Today, I am so pleased to have author Theresa Alan stop by Grab the Lapels! I first discovered Theresa before I had a driver’s license. I had been reading (way too much…okay, maybe all of) Sweet Valley Twins, so one day I went up to the mysterious third floor in my library, I remember running my hand over the spines of the books and finding Theresa’s book Spur of the Moment. I was immediately captivated by the characters and loved the overall tone of the book.
Theresa Alan became a bestselling author with her first novel, Who You Know (2003), and her novella Santa Unwrapped was in the New York Times bestseller Jingle All the Way (2004). She is the author of six additional Kensington novels, including Spur of the Moment, The Girls’ Global Guide to Guys, Girls Who Gossip, Getting Married, Spa Vacation, and The Dangers of Mistletoe. Her work has also appeared in the anthologies I Shaved My Legs for This?! and Sex and the Single Witch. Theresa was named the Colorado Romance Writer of the Year in 2004. A graduate of the University of Iowa and the University of Colorado at Boulder, Theresa lives in Denver, Colorado.
Be sure to connect with Theresa on Twitter @Theresa_Author or on Facebook!
What was the first story you ever wrote about?
When I was in junior high, I was heavily influenced first by Judy Blume and then Stephen King. One day after volleyball practice, I was seemingly the last person in the school, and as I clicked through the empty halls I realized my imagination was scaring me—I decided there might be a murderous janitor on the loose, and I was in deep trouble. There wasn’t, but the whole mile-plus walk home, I wrote the story in my mind and then quickly wrote it out long hand when I got my hands on pen and paper. In the story, the protagonist scares herself so much that as she runs away from an imagined threat, she slips and falls down the stairs of the junior high school, maiming herself. I titled it, “Fear Itself,” as in, sometimes our own brains are what trip us up.
Before that, when I was about nine, I wrote and illustrated a children’s book about a ladybug with heart-shaped spots who was friends with a dog. The dog and the ladybug were, inexplicably, the same size.
What was the first piece of writing you did that you remember being happy with?
In high school I heard about a short story contest for a teen magazine called Sassy. I only had a couple days to the deadline, but I quickly wrote a story and sent it off. I won an honorable mention and my name and hometown were listed in the magazine. I won a word processor (that’s how long ago this happened). My father was super proud of me, and it was evidence I wasn’t kidding about this whole writing habit.
It’s frustrating to work on something that I’m not having fun with. If I’m not definitely getting paid for something, just hoping to get a contract at some point, which requires a lot of faith, there are a lot of more fun ways to spend my free time then metaphorically beating my head against my laptop. But the only cure is to keep working at it until I fall out of a hate with a manuscript and fall into love with it. I’ve worked through it before so I know I can do it again. Going to my critique group helps. I’ll bring in a segment of writing that I know is not good, and, with their help, I can see the errors more clearly and have a better chance of fixing them, which in turn inspires me to keep working.
In what ways has life outside and inside of academia shaped your writing?
My sister is an improv and sketch comedian, and her friends are, too. Because of her experiences, I wrote a book called Spur of the Moment, about how challenging the world of comedy and performance is. Based on my travels in Europe, I wrote The Girls’ Global Guide to Guys—I was and still am interested in how dating and marriage rituals are different in different countries around the world. My years of being a marketing copywriter have also shown up in various characters’ professions over the years. Travel, romance, day jobs that don’t fulfill a person’s soul, history, friendships—these are topics I write about over and over again because of my personal interest.
Did you learn anything important from writing any of your books?
The exciting thing about being a writer is that I am always discovering new things, whether it’s because I have to do research for a scene or character or if I’m learning how to be a better writer or how to market my work more effectively. I made some mistakes with my early books that I’ve learned from, and I’m sure I’ll make some new ones as my career continues. As long as I absorb the lessons of my mistakes and improve, that’s the important thing.
Many times writers find a creative niche and community. What do you think is yours?
I really love my real-life critique group, even though none of the other writers in that group write women’s fiction. We learn a lot from each other. Not just about how to improve our writing, but we go to a bar after group and talk movies, books, politics, and yes, about the publishing industry. Writers are educated people, so it’s fun talking to and learning from them. I also belong to an online group of women’s fiction writers, a couple of whom have romance as part of the story. My online group is especially good at encouraging each other when we get bad news from agents or publishers or when we’re struggling to find the motivation to keep going. I’ve learned from other members of the online group about things like Tweeting, something I’m still trying to figure out. I’m a novelist. Trying to write anything under 140 characters is not easy!
Every single character I write, even if I’m writing from the perspective of a man, already has a little bit of me in them, so I think I’m living a little of their lives every day (and vice versa). I wouldn’t mind being Jadie from The Girls’ Global Guide to Guys and spend my days traveling through Europe. It’s been a while since I’ve been there.
What are your current writing projects?
I have completed two comedic women’s fiction books that could be characterized as chick lit/contemporary romance. In one, the heroine is a personal trainer, and the beginning of each chapter has real-life diet and fitness tips—I’m constantly battling to keep my weight from going crazy and to be healthy, so these tips are handy for me to keep in mind—I think other readers will be interested as well. In both books, the hero is a firefighter. My dad is a retired firefighter/paramedic, and it’s a different life when a firehouse is your second home and family. I also am working on a much darker women’s fiction novel that has a big twist in the end. The story was inspired by reading Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. It’s a big departure for me. There is some humor in the novel, but the humor is dark.