And our Sue's Clues Mystery Author is:
Not long ago I had the pleasure of reading my first Naomi Neale book. She's not one of those authors that have been around for ages, or even years. Naomi's books just started hitting the shelves in the past couple of years, and I know they will be hitting them for years or even ages to come.
Normally, I'm not a contempory fan, but Naomi's MILE-HIGH HAIR CLUB is an exception. I laughed from start to finish and had a couple, to use Naomi's term, "puddlin' up" moments. I was thrilled when she agreed to do Sue's Clues.
Check out the interview. Then head over to Naomi's websites:
1. Tell us about your family. Hubby? Kids? Grandkids? Pets?.
I've been married for umpteen years. These days, umpteen equals sixteen, in case you need to update your dictionary. I don't have any children, unfortunately. I do have two cats, one of whom likes to sit on my chest and pin me to the sofa while I write. Though I don't keep any dogs, I absolutely adore them, so I often dog-sit for out-of-town friends or walk down to a dog run that's a couple of blocks from my home and play with other people's pets.
2. Have you always wanted to be an author?
I've always loved to read, which isn't the same thing as loving writing. I was the kid who would check out a grocery bag full of books from the local branch library every Saturday morning, read every single one, then show up the following week for another haul. By my teens I was writing short stories that were heavily influenced by Shirley Jackson--at the time I fancied they were bleak and dry character studies, but they really weren't very polished, and I'd read enough good stuff that I realized the difference.
In college I studied both playwriting and acting. I love the theater. To me, being in a play was a lot like losing myself in a really good novel, only when I was acting, I was really immersing myself in the story. There are always physical limitations to the roles an individual can expect to perform onstage, though. Women can't usually play men's parts, older people can't play ingenues . . . no one was going to let me perform King Lear when physically I was more of a Juliet's nursemaid kind of presence. And that frustrated me.
Writing novels is the way I work around that frustration. When I'm writing, I'm always acting out the roles of all my characters. What's fun is that it allows me the perfect freedom to be anyone I want. I can be any age, gender or race. In real life I'm mild and unassuming, but when I'm at work on a project, I can be as outrageous as my imagination will let me. (And it usually lets me, a lot.)
3. I see you like to 'follow the bouncing ball' in the karaoke lounges. How did you get started in that? Is it something you do on a regular basis and/or semi-seriously?
Oh, gosh! I'm a total karaoke freak. I just got back from a cruise to Alaska and guess where I was two nights out of the week? Up in the forward lounge, singing karaoke. It's not that I have a stellar voice. I don't. In fact, when I took voice lessons in my teens, my teacher one day finally crossed her arms, looked at me, and announced, "I think you will always have a not unpleasant voice."
One of the things I do fairly consistently is to give myself challenges, particularly when I realize that silly fears are holding me back. When I was morbidly fearful of flying, I forced myself to get on airplanes until I got used to it. When I was scared of public speaking, I did it over and over again until I learned to enjoy it. Singing with my not-unpleasant voice in public terrified me for years, so I assigned myself the task of finding a karaoke lounge, gritting my teeth, and just doing it in front of a bunch of perfect strangers.
I totally stunk on ice, but the world didn't end. Everyone hooted and hollered and the earth kept spinning. That's what karaoke taught me--that it's possible to take a risk and be embarrassed and be imperfect and that it's not going to be a catastrophe. I wrote about the whole karaoke-as-life-lesson thread in my first full-length adult novel, CALENDAR GIRL, which came out earlier this year. It's about a twenty-something girl whose life is risk-free and comfortable enough until she sees all her friends and family moving on without her. Karaoke's one of the first risks she ends up taking. And like Nan of CALENDAR GIRL, all my best karaoke tunes are old Blondie songs!
4. You grew up in Virginia but have lived for the past 15 yrs in Michigan. There must be some huge differences between the two. What do you miss most being away from the east? What do you miss the least?
I live in Royal Oak, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, and I absolutely love my neighborhood and my nearly century-old house. But I miss hills! Michigan is so, so flat. It's a beautiful state, green and lush, and when you get a good view of the horizon in Michigan, it seems as if you can see forever. Whenever I visit another city with hills or mountains, though, my heart aches a little and I realize how much I miss something so simple.
Until recently I missed Krispy Kreme doughnuts, which were always around where I grew up, but only made it to Michigan very recently. Now if only the Richmond chain of Bill's Barbecue would expand this way . . . because I really miss their grape limeades! I also very much mourn the sweet way Virginians (and many other southerners) have of throwing endearments into their speech when they talk to you. They'll call you 'honey' or 'sugar' regardless of your gender or age, even if you're a perfect stranger. I'll tell you what I don't miss, though: slugs. They oozed everywhere in Virginia, and I don't have them here. Pardon me while I shudder.
5. You already know how much I loved your book, THE MILE-HIGH HAIR CLUB. You've mentioned that Polly's story (Polly is Bailey's mom whose had a stroke) was based on a secret you learned about your own mom after she passed away ten years ago. I'm not silly enough to ask what it was (though the curiosity is a killer *G*) but am wondering more about deciding to incorporate it into a story. Is it something you thought about for a long time before doing it? How did your dad and sister feel about it? How did you feel afterwards - was it cathartic result or did it bring unexpected feelings?
When my mom passed away a decade ago, my father sat my sister and I down after the funeral and after all the guests had left, to tell us a story about my mother that she'd sworn him never to spill--essentially, that many years before, after a death in her family, she protected her family's interests with a deed that could have landed her in jail if she'd been found out. Polly in MILE-HIGH HAIR CLUB did the exact same thing as my mother, though I've simplified the family relationships quite a bit and changed a few details.
I've wanted to write about and honor my mother for years. People who've lost a parent they love know that the mourning simply doesn't stop, or even ebb away after a number of years. I'd written around the issue in several books--a number of my heroines have lost their mothers, or are separated from them. I hadn't confronted the pain and the guilt and the loss head-on in my fiction, though, and you know me and my self-improvement projects. I decided that this book would be the ideal vehicle.
My dad actually watched me write the last third of the book. He came to visit last Christmas and I'd warned him that I'd probably spend the entire time typing away on my laptop while he was there, and that's exactly what happened. We'd sit in my den, me with my headphones on and him working his way through my DVD collection. I'd have tears streaming from my eyes while I was writing the last few chapters, because it was really an emotional experience for me. He'd sit there laughing. (At the movies. Not at me!) Then I'd make him take me out to dinner.
Writing MILE-HIGH HAIR CLUB was in many ways painful for me because I had to process a lot of difficult emotions--what it feels like to have a parent who's sick or aging, how it feels to have extended family members that you love but whom you sure as heck don't particularly like, the guilt of living in one part of the country while a parent lives in another . . . the list goes on and on. As you can tell, though, I'm the kind of person who believes that confronting the scary stuff usually results in a liberating experience, and MILE-HIGH HAIR CLUB very much celebrates the kind of woman my mother was during her life. She deserves that!
6. You've written a number of Young Adult novels as Naomi Nash. Do you find it easier to write YA compared to ChickLit? Or am I assuming that because one is geared toward a younger audience it has to be easier? Do you prefer one to the other?
The one big difference between my YA and my adult fiction is that the YA novels are half the length. In a sense, they're easier to write because they're fewer words. I usually alternate between the two; when I've just finished one of my Naomi Nash novels and I move onto a Naomi Neale book, it feels exactly like having slept in a twin bed for a few months and suddenly being upgraded to king-sized. I can sprawl!
The YA novels have their own challenges, though. I have to practice a certain economy of language and style with the YA novels because of the word count, and that's not always easy when the emotions and plots are as complex as the stuff I write for adults. I might finish them more quickly, but they're certainly not easy!
7. What can we expect in the future from Naomi Nash or Neale?
Dorchester has asked me to pen the launch title for a new line of romances coming out next year, in which modern sensibilities collide head-on with vintage periods in the twentieth century. My book's current title is GOOD GIRLS DON'T MAKE HISTORY and it's about a savvy Manhattan ad executive who, after a wee accident with an old-fashioned foil TV dinner and a microwave oven, finds herself zapped back in time to 1959 . . . where she has to deal with picket-fence sensibilities, poodle skirts, and the sexism endemic to the era. I'm about halfway through the novel and it's making me laugh pretty much all the way, which is always a good sign. It'll be out in the spring of next year.
And in February, the Smooch imprint is releasing I AM SO JINXED!, the sequel to my very first novel, YOU ARE SO CURSED!
8. Who are your favorite Actors? Favorite Movies?
Mark Ruffalo is my current favorite contemporary actor, both because he's talented and easy on the eyes. I'm a huge softie for old movies, though--give me something with Cary Grant or Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly and I'm happy for hours. My favorite all-time movie is probably the screwball comedy, "Bringing Up Baby"--the script and acting are so clever and silly and romantic that I've watched it a kerjillion times.
I'm also a huge Bollywood fan, which mystifies my friends. But I like the exotic cultures and the songs and the dances and the shirtless guys. A couple of weeks ago I finished watching the really beautiful film "Black," which is a Bollywood interpretation of the Helen Keller story. I was bawling by the end!
9. What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to read, and I gulp down books with abandon when I'm not writing, because it's difficult to keep current with the books you've been buying and letting pile up when you're working on a project of your own. I also have my own glass studio where, when I need to do something with my hands away from my laptop, I can made stained glass windows and lamps and kiln-worked glass projects.
10. I have to ask: Is it Nash or Neale in real life?
Quite honestly, it's neither! I'm so modest and retiring in person (no, really . . . why are you laughing?) that the whole name recognition thing for me is my least favorite aspect of being an author. I absolutely enjoy having people read my books. Do people have to know my real name to enjoy them? I think not, and that's why I chose to use pseudonyms for my YA and adult novels.
When I originally tried thinking of a surname for my YA novels, I wanted something alliterative to go with my Naomi, and my husband jokingly suggested Nash so that I could sponsor his bowling team and they could call themselves 'The Nash Ramblers.' Only he wasn't really joking, if you know what I mean. I took the same sort of alliterative tactic when Dorchester asked me to write CALENDAR GIRL for their new Making It line of chick lit, and chose Neale because it was the name of an influential teacher I had in fifth grade, who encouraged my sorry attempts at poetry and urged me to keep writing.