2016 Novel of Excellence Winner - Memoir
"Laugh out loud funny, racy, so poignant it brought tears to my eyes, this definitely has made it onto my 'Rereadables' list; those books I return to over, and over." ★★★★★ - Amazon Reviewer
Hello Ms. Engel! Tell us a bit about yourself.
A bit about me:
This California native loves all things chocolate. I’m also passionate about dancing, laughing, and being with children – especially my nephew. As a single divorcee who’s spent many hours in the dating arena, I’ve stories to tell. Oy vey, do I have stories!
What inspired you to become an author?
Signs kept pointing me towards authorship. When newly divorced, I nonchalantly sent some of my humorous dating scenarios to a handful of publishers. Months later, Chicago based Single Magazine accepted them. I was thrilled, and it gave nod to my newly empowered single woman’s voice. Also, my blog community has been incredible. At the time that I was silently thinking about writing a book, a few readers asked, “When are you going to publish your book? I’m ready to buy it.” Talk about encouraging! (Commercial break: I blog at Life by Chocolate, www.Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com.)
What brought about the creation of your novel?
It was perhaps the worst time of my life. My marriage had broken down. With it, everything I knew, or believed I knew, about life, dreams, my world. One clarity entered my muddied state of confusion: the fairytale notion of love and marriage is a farce. It’s damaging. I knew I had a story to share with the world. I intend to continue to spread the message that self-love is more important than any fairytale. And a fairytale is just that.
What was the inspiration for your characters? Were they based on people you know or acquaintances?
Well, most of my characters were either love interests, or one time suitors that I was interested in . . . never seeing again. I’ve gone on approximately 1,384 dates over the years. You can read about approximately 1,265 of these men in Woman on the Verge of Paradise. The book’s lead actress is someone I know quite well. She usually smiles back at me when I see her in the mirror, except on really bad hair days. Those days she laughs.
What are your responsibilities as a writer?
That’s a great question and one we don’t give enough attention. My responsibility is to take care of my readers – to serve them honesty and with sincerity, to not overwhelm them with my own emotions but to symbolically hold their hands as they join me on my journeys. If I can make them laugh and cry along the way, all the better.
How do you stay motivated and inspired?
My braincells dance wildly and in weird ways, so I rarely have “writer’s block” by way of running out of ideas. I’m grateful for this. To shake things up, and because writing is so isolating, I’ve gone on many writer’s retreats over the years. I also exercise and often set the writing aside, especially when I hit brick walls. Always, though, I get back to it.
Is there a writing book you would recommend?
I love anything by Anne Lamott, and Bird by Bird is one. Each person has to find their own way, though. Anne Lamott’s writing likely doesn’t work for everyone. What I appreciate from Bird by Bird is her advice to let your first draft be a sh*tty one. Write freely and don’t be self-critical. (No asterisk included, but I’m being more proper than Anne or I tend to be).
What were the biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing/writing process?
Wow, the money thing. I thought I could make ends meet as a freelance writer or author. Yeah, no. It doesn’t work that way. Not yet, anyway. But I’m glad I didn’t know this when I started adding fuel for the journey. Naïve dreams like that propel us through life’s story-worthy adventures.
How did you get started in writing? From little short stories to novels or was it the other way around?
Diary entries from age 6 or so. I still have that diary. It’s served me very well. I quoted myself sporadically in Woman on the Verge. Without these one or several page free flowing entries, I wouldn’t have been able to take the reader into my genuine emotional state of that time in the story. When it came to authoring a book, though, I was scared. The longest thing I’d ever before published was 23 pages. That was a research paper. Other writing took the form of blog posts or short scenarios. It was a big leap to churn out a full-length story.
What type of authors influenced your writing?
Writers like Cheryl Strayed, who I’m honored to know, and who writes with heart and sincerity. Another is, as I mentioned, Anne Lamott. She has the snarky edge that leaks through my work as well. I recently met a wonderful woman and highly successful author, Ana Maria Spagna. She writes and lives a life of modest, gracious, humility. There are many more, but I’ll stop now.
What made you decide to move forward with publishing your work?
I didn’t decide. I was offered a contract, and I was in the waiting for another offer. What’s best for me, I decided, was to self-publish. So winning an award was a wonderful surprise. I can only assume Acorn found me through my blog presence. Most contests charge oodles of money and evoke a snobbery that repels me. Not the case here. If you don’t mind me saying, I love you, Acorn Publications! I am committed to stalking you (on-line only, no worries).
What advice would you give to young writers?
Don’t trust anyone who tells you exactly what you need to do and how you need to do it to be successful. Also note that these folks tend to charge lots of money for this seemingly precious information. You know yourself better than anyone else ever will. Believe in yourself, in your unique voice, and do it your way. Find good folks, though, who will give you honest and kind feedback along the way. The publishing world is intimidating, to say the least. But if you have one trait, you’ll publish. If you don’t, you won’t. That’s perseverance. Keep going. Take breaks when you need to, but dust yourself off and get back to it. Go write through it all, and repeat. Also, you don’t need to publish to reap the incredible benefits of the writing process. Set whatever goals are meaningful for you, and enjoy the journey.