A few weeks ago, I was listening to a BlogTalk Radio show with Mr. Norman; and I learned that Ms. Jio and Mr. Norman are partnering on a very fun new project called The Ultra Violet Co-Ed Reading Challenge. Isn't that a clever title since both of their books contain the world violets? I immediately asked them if they could write something for my Book Club Exchange feature because their idea of a co-ed book club is an absolutely perfect fit.
For those of you who haven't heard about The Ultra Violet Co-Ed Reading Challenge, it's "about bringing men and women together to talk about books (and the male and female experience)." The basic idea is that couples (or groups of couples) will read both DOMESTIC VIOLETS and THE VIOLETS OF MARCH, one of which is written from a male perspective and one of which is written from a female perspective, and then discuss. Ms. Jio and Mr. Norman are also willing to call in to any book club meetings -- how cool is that? You can get all the details on the challenge here. As if this doesn't already sound super fun, the authors have definitely sweetened the pot. They are giving away dinner for two at The Cheesecake Factory for anyone who enters/leaves a comment on this link.
When I asked Ms. Jio and Mr. Norman to write a little something for me, I had no idea how creative they would be. They actually came up with a great idea to interview each other. I think their questions and answers will give you some wonderful insight into how much fun these two are.
Sarah & Matthew Questions
Sarah J: I have to admit, as I was reading DOMESTIC VIOLETS, I loved the feeling that I was getting an insider’s look into the mind of a guy! (The first few pages totally made me blush, too!) I loved how honest this book is, and I really, really found myself rooting for Tom Violet, even despite his shortcomings (no pun intended there). How did Tom’s character come to you?
Matthew N: My goal from day one—even way back in the hideous first-draft stage—was to write a very honest story. To do that, I knew that I needed a first-person narrator with a very revealing inner monologue. I also knew that he had to be not just sympathetic, but likeable. If you like a character, you’re more likely to roll with him or her through questionable/bad behavior.
There’s a downside to honesty, though. Because DOMESTIC VIOLETS is such a close first-person narrative from a guy’s point of view, people are always asking me how autobiographical it is. Do you get that a lot? What do you tell people?
Sarah J: Yes, I get that question all the time! I try never to be annoyed, because as a reader, I have a terrible habit of looking at the author photo on a book and, in my mind, plastering that image on the face of the book’s main character. (Ridiculous, right?! I can’t believe I’m admitting this, actually!) A reader wrote me recently to tell me that she was so surprised to read that Emily, the main character in THE VIOLETS OF MARCH, had darker features because she imagined her to look like me (blond hair, blue eyes) based on my author photo. So, I get it that readers wonder if the main character in the book mirrors the author in all the ways possible. Emily is so not me, but I always tell people that she resembles parts of me.
Anywho, we’re both parents, so I love that you can relate to how hard it can be to carve out time for writing and reading. How do you fit both into your busy days? Do you always write first thing in the morning, for example, or read every night before bed? Do you watch zero TV? What are your secrets?
Matthew N: As a writer—and, generally speaking, as a human being—I am completely worthless in the morning. So, I write exclusively at night after my daughters go to bed, usually with the aid of a startling amount of caffeine. I’ve found that when you do a little bit of work every day, the pages actually add up pretty fast. An old professor of mine in grad school said every day you should ask yourself, “Did I write today?” And if the answer is yes—regardless of quality or word count—then that day was a good day.
Sarah J: I love that! This makes me feel so much better about the 15 words I typed today.
Matthew N: You’ve got more kids than I do, and you’re currently writing your fourth novel. That, my friend, is insane. How do you do it? Uppers? A team of ghostwriters? Booze?
Sarah J: Haha. I wish I had a more exciting answer to this question, but truthfully, it just boils down to a.) lack of sleep, b.) a very supportive husband (someone has to wrangle all these kids!), c.) a sort of crazy drive to write (truly, I love telling stories), and d.) no life (while my friends are out having fun, I’m writing—that about sums it up).
So, are you in a book club? If so, what are guy book clubs like? If not, can you describe your fantasy book club?
Matthew N: A few years ago, I was in Writing Group with some writer friends. When none of us had work to share, we’d read and discuss our favorite novels. It was a coed group, and it was great. As a writer, getting feedback from the opposite sex is absolutely vital. I’ve never actually been in a book club, though, if I’m being honest. It sounds like fun. Definitely more fun than Fantasy Football, at which I am terrible.
Sarah J: I miss my writing group. We disbanded because of travel, pregnancies, etc. So now my critique partner is my hubby. He reads all of the early drafts of my novels, and I always appreciate the male perspective when I’m polishing my drafts. When you were writing your book, did your wife read your drafts before you sent them to your agent? If so, what type of feedback did she give you?
Matthew N: She didn’t read any of DOMESTIC VIOLETS until I had a draft that I was really comfortable with. I was afraid if I showed her something too early, I’d be discouraged by her reaction and that might derail the whole process. Ahhh…crippling neurosis, my old friend.
I’ve only just gotten to know you recently, but you seem to be a good bit more well adjusted and emotionally healthy than me. What are your writing neurosis? Anything strange?
Sarah J: Very nice of you to say, but I assure you, I have my share of writing neurosis. For instance, I can’t write when I have a messy office or desk (which is often) and I can only write well after the kids are asleep (like you) because I am too much of a control freak and hear them crying and just give up and run to them (this, even when the sitter is here or my husband is on duty). One thing that does work for me, and plays into emotional health, too, is running: I hammer out all sorts of ideas and fix plot issues while on my jogs. It sounds nuts, but I truly find that my running time helps me be a better writer. Do you find that any practices or habits help improve your writing?
Matthew N: For me, music is a big help. When I’m actually writing, it’s good for drowning out the painfully long stretches of silence while I’m staring at my cursor.
Sarah J: Ugh, I hate those long silences. I stare at the cursor a lot too.
Matthew N: But even when I’m not actually sitting at my desk, music seems to activate the writing parts of my brain and helps set things into context. When a story is forming in my head, it comes together like a movie trailer—these bits of plot and character—set against a soundtrack. I owe a good bit of DOMESTIC VIOLETS to a song called “I’m Always In Love” by Wilco. The Beatles are great for writing, too, particularly later in their run when they got more trippy and abstract.
Speaking of guys. How’s that for a segue? You’ve got a number of men in your novel, and they felt pretty legit to me. Was it harder writing the men than it was writing the women? Did you ever find yourself wondering, ”Would a guy say that?”
Sarah J: Yes! And this is why I love having my husband read my early drafts. He caught a lot of things that weren’t working—especially in regards to how I had some of the male characters talking. (“Um, Sarah, not working,”!) He also has great things to offer about the personality traits of my main characters. But, it’s not easy to share my early drafts with him (or anyone). I’m, literally, the neurotic writer who paces the floors while he reads my work. I’ll check in every five minutes and harass him about whether he loves it or not.
Anyway, it’s been great chatting with you here, Matt! It’s an honor to share the Violets name with you.
Wasn't that fun? Make sure you check out The Ultra Violet Co-Ed Reading Challenge.
A huge thanks to Ms. Jio and Mr. Norman for this fantastic interview! If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.