Today, I am honored to share with you an interview with the bestselling author of The Slippery Year, Melanie Gideon. Gideon’s debut novel, Wife 22, is out TODAY, and the best way I can describe it is Bridget Jones for the Facebook generation. Gideon will be reading tonight at A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland at 7 p.m. and June 1 at Book Passage in Corte Madera at 7 p.m. For more opportunities to meet the author, visit her Events page.
MW: You began your writing career as a YA novelist. What made you decide to write books for adults?
MG: I first began writing for adults with my memoir, The Slippery Year. I loved writing YA, but really needed a change. I wanted to explore motherhood, kids, aging and marriage—things a young adult audience would likely have no interest in.
MW: How has your experience writing Wife 22 differed from writing YA and memoir?
MG: In some ways, it hasn’t. Stories are stories, whether for adults or kids. The difference is really more about subject matter. That said, the opportunity to write in different genres and for different age groups has definitely made me a better writer.
MW: The protagonist of Wife 22, Alice Buckle, is a transplant from Boston to Oakland, CA, just like you. Are there other similarities between Alice and you?
MG: I tried very hard to make Alice different from me. For one, she’s much more computer savvy. Alice lives her life online whereas I am a Luddite. I had to be brought kicking and screaming into the social media world. I still find it challenging to post. I get stage fright. Like Alice, I will be married twenty years this September, but that’s basically where the similarities stop.
MW: Alice and her husband, William, spend a lot of time on Facebook. How do you think online media has changed the way we relate to one another?
MG: That’s a big question. I can only speak to my own experience, and I feel very mixed about it. On one hand I’m much more connected to so many people. I find this astounding—to be communicating with people I knew in elementary school! On the other hand that connectedness tends to be broader and shallower and that concerns me. Take for instance, the phone. Nobody wants to talk on the phone anymore. And I must confess it’s not my preferred method of communication, either. It’s too much work. You have to be fully present and paying attention. Also, you can’t edit yourself. You can’t curate. You can’t cut the conversation short if your attention drifts or you feel bored. I worry that as a society we’re becoming incapable (and intolerant) of longer, in-depth conversation, and this would be an enormous loss. I don’t want to live a shorthand life. But the truth is I am—most of the time now. We all are.
MW: What message does Wife 22 convey about marriage?
MG: Hmm, the grass isn’t greener on the other side? “Love the one your with” with a side of “Shake it up, baby”?
MW: How do you feel marriage changed since our parents’ generation?
MG: I think marriages are much more disposable than they used to be. It’s common these days to enter into marriage thinking, well, if it doesn’t work out, we’ll just get divorced. In the olden days you stuck it out no matter how miserable you were. At least in New England, where I’m from.
MW: Knopf published your bestselling memoir, The Slippery Year, yet Wife 22 is being published by Ballantine. Why didn’t Knopf publish Wife 22?
MG: Knopf passed on Wife 22. The bottom line: It just wasn’t the book they wanted. However Wife 22 then went on to sell to Ballantine in the U.S. (the winner of a three-way auction). Then the movie rights sold to Working Title Films. Then it sold in 30 more countries. So it just goes to show you that even if your book isn’t one publisher’s cup of tea it doesn’t mean another publisher won’t love it.
MW: The Internet is full of doom and gloom prophecies about the traditional publishing industry, yet you’ve had success both with your bestselling memoir, The Slippery Year, and Wife 22. What’s your secret?
MG: The secret is . . . drum roll, please. Work hard. Get your butt in the chair. Write. Don’t give up. Oh, and also be willing to reinvent yourself. I’ve had to do that more than once. I’m not talking about selling out. I’m talking about taking a good hard look at the marketplace, your gifts, and your passion, and finding a way to feed all three.
MW: What is your typical workday like?
MG: I keep mother’s hours: I write from 10-3. Then I pick my son up from school and shuttle him around. However, when I’m working on a book under a deadline I write seven days a week, 3-5 hours a day until it’s done. That way I don’t lose momentum.
MW: Many writers join writers groups, attend writers’ conferences, or hire freelance editors. Would you recommend any of these methods for improving your writing?
MG: I belonged to a writers group a long time ago, but now I have two or three trusted readers who are willing to read multiple drafts of the books I write. That’s very important—to have people you really trust to give you honest feedback on your work. Tip: they should not be related to you. What’s also worked well for me is hiring a freelance editor who is on board from start to finish. And then I have two editors at Ballantine that I work with as well, but not until the draft is as polished as I can get it. It’s a collaboration for sure, and that’s the way I like it. I’ve never attended a writers conference by the way, never even applied for one, and neither do I have a graduate degree in creative writing. My undergrad is in journalism.
MW: There’s more pressure than ever on authors to promote their own books. What are you doing to promote your book? Did you hire an outside publicist? Do you have a social media marketing plan?
MG: I did not hire an outside publicist. I’m very lucky to be working with a crackerjack team of publicists at Ballantine who are unbelievably creative and driven and will stop at nothing to get the word out for their books. I am doing a lot of social media and outreach to bloggers. I’m also very lucky that my publisher is sending me out on a book tour. I’m going to London and Paris to promote the book as well. I’m very excited about that!
MW: Do you have any advice for writers trying to get published?
MG: Really, my best advice is don’t stop three feet from the gold. Don’t lose faith. There is so much rejection. So much waiting and wondering and hoping, and so little positive response. So you have to write because you love it. Because you can’t help it. Because you must. The rest will take care of itself. Oh, one other piece of advice: Grow a thick skin. You will need it.
MW: What are you working on now?
MG: Getting my new book baby out in the world! After that, it’s back to work on the next novel, POP.
Melanie Gideon is the author of the memoir The Slippery Year: A Meditation on Happily Ever After, an NPR and San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2009, and a New York Times bestseller, as well as three young adult novels. Her novel, Wife 22 will be published in 30 countries and translated into 26 languages and is currently in development with Working Title Films. She has written for the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, More, Shape, Marie Claire, the London Times, the Daily Mail and other publications. She was born and raised in Rhode Island and now lives in the Bay Area with her husband and son.