Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Author Hillary Manton Lodge on Writing and Being Funny (Plus a Giveaway!)

If you've come to hear about my adventures in Paris, SURPRISE!!! I have something even better. I'm so, so, so excited to have Hillary Manton Lodge here today! AND she's graciously offered a copy of Simpy Sara as a giveaway for all our commenters, so be sure to leave a comment with your email address!

Hillary is one funny and fabulous writer. Here's a little bit about her: Hillary writes Generation-Next Contemporary fiction. Her books usually center on normal people learning to live, laugh, heal, and try to understand the concept of God in a crazy world. Her first released novel, Plain Jayne, is now available nationwide. Her second, Simply Sara, released Sept. 1, 2010. Both books are "Urban Amish," and totally not your mom's Amish books. Except for the Amish. They're still there.

Now before I get to the official interview, you'll have to bear with me while I give you the backstory of how I discovered Hillary's books and then met her at ACFW!

It all started a year ago when I started plotting a lighthearted romance with Amish flavor, and I thought, "Hmm, I wonder if this has been done before." So I ventured onto Amazon, looked through all the Amish fiction books, and one cover stood out. It had a small Amish buggy on it, but the hero and heroine's pictures looked like non-Amish people. It was Hillary's book, Plain Jayne. I ordered it and ended up reading it in one day. It was funny, poignant, and amazingly written.

Fast forward to the ACFW Conference in September of this year. I saw that Hillary was doing book signings, and I also knew that Simply Sara was released in September. So I made a beeline for the bookstore and bought up half of Hillary's books (I was Christmas shopping early). Then I marched over to Hillary's table with my arms loaded down and proceeded to gush like a 12-year-old at a Justin Bieber concert (minus the ear-piercing squeals).

Poor Hillary, she didn't know what hit her. But she was sweet and gracious and talked to me a little bit about her writing journey. I was so thrilled to have her sign my books, but I was more thrilled to make a new friend. And now I get to introduce her to you. :-)

Hillary, you told me a little bit at ACFW about how you ended up writing "urban Amish". Can you share the story for our readers here?

First off, I didn't think you gushed at ACFW. It was very dignified. And I was delighted to have someone to chat with!

I connected with editors at Harvest House in 2007. After sending in the completed manuscript of my first novel, after a few months I heard from a second editor, who invited me to coffee. Since I lived in Eugene, Oregon at the time, getting to meet with an editor in person was actually an option! After several conversations I learned that while many editors at Harvest loved the book I'd written, they were really wanting to focus on their Amish fiction line. I was approached to do an Amish novel, but my own spin. "Sassy Amish" is what I was told. After several months of research and some rewrites, I wrote three chapters that became the start of Plain Jayne. Harvest loved it and offered me a two-book contract. The whole process took the better part of a year - there's nothing quick about publishing!

So true. That explains why most writers are manic depressives and/or addicted to coffee. So what five words best describe your writing process?

Oh, gracious. Distraction, inspiration, scribbling, Starbucks, and note-cards. Can I cheat on note-cards? I really can't live without them!

I guess I'll let you cheat since you proved my coffee point with your Starbucks answer. I loved, loved, loved Jayne in Plain Jayne. She was hilarious! How did you come up with the idea to create a motorcycle-loving girl who would become obsessed with making quilt squares with the Amish?

My initial concept with Jayne was to come up with a person who was as different from an Amish woman as possible. She's independent and sarcastic with a definite rebellious streak. But I also wanted her to be teachable, to be the kind of person who would be open-hearted enough to learn from her experiences. As she grew and changed throughout the book, the quilt squares became a physical metaphor for how she was recreating her life and piecing it together. The fact that they gave plenty of opportunity for comedy only made it that much more fun to write.

You had amazing sales right out of the gate with Plain Jayne. What do you think was the secret to its success?

I had a lot of retailer support with Jayne. They loved the cover and the concept. I think the idea of a very modern woman experiencing the Amish had a lot of appeal. Other than that? I have no idea!

Sara in Simply Sara had a very different voice from Jayne, but the story was just as fun (I also read it in 24 hours...I don't do that with just any old book, people). How difficult was it to switch voices and perspectives between the two books? Did you use any tricks to make the switch in your head?

I'll be honest - Sara gave me fits, and getting the voice right was the hardest part. I knew how to write her, and how she would sound - she was so well-defined in Jayne. But getting that voice to propel the book was a challenge. If I got stuck with Jayne, I'd have her say something witty, but that wasn't Sara's style. Sara was so much more internal, so much more thoughtful. It's not that she couldn't be funny, it's just that it didn't occur to her very often. I don't know that I had any specific tricks to switch the voices, other than to sit back and try to hear her in my head, hear how she would phrase things. I had one draft reader in particular who was very helpful - she'd pick on me every time something I'd written didn't sound quite like Sara. Knowing I had someone keeping such a close eye on me helped me make sure I kept my voices straight!

Where would you say most of your humor inspiration comes from? From your own life experiences? From your Great Aunt Maude's genes?

Hard to say. Great comedy can certainly be found in my family. They're kind of like the Portokalos family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, only they're not at all Greek, they're just entertaining.

When I read this question, it made me think of the quote from Chariots of Fire: "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast." For some reason, God decided I would have a particularly twisted sense of humor. It drove me nuts when I was younger - we'd go on youth retreats and everyone would take turns saying nice things about each other. Other people would be praised for their generosity of spirit or their smile or what have you. Invariably, I was praised for my sense of humor. I always felt it was a cop-out. Now I see it as a gift. It's nice being able to go through life with the ability to see humor in everyday events. Laughter is healing. Humor, when used correctly, is disarming. Comedy can tear down or build up. I try to use my powers for the forces of good. :-)

Wow, I got a little teary-eyed when I read your answer. Powerful stuff. Okay, so when does the humor really start to shine in your manuscripts? Do you have funny lines out the wazoo in your first drafts and have to tone it down in the second? Or do you start out with a Plain-Jayne first draft (sorry for the bad pun...couldn't resist) and laugh it up in future versions?

I'm going to reveal something here I don't like to share - I tend to be a one-draft writer. That one draft takes forever and a day to write, gets edited up one side and down the other, but it's the version that tends to go to print.

So most of the jokes are original. Very rarely, a couple get edited out (there was one such line in Sara, but I'm saving it for a rainy day). Sometimes, I'll add a line or two while I'm editing a scene in the polishing process. But the humor very much tends to propel the writing process; the funny scenes are my favorite to write.

I will say, I was very surprised when I turned in my draft for Jayne. I was sure my editor would think it was too wack-a-doodle, sure she would ask me to tone it down. To my surprise, the parts I thought she'd object to were the parts she loved best!

Wack-a-doodle...Love that word. It's been known to leak out of my mouth on occasion. What advice do you have for someone who's thinking about exploring their funny side in fiction?

Consume funny media. See how other people do it. I think the book The Princess Bride is a master's thesis on writing humor. TV shows such as Gilmore Girls are another wonderful example. If there's a movie you find particularly funny, listen to the director's commentary. Garry Marshall does great commentaries for The Princess Diaries and The Runaway Bride. I love Nora Ephron's commentary for You've Got Mail. Pay attention to things like pacing and delivery.

Don't take yourself too seriously. Don't ever try to be funny. Humor is very Yoda-esque - do or do not, there is no "try". Be true to your voice.

I could go on for a while - it's a subject I'm very passionate about. Be sure to stop by my blog for more - :-)

I heard it through the grapevine that you may be branching out of the Amish fiction world in the future. What ideas are percolating in your brain?

Ah yes, the grapevine. I've made the decision to move on from Amish fiction. I feel I've explored the genre as far as I can while still enjoying the process. I could try to write another, but it's not where my heart's at.

There are always many ideas in my head! I've wanted to do a book about Gemma for years. [Sarah here: Gemma's a fun character from Books 1 & 2.] And I've got my first novel as well, which features Livy (whom you might remember as Sara's roommate), Mark the landscape architect, and a host of characters who are dear, dear friends. I'd also love to do a superhero book!

Well, I guarantee you, whichever direction you go, I'll be reading. Can't help it...I like to laugh. Thanks so much for stopping by, Hillary! It was a delight to have you here!

And readers, don't forget to comment for a chance to win Simply Sara! We'll end the drawing on Friday and announce the winner in the weekend edition.


Jill W said...

Everyone needs humor in their lives, thanks for providing that in your books Hillary. I loved Plain Jayne and I can't wait to read Simply Sara! Ah....note cards - I love them! I have every color of the rainbow. :)

MaureenT said...

I loved Plain Jayne and I really want to Simply Sara. I love your humor, and I thank you for sharing your gift!


Nancye said...

I would love to win Simply Sara! It sounds like a wonderful book! Thanks for the chance!

nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

Leanne said...

Oooh, I'd love to win that book!


Charlotte Kay said...

"Plain Jayne" was a great book, and I am sure "Simply Sara" will not disappoint after reading this review:)
Thanks for this opportunity to win this book.

Many Blessings and Smiles,
chakasa58 at gmail dot com

Wendy said...

I would love to win this book.

Keli Gwyn said...

Sarah, I really enjoyed your interview. You asked great questions that enabled us to learn a lot about Hillary, her path to publication, and her writing process. Well done!

If Hillary is planning to stop by, I have a question. We hear a great deal about branding today. Since HH published two of your "urban Amish" books and they were a big success, it seems they would want you to produce more. How is it that you're able to move on to something different? Are they promoting you primarily as a fun writer rather than an author of lighthearted Amish tales?

Casey said...

Ooooh, what a fun interview you ladies! Hillary, I just might have to check out your fiction, it sounds great. :)

Ariel Wilson said...

Your books sound great :) Thanks for the giveaway!


Hillary Manton Lodge said...

Keli - good question! You're right, branding is big. My agent and I have been very careful to make sure that I've never been marketed as an Amish writer - if you stop by my blog or website, you wont' see a single buggy :-) We've always marketed my voice and the humor angle instead.

Yes, HH would rather I stay with the Amish, which is why we've parted ways for the time being. I can't really go into detail, but because we were so careful with the branding in the beginning there are definitely open doors for me to write in other genres :-)

Melissa Jagears said...

I'm not into Amish books, but I'd like to try reading one from the "sassy Amish" approach. :)

rmjagears AT gmail DOT com

Sarah Forgrave said...

Hey everybody! How great is Hillary, huh?! She's popping in every once in a while today, so feel free to ask any questions that are burning a hole in your, head.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

This is such a fun visit with Hillary and Sarah, I so know what you mean about walking right up to people at ACFW. I've loved the connections I made there--including you!!
~ Wendy

Katie Marie said...

Simple Sara sounds like a sweet read! I'd love a chance at winning this!


~ Katy

Kathryn said...

I've wanted to read "Simply Sara" since I first heard of it. I read an excerpt on her website and was intrigued. Would love to win a copy :)


Tales of Whimsy said...

I would love to win this.

My family is very My Big Fat Greek Wedding too. Except mine are Cuban.


Linda Kish said...

I'd love to read Simply Sara.

lkish77123 at gmail dot com

Pam said...

I haven't read many Amish books; there just seem to be so many of them. However, having a humorous twist would be something I'd like.
Please enter me in the book drawing for "Simply Sara."

Bluerose said...

I've been wanting to read Simply Sara ever since I finished Plain Jayne! I would love to be entered. :)

bluerosesheart at yahoo dot com

MaDonna Maurer said...

I grew up around an Amish settlement. I would love to read this book with a twist of humor.

umdmaurer at gmail dot com

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

i've heard such great things about plain jayne, i'd love to read simply sara!! edgy amish stories sound fantastic!!

inthehammockblog at gmail dot com

Tea said...

I love to read about the Amish. I would love to read Simply Sara. I have been sent by Carmen.


Jo said...

What a fun interview this was to read. Hillary's books sound like a lot of fun to read. I do like Amish books and also enjoy books with humor in them.


Emily said...

Sounds great! :)

Jennifer said...

I would love to read Simply Sara!

Thanks for the chance to win!


jmschwindt at cox dot net

Carman said...

Please enter me! I really enjoyed book one and can't wait to read this one too.

And, Hillary, may I just say that I loved all your media references! I am so with you on funny things. That is one reason that I love writers like Mary Conneally and Jenny b Jones

Booklovercb at yahoo dot com

Sandee61 said...

Really enjoyed Hillary's comments, and would love a chance to win her book. I haven't read either of her books and they look really good.
Thank you for the entry!

Christmas Blessings,


Cindy W. said...

Enjoyed the interview and enjoy humor as well. Would love to be entered to win a copy of Simply Sara.

Cindy W.


Patsy said...

This book sounds great. Would love to read it. Thanks for the giveaway.

Aik said...

I'd love to read this book!

aikychien at yahoo dot com

Carole said...

I loved Plain Jane and humor is definitely your strength, Hillary. I really enjoyed this interview and appreciate the chance to win Simply Sara.

cjarvis [at] bellsouth [dot] net