Author Valerie Frankel Shares Where Her Book Ideas Come From And What Happens When You’re Lukewarm About Your Own Story

Whenever I find a new-to-me author who’s not really new — I am happy as well as a little embarrassed. I mean, really. How could I have missed Valerie Frankel? She now has sixteen novels to her name — she writes memoir, women’s fiction, chick-lit, YA and she’s a ghost writer for some really high profile celebrities. I’m not sure how she does it all, I can barely edit, write and get the dishwasher emptied on the same day.  Did I just write that and hit publish? Yes, yes I did. (My goal, as always, is to make you all feel incredibly capable in the face of your own writerly adversity!) 

Please welcome the busy, funny, talented, Valerie Frankel to Women’s Fiction Writers! 

Author Valerie Frankel Shares Where Her Book Ideas Come From And What Happens When You’re Lukewarm About Your Own Story

Amy: FOUR OF A KIND (FOAK) is your latest novel.  Before we get into any more details about that — it is your 15th novel. Sweet!  And impressive. (I need to breathe, I’m just editing my first!) Can you share a little about FOAK and where the idea came from?

Valerie: Thanks, and congrats on your novel!

FOAK started with the idea of unexpected friendship. Friendship is something I think about a lot, in particular, how women with busy lives, family, jobs, can make new friends. It seems nearly impossible. But, since we do what they can for our kids, I thought harried Moms would carve out some time to attend a Diversity Committee meeting to support a good cause at their kids’ school. That got my characters—four completely different women—in the same room. Then I needed a way to get them to open up about their personal lives with complete strangers. That’s when the idea of having them play poker for secrets instead of money came in. It’s always easier to talk when your hands are busy. Cooking, quilting, whatever. As soon as the characters started shuffling, dealing, and sharing secrets, the plot just spooled out.

Amy: Now down to the the nitty gritty. How do you come up with ideas for so many books?  Is it a character that sparks you? A plot? A dream? Inquiring minds of aspiring authors want to know!

Valerie: Sometimes, it starts with an idea, like unexpected friendship. Othert times, a concept. The Girlfriend Curse came from the concept of being the last girlfriend, or the woman men date immediately before they marry. My teen series, Fringe Girl, came purely from the desire to write stories that my own daughters could read (my other books are too racy). In The Accidental Virgin, it began with a character who was so busy, she forgot to have sex for a year. When you get fixed on an idea, relationship, character or concept, and find that a plot start to unfold, run with it.

Amy: What tells you if the idea is a keeper?  

Valerie: Ha! Good question. I have four half-written novels on my computer that seemed like great ideas at the time, but always felt forced. I’ve had light bulb moments walking down the street and thought I’ve come up with a genius idea, only to realize that it’s just a scene in book, or a single line. What’s worth continuing (“keeper” as something you can keep writing until it’s done), is a story that holds my own interest and stays fun and surprising. If I’m lukewarm about writing it, who the hell is going to want to read it?

Amy: On your website I read that you are also a ghostwriter. Do you live in an alternate universe where there are more than 24 hours in a day?  Can I come in?  Seriously, do you have a set routine for writing different kinds of books or working on different projects? 

Valerie: I do a lot of ghostwriting—fiction and nonfiction—and love it. It’s a welcome break from being inside my own head and telling my own stories. It’s almost like journalism, which is how I got my start in publishing. I do different kinds of writing (memoirs, magazine articles, novels and ghostwriting) because they all inform and inspire each other. Magazine essays turn into chapters in memoirs. Memoirs reveal insights that I can use and play with in novels. Ghostwriting novels is a place to put all the lines and jokes that I couldn’t work into my own books. I have a short attention span, too. I’m amazed when people spend ten years writing one book. I’d get tired of it.

As far as scheduling goes, I like to alternate nonfiction and  fiction to stay limber. Ghostwriting projects are usually on very tight deadline, so I work on that that exclusively until it’s done. The timing can be fortuitous. My summer job for the last two years was writing beach novels for Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, literally, at the beach.

Amy: When it comes to fiction are you a plotter or do you just let your muse have her way with you? 

Valerie: Both. Depends on the book. That said, I think you have to have some idea where you want to go, even if you don’t know how you’ll get there.

Amy: How do you define women’s fiction?  Do you feel pigeonholed? And if so, does that bother you?

Valerie: Women’s fiction just means stories that women want to read. I place no value judgment on that. I love Christopher Moore. I’m a woman. That would make his stuff women’s fiction. Publishers have to categorize because booksellers need to put the product on a shelf, and marketers have to figure out a way to sell it. I’ve never felt pigeonholed, even when I wrote chick lit. Readers don’t care. Why should I? If I ever find myself placed in the category of Writers Who Suck, I’ll care.

Amy: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction? 

Valerie: Get a cat. Don’t smoke. Invest in a quality trench coat. Call your mother. Have your taxes prepared by a professional. And be nice to people, unless they don’t deserve it. In that case, feel free to be a raging bitch.

VALERIE FRANKEL received critical acclaim for her bestselling memoir, Thin is the New Happy. She was Joan River’s co-writer on Men Are Stupid…and They Like Big Boobs and she collaborated with Nicole “Snookie” Polizzi on the New York Times bestselling novel A Shore Thing. Val is the author of fifteen novels, including The Accidental Virgin, and is a journalist much in demand. Her writing has appeared in O Magazine, Allure, Self, and The New York Times, among other publications. Her Q&A Love column in Mademoiselle was a popular favorite for many readers. She lives in Brooklyn Heights with her two daughters and husband, opera singer Stephen Quint.

You can visit Valerie’s website here.