The small town of Steilacoom is quiet as I sit in the appropriately named coffee shop, Espresso By The Bay, and look over Anna Kaling’s website. What first drew me to want to interview her was the phrase “big fan of the Loch Ness Monster” on her twitter page (@annakaling), and I found myself smiling as I read her site.
From her relationship with her family, to herwriting, to book reviews, there was no shortage of information to look through to find questions to ask her that didn’t fit the “traditional author interview” box. Getting to chat with her was a real treat, and I hope you enjoy as well!
Q. So I took a peek around your blog, but for those who are new to you and your work, tell us a little bit about your first and second books, Untouchable and Unthinkable.
A. They’re both contemporary romances featuring a trio of best friends in their 20s: Rachel, Sam and Ally. They aren’t published yet, but watch this space!
Untouchable focuses on Rachel, who has a phobia of touch and is destined to be a spinster cat lady (even though she only has one cat so far) and Alex, who hasn’t let anybody into either of his double lives since his father was murdered. When he bats a cricket ball into Rachel’s ribs at ninety miles an hour and is responsible for getting her to hospital, both of them have to test their boundaries for the first time in years.
Unthinkable features Ally, an artist who works three part-time jobs and is terrified of swans. She burns through men like matchsticks, but she’s fiercely loyal to her friends and has never been tempted to lie to them… until she falls in love with her best friend Sam’s father. Marc’s 20 years older than her with a jealous ex-wife, and Sam would never forgive Ally for ruining any hope of a reconciliation between his parents… but Marc’s the only man she’s ever wanted for more than a fling.
Q. I see you’re already working on your third. What’s been the most challenging thing you’ve encountered?
A. Book #3 centers on a veterinary pathologist who’s sent to Loch Ness to study a parasite endangering the local animals, so the biggest challenge was getting the science right. I don’t go into much detail about the research because I realize not all readers are science geeks like me, but I did want the project to be scientifically accurate. I’m lucky enough to have a writer friend who’s also a vet (hi, Simon!) and he’s been an incredible help.
For writing in general, the hardest thing for me is trying to maintain a zen-like patience when publishing moves at the pace of an arthritic snail. I’m a 90’s child–I need instant gratification.
Q. You have such a wide writing background, from writing bids to a construction company, to blogging for a cow sanctuary. When did you know you wanted to turn your love of writing into novels?
A. It started how many great adventures do: I was bored. It was just after Christmas, I was off work waiting for the office to re-open in the new year, and I began writing down a story that’d be in my head for years. A few months later I had a novel on my hands–the first draft of Untouchable.
Q. What made you decide you wanted to write romance?
A. It wasn’t a conscious decision and, in fact, my big love as a reader is horror–the gorier the better–though I read and enjoy most genres. While I was writing Untouchable I realized I wanted to go somewhere with it rather then leave it languishing on my hard drive, so I researched the publishing process and looked up genres. I discovered I was writing a contemporary romance and then began my romance education (still in progress, so if anyone has recommendations for me please comment!).
I love love love writing romance and don’t see myself deviating any time soon, though I have a vague ambition to one day write a cozy mystery.
Q. If you could go back to when you first sat down to write your first book, what advice would you give to yourself?
A. Oh gosh, I could fill another book with the things I had to learn writing that first one. Honestly, I think it was a necessary (if painful) learning curve, so I’d let myself make the same mistakes all over again.
Or maybe it’d be, “Don’t tell your mother you’re doing this.” because she keeps bugging me to read my novels and I know she’ll give me 1* reviews because of the swearing and sex (“It’s just not necessary, Anna.”)
Q. I noticed you have a love of Nessie (something I have to say made me first excited to contact you). Have you been able to take a trip to Loch Ness?
A. At the moment I have to live vicariously through Google maps and YouTube videos. 😦 I’m planning a visit around Christmas to make sure I have the details right for my third book, and I’m VERY excited. I’m also confident I will see Nessie and I won’t let anybody convince me otherwise.
Q. Who’s inspired you the most on your journey as a writer?
A. So many people. One of my favourite things about writing is the writing community, where other authors are so selfless with their time and advice.
Q. If you could give yourself a literary family tree, with authors you either admire, or consider yourself inspired by, who would be your parents and grandparents?
A. Ooh, that’s tricky! I suppose grandparents should be the ones who inspired me in childhood–Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Jacqueline Wilson and Noel Streafield. My family were ahead of the times with a same-sex marriage in there.
I think my mother will have to be Jennifer Crusie. Various readers have compared my writing to hers, which is a massive compliment, and when I began reading her books I fell in love with them. They gave me confidence that my kind of books have an audience.
I’m going to go all modern again and have a second mother instead of a father–Charlotte Bronte. Jane Eyre is probably the first romance I read, albeit literary romance, and I was blown away. If I can make just one person’s heart swell as much as mine did over Jane and Mr Rochester, I’ll be a happy author!
Q. I got a kick out of seeing your mother’s reaction to your writing (“too much sex and swearing, there’s no need for it” for those of you who haven’t checked out her blog yet). Does she play a part in your creative writing process at all?
A. Ha! She hasn’t read a single word of my writing and I don’t think she will, even when they’re officially published. For a start she almost exclusively reads crime / detective novels in the vein of Peter Robinson and Tess Gerritsen–two authors I also enjoy. She doesn’t even like kissing in novels, let alone full-blown (so to speak) sex scenes. And at least once a week she rants to me about a book she’s downloaded that was “spoiled” by all the “F-this and F-that.”
When I am published, if you see any 1* reviews complaining about swearing and sex, you know I caved and told her my pen name.
Q. What’s your favorite quality about your antagonist, and what’s your least favorite quality about your protagonist?
A. In Untouchable, I like that the antagonist is physically attractive whilst being a misogynistic cockwomble. Too often in fiction it seems that ugly equals bad, and life just doesn’t work that way.
The protagonist’s lack of confidence was often hard to write, and when I read it back I’m screaming, “DON’T PUT UP WITH THAT COCKWOMBLE!” at her. But that makes it all the more gratifying when she finally stands up to him.
Q. Tell me a little bit about your adorable cats! I love Sir Tedward McGinger’s name, by the way. Very cute.
A. My protagonists are all very unlike me in various ways but one thing they all have in common is a love of animals. I just cannot relate to a person who doesn’t like animals, unless it’s centipedes. I don’t trust anything that thinks it needs that many legs.
Sir Ted was my soul mate in cat form, and although he passed away a few months ago he’ll always be my baby. He helped me write by plonking himself on the keyboard just as I was getting to the juicy bit of a scene. I’d often wake up to find him sleeping on my hip, or hear him in the garden yowling at the fence.
Now I have Pepper, a neurotic tortoiseshell who emits deadly silent farts and hides behind the sofa for no apparent reason, and Charlie, who manages to take up an entire king-sized bed all by himself and has the most pathetic meow in existence.
Q. What’s been the most exciting thing about the road to becoming published?
A. All the people I’m meeting along the way, from other authors to my lovely agents to the editor/s I’ll be working with. There’s something special about a community of people brought together by a love of books that outweighs a shared, introverted horror of human contact.
Q. I noticed you’re represented by someone in Inklings Agency. What made you decide to do that route vs. self publishing?
A. I’m lucky enough to have two agents from Inklings – Michelle Johnson and Amanda Jain. They both have incredible senses of humour and Amanda shares Loch Ness Monster news with me on Twitter.
For me, I think traditional publishing is the best way to get my books in front of readers. Besides that, writing can be a lonely thing and I love working with other people rather than doing it all by myself. And thirdly… if it was left up to me and my complete lack of design skill or taste, I’d probably end up on one of those “Worst Book Covers In The World” blogs being mocked mercilessly.
I do really enjoy talking to readers directly though, whether on my blog or Twitter.
Q. Let’s say your book gets picked up for a movie. Which actress/actor do you see playing your leads?
A. This is easy because I always picture my characters as celebrities, or random people found on Google Images. I’m awful at visualizing new faces.
Untouchable – Rachel is a redheaded Jennifer Lawrence, and Alex is the model Isha Blaaker.
Unthinkable – Ally is Christina Aguilera in Burlesque (called Ali, funnily enough), and her love interest is Roy Thinnes circa 1980… though he’s nearly 80 now so we’d need a large plastic surgery budget.
For my current book, it’s Neha Sharma and Jessie Pavelka (who isn’t an actor but… we’ll convince him).
Q. John Barth once said, “Those rituals of getting ready to write produce a kind of trance state”. What is your “writing ritual”?
A. Boring answer, but I just sit down and write. Sometimes I turn the WiFi off first, which increases my word output by 3,000%.
Q. What are you working on right now, and do you have a deadline you’d like to have it done by?
A. I’m working on the Loch Ness book, which I hope to have ready for beta reading by 2 October. All going well, that should be finalized and on its way to my agents by the end of October. Then I plan to have a break from writing (during Nanowrimo, because I’m a rebel like that) before getting back to novel #4 in December. When I’m not writing, I’m usually beta reading for other people to build up my writer-karma bank. 🙂
Q. Anything else you’d like to share before we wrap up?
A. I’ve just been accepted as a #FicFest mentor for 2017 and I’d love to mention that so any aspiring writers reading the blog might enter. It’s a Twitter-based event where the mentors choose unagented and unpublished writers to mentor, and then help get their manuscripts and pitches ready for all the agents and small publishers taking part. I’m one of the 15 mentors in the adult category but there are also 15 for picture books, MG, YA and NA. We accept any genres and, of course, it’s absolutely free for everybody involved. All the info can be found here: http://www.tiffanyhofmannauthor.com/ficfest-writing-contest.html
Want more author interviews? Check out the one she did for me!
Originally posted Sept. 2016. Reposted due to website change.