I hate chain letters. I mean I really hate them. I find them obnoxious and annoying and creepy. Also I resent the threat of eternal damnation for breaking the chain. I may be damned, but it sure as hell isn’t for failing to forward some stupid letter.
But this chain letter is different. Different because it came from someone I respect: Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, author of “A Tiger in the Kitchen,” her memoir of growing up and cooking in Singapore. She was also a fashion reporter for the Wall Street Journal. So she cooks and dresses fancy. Some husbands have all the luck.
Why was this lovely and accomplished person forwarding me a questionnaire about my work habits? Because writers need help. Let’s admit it. We spend day after day shut in from society with our weird ideas and delusions of grandeur, but at the end of the day we need to sell what we produce. And that’s the point of this exercise.
So I will continue this chain without complaint. Without much complaint. It’s called The Next Big Thing. I don’t know who started it, and I’m too lazy to find out. Following is the Q&A, in which I, like many writers before and after me, answer questions nobody asked me about my current work. If you value your time, please skip it and go straight to the part where I tag five other writers I like very much.
What is your working title of your book (or story)? “Pastors’ Wives.” Pre-order on Amazon!
Where did the idea come from for the book? It was inspired by an article in TIME magazine. That I wrote. I am not yet good at lifting other people’s ideas.
What genre does your book fall under? Women’s commercial fiction. In other words, if you only read Hemingway and Vonnegut, keep moving.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Oooo. As Ruthie, the skeptical outsider new to the Southern evangelical megachurch that hired her husband: Emma Stone! As Candace, the fierce, powerful wife of the senior pastor: Alison Janney! As Ginger, the lonely wife with a hidden past: Jessica Chastain! Wait a minute. That’s the cast of THE HELP. (In truth: any actress with her own production company, the funds to option and with the clout to get a studio to greenlight.)
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? “Pastors’ Wives” follows three women whose lives converge and intertwine at a Southern evangelical megachurch. No, no, that’s boring. Let me try again: “Pastors’ Wives” is a passionate portrayal of the private lives of pastors’ wives, caught between the consuming demands of faith, marriage, duty and love. There.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? My publisher is Penguin/Plume.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? The date on the Word document titled PASTORS’ WIVES FIRST DRAFT is September 2009. Many complications ensued. I turned in a final draft to my agent in December 2011. I would say most of it was hacked out over 2011.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? “The Help,” by Katharine Stockett. “Fly Away Home,” by Jennifer Weiner. “Belong to Me,” by Marisa de los Santos. All of those books alternated the story lines and perspectives of three characters. It is mere coincidence that they also sold like hotcakes.
Who or what inspired you to write this book? While reporting for TIME magazine, I met and interviewed pastors’ wives whose stories stayed with me. What struck me most was their honesty. They shattered my preconceptions about these sweet ladies who supported their minister husbands above all. No—they were lonely, intelligent, wistful, opinionated. Almost all of them wished their husbands weren’t pastors at all. Yet they remained devout. I marveled at their faith, their sense of duty, their love for their husbands and God. The question that became central to my novel popped into my head: What’s it like when the man you married is married to God?
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? It is told entirely in limericks. No! It’s not. It’s set in a world you may know well or not at all, about women you may recognize or not at all. I love my Ruthie, Candace and Ginger with all my heart. It would make me so happy to introduce you. (Pre-order on Amazon!)
Now here’s the part where I tag other writers. Not it!
I met Julie Gray when I fan-mailed her after stumbling upon her website. Julie is a screenwriting guru to students and writers around the world. So I was delighted and surprised when she replied and invited me to lunch on my next trip to L.A. We cemented our friendship over martinis in New York. Her website is called Just Effing Entertain Me, and it’s an awesome resource.
Julie recently introduced me to Margaux Froley. Margaux is a Los Angeles–based television and YA fiction writer. Her first novel, “Escape Theory,” comes out March 12. Margaux says that when she’s not writing, she can be found “hiking in the Hollywood hills and practicing Tae Kwon Do with her nunchucks.” I have no idea what that means, but I like the way it sounds. Check out her work here.
I think I fan-mailed Rebekah Sanderlin too. (For someone who hates chain mail, I appear not to have any compunction about cold-calling other writers with gratuitous gushing.) I admire the blunt and candid style with which Rebekah writes on military and family—and military family—issues. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Self, Maxim, and a whole slew of impressive titles. But I think the medium where she proves her genius is Facebook. This is her website.
I met Lauren Sandler at this kaffeeklatsch of writer moms in New York. Which sounds cozy, but honest to John it’s the most high-powered group of writers, and I’m always thrilled but utterly intimidated to attend. Lauren was warm and high-larious and we hit it off right away. That’s not to say she’s not scarily accomplished. Her new book draws on her experience as an only child and the mother of one. Because it’s Lauren, you know it’s going to be brilliantly reported, beautifully written—and controversial. Her book comes out in June. This is her website.
Bee Ridgway I met through our mutual editor at Penguin. Her time-travel novel (!), “The River of No Return,” will be published by Dutton/Penguin this spring. Lauren Willig, author of “The Pink Carnation” series, describes the novels as “A compelling race through time in a historical world turned upside-down. Take time travel, intrigue, a vast conspiracy and a wicked way with words, shake and serve.” Here’s her site.