A Conversation with Karen Quinn:
1. The romantic locations of Holly Would Dream are wonderful, especially the madcap scooter rides through Rome. What sort of research process did you undergo for this novel?
My husband, Mark, and I took several cruises over the last few years and I took copious notes! We sailed to many of the same ports as the Tiffany Star. Ephesus was one of my favorite cities and I set an important scene there. We also went to Santorini, a gorgeous Greek Island that you can only get to via donkey or tram. That is where Holly and Denis were stranded when they missed the ship. On one of our cruises, there really was a woman who walked around pumping five pound pink free weights all the time. That’s where I got that idea to have Sydney do that. On another cruise, there was a passenger who wore stilettos when she went to Pompeii (another silly thing I had Sydney do). On the day we visited Ephesus, a passenger brought the rugs she had purchased to the bar that night to show them off. She told people what she had spent on them. Details like that found their way into the story. Finally, Mark and I went to Rome last summer so that I could check out all the places I’d written about in the story. We stayed at the Hassler, where Holly and Denis stayed (and where Audrey Hepburn stayed when making Roman Holiday), ate at the restaurants and visited the same sites as the characters. Researching this book was as much fun as writing it.
2. What made you choose Audrey Hepburn as Holly’s touchstone in the story?
I have always adored her movies, especially her early romantic comedies. They never fail to make me happy. I admire her because she was such a talented actress, devoted mother, and great humanitarian. Plus, she had her own unique style that has stood the test of time. You can go on youtube.com today and get advice on how to do your makeup like Audrey Hepburn. People still style their hair as she did. Every year, new books come out about her. There are scores of sites on myspace.com and facebook.com devoted to her. From the bios I’ve read, is seems like she was a lovely, authentic person. I felt it would be fun to create a character, like Holly, who was completely enamored with Audrey Hepburn.
3. Now that you are a full-time novelist, what are some of the differences between writing part-time and making writing a full-time career? What would you say is the best part about writing novels? What is the most stressful aspect of this career?
When you write full-time, you have no excuses for not producing. So, that keeps me working hard. The thing I love most about writing novels is creating a world and filling it with characters I really get to know and love over the course of a project. I’m always sad to say goodbye to my characters at the end of the story. They feel very real to me. The most stressful part of a full-time writing career is that you live and die by your own work. For many years, I was a VP at American Express. If I missed a few weeks of work, I still got paid and the company never missed a beat. But if I took a month off writing, nothing would happen. Also, at Amex (as is the case with many jobs), every project I worked on had twenty people’s handprints on it. As a writer, it’s my editor and me. So I feel total ownership of my writing. On the flip side, there is no one to blame if the critics don’t like my work (except my editor, of course).
4. Each of the chapter titles are song titles, such as Isn’t it Romantic or Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off. What made you choose this device?
I’m a sucker for these old songs and I thought they would make good chapter titles. It was such fun to choose the titles that seemed connected to each chapter. I made a playlist for my ipod of all the songs that I used as chapter titles. It’s a great list – you can easily make your own.
5. The Ivy Chronicles has been optioned for a film and there’s film interest in Wife in the Fast Lane. If Holly Would Dream were to be a movie, whom would you like to see in the role of Holly?
It would have to be someone thin because she would have to fit into the Hepburn costumes. One person I can see in the role is Heather Graham because she is beautiful and so talented at comedy. I could also imagine Jessica Alba, Anne Hathaway, or Rene Zellweger. I would love to see Holly Would Dream turned into a movie in the same style as the 1950’s films that inspired it.
6. You open the novel with a very inspirational line from Audrey Hepburn. What made you choose this particular quote?
It is a line that reflects the journey of a woman who seemed to have had it all, but in fact, lived a very difficult life at times. Still, she always saw herself as getting the prize in the end. It is such a positive statement about Hepburn’s outlook on life. Also, Holly Would Dream is somewhat of a fairy tale and I thought that line would tell the reader a bit of what was coming.
7. Strong family ties are evident in all your books, and Holly Would Dream is no exception, Holly and her father share a very close relationship. Does their relationship mirror any of your own?
I was very close to my own father who died about ten years ago. I wish he had lived long enough to see me publish my first book. My mother and I talk daily on the phone since we don’t live in the same city. We take a trip together – just the two of us – every year. So yes, I come from a close family.
8. How much did you know about fashion and its history before starting this book?
Very little. All I knew was how much I adored going to fashion exhibits at the Met or the FIT Museum. I thought that writing about a fashion museum would give me a great excuse to learn what life is like working in one. Dr. Valerie Steele, who is the director of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Museum in NYC, talked to me about how they come up with ideas for exhibits, what it takes to put a show together, the security measures in place to ensure the safety of their costumes, how delicate gowns are restored, what might be a giveaway that a gown had been altered, and much more. It was fascinating stuff. I tried to build much of what I learned from her into the story. When I told Dr. Steele what I had in mind for the costumes at Holly’s Museum, she was horrified. Still, she was a great sport in helping me devise fictional ways that Holly might have slipped those dresses out of the Museum.
9. Even though you deal with some serious subjects, including work, love, and family, there is always a strong sense of humor and fun in your novels. How important is it to you to incorporate humor?
I love reading novels or watching shows that make me laugh out loud. So, I purposefully aim for that when writing my books. The world is a pretty tough place, isn’t it? We can all use a good laugh. I hear it’s as good for your health as working out.
10. Denis and Holly share some steamy scenes while they are in Rome. Are loves scenes difficult to write?
They used to be very hard for me to write. When I had to write my first sex scenes, I bought several books on how to write sex scenes and followed their advice. I remember writing my first steamy scenes and emailing them to my mother who would tell me they were not hot enough. Over the last few years, I’ve studied at Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts. There is a lively sexual component to the class. That has really helped me write about sex in a more playful way.
11. Holly lives every girl’s dream when she dons the ball gown Audrey Hepburn wore for the Embassy Ball in My Fair Lady. If you could wear one of her iconic ensembles, which one would you choose?
Of course, the black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s comes to mind. That would still be in style today. I also love the red gown with the matching scarf that she wore in Funny Face. The dress that Princess Ann wore in the last scene of Roman Holiday is one of my all time favorites. It reminds me of my mother’s wedding gown from 1953. That was the same year Roman Holiday was filmed.
12. What are you working on next?
My books tend to start out as one thing and turn into something else entirely. So if I told you the plot of my newest novel, it will probably have nothing to do with the book that is actually published.
…And yet another interview!
Monday, July 14, 2008
Interview with Karen Quinn, Author of Holly Would Dream and The Ivy Chronicles, by author and editor Michelle Devon
It’s rare today to find an author who does nothing but write for a living. Do you have a ‘real’ job other than writing, and if so, what is it? What are some other jobs you’ve had in your life?
Karen Quinn: I started out as a lawyer and absolutely hated that. After I dozed off in front of my client during an SEC hearing, I quit that. Luckily, the client died that year so he never sued me for malpractice. Then I moved into marketing and advertising. I worked for American Express for fifteen years until they downsized me. At that point, I came up with the idea of starting a small business helping NYC families get their children into the best private schools. The company was called Smart City Kids – it still exists today. But after two-and-a-half years, I got out. There were too many tears – not from the children, from their parents.
What compelled you to write your first book?
Karen Quinn: After leaving Smart City Kids, my husband wanted me to get a job. We really needed the money. But I had always had a dream about being a writer. I’d never done anything about it – it was like one of those fantasies we have about becoming a movie star. Wait, I take that back. I did always write a holiday letter that everyone said made them laugh. Anyway, I realized that after leaving my company, I had lots of funny stories about my experiences helping these neurotic parents and their adorable kids. So I told my husband that instead of getting a job, I wanted to write a bestseller like The Nanny Diaries about getting kids into private school. Mark asked me how long that would take. I had no idea so I told him three months. He let me go ahead as long as I promised to get a job after three months. I wrote like crazy after that and had a first draft of The Ivy Chronicles done before my deadline. The threat of having to get a real job is a powerful motivator when it comes to writing.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Karen Quinn: No, I have always wanted to be a painter. That’s something I love to do and I’m good at it (in a Grandma Moses kind of way). My home is filled with paintings I’ve done. But I discovered when I wrote The Ivy Chronicles that I genuinely love to write. It’s very exciting to discover something new about yourself when you’re in your mid-forties.
Tell us a little bit about your book/s.
Karen Quinn: The Ivy Chronicles is the first book. It is about a woman who reinvents herself after losing everything that is dear to her – her husband, her upper-east-side lifestyle, her job. She starts a business helping families get their children into private school. Through this, she discovers a new life for herself that is better than the old one. I wrote Ivy at a time when I had lost my corporate job and I reinvented myself by becoming an author. So that book is particularly close to my heart.
Wife in the Fast Lane is about a mid-western girl, a track star turned businesswoman, who marries a powerful mogul and moves to the upper-east-side. It is about how she juggles the demands of work, love, and motherhood in the most exclusive zip code in Manhattan.
Finally, Holly Would Dream is about a woman named Holly who wishes her life was like an Audrey Hepburn-Cary Grant movie, but of course it isn’t, until it is. This one is really a modern day fairy tale that is about all the things I adore – fashion, travel, and old, romantic movies from the 1950’s. Holly Would Dream is my favorite of the three I’ve written. My books tend to be women’s fiction, page-turners, and funny.
Are you currently working on any writing projects our readers should watch for release soon?
Karen Quinn: Just this week it was announced that Sarah Jessica Parker is going to star in The Ivy Chronicles movie. So readers should look out for that. I am also working on a fourth book about three sisters in Manhattan, but I’m not sure when it will be done. I’m also doing a non-fiction book about what parents can do at home to be sure their children are ready for kindergarten.
Have you ever won any writing awards? If so, what?
Karen Quinn: No, I haven’t. My books are perfect for the beach, long airplane rides, or to take you to another world after a long hard day. I don’t think they give awards for books like that. But they really should, don’t you think? Call me shallow (and I’m sure someone will), but I’d rather read the latest Bushnell than Dostoevsky any day.
How did you feel the day you held the copy of your first book in your hands?
Karen Quinn: It felt like I had accomplished something wonderful. I was so proud of it. No one was home when it arrived so I ran downstairs and showed my doormen. Now they treat me like a movie star and they always buy my books for their mothers and wives.
What type of music, if any, do you listen to while you write?
Karen Quinn: I’m very ADD so I don’t listen to music while I write. When I do listen, it tends to be songs written in the eighties or earlier.
What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?
Karen Quinn: When I am really into a good story, I can’t wait to get to the computer. What will my characters do today? I often have plans for them and then they surprise me. When I sit down to write, I can go for a good eight hours.
What one thing are you the most proud of in your life?
Karen Quinn: Professionally, I’m most proud of the fact that I became a published writer – I did something that other people can experience and enjoy. So many people write to me and tell me how much they loved reading my books. That never gets old. I always write people back and thank them because their good words mean so much to me.
What about your family? Do you have children, married, siblings, parents? Has your family been supportive of your writing?
Karen Quinn: In life, I’m most proud of the fact that I have been married to the same wonderful guy for 27 years. We met in law school, so at least I got something out of becoming a lawyer. We have a girl and a boy, Schuyler, seventeen, and Sam, fifteen. I have two brothers and my mom. Dad died a few years ago. It makes me sad that he never got to see me become a writer because he would have loved that. But my whole family is supportive of my writing. Mark and Schuyler come to all my New York readings. Sam doesn’t because he’s a teenage boy so he is pretty much sequestered in his room most of the time. Whenever a new book comes out, I always go to Denver (where my mother lives) and she drives me to all my appearances, helps me sell books, and brags about me to anyone who will listen. It’s a family affair.
The main characters of your stories – do you find that you put a little of yourself into each of them or do you create them to be completely different from you?
Karen Quinn: In each of my books, one of my characters is always based on myself. I am Ivy in The Ivy Chronicles. I am Renata (the ten-year-old little girl) in Wife in the Fast Lane, and I am Holly in Holly Would Dream. The other thing about my books is that they are full of real stories from my life. Anything fun and interesting that happens to me or one of my friends invariably ends up in one of the books.
Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your own writing? Do you have a writing mentor?
Karen Quinn: There are many writers I admire, but I don’t try to emulate anyone. My formula is to write a book that I would want to read. That drives everything in my work.
When growing up, did you have a favorite author, book series, or book?
Karen Quinn: I was a huge reader growing up and I think that is why I’m able to write. As a girl, I devoured books. My mother used to take me to the library and I’d come home with an armful that I would read in a day. I especially loved Nancy Drew.
What about now: who is your favorite author and what is your favorite genre to read?
Karen Quinn: I read many different kinds of books. Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett, is one of my favorites. I also love Time and Again by Jack Finney. The time travel genre appeals to me very much, as does historical fiction. I read lots of humor writers to see how they do it. My books are always funny so I like to see the tricks other writers have to make people laugh.
Hey, let’s get morbid. When they write your obituary, what do you hope they will say about your book/s and writing? What do you hope they will say about you?
Karen Quinn: I hope they say I sold more books than Danielle Steele and Stephen King combined and that I entertained millions of readers worldwide. If they don’t say that, then I hope I at least get my own unpaid obit in the New York Times. You have to really special to get that, and I probably don’t qualify yet. If I got married today, I could probably make the New York Times Wedding page. The obit page is way more selective than the Wedding page.
Location and life experience can sprinkle their influence in your writing. Tell us about where you grew up and a little about where you live now – city? Suburb? Country? Farm? If you could live anywhere you want to live, where would that be?
Karen Quinn: I grew up in suburban Texas and Colorado and moved to New York City about twenty years ago. For me, New York City is the best place I could ever live. I love the pace, the people, and the culture here. Also, as an observer from the west, I find the customs here fascinating, which is why I always write about them. New Yorkers are such generous and interesting people (contrary to popular belief). The downside of New York City is that it is so expensive, especially when you’re trying to raise a family. We are moving to Miami in about month, so hopefully I’ll like that just as well. I’ve always wanted to live near the beach and now I’ll get to.
Do you have any pets? What are they? Tell us about them.
Karen Quinn: We have two older cats – Smokey (a Russian blue) and Cookie (a Berman). My daughter just got an adorable pound-and-a-half Pomeranian named Olive. The cats are very upset about this. Cookie has gone into hiding and Smokey just walks by the puppy and hisses at her. I’m praying things will improve.
Bring us into your home and set the scene for us when you are writing. What does it look like? On the couch, laptop, desk? Music? Lighting, handwriting?
Karen Quinn: I have a big office in my apartment. Two walls are entirely filled with books. In front of the books facing the door (very Feng Shui) is an antique desk that is very messy. Next to it (making an “L” shape) is my computer desk, which faces the window. My cats are sleeping at my feet.
Do you watch television? If so, what are your favorite shows? Does television influence of inspire your writing?
Karen Quinn: I am addicted to Law and Order. I love how they get so much story into so little time. If I’m flipping through channels and I see that, I’ll always stop. I also love Sex and the City.
What about movies? Same as above.
Karen Quinn: Like my character Holly, I love old romantic comedies from the 1950’s – Sabrina, Roman Holiday, An Affair to Remember, Charade, To Catch a Thief. All these movies were muses for Holly Would Dream.
Focusing on your most recent (or first) book, tell our readers what genre your book is and what popular author you think your writing style in this book is most like.
Karen Quinn: My books are women’s fiction in the tradition of Sex and the City, The Nanny Diaries, The Devil Wears Prada, and The Starter Wife. The difference is, my books are funnier. I don’t mean that in a braggy way. I just mean that I inject more humor into my work, either situational or one-liners.
How long did it take you to write your most recent (or first) book? When you started writing, did you think it would take that long (or short)?
Karen Quinn: As I mentioned earlier, I wrote the first draft of The Ivy Chronicles in three months. That’s because it was that or face having to get a real job. My next books have taken a year or so to complete.
Is there anyone you’d like to specifically acknowledge who has inspired, motivated, encouraged or supported your writing?
Karen Quinn: There are so many people. If you look at my acknowledgements, they are always very long. But there is one person I should mention who really helped me – my friend, Judy Levy. When I was writing The Ivy Chronicles, I would send her my chapters and she would read them, call me back, laughing hysterically, and telling me how much she was loving the book. It was that daily encouragement that kept me going with the first book.
Is there any one particular book that when you read it, you thought to yourself, “Man, I wish I’d written that one!”?
Karen Quinn: When I read David Sedaris, Wendy Wasserstein, and Laurie Notaro, I think that I wish I could do humor as well as they do.
Thinking about your writing career, is there anything you’d go back and do differently now that you have been published?
Karen Quinn: No, it has been a journey and I have learned so much from everything I did right and from all my mistakes. I never look back with regret because I think every experience has made me who I am today and I love that woman, warts, tummy, wrinkles and all.
What is your main goal or purpose you would like to see accomplished by your writing?
Karen Quinn: I would love to be discovered by a very broad audience of women and to bring them joy and make them laugh when they read my work. My books are always about strong women who face adversity, but who persevere and end up in a better place. They are hopeful. I want women to read them and know that no matter what they are facing, they should press on and they will be fine. Every woman is the heroine in her own story.
How has having a book published changed your life?
Karen Quinn: I am making a lot less money than I made in the corporate world, but I am living my passion. As Mastercard says, being able to do work you love is priceless. This is ironic since being downsized by American Express is what led me to becoming a published author. By the way (and I know this isn’t what you’re asking), when Amex fired me, I was devastated, but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. Now, when “bad” things happen, I realize that I don’t have the perspective of time and I look for the wonderful gift this seeming disaster will this bring me.
Many authors have said that naming their characters is a difficult process, almost like choosing a name for their own child. How did you select the names of some of your lead characters in your book/s?
Karen Quinn: I choose names that relate somehow to the story or the character’s personality. Ivy was named Ivy because the book was about getting into the Baby Ivy’s in New York City. Holly was named after Holly Golightly, and like her namesake, she was a single woman trying to make it in the big city.
Have you ever had a character take over a story and move it in a different direction than you had originally intended? How did you handle it?
Karen Quinn: This happens all the time. I remember when I wrote The Ivy Chronicles, the story opens when Ivy’s husband is caught in the bathtub with Sassy, the wife of the man who just got Ivy fired. I had intended for Sassy to have a bit part, but she was so interesting that she became a fairly big player in the story. I tend to loosely outline where I think the book should go, but if something better strikes me as I’m writing, I’ll go with it.
Is there any lesson or moral you hope your story might reveal to those who read it?
Karen Quinn: Yes, keep going no matter how many obstacles are thrown in your path. You are the heroine of your own journey.
Do you have any book signings, tours or special events planned to promote your book that readers might be interested in attending? If so, when and where?
Karen Quinn: I just did a reading for Holly Would Dream in New York City. It was so much fun. Women came in their favorite little black dresses and pearls. When I toured Denver, they did the same thing. I’m going to Wilmington, NC July 10. Check out my website at www.karenquinn.net for the location and time.
It’s said that the editing process of publishing a novel with a publisher is can be grueling and often more difficult than actually writing the story. Do you think this is true for you? How did you feel about editing your masterpiece?
Karen Quinn: I have always found that a good editor will help me make my novel much better. When I first get the editorial letter, I read it, then put it away for a day because it feels so daunting. Then I’ll read it again and see what I agree with and what I don’t. But I usually listen to a good editor’s advice and this has always led to a better story.
Now that you are a published author, does it feel differently than you had imagined?
Karen Quinn: I suppose I thought I would feel different if I became a well-known author. But I feel like the same woman, and my family treats me like they always did. My children could care less about my professional success. They keep me grounded. This is my fourth career, so I feel like the same working mother, only in a different job.
Now, use this space to tell us more about who you. Anything you want your readers to know?
My three books – The Ivy Chronicles, Wife in the Fast Lane, and Holly Would Dream – can be purchased at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, or at a local bookstore. If they don’t have a copy, they can order if for you. I do have a website and I send out a very funny newsletter whenever something funny happens to me (which seems to be about once a month). If you’ll go to www.karenquinn.net, you can sign up for the newsletter and read more about my books. There is a blog there as well. You can also email me at Hollywoulddream@aol.com. I am the author who always writes back. I might even meet you for coffee.