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Lisa Plumley

e-interviewed by Martina Bexte
(May, 2003)

Q: How did you become a writer and how has it changed your life?

A: From the minute I first picked up a book, I thought being an author would be one of the coolest jobs ever. I was right! Making up stories, inventing characters, getting paid to work in my slobbiest jeans and T-shirts ... yeah, it's a great job. I was twelve when I wrote my first spiral-bound "book" (a Nancy Drew-style mystery featuring two girl detectives who solved crimes on horseback!), and I've been scribbling away ever since.

It wasn't until I met my husband, got married, had kids, and wound up firmly settled down that I decided to try writing as a career. I spent a few years learning, endured several (entirely too kind) rejections, and finally sold my first novel to Kensington Publishing in 1996. What a thrill! Since then, my life has definitely changed. I've met some truly wonderful people in the publishing industry -- authors, editors, and agents included. I've discovered tons of terrific stories I might not have found otherwise. And I've learned that if you work patiently and diligently, dreams really can come true. That's changed my outlook forever!

Q: You alternate between historical romance and romantic comedy -- how does each genre differ, story telling wise? Do you need to put yourself into a certain frame of mind when switching between contemporary and historical? Which genre is your favourite?

A: For me, writing different subgenres is sort of like cruising the dessert table at a buffet. Sometimes what sounds best is a fudge brownie; other times only apple pie will do. Both are delicious, though ... and I'd hate to give up either one! Although I started out writing historical romances, my true "voice" seemed to come out most naturally in contemporaries. These days, I like to alternate between the two as much as I can.

Surprisingly enough, readers tell me my historicals and contemporaries are very similar. Storytelling-wise, I don't find much difference between the two. My writing and plotting processes are the same. I do enjoy the mood of historical romances, the one-step- removed-from-reality aspects of telling a story in another time and place, where the sensibilities between men and women were slightly different. But the kinds of characters and stories I'm drawn to find their places in modern times, too. So it really comes down to brownie versus apple pie for me. Which sounds best?

Q: You've probably been asked this dozens of times but, how do you dream up your wild ideas? Let's use your last two books, Reconsidering Riley and Perfect Together to illustrate. Jane and Marley are (as your heroes point out a time or two) real "girlie-girls", very feminine and into all the latest fashion and food trends, in short thoroughly modern women. Jane Murphy, the heroine of Reconsidering Riley, and author of very successful self-help books for women, finds herself stuck in the wilds of Colorado - a classic "duck out of water story". In your latest release, Perfect Together, Marley Madison is an out-of-work Hollywood TV star who masquerades as a "normal working girl" in order to win a spot on a popular reality show called Dream Date and put her flagging career back on the fast track. What wellspring did these ideas come from?

A: I wish I knew! My ideas come from all over the place. Usually something sparks a fragment of a scene or character, and then I'm off and running, trying to nail it all together into something interesting. I'm pretty demanding when it comes to deciding which ideas will be developed. Maybe that's why they're so persnickety about showing up on time (like when I have a proposal deadline looming!)

Reconsidering Riley, I wanted to write about an ultra-macho guy who was tough, loyal, and capable ... but didn't take life too seriously. That was Riley, outdoorsman extraordinaire. Once I had him, Jayne seemed like his most natural counterpart -- ultra-feminine, urban, a little wounded ... but with verve and sass and a unique spin on life. Putting the two of them together was lots of fun.

Perfect Together, I actually started with Marley's twin sister, Meredith. I wanted to write a "wallflower-goes-wild" story about an unconventional, sometimes-overlooked woman who's forced out of her comfort zone when she adopts her glamorous sister's identity for two weeks. I thought it would be fun to see how she'd react, to find out what kooky ways she'd devise to deal with the situation. I started brainstorming, came up with down-on-her-luck sitcom starlet Marley, and just *had* to get her story started. For Marley, all the world is a stage and she's a star -- until she meets single-dad sportscaster Jake. He's a down-to-earth regular guy, and he makes Marley want to be a better "regular gal." The only trouble is, she's completely clueless about accomplishing that!

My other books have started similarly.
For Making Over Mike, I wondered -- what would it be like if a totally macho guy wound up on the receiving end of a head-to-toe whole-life makeover ... and decided to go along with it, because he was smitten with the female life coach who was giving it? For Falling For April, I paired a free-spirited blue-collar woman with a wealthy department store tycoon (he'd been jilted at the altar in one of my previous books). I guess I believe in the "opposites attract" theory! Who could be *more* opposite than men and women?

Q: Your stories work because of great characterizations, snappy, modern dialogue, fine plotting and a real knowledge of what makes romantic comedy work. How much time do you spend planning your books before the actual writing begins?

A: Thank you so much! That's so kind of you to say. It's always a minor miracle to me when someone connects with my stories -- I'll never cease to be amazed. I have to confess ... I'm not one for a lot of prewriting, diagramming, flow-charting, etc. (Must be the math phobic in me!) I generally spend a couple of weeks just mulling over the story, deciding if the pieces of it will fit together. After that, I write a synopsis. It contains a one-paragraph "TV Guide"-style overview, brief character sketches, and a run-through of the story from beginning to end.

I always know what brings the main characters together, what personal challenges they'll face (if not the precise shape those challenges will take), why they'll fall in love, the black moment when all seems lost, and the resolution. Oddly enough, the meeting, the black moment, and the resolution are always clearest to me. The rest is a blurry muddle. I wish I could write my editor a "trust me" note in the middle of the synopsis! It all works out in the end, though. I feel most creative while writing the book, not while plotting it. It's when I'm working through the pages that my characters become real to me. They're the key to a great story.

Q: Are any of your heroines' adventures based on personal experiences or those of other women you know or are your stories purely fiction?

A: Well ... yes and no. This is a tricky question! Since I'm a writer, everything I do and everything I hear about becomes grist for the mill. I like to think there's a little of me in every character I create. I certainly relate to them as though there is! Unfortunately, I've yet to meet a millionaire who's crazy for me, remodel an ordinary Joe into the ultimate man, win back my ex on a wilderness trip, or step into a TV starlet's stilettos. I *have* survived the working world, logged good times with friends, struggled to zip up my jeans after too much Ben & Jerry's, and fallen in love ... just like zillions of other women. So whatever doesn't come from personal experience comes from imagination, empathy, and research. They're pretty useful tools, all by themselves.

Q: There's a real sense of exuberance and love of life in your books ... does this come from within or do you work hard to inject this special tone into your stories?

A: Thanks for noticing! What a lovely observation. I think a love of life is evident in many romances, actually. That's definitely one of the aspects of the genre that originally drew me to it. My stories aren't meant to be deep explorations of the human spirit (much as I admire those kinds of works). They're entertainment, pure and simple. I want to give my readers a few smiles, some laughs, and a few hours' diversion from everyday life. I hope my stories bring a little joy to the people who read them. Life is meant to be savored, and love makes it all the sweeter. Finding the right person can crack the world wide open! It's sappy, but true. Every time we pick up a new romance, we're acknowledging that truth ... that hopefulness.

Q: What's your opinion of the "reality shows" that are all over the networks these days? Do you watch them regularly? If so, do you have a favourite?

A: It's funny. You'd think I would watch every reality show, since I've included reality TV settings or subplots in a couple of my books now. I have researched reality TV quite a bit, and I do watch some of it -- mostly "infotainment" shows tracking people in their lives, like Bravo's "The It Factor" (about actors) and E! Network's "Vegas Showgirls: Nearly Famous." I'm less interested in manufactured drama like "The Bachelor," "Joe Millionaire," and the many "Survivor" series, although I certainly understand their appeal. For me, other considerations come into play. I don't want the "reality" of reality TV to influence the scenarios I've created in my books -- I want to keep them fresh.

Q: Why do you think so many people are tuning into reality TV? Was it their current popularity that prompted you to use a game show setting as a fulcrum for getting Marley and Jake together?

A: People have always been curious, especially about *other* people! What could be more fascinating? As a writer, I'm as guilty as the next person of indulging in a little people watching now and then. With the advent of satellite-linked electronic news gathering vans, remote A/V crews, wireless mics and all the rest, it became possible to develop reality programming. Now there's no looking back. I think reality TV is here to stay, but I also believe there'll always be a place for traditional storytelling in every medium: books, TV, movies, etc.

As far as using the "Dream Date" setting to bring Jake and Marley together goes ... it's funny how that came about. While surfing through the channels one day, I actually saw part of an episode of "Blind Date" featuring a woman who was a dead ringer for a particular movie star. She could have been her twin. Naturally, this got the wheels turning! What if she really *was* the movie star, incognito for some reason? What would make her do that, and what would happen if she were found out? How would her date feel when he realized the truth? Wham! The missing pieces I needed for
Perfect Together started falling into place.

Q: General consensus says it's harder being funny, than serious. Would you agree?

A: Absolutely! Which is not to say that serious dramatic writing is easy, of course. It's not, by any stretch. What makes humor difficult is that it's so subjective -- no one agrees on what's "funny." Also, certain types of humor (slapstick, farce, satire) that are popular in other mediums (movies, TV) just don't work in novels. So the playing field is squeezed a bit more. Still, there are dozens of authors whose books make me laugh ... so there's always hope!

Q: Is there some sort of secret to writing romantic comedy -- does a writer have to look at life in a completely different way to see the humour there waiting to be mined?

A: The secret to writing romantic comedy is that you must possess a sense of humor. Seriously! You'd be surprised how many people tackle the subgenre without checking the condition of their own funny bone first. After that, sure! I believe techniques to bring humor to the page can be taught. But you're right -- a particular worldview is necessary, too. A willingness to look at things in a skewed way, to question assumptions, to take risks.

All the same, I don't approach romantic comedy in an analytical way. That's a bit like poking around inside a burrito. It tastes great until you see it all spread on the plate with guacamole everywhere! I never try to make my characters funny. They're usually quite earnest about whatever endeavor they're involved in, and they take their own (cockeyed) perspectives very seriously. I hope readers will identify with my characters -- and yes, laugh ... but *with* them, not *at* them.

Q: Have you found a permanent niche in romantic comedy?

A: I think so! I hope so. I don't seem to be able to stop. The stories and characters that occur most naturally to me tend to be lighthearted, a bit madcap, even screwball at times. No matter how serious I try to be, those elements come through. I might as well surrender!

I love hearing from readers that I've made them laugh, or enlivened a difficult time in their lives, or given them hope for their own futures. That's truly a gift. There's enough gloom and doom in the world. I say, give me happy endings! Give me funny, sexy stories! Give me the last Snickers bar! (Just kidding. I prefer Twix.)

Q: Any plans to bring Meredith, Marley's twin sister, back in a book of her own -- she's an intriguing character, the complete opposite of her twin.

A: Yes! I'm happy to say that Meredith will be back in her own story, Perfect Switch, in June 2004. As promised, she's hijacked her sister's glamour-girl identity for a Cinderella-style weekend of fun and frolic ... but she gets more than she bargained for when she meets up with Tony Valentine, the hunky entrepreneur who's running Valentine Studios' fledgling actor fantasy camp. It's all about running away, standing in, and finding yourself -- wherever you happen to be. I'm in the middle of writing the book right now. I think it'll be a real hoot!

Q: If you weren't a writer, what would you do?

A:If I weren't a writer, at this point I'd probably be a full-time student. I'm curious about millions of subjects. I think it would be fun to spend my time just learning about everything that interests me. Maybe I'll still do that! In the meantime, I have a really terrific family to keep me busy and lots of plans to travel ... wait a minute. Can I become a professional vacationer instead? That sounds good.

Q: What's the biggest headache about being a full time writer? The greatest joy?

A:There really isn't a biggest headache about being a full-time writer. There *is,* however, a big headache about being ME as a full-time writer! I'm ridiculously neurotic. Also impatient, uncertain, worried, and ambitious, all at the same time. Pursuing a writing career has been like boot camp for me. "I don't have the muscles to become serene, patient, certain, relaxed, and laid-back!" I whine as the next obstacle looms. But somehow, bit by bit, things improve.

The plus side is, there are many wonderful things about being a full-time writer! I share stories with readers and make them laugh. I meet readers, authors, and publishing professionals. I set my own hours, I'm home when my children are home, I get to take research trips with my husband. I'm challenged by creative work (which I'll probably never master completely!) and I never have to wear pantyhose if I don't want to. All I've ever really wanted to do was to write. Being able to do it is a dream come true.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about future projects and when we can expect them?

A:Sure! In 2003, I'll have two new releases. First up is Perfect Together, a contemporary romantic comedy in which former sitcom star Marley Madison goes undercover to revitalize her acting career, and winds up falling for the hunky single-dad sportscaster she meets in the process. Perfect Together (a Zebra Books release) will be in bookstores in June.

Next will be
The Matchmaker, a warmhearted historical romance set in 1880s Arizona Territory, in which an all-business lumber mill owner sets out to uncover the town's meddlesome secret matchmaker ... and finds himself wrangling with independent- minded baker Molly Crabtree, who's dead-set on protecting the matchmaker's identity. The Matchmaker (a Harlequin Historicals release) will be available in September.

Q: Thanks!!

A:Not at all. Thank you! I could cheerfully talk about books and writing all day. This has been lots of fun. :)
Find out more about Lisa Plumley and read excerpts from her books at her Website.
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