Each year, RWA recognizes excellence in romance writing through the RITAs, considered the top honor in the genre. Though awards are presented in a dozen categories, a writer has just one shot in her career to win the Best First Book award. This interview series focuses on the debut authors nominated in that category. Alyson H undertook to bring this idea to Dear Author and completed all the interviews. Alyson is a great interviewer and elicited some fun information. Alyson makes you, the reader, interested in the interviewee. It’s a great skill. Thanks Alyson and I hope the readers of Dear Author enjoy this six part series.
Jean Marie Pierson’s No Good Girls had its first incarnation as a screenplay. If you were watching it on the big screen, you’d be spending a lot of time elbowing your best friend to share a laugh, and when the lights came up, you’d need to check each other’s mascara. The novel’s main character, Geri O’Brien, is sort of a chick lit anti-heroine. True, she has the single-in-NYC thing happening, but the hip-and-trendy thing isn’t. For Geri, fashion reaches no higher than Burlington Coat Factory, and the key product in a one-step manicure is Borax (works wonders on engine oil under the fingernails). The life-changing New York Minute hasn’t happened for her yet, but she’s got resilient dreams and a conveniently fluid sense of reality to help her cope. Most of all, she’s got friends. Okay, one of them is (maybe) imaginary, but the rest are real. True blue, in fact.
About No Good Girls-
First, a six-word memoir for Geri, your main character:
Broken by one. Repaired by many.
What were the original "triggers" or inspiration points for this story?
The biggest triggers for No Good Girls were my friends, my apartment on 78th street in Manhattan where we lived together and the two loves I lost. All in that order.
Your favorite line, moment, or scene in the book:
My favorite scene is where Emmy and Geri first meet Ingrid at the Knickerbocker. Every girl has had a night where their dreams were almost dashed until their best friend pulled them out of the toilet.
My favorite lines come from Maria, which are probably not suitable to reprint for an interview.
How much fun was it to write the cockroach artist scene?(Readers who are hassled for their preference for happy endings should feel vindicated by this episode.)
That scene turned out very different in the book than what I originally wrote in the screenplay. In that scene, Nathan meets Geri outside of the art studio and the two have a heated exchange. This exchange gave birth to the quintessential quote of the whole screenplay.
I’m sorry, Geri. You’re just not who I thought you’d be.
I’m not who I thought I’d be either.
Ah! How dramatic. Well, after a friend read the screenplay the whole scene got cut. He said I should leave Geri out there alone. My "great exchange" was then left on the cutting room/bedroom floor. He was right. It said more to not have Nathan come through that door. After all, love is showing up.
I can never flip past the cable news channels on the weekend anymore without laughing over the line in No Good Girls referring to Book TV as "a militant literary offshoot of C-SPAN2." Did Geri’s unfortunate experience actually happen to someone you know?
A friend of mine in film school interviewed me for a Mass Communications assignment. Weeks later, when I asked him how it turned out, he said he couldn’t use the footage because the camera panned up and all he got was fifteen minutes of sky. That happened many years ago. I still think it’s hilarious.
I have, however, fallen asleep while watching Book TV. I challenge anyone not to.
The best or most unusual fan mail you received about No Good Girls?
I would say my favorite bit of mail is a review I got on Amazon.com from a male NYC cop.It’s a man’s take on my very pink book.To get into a "guy’s guy" head after reading my book is priceless.
No Good Girls is your first published book, but was it really your first book?
Yes. But the book comes from a screenplay I wrote long ago called, Doing Time. Only in the book I added the father, mother, Poppy, the scenes of the North Fork and Todd, the major love interest.
From the decision to write for publication to the "sold" call: How long?
Too long. I’ll leave it at that.
Lots of writers keep their rejection letters as kind of badges of honor. In No Good Girls, Geri posts hers on the refrigerator, but her roommate Emmy thinks that’s bad karma. Where do you fall on the issue?
In college I lived with five other girls in a house. Around gradation, when everyone was applying for jobs or to graduate schools, we would keep the rejection letters and tack them to a door because on Mondays nights, a local bar gave you a free beer for each letter. That’s how the rejection door came into being. Free beer.
I was sent a few rejection letters by my first agent. Since they went to the agent, not me, they would be short and brutal. I kept them for a year because I wanted to remember each production company that rejected me. Why? Revenge maybe? I have no idea. I now fall more into Emmy’s camp on this matter. However, if there’s a bar in Manhattan giving away beers for your rejection letters, I’d pin them to my jeans.
How did you find your agent?
I was referred to my agent (Susan Raihofer) by an editor/friend of mine. He hooked us up because he thought we would make a good pair. He was right.
Your biggest surprise, pleasant or otherwise, about being a published author:
The best thing about being published is seeing your name on a spine. For me, it legitimized my dream. After writing a book, you carry around this part of you on paper that you hope finds a home. If it doesn’t sell, you feel like you just wrote the longest term paper of your life without getting a grade. But when you see your words reprinted by something other than your home LaserJet, when you realize others will read the crazy thoughts in your head, it makes you take a breath and say, "Ok. I was right to keep going."
What do you think screenwriters and novelists can learn from each other?
A TON! Learning to write a screenplay fine tunes your ability to write great dialog, teaches you the arch of a story and economy of language. In my creative writing class at Hunter, I teach a lesson where the students have to write a mini-screenplay. It pins your literary arm back a bit so that you have to make each character’s voice not only distinct but their dialog purposeful. Their characters can’t talk for the sake of talking. The best friends can’t sound exactly like each other. A character can’t drone on and on because the writer didn’t feel like writing the history between an estranged father and son.
What screenplay writers can learn from novelists is to think BIG. Don’t let page length hem in your idea. Write what your heart tells you to write. Not just what you think will sell.
Three items within arm’s reach when you write:
Outline on paper. Ipod. Reading glasses.
Biggest distraction and how you deal with it:
Netflix. I treat this as a reward and not a right.
Your weirdest or most reliable writing ritual/habit:
I light a ridiculously expensive candle each time I sit down to write.I have no idea why I do it.
Writing advice you’re glad you followed or ignored:
"You’re mixing the present and past tenses," – from my 9th grade English Teacher, Theresa Taylor.
What’s coming up next from you?
I’m working on a Christmas story set in the 1940’s in my hometown of Southold, Long Island. It’s a serious story about Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.
As a RITA Nominee-
How did you celebrate the nomination?
I found out about the Rita nomination the day before I closed on my first house. I celebrated by opening up a bottle of Champagne that I was given at my book party and drank it while I packed boxes. Unpacking those boxes proved interesting.
Wearing or carrying any lucky charms to the awards ceremony?
My shoes. I have a pair of special silver and gold shoes that I’ve worn at every book related event I’ve done.
The author who, despite your usual poise and eloquence, would reduce you a blathering fangirl if you found yourself sitting next to her/him at the ceremony:
Does Paul Walker write books? If not, then most definitely David Sedaris.
First person you’ll hug/text/call if you win:
My friend, Marianne.
A Little More Personal-
Your paying job(s) pre- and post-publication:
Contracts Director for Hyperion Books.
An author or book you recommend again and again:
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris.
A favorite guilty pleasure:
Expensive candles. Diptyque mostly. In reading, self-help books on dating and prayer. I figure if I can get one right the other will work itself out.
Your own "best first":
My very first game of Gin.When I was about five, my dad called me into the house from playing in the backyard and said that if I won a game of five card stud then he would take the family to see The Black Stallion. I beat him quickly and returned to making fort with my brother. It was the first movie I remember seeing in a theater.
No Good Girls received a second RITA nomination in the Contemporary Single Title category. Winners will be announced during the RWA national conference in July. Check out www.nogoodgirls.com for more about Pierson’s book, including a short film of the novel’s opening scene and some hilarious dating advice from one of the characters.