Women’s Fiction Author Stacey Ballis Says “Don’t Jump on the Bandwagon; Do Write the Book of Your Heart”

You know how when you get a new car or new purse or new anything — you then see it everywhere you go?  That’s what happened to me with author Stacey Ballis.  Sort of.  I was reading another author blog Stacey’s book was mentioned.  So I clicked over.  Then my friend and CP, the blogfamous Pamela Toler told me she read Stacey Ballis’s book and loved it.  Then I saw Stacey Ballis mentioned online again and again.  And again.  Finally, I bought and read Good Enough to Eat and wished I hadn’t waited so long for many reasons.  One of the reasons (there are many, but this is indicative of the rest) is that this book has one of my favorite laugh aloud, nod along quotes of all time: “There are only two things in life I prefer to food, and they are sex and sleep, and the chance to have either will trump breakfast anytime.”

And now, Stacey Ballis’s interview has another orange-highlight-worthy quote.  Frankly, I’m not surprised!

Please welcome author Stacey Ballis to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Interview with Author Stacey Ballis

ASN: Your current novel, Good Enough to Eat, tackles some heavy (sorry, couldn’t help it) issues when the main character loses a lot of weight and her husband leaves her — for another overweight woman.  How did this idea come about?

SB: I have no illusions about what I do, there are no new stories.  All I can do is take one of the existing stories in the world and give it my own special spin.  For me, there are way too many stories where the heroine loses a great deal of weight and then gets the guy and the happy ever after.  But that is not always the way things work.  I know many people for whom major life change, especially something as drastic as losing half your body weight, transforms you in ways that you can’t anticipate.  I personally know three people who lost this amount of weight and it either ruined existing relationships or made it very difficult for them to get close to someone new.  I thought it would make for an interesting perspective to meet a woman who should be at the best place in her life, thin and healthy for the first time, having made a positive career change, and then have the rug pulled out from under her and get to see how she rebuilds.

ASN: I love the variety of characters in your novel — and their inherent quirkiness.  I think sometimes we, as writers, forget that these quirks which seem unusual is what really makes them universally relatable.  Who’s your favorite character in Good Enough to Eat and why?

SB: This is a tough one, because I really fell in love with this gaggle of misfits who find each other and make for such a special, if unusual, family.  But if I had to choose, I’d pick Kai.  I love how positive he is, how fun and sassy but still wise beyond his years.

ASN: Would you tell us a little about Off The Menu, due out in July 2012?

SB: Off The Menu is another foray into foodie fiction, a novel with recipes.  It looks at the life of Alana Ostermann, who is a first generation Russian-American working as the Executive Assistant Chef to a very famous celebrity chef.  Because her boss is a television star with many successful restaurants, and is something of a difficult personality, her job is very intense and has few boundaries.  He treats her as a colleague, mother, shrink, surrogate wife…the job is all consuming, and leaves her very little space for a personal life.  Until she meets RJ, a warm and wonderful man who quickly makes her realize that she needs to make room in her life for love.   While she is trying to figure out how to find that balance, she gets two very different opportunities for the next step in her career…one with her current boss that would mean an expansion of her duties but also the chance to make an enormous amount of money, and one with a charity that she volunteers with, which is the work of her heart but would mean a significant cut in salary.  For Alana, who helps to support her retired parents, this dilemma is more than just deciding whether to go for the financial reward or the personal.  It is about needing to face some demons, make some difficult choices, and ultimately make a decision about the life she wants.  Lucky for her, she has a large close-knit family, a wonderful group of friends, and a fabulous odd little dog named Dumpling to help her find her way.

ASN: Off the Menu will be your sixth novel — unless I missed one somewhere!  Can you share with us your journey from being an unpublished to published author to an author with six notches on her bookcase?

SB: Yep, number six!  My journey was unusual and very lucky.  Shortly after my divorce in 2001, I sat down to write a short story that decided to not stop for 400 pages.  Having accidentally written a novel, I sent a synopsis and some sample chapters on a lark to a brand new imprint that was accepting unsolicited manuscripts from unagented writers.  Six days later they asked for the whole book, and three weeks later they made me an offer.  I called a cousin who is a novelist to ask for a referral to a lawyer to help me with the contract, and she sent me to the man who would two days later become my agent and negotiated a two-book deal for me.  My third book, Room For Improvement, went to auction and I moved publishers to Berkeley/Penguin, where I have been ever since.  On the one hand, writers in current query mode collecting “thanks but no thanks” letters want to kill me.  But for me, I like to believe that my story is hopeful.  I didn’t have an in, I’m not famous, I wasn’t working at a magazine in New York.  I wrote a book, I sent it to someone who liked it and bought it.  It is proof that it can still happen.

ASN: What is your definition of women’s fiction?

SB: I have always found it interesting that if you are a woman who writes a book with female characters about life and love and relationships and career, it is called Women’s Fiction, and if you are a man who writes a book with female characters about life and love and relationships and career, it is called A Book.  Qualifiers aside, I think the industry defines women’s fiction as books written by women, with female protagonists, with strong themes relating to family, love and the issues facing women in the middle section of their lives.  It is kept separate from Chick Lit, which tends to focus on the more 20-early 30-something issues.

[Editor’s note: Aren’t those highlighted words about Women’s Fiction some of the best ever?]

ASN: What’s your best advice specifically for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?

SB: Don’t try to write what you think is commercial, or the hot topic.  Don’t jump on a particular bandwagon because you think it is saleable.  Vampires yesterday, Zombies today, medieval Kings tomorrow…those trends began with people who simply wrote the book they were supposed to write, the fact that they went boffo is the strange magic of the business.  If you try to jump in mid-stream, you’ll always be dilute.  Write the book of your heart.  Write the book you want to read.  Write the story that speaks to you, to your experience, to your curiosity.  Write it for yourself, and let the chips fall where they may.   If the only thing that sends you to the keyboard is the desire to be published, you are destined to be disappointed, and I would examine whether you are truly an artist.  You should write because you have to write.  Because you have stories in your head that need telling.  Because you don’t breathe so well unless you are working on something.  Publishing is an insane business, not terribly lucrative for all but a lucky few at the very top, and more than occasionally heartbreaking.  Writing, on the other hand, is the most joyous, freeing, exhilarating endeavor.  You can create worlds, gift someone with love, always find the exact right thing to say at the moment you need it instead of in the car on the ride home.  Anyone can be a writer.  Very few of us are lucky enough to be published authors.  Aspire to be a writer.  Let the author thing happen or not as it will.

Stacey Ballis is the author of six novels: INAPPROPRIATE MEN, SLEEPING OVER, ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT, THE SPINSTER SISTERS, GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT, and the upcoming OFF THE MENU, due out in July 2012.  She is a contributing author to two non-fiction anthologies; GIRLS WHO LIKE BOYS WHO LIKE BOYS and EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT BEING A GIRL I LEARNED FROM JUDY BLUME.  She is currently at work on co-editing a non-fiction anthology, and a new work of full length fiction.  An original cocktail she created recently won the grand prize in a national competition.  For more information www.staceyballis.com or check out her blog at www.thepolymathchronicles.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter @staceyballis