Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Lolly Winston, Happiness Sold Separately

Lolly Winston's novel, Good Grief has a permanent place in my mental bookshelf. I will not forget how much I enjoyed that book. So it was with great anticipation that I waited for Lolly's next novel. And I am super excited for Lolly since Good Grief may be coming to the big screen!

Happiness Sold Separately is about Elinor, a woman who finds out her husband is cheating on her with his personal trainer at the gym. So what do you do when you discover your husband is doing more than squats with the honey who is being paid to sculpt his muscles? Hmmmm. And what if the pretty young trainer with the firm buttocks and long legs has a son who becomes attached to said husband? This is what goes on in Happiness Sold Separately. And so much more. You really cannot choose one character over another since they are all drawn with sympathy and tenderness.

I always feel so lucky to interview authors I admire. If you haven't read Good Grief, I highly recommend it. And then go out and buy Lolly Winston's latest novel and let me know what you think.

Good Grief dealt with death, Happiness Sold Separately is about infidelity. Do you think you might deal with lighter topics in future books?

Ha. You missed some of the themes. Good Grief is about death, grief and depression. Happiness Sold Separately is about infidelity, and, perhaps more painful for this couple, infertility. I’ve always liked the combination of dark subject matter with humor in a novel—I think that’s where poignancy really comes from. In the future, though, I would like to write about topics that are less personal to me. There were days with both books when I didn’t want to work on such painful subject matter--particularly cancer, which my father died of, and infertility, which I’ve experienced.

You have four characters in the book to think about and root for. I wanted things to work out for the character of young Toby. Did you write with a happy ending in mind for any of the main characters: Ted, Elinor, Gina or Toby? Who did you want the reader to relate to most?

I wanted each of the characters to be sympathetic, and each to be redeemed in their own way in the end. I wanted to write a story without good guys and bad guys, but with lots of gray area.

How much of a novel do you plan out? I know some authors let the characters tell them the story as they write, others plot everything ahead of time. How do you go about tackling a novel?

I suppose the germ of the idea comes first. With Good Grief I wanted to write about a woman who has a depressive breakdown brought on by grief. I wanted to show how CRAZY grief can make us. It’s different from sadness, really.

With Happiness, I wanted to write a story about infidelity in which no one is punished, and the lover is equally sympathetic. I believe this is truer to life than many of the stories out there about infidelity. After this germ of an idea I start with a character or perhaps two characters and a voice and work my way into the first few chapters. I tend to obsessively rewrite the first few chapters until I feel I’ve captured the voice of the novel.

Once I’m about 100 pages in I do sketch out a story arc for them, but not a strict outline, really.
I wanted each of the characters to be sympathetic, and each to be redeemed in their own way in the end. I wanted to write a story without good guys and bad guys, but with lots of gray area.

I heard Julia Roberts was interested in making Good Grief into a major motion picture. What can you tell me about this? Is it certain? Who did you see in the role of Sophie when you wrote the book?

Marc Platt at Universal Studios has optioned the rights to Good Grief. Michael Cunningham was hired to write a script and they’ve said that Julia Roberts is interested, although she hasn’t signed on officially. I never thought about who would play Sophie. I do love Julia Roberts’ work though—ever since Mystic Pizza I’ve been a big fan. Really, Julia Roberts and Michael Cunningham both seem too good to be true! So I try not to get my hopes up. Nothing is certain right now. So I don’t like to get on the roller coaster. I’ll stand a good distance away from it, eating a corndog.

Has anything changed for you since you have become a best selling author? Do you feel differently about yourself? Do you ever get recognized when you are in public?

Nothing has really changed, except that now I get to write fiction as a day job, which is pretty dang lucky. A gentleman who works at my local coffee shop asked me one day after Good Grief was published—“how’s that second novel coming along?” I’d never talked to him about anything other than scones and the weather, so it was like the voice of God asking. (I had a two-book contract and was on deadline and I was behind!) He had read a story in the local newspaper, which had a photo of me. Many afternoons I become a coffee shop troll, reading and doing a bit of hand editing just to get out of my house for a few hours. Now he’s very nice about encouraging me. And the caffeine helps!

When you aren't writing, what kinds of things do you enjoy doing? What would I be surprised to learn about Lolly Winston?

Nothing terribly interesting. I like to swim and hike and go boogie boarding. I’m a gardening geek. My favorite procrastination activity is back-breaking yard work. I have three cats. When I’m supposed to be writing I invent cat toys and songs for my cats. I cut their nails and brush their teeth and one of them insists on sleeping on my head. I was mortified that I’d become a doting cat lady in my forties, until I read an article all about how Ernest Hemingway loved cats. Ernest Hemingway was a cat lady! Surprising? I’m not sure.

I like music played very, very loud. I like really dark humor. I thought the movie “Bad Santa,” was a classic, for example. I love Chris Rock, Richard Pryor, Monty Python, Woody Allen—anyone who makes me laugh.

I read that you were a writer for Automotive News which sounds pretty darn exciting. Tell me about your employment experiences?

I was a freelance writer for a number of years, first on the side while I was a corporate copy writer. I went from corporate copy writing to become a public relations manager, which I failed at miserably. (Some of this is in Good Grief.)

After that I started freelancing full time. (Not very lucrative.) One of my first gigs was as a stringer for Automotive News. I also did a lot of work for the San Jose Mercury News. And women’s mag stories. Basically, I’ve always just pieced together whatever English major jobs I could. I don’t consider myself a proper journalist.

If you weren't a writer, what would you be doing?

Reading. Reading, reading, reading. And eating toast. There’s nothing I’d rather do than read.


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