycorsistaub.com. There, they can also enter my monthly contest, sign up for my newsletter via email@example.com, or request a free bookmark.