Monday, June 9, 2008


“Sideways” is one of my all-time favorite movies, so I found it intriguing that my guest on the Girlfriend’s Cyber Circuit blog tour today, Melissa Senate, prolific author of seven novels, including the classic, “See Jane Date,” cites this film as one of her inspirations for her latest book, QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE MARRYING. Here’s the scoop:

A very popular New York Times article lists fifteen questions couples should ask (or wish they had) before marrying. Ruby Miller and her fiancé, Tom Truby, have questions 1 to 14 almost covered. It's question 15 that has the Maine schoolteacher stumped: Is their relationship strong enough to withstand challenges?

Challenges like…Ruby's twin sister, Stella. The professional muse, flirt and face reader thinks Ruby is playing it safe. And that the future Mrs. Ruby Truby will die of boredom before her first anniversary or her thirtieth birthday, whichever comes first.

Challenges like…sexy maverick teacher Nick McDermott, Ruby's secret longtime crush, who confesses his feelings for her at her own engagement party.

But before Ruby can plan the wedding that may never be, Stella announces she's pregnant by a one-night stand whose name might be Jake (or James? Maybe Jason?) and who lives somewhere under the glittering lights of Las Vegas. Ruby and Stella hit the road to find him—with a lot more than fifteen questions.

And after three thousand miles, a stowaway relative and hitchhiking teen lovebirds bound for an Elvis wedding chapel, the Miller sisters might get some answers.

The Boston Globe says, “Senate’s prose is fresh and lively.”

Melissa was nice enough to take the time to answer a few questions. I was especially interested to hear her comments about plot-driven novels versus character-driven.

What was the inspiration behind the writing of Questions To Ask Before Marrying?

I was inspired by three things: The first was my love of the movie Sideways. Oh, how I wanted to write a road trip book after seeing that wonderful film. The idea of two very different people trapped together in a car, being on the road, really gripped me. Enter my estranged twin sisters, one a conservative school teacher from Maine, newly engaged but with serious feelings for another man, and the other a professional muse and face reader from NYC who is searching for the father of her unborn baby (would help if she knew his first name). These two hit the road with many questions and get to know each other—and themselves—very well three-thousand miles later. The second backstory is my divorce, which I went through while writing this book. I wanted to go “back to the start” and explore what you know when he slips that ring on your finger. The third was a New York Times article, the most popular of 2006, a simple and practical list of questions couples should ask before marrying or (wish they had). The article gave me my title and honed the theme for me, which is that asking questions, even questions without answers or answers you don’t like, is the most important thing you can do.

How do you approach writing your novel? Do you outline the plot? Start with a character or...?

This time I started with the idea of the road trip. I wasn’t sure who would be in that car, though! When a book idea comes to me, the characters always come in pairs: a main character and her foil. In Questions To Ask Before Marrying, Ruby’s foil is her twin sister, Stella. They could not be more different, but what they learn from each other completes the both of them in ways they never expected.

I tried to be more driven by plot when I turned in the proposal for this book, but my editor MADE ME be more driven by character! She basically took away what she called my “plot gimmicks,” situations that gave the characters reasons for what they were doing. She wanted me to pare down the book to the essentials: these twin sisters and their issues. Best advice I’ve ever gotten and it has definitely shaped how I approach my work.

Who are the top three writers who have influenced your writing style?

In Bridget Jones’ Diary, Helen Fielding taught me that it’s okay to write in your voice, to say it the way you mean it, the way you feel it, just like that. I also love Elinor Lipman and Fay Weldon. So brilliant and witty.

What are you reading now?

On the bedside table are: Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner, Making A Literary Life by Carolyn See (I’ve read this 10 times), two manuscripts to blurb, and Your Six-Year-Old by Louise Ames (my little guy is turning six and apparently six is even harder than four). I just started reading Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos. LOVE this booK! And I just finished Rhymes With Witches by Lauren Myracle. WOW is all I have to say. If you’re a YA writer (I am writing my second YA now) you must read Lauren Myracle! This book is a reminder to me of where you can go in your work if you let yourself think outside the box.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

If I’m not writing, I’m with my adorable and amusing almost-six-year old son, Max. I write around his schedule. I am LIVING for first grade in the fall: SIX hours of free child care to write, write, write. I almost can’t believe it! If on the off-chance I’m not writing or with him, just give me a good book and a tall glass of Coke Zero. I’m also on a furious hunt for very comfy cute shoes, yet they elude me.

Diet cola, cute, comfortable shoes, a good book -- I’ll drink (anything but Merlot) to that!

Thanks, Melissa! Get more info at her Web site:

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