LINDA’S Q & A WITH LINDA
L: So, how’s it feel to have your own website?
L: Thrilling. Truly thrilling. I often stare at it like a new baby through a nursery window. Plus that way I know I’ve had at least one hit that day.
L: Do you have one of those counters so you can count the number of hits?
L: No. I fear it could lead to depression.
L: Your newest novel, What Nora Knew, is an homage to Nora Ephron
and romantic movies. Did you have to do research for the story?
L: Yes. I reread Heartburn for the eleven millionth time. I love Heartburn. If you don’t believe me, you should see all the coffee rings and jelly stains on my copy. And, of course, I re-watched all of Nora’s movies. Except Silkwood. I’ve never seen Silkwood. I don’t want to watch Meryl Streep end up in a car crash.
L: The novel is filled with references to Nora Ephron’s movies. Or what some people might call stealing. Tell us a couple of those references.
L: Well, the description of our hero is a description of Tom Hanks, and Molly, the heroine, is blond like Meg Ryan. The scene with the two of them sitting back to back in a café takes place in the same setting as the scene between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in “You’ve Got Mail.” Molly sees a boy with a teddy bear at the Empire State Building; that’s a shout-out to Jonah and his teddy bear in “Sleepless in Seattle.” There are many other references, but some are so subtle even I don’t remember them.
L: How’d you come up with the idea for your memoir, The Last Blind Date?
L: I started with a list of the ten most ridiculous things that happened to me when I first moved to New York. The list kept growing and growing. By the time I was done I had a book.
L: Everyone always wants to know about a writer’s process. Do you have a process?
L: I don’t even have a processor. Twice I’ve purchased Cuisinarts and both times gave the damn thing away. It takes a lot less time to chop a silly carrot than clean all those blades and that plastic whirly-ma-gig holder on a Cuisinart.
L: I meant how do you go about your writing day?
L: I start by taking a break. I’ll go to the gym. Or read a book. Or watch TV. Then I spend an hour or so going through my emails, and take another break. After that it’s time for lunch. And maybe some more emails. Randy comes home from work. We have dinner and watch TV and go to bed. I keep a pad of paper and a pen on the nightstand next to my bed. Most of my writing is done in the middle of the night. Fortunately, I have insomnia.
L: How hard was it to get an agent?
L: Impossible. I still can’t believe I actually have one. If there’s an agent out there who didn’t get a query letter from me, it’s because they weren’t in the business up until twenty minutes ago. It’s good to go to writing conferences or one-day seminars because you might meet somebody who knows somebody and can give you a referral. Name-dropping in the first line of your query definitely gets you a faster response. Even if the response is – sorry, not interested.
L: So you were referred to your agent?
L: No. That didn’t work for me. I heard her speak on a panel. I was with a girlfriend and told her: “I just found my dream agent.” After I finished my book I sent a query to Dream Agent. I ended up doing three rewrites for her. The woman’s a tyrant.
L: Which authors influenced you the most as a child?
L: These questions are really inane. Can’t you come up with something more original?
L: No. Not really. I’m new at this.
L: Well, then, I’ll humor you. I don’t remember any specific childhood authors. My parents didn’t read to me as a child. They were too busy watching Jack Parr. Although my mother did read aloud from Dr. Spock’s book when I had my first nosebleed. I remember sitting on the edge of the bathtub, bleeding my brains out through my nostrils, while she read the instructions on what to do. But there was definitely a reading culture in my family. My older sister was always getting in trouble for reading under the covers with a flashlight after lights out. She’s needed bifocals ever since. I’d hang out in the school library, mainly to avoid gym class. In high school I read a lot. John O’Hara. Herman Wouk. Evan Hunter. And Somerset Maugham. All authors who were good storytellers and used a lot of dialogue. Then Evan Hunter changed his name to Ed McBain and started writing crime fiction, which I found very confusing.
L: You started out in advertising, correct?
L: Yes. I actually have an advertising degree from the University of Illinois. A BS in communications. Let’s all pause for a moment to note the irony.
L: How did your career in advertising go?
L: That depends on whom you ask. It paid well. I hung out with a lot of funny, creative people. I made lifelong friends. Or at least so far. Some of them may still be planning to dump me. But I got fired from every single job – minus one – that I ever had. Scout’s honor, even though I was never a Scout. I even got fired from my first job writing catalog copy for Sears Roebuck. And that was a job monkeys could do.
L: Why do you think you were fired so often?
L: Eventually I grate on people’s nerves. Actually, I was really good at negotiating my salary. Almost fearless. Or foolish. But either way, whenever agencies had to trim their budgets — and agencies always have to trim their budgets — I was the first to go. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself all these years. More likely, I just grated on people’s nerves.
L: And what about your early magazine writing?
L: That was more or less a fluke. I wrote what I thought was a novel – except it had no chapters. It was basically just a two hundred-page rant. But when I was all done I had a couple of pages that I thought were really good but didn’t know what to do with them. They had nothing to do with the rest of the ‘novel’. So I asked a friend in the media department at the ad agency if he’d pass the pages along to some of the salesmen for the ladies’ magazines. The salesmen’s job was to sell ad space to guys like my friend, so I figured they’d want to do him a favor. An editor from Redbook wrote back and bought my first story. I thought, “Wow! This is easy!” It took me two years to sell them another story. But the editors at Redbook taught me how to write. During those two years, I kept submitting stories, and each time they sent them back I’d get notes and comments and directions on what to do. I ended up writing for them for years. My editor for the memoir, Kathy Sagan, was originally one of my Redbook editors.
L: And then you had a novel published?
L: Yes, the world’s most unread novel. I think the real problem was having a last name at the end of the alphabet. By the time anyone got to the “Y’s”, they’d already bought two other books and gone home.
L: Did you keep writing after that?
L: Yes. In lieu of a social life. But then I met Randy and fell in love, which was a huge distraction, albeit the best kind of distraction. But my writing-writing went on hold for a long while. Advertising by day. Randy by night. Until I got fired from my advertising job and started writing the memoir. I’m no longer in advertising. I finally got the hint.
L: Well, then, I guess we’ve come full circle. Have you enjoyed this interview?
L: Yes. It’s always a pleasure to talk to myself.