Doesn't it always?
Anyway, as you will soon learn in our interview, SHE. IS. AWESOME.
And so is her novel, OBITCHUARY.
(How's that for a smooth transition, eh?)
Penny Perkins, cute and blond and usually well-behaved, just killed her date. Smashed him on the head with a bottle of Misty Mangoberry Merlot juice wine.
She is tipsy and panicked. She is wearing a heinous pink bridesmaid dress that makes her irrational. Penny knows she should call the cops and explain her date’s grabby hands, his crazy eyes. She should woefully admit to self-defense. Instead, she flees inside her apartment and drinks tequila until she passes out.
The next morning, resplendent in wedding ringlets and gut-sucking shapewear, resigned to life in prison, Penny steps outside to find the body has vanished.
Her phone rings. It’s Noah Dolan, her editor at the newspaper where she works. A press release has arrived with news of the tragic death of Gregor Johnson, Tampa playboy and heir to his father’s mattress company.
Gregor was Penny’s date.
The press release calls the death natural. Penny knows that it was not natural at all, that Gregor died with shards of glass cranberry glinting on his eyelids in the moonlight. Who is covering for her?
The editor assigns Gregor’s life story to Penny. She is the newspaper’s obituary writer.
If I could buy this book today, I would. But for now, I'm turning the tables on Stephanie, asking the hard hitting questions, and settling for an interview. Well, an interview AND Chapter 1 of OBITCHUARY.
1) Tell us about your journey on this road to publication. How did you end up signing with Dystel & Goderich?
I was invited to read something at a local writer’s event. I had planned to read a newspaper story I wrote, and at the last minute, downed a glass of wine, chucked it and read the first chapter from a novel I’d been pecking out during lunches. The place roared. My fancy friend Roy Peter Clark, a DGLM client, suggested after the party that I contact Jane Dystel. She was completely wonderful, but I didn’t end up with the agency because my manuscript was a half-finished hot mess of poo at that point. I finished it, queried some other agents and realized I needed to edit like a boss. Then last year at a writing conference, I ran into Jane (OK, stalked her from behind), and after a chat, agreed to write her a non-fiction proposal. That later fizzled, which was fine because it opened the way for Stephanie to scoop up my finally polished, edited, non-poo novel. She’s since left, and I’m with Morris Shamah now.
We’re submitting. The industry is in such flux right now, though, that I felt compelled to try something nuts, too. I’m video blogging the chapters, guerrilla style, with crudely drawn illustrations. My thinking? If I was writing songs, I’d be singing them on YouTube. If I was making crafts, I’d have them on Etsy. If I was a makeup artist, I’d be doing video tutorials. Why was I holding back now? My agent was really supportive. One thing I love so much about DGLM is their commitment to being innovative and open-minded about publishing, and looking at what’s possible via technology. I think they’re going to foster a lot of new success stories.
Without further ado, here, live before your very eyes, is OBITCHUARY: CHAPTER ONE:
2) You say you're into wacky. What kind of books do you like to read? Who is your favorite author?
As a kid, I was obsessed with Roald Dahl, namely one of his less-popular works called Revolting Rhymes. It’s really gross. People get eaten, beheaded. Children fire pistols. I loved it. In college, I wandered around in hot pink track suits and pigtails carrying non-fiction books about cult leaders and mass murders. My friends were concerned. I like the marriage of cherubic and innocent with dark and subversive. There can be a really sweet spot in the middle.
I love Tom Perrotta. He has the keenest insight into our mundane weirdness – milk-buying, job-going, burger-eating human nature. I tend toward comedy and satire, like Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry. I love Lisa Lutz and Jennifer Weiner. I am reading Mindy Kaling’s genius book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) right now, and also Darcie Chan’s The Mill River Recluse. I want to read more self-published books and e-books this year. The great love story of my life, though, will always be Bridget Jones. There is serious, timeless magic in the deep flaws of that character, somewhere between the giant panties and the fear of dying alone, eaten by Alsatians.
3) How has your experience as a reporter influenced your writing? Did you ever write the obituaries?
Being a reporter for nine years is the reason I’m worth anything as a writer. It taught me everything about discipline, description, writing scenes, writing quickly, writing slowly, writing cleanly (and avoiding six million adverbs, like I just used). It killed all (or most of) the cliches. It forced me to come up with new ideas every week. It gave me a good ear for dialogue and rhythm, and an endless supply of crazy experiences from which to draw. And it also made me recognize the meaning and comedy and tension in even the simplest things. I like to write fiction in public so I can draw from the world. Coffee shops, airports, restaurants. The material is RIGHT THERE. People just give it to you!
I wrote feature obituaries for a year and a half. It was pretty harrowing, as I wrote one a day and they were expected to be great. The death beat taught me the most about writing and about people. All told, I did about 350 obit features, from circus performers to a mob member to a guy who refused to wear shoes.
4) Did you learn anything from writing OBITCHUARY and what was it? Will we, as readers, be able to get away with the perfect murder?
Haha. My boyfriend is always concerned because I watch these true crime Dateline NBC-type shows right before bed. So he’ll open the door and it’s all, “She bound his feet, and then dragged him down the hall…” That kind of stuff fuels my imagination. I’m still not sure I’d be able to pull off the perfect murder, because I’d have a hard time lying. I’d end up blabbing to a friend over happy hour, and then I’d be on the ground in cuffs, asking how much a good lawyer costs.
And now for some fun:
5) If there was a soundtrack for OBITCHUARY, what songs would play?
Fun! Well, you’ll see soon that Kenny Loggins factors heavily into the story, as does a variety of 80s power pop. But I could imagine some punky girl rock like the Donnas or the Runaways playing while Penny tries to get the Chinese food and regret out of her hair.
6) Who would play Penny Perkins in OBITCHUARY: The Movie
If it ever becomes a movie, I’m sure whoever gets the role is in diapers right now. Dakota Fanning? No, she’s an adult now. Ack, that is so wrong! Um, I think Kristen Bell would be great, actually. And I LOVE Kaley Cuoco on Big Bang Theory. She kind of plays the straight guy, but she has the best comic timing.
7) How many times have you been a bridesmaid? Did you ever have to wear a heinous pink dress?
I've only been in one wedding! And mercifully, I had a lovely black dress. At that event, incidentally, I ate an entire pat of butter that I had mistaken for cheese. It was all caught on camera. I try to really class things up wherever I go.
And now for some random. (choose one)
1) Misty Mangoberry Merlot juice wine or a Pinot Noir (Pinot Noir, less deadly)
2) Matt Damon or Taylor Hanson (Matt, now that I’m grown)
3) Corgi or Greyhound Legs (Corgi)
4) Lily Allen or Beyonce (B!!!)
5) People Magazine or US Weekly (People)
6) 90210 (the original) or Gossip Girl (90210)
7) Short Hair or Long Hair (Short, this week, at least.)
Thank you so much for your time, Stephanie! We'll see you in print real soon.
Until then, I'll be watching you...
***cue in "I always feel like somebody's watching me" by Rockwelll***
(No restraining order necessary. As you know, I live in France.)