I can’t tell you how excited I am about today’s guest in the “Shed.” I’ve known Bonnie Trachtenberg for years. We used to work together as copywriters before each of us set off on our fiction-writing paths.
Because I have a background as an editor in traditional book publishing, Bonnie and I chatted before she published Wedlocked–when I was supposed to know something and be able to give her some advice. Well, turns out, I didn’t know anything!
These days, Bonnie is one of a handful of indies who have set the standard for how the book publishing game is played. I couldn’t be more proud of all she’s accomplished, or delighted that she’ll still not only give me the time of day, but also much-appreciated advice. Here, she graciously shares some of that advice with you, too.
Following the interview, you’ll find out how to connect with Bonnie, as well as where to pick up her books. And you will want to read them, believe me, because they are as fun and fabulous as she is!
1. Did you always want to be a novelist? Which authors and books have inspired you to want to pursue a career in fiction?
Not always. Although writing always came naturally to me, I didn’t even realize I wanted to be a writer until I was out of college, and then it took years before I actually earned a living at it. It wasn’t until I became Senior Writer and Copy Chief at Book-of-the-Month Club that I worked up the confidence to write a novel. I was inspired to write romantic comedies after reading the works of authors like Jane Austen, Nora Ephron, Susan Isaacs, Janet Evanovich, Jennifer Weiner, and many others.
2. I remember those days at the Clubs! Seems a lifetime ago. Before that, you were in Hollywood. You know I can’t help but be intrigued by that! Can you tell us about any script projects you worked on, actors you dated…?
It does seem a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? Well, after college, I thought I wanted to be a screenwriter since I loved movies. After moving out to LA, I wrote two of them, one of which made the rounds in Hollywood thanks to a producer’s interest. It was set in Coney Island in 1945, between VE and VJ day, and was the story of a 17-year-old singer who’s engaged to a returning soldier, but falls in love with a musician who has come to live with her family. The other was a quirky love story set in the 1960s. I’m sorry to disappoint you, Francine, but I never dated any actors! However I did date/meet all kinds of interesting Hollywood types who, years later, made for great characters in my novels! The protagonist of Wedlocked, Rebecca Ross, is a struggling actress in Hollywood whose heart is broken by a film producer, causing her to rebound into a disastrously funny marriage. The protagonist in Neurotically Yours, Dara Harrison, is a single advice columnist in LA who opens up a dating service for the romantically challenged, and inadvertently ends up becoming one of its members. So as you can see, there was plenty of room to use all my nutty experiences out in LaLa Land!
3. Wedlocked and Neurotically Yours (excerpt following interview!) are both great tales, but your own publishing story is like a Cinderella story for indies everywhere. Over the past couple of years, you’ve won a ton of awards and both your books have become bestsellers. Can you tell us how you decided to go indie, and maybe share some secrets for others on how to get the word out about their books?
Well, as I waited for my agent, the fabulous Victoria Skurnick of Levine Greenberg, to send Wedlocked out, my husband, a very wise business man, kept telling me over and over again I should be going indie. Having been raised at a time when traditional publishing ruled, and having worked at Book-of-the-Month Club, I had a poor idea of what indie publishing really entailed and, to be honest, turned my nose up at it. But when Victoria had no luck, I decided to take my husband’s advice, and boy am I glad I did! I got in just as the indie book world began to explode, and quickly learned all about social marketing by doing it round the clock. With a lot of work and the good luck of finding such amazing people as Melissa Foster (international bestselling author and owner of the World Literary Café) and Linn B. Halton (owner of LoveaHappyEnding.com, where I have my advice column) I found an incredible network of authors ready, willing, and able to help me get my name and my books out there in the world, as I helped them with theirs. I think going indie is a completely different and much more arduous route for a writer than traditional publishing, but it can also be more financially rewarding in the percentage of royalties you collect. I write the books and I sell the books, so shouldn’t I collect the bulk of the money? Makes sense to me! I also love having control over my content, my price, and everything else related to my books. I highly recommend all authors (indie or not) check out www.WorldLiteraryCafe.com and www.Fostering-Success.com. Both are wonderful resources that will help you learn how to sell your books and offer an incredibly supportive community!
4. Can you tell us about your writing process? Are you structured and disciplined? Or do are you more of a “write-it-as-it-comes” type? And do you have a special outfit or beverage or chair necessary for writing? Or are you the kind of writer who can write anywhere?
I am not a structured person when it comes to writing. I sometimes envy writers who sit down and just start writing, and then report in how many thousands of words they write a day, but that’s just not me. Before I start the actual writing of my books, I have to “live” in the new world of my book and get familiar with my characters in my head. Sometimes that means months of just jotting down notes and ideas and daydreaming about the story. Then, when I think I have a good synopsis, I sit down with a box of index cards and write out the story scene by scene. I need to know what is going to happen–and how–before I begin the actual writing. This ensures that by the time I finish my first draft, I’m very close to the final one. Therefore, my editing process is much faster and easier than many other writers who “wing” it on the first go-round. If you know in advance what’s going to happen, you don’t waste time writing things that you will end up cutting or greatly modifying because they no longer work in the context of the story. When I write, I like to switch rooms daily depending on my mood. On cold stormy days, I love bringing my laptop into bed with me or stretching out on the chaise lounge in my living room in front of the fire. Right now, I’m working from my sunny new kitchen. I do have an office, but find that I only write there sporadically. My favorite drink is flavored coffee before noon, Vitamin Zero Water after lunch, and an assortment of herbal teas the rest of the evening. And as for clothes–they are always very comfortable. I love that my work attire consists of sweats, yoga pants, tee shirts, leggings, and the occasional pajama set. Can’t beat that!
5. You have a great sense of humor, and it really comes through in your characters and their antics. Would you ever take a stab at writing outside the RomCom genre?
Thanks, Francine. Funny you should say that. My new book is about a materialistic, driven party planner in NYC who has a near death experience that completely upends her life. Most people would probably think that might not lend itself to a RomCom, but I plan to write it as such since I seem to have found a good niche in that genre and really enjoy writing it. Even if a book is serious though, there’s usually room for some comedy relief, and I can’t really imagine writing books that don’t have a great romance in them (except maybe for a humor book I wrote years back that I plan to publish in the near future.) I won’t say never, but I’m very happy as a RomCom writer!
BONUS QUESTION: If Hollywood called and decided to offer you a two-picture deal for your books, who would play Rebecca Ross and Dara Harrison?
Well, after I jumped up and down and screamed my lungs out for a few weeks, I’d recommend Reese Witherspoon play Rebecca Ross, and Jennifer Aniston play Dara Harrison. In truth, my books really lend themselves to the big screen, and my first is being shopped around Hollywood as we speak. Wish me luck!
I wish you all the luck in the world, Bonnie! Just don’t forget the little people when you win your screenwriting Oscar in a few years from now.
Here’s more about Bonnie, her books, and how to connect with her. When you get to the end, a special treat awaits: An excerpt from Neurotically Yours!
Bonnie Trachtenberg is the author of two bestselling romantic comedies, Neurotically Yours, and her debut novel Wedlocked, which won the Gold Readers Favorite Award, the Beach Book Festival Award and the Indie Excellence Award. She writes a monthly relationship and advice column for LoveaHappyEnding.com. Bonnie was senior writer and copy chief at Book-of-the-Month Club and has written seven children’s book adaptations. She lives in New York with her husband, four cats and a dog. You can learn more about Bonnie Trachtenberg and read her blog at http://www.BonnieTrachtenberg.com.
Are you married?
Do you have a steady girlfriend?
Do you live with any females (including your mother)?
Are there any women with whom you are sleeping and would call a “close friend”?
Are there any female relationships in your life that you would classify as “complicated”?
Do you have any reason to hate your mother?
How many children are you supporting?
How many children might come looking for you in the future?
Are you wanted in any of the fifty states or abroad?
Is there any reason your fingerprints might be on file with the FBI?“I’d be delighted to speak at the seminar, Ms. Randolph,” Dara said, dragging her attention back to the phone. “How much time is allotted for each speaker? Great, I’ll make sure to prepare enough material. You know, you should really put an ad in our paper if you want to increase your attendance.” She laughed charmingly. “Of course you can use my name. I’d be flattered.” Dara noticed Reggie standing over her shoulder and motioned that she was almost done. “Okay, terrific. Bye now.”
Dara sat up and looked at him with excitement.
“I just got my first full seminar,” she sang.
“I’m impressed,” he told her.
“Now, what can I do for you, my darling Reginald?”
“For me? Nothing,” he said, then lowered his voice to an ominous whisper, “but The Beast wants to see you.”
Dara’s high spirits began to deflate. “Oh, what now?” she asked with exasperation.
Over the last month, since Bob “The Beast” Bastley had taken over the job of editor-in-chief, she’d been chewed out for several new company violations, most notably: contaminating the refrigerator with outdated half and half; eating a grilled cheese sandwich at her desk instead of in the newly christened Corporate Dining Area (a makeshift four-by-four kitchen); and using Valuable Company Time to schedule a dentist appointment.
“I don’t know,” said Reggie. “Did you flush something other than toilet paper down the toilet?”
“I’m going to flush his K-Mart tie down the toilet,” she whispered angrily, “after I strangle him with it.”
“Now, now,” Reggie whispered back, “he’s only trying to ‘ensure a safe and hospitable work environment for everyone.’ Remember?”
Reggie flashed his stunningly white teeth.“Hospitable, my ass,” she retorted, rolling her chair back on the plastic carpet saver and heading toward the editor’s office.
Dara took a cleansing breath and knocked on the half open door. The Beast glanced up from his computer with barely disguised annoyance, his diminutive figure eclipsed by his oversized desk. He had brown wavy hair combed neatly to one side, wore an ill-fitting bargain basement suit, and looked to be in his late twenties. She wondered how someone so young could secure an editor-in-chief position at a reputable entertainment newspaper. Smitty, the previous editor, had been with the paper for twenty years until his retirement, an announcement that had brought tears to Dara’s eyes. She knew that work relationships like theirs came few and far between.
“You wanted to see me?” she asked.“Yes. Please close the door and have a seat.”Something in his formal tone told her this had nothing to do with outdated dairy products. She waited for him to open his mouth and breathe some fire her way, but instead, he opened a folder on his desk and shuffled through the stack of papers inside. It didn’t take long for Dara to realize the folder contained a collection of her columns. He pursed his flaky lips and narrowed his eyes as he looked at her.
“I’ve read over your columns, Dara, and I’m very concerned.”
“Really? Why would they concern you?”
“I’ve never seen an advice columnist let loose on her readers the way you do. You’ve been writing this column for, what, almost eight years?”
Dara nodded slowly.
“I understand that a column will progress along with the columnist over a period of time. It’s only natural—but in your case…”
“Well, I find the progression quite disturbing.”
“Disturbing?” she echoed with surprise.
“Well,” he said, “early on, your column was more like a pep talk, more hopeful. That’s good. That’s what people want to hear, but lately…”
The Beast tapped his bony fingers on his desk while sighing.
“You can get to the point, Bob,” she said with some irreverence. The change in tone brought out the editor she was starting to know and hate.
“Telling people they’re better off on their own is not the best romantic advice.”
“It is if they’re dating a creep.”
“Last month you suggested that a forty-eight-year-old woman—” he shuffled through the file so he could quote her accurately, “‘would be better off with goldfish for company than the pathetic stream of misfits polluting her dating waters.’”
“Well, it’s true,” Dara replied.
He pulled out another page. “And in March, you told Stymied in Santa Monica that, and I quote again, ‘Couples therapy would be a waste of time considering your fiancé’s obvious obsession with killing small, defenseless animals.’”
Bob looked sternly at Dara. “So he’s a hunter,” he said with annoyance. “Lots of people are hunters. That doesn’t disqualify such a person from couples therapy—or good relationships.”
“It does when the person does it every weekend instead of paying some modicum of attention to his fiancée. My God, they’re not even married yet, and he’s totally ignoring her, not to mention murdering innocent wildlife.”
“Well,” Bob added as he pulled Exhibit C from the pile, “at least you’re an equal opportunity offender. You told this man that his girlfriend was ‘clearly a narcissist who will play nice until she sinks her claws deep enough into your skin to hold you down and eat you alive.’ Then you quoted lyrics from a Hall and Oates song, ‘Maneater.’”
“Yes,” Dara commented coolly, “I’ve seen it happen many times with women like that.”
“You told him to ‘get over his hard-on for bitches unless he wants a life of pain and misery.’”
She nodded with assuredness. “Sound advice.”
The Beast huffed at her and began to raise his voice, “First of all, you can’t diagnose someone with a personality disorder when you’ve never even met her.”
“Oh, come on, it’s so obvious though—” she started.
“And, second, if he breaks up with her after reading this, we could have a lawsuit on our hands!”
“We have a disclaimer, remember? This is only for entertainment purposes, blah, blah, blah—”
“That doesn’t mean someone won’t start trouble anyway! We live in a very litigious state.”
The Beast tried to calm himself with a deep breath. “Dara, your column is way too… depressing.”
“Depressing?” she repeated with indignation. “Then why is it more popular than ever? I’ll tell you why,” she added before he could interrupt. “Because people know it’s the truth. I’m not dolling up my advice with bull and phony platitudes. I tell it like it is, and my readers appreciate it. There’s a hunger for practicality and realism out there. Many of my readers are older and wiser and more cynical because of it. They’d see right through a fairy tale answer.”
“And what about the hopeful younger readers?” he asked.
She folded her arms across her chest. “They’d do well to get their heads out of the clouds and learn the lessons early so they don’t have to become cynical older readers,” she proclaimed.
“Dara, it’s not the readers who are cynical, it’s you. And as editor of this paper, it’s up to me to decide its tone.”
He looked intently at her, but she didn’t shrink from the gaze.
“No offense, but if your advice works so well, I imagine it would have worked for you by now. That ring isn’t fooling anyone around here.”
The remark hit her like a kick in the stomach. She swallowed and felt her cheeks burn. “Excuse me, Bob,” she said venomously, “but what does or does not happen in my private life is none of your business and does not affect my job in any way.”
“You’re right. It is none of my business, but you have to admit this fact might give some people…pause,” he said leaning back in his chair. “Anyway, getting back to the subject at hand, I don’t like cynicism. I’ve decided to go with another, more cheerful columnist. I’m sorry.”
At first his words didn’t compute.
“Excuse me?” she managed with a slight laugh. The thought that she was being fired was so unbelievable that her brain couldn’t comprehend it.
“I’ve arranged for a severance package for you. HR will lay out the details.”
The no-nonsense tone coming from a man who could have been her annoying little brother made the reality even more difficult to accept. She leaned forward.
“Do you have any idea how popular my column is? How many thank you letters I get? That I have actual fans?!”
When The Beast shook his head and said nothing, Dara couldn’t seem to choke out any more words.
“You have until tomorrow to clear out your things—and that includes anything you might be…storing in the company refrigerator.”