Once upon a time…[blah, blah, blah]…and they lived happily ever. For many a young girl who grew up reading fairy tales, that blah, blah, blah in the middle was always incidental. Who really cared if the heroine of these childhood stories was smart, clever, brave or had useful skill sets like spinning straw into gold? If she couldn’t attract a handsome guy on a white horse by the final chapter and give up her day-job to go be his missus, she was doomed to spinsterhood and may as well just spend the rest of her days luring lost children into an edible house of gingerbread. In the real world, waiting for a prince to come and rescue you is no guarantee of a blissful ending, much less a rewarding day-to-day in which the genuine you can go forth and sparkle with gusto.
In her spicy new novel, The Prince Charming Hoax, author Shelley Lieber (aka Elyse Grant) puts the spotlight on two boomer women who break free of the “happily ever after” myth and decide to rewrite their life stories in a sexy, thoughtful tale.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Your bio describes you as “an author with a split personality.” Tell us more!
A: The “split personality” is how I explain the contrasting aspects of my life and career. Shelley Lieber, The Wordy Woman, is a nonfiction author and publishing consultant. In that persona I wrote 4Ps to Publishing Success and Publishing Made Easy & Profitable; created the VIP Authors writers community; and founded Visual Impressions Publishing, a publishing vehicle for independent authors. My wilder side writes erotic fiction under the nom de plume Elyse Grant. The Prince Charming Hoax, my debut novel, introduces two boomer women with strong and sometimes conflicting personalities that reflect this dichotomy: smart, creative, and nurturing vs. sassy, ambitious, and daring.
Q: How did you decide on your pen name?
A: Elyse Grant is a combination of my two children’s middle names. It seemed appropriate to use a pen name for fiction, since my inspiration for storytelling seems to spring from a unique source within myself previously unknown to me.
Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up?
A: Yes, definitely! I particularly loved stories with strong female characters. I read fiction and biographies. I remember reading the stories of Madame Curie and Elizabeth Taylor back to back, and changing my answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” from “scientist” to “actress” in a week’s time.
Q: Who were some of the authors – and titles – that may have influenced your storytelling style?
A: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand; The Women’s Room by Marilyn French; and Fear of Flying and How to Save Your Own Life by Erica Jong. I don’t know that these authors influenced my writing style, but they influenced me as a young woman—which probably had a significant effect on the subject of my writing and the type of protagonist I found interesting.
Q: Which one of those authors would you most like to have lunch with, and what question would you most like to ask him or her?
A: I’d have to say Erica Jong. The question I’d ask her today is very different than the one I would have asked years ago. Back when her groundbreaking novels came out, I would have questioned her about the source of her courage, and if she had ever been tempted (or advised) to “tone it down.” Today, I’d ask her if she’d bump it up a notch if she were writing for the current market.
Q: Tell us about your inspiration to write The Prince Charming Hoax.
A: The novel began as a nonfiction book about dating after divorce. The book was inspired by my own experiences and other women’s stories shared with me. One day as I struggled with the format and organization of the book, the characters of Leah Gold and Roxanne Stein popped out on the page and Elyse took over the keyboard. Once that happened, the writing flowed and the story was told.
Q: Was there any research involved in the creation of this fictional work?
A: The research began with the nonfiction version. I held Sunday brunches and invited the divorced and separated women I knew and encouraged them to bring their friends. Each brunch had a theme—such as dating a man ten years your junior or senior—and the women shared dating stories on the selected topic. Once the book turned to fiction, the “true” stories were combined and some were completely invented. I’ve never been to a “swinging” club like the one where D.J. took Roxie in The Prince Charming Hoax, so I interviewed someone who has had that kind of experience in order that the scene I created would be an accurate account of what could happen.
Q: Do your characters ever surprise you by taking over the story and moving it in a different direction than you originally envisioned?
A: Absolutely! I used to roll my eyes when I heard authors make that statement, but I found it’s true. The characters take over once they get on the page. I had to fight Roxie the entire time I was writing. She’s such a strong personality and could have easily overshadowed the story. I finally promised her the lead in another book, and she behaved better after that.
Q: Who is your intended audience for The Prince Charming Hoax and what do you think is its strongest takeaway value?
A: As a genre, contemporary women’s fiction confronts issues of modern-day women and their relationships with men, other women, careers, and children. My intention was to explore some of these issues. I’d say my ideal reader is a boomer-age woman who appreciates that the pursuit of purpose, passion, and fulfillment can be a bumpy, but enjoyable ride. I think the strongest takeaway a novel can provide is reading enjoyment. So, my goal with this book was to explore the issues in an entertaining and engaging way.
Q: Do you believe in love at first sight?
A: I do because I experienced it—twice. Years ago I saw my first husband standing on the steps in front of the Student Union at Ohio University. There was something in his posture that told me I’d marry this man. Years later, after my divorce, I met my second husband in an arranged meeting. We spent about an hour standing and talking in a parking lot, and I knew that night I’d found my soul mate and he would be my forever husband.
Q: The book title and its premise suggest that happily-ever-after’s are just a myth. Do you personally think this is true?
A: I absolutely believe in the possibility of a “happily ever after.” Without creating too much of a spoiler here, I’ll say that the myth (or hoax) is not the viability of a happily-ever-after ending. Rather, it’s about discovering the true source of a woman’s happiness as opposed to what fairy-tale endings suggest will make us live happily ever after.
Q: Tell us a little about your publishing background and why you became a publishing consultant.
A: I’ve been in the publishing industry since I got out of college (more than just a few years ago ;-). My first job in the industry was assistant editor at a New York publishing house. After eight years and several promotions, I moved to Florida with my new baby. Book publishing barely existed as an industry there at that time, and for many years I worked as a freelance writer and editor for national and regional magazines. I spent much of my working time alone in my home office. When I began to write my novel in 2002, I sought out writers groups. Once other group members found out that I knew about publishing, that’s all anyone ever wanted to talk about! But I was there to get feedback on my writing, so I began offering publishing workshops and helping other writers finish their work and prepare submissions to agents and publishers. In 2008, when self-publishing became a more frequent choice for my clients. I started a publishing company because I wasn’t happy with the available options at the time, and I knew I could offer better service at a better price.
Q: What do you know now about the publishing industry that you didn’t know when you first started?
A: I had no idea that the industry could change so radically. Publishing today barely resembles the world I entered as a recent college graduate. In fact, publishing has changed more in the last five years than in the previous fifty! As a creative industry, publishing lagged far behind film and music when it came to adapting to new technology. The big houses and established literary agencies resisted indie authors and digital publishing, and as a result, lost their advantage. Since things never go backward, only forward, I can safely assert that publishing will never be the same!
Q: Any wishes for do-overs?
A: Yes. I wish I had started writing fiction earlier in my life.
Q: Do you belong to any forums, organizations or critique groups that have helped your career as a writer? In what ways have these been beneficial?
A: I’m a strong advocate for critique groups, both local and online. Getting constructive feedback on your writing is essential, especially in the beginning. The hardest part is to find the right group of good writers who can offer qualified constructive criticism. I was very fortunate to find two groups right away. Sometimes it can take longer, but the support and valuable feedback a writer gets is well worth the effort.
I’ve already explained how being in a writers group helped launch a new career for me as a publishing consultant. But, even more important, was the feedback and emotional support I received from other group members. My first group was held at the local Barnes & Noble and writers from all genres were welcome. From that group, several of us who were writing novels banded together to meet separately once a week. We did in-depth readings and critiques of each other’s work. I think the accountability to have a new chapter ready for review is what kept me going when I wanted to quit. I don’t know if I would have ever finished the first draft of The Prince Charming Hoax if it weren’t for that group.
Q: What’s your best advice to aspiring writers?
A: Write every day. Be open to the feedback of others, but follow your own instincts about what and how to write. Learn everything you can about writing and publishing. Don’t make excuses for anything.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: Well, I always keep my plate full. I’m writing the follow up to The Prince Charming Hoax, mixing genres, bringing parallel time travel into my erotic, contemporary fiction, allowing Leah Gold to examine a “what if” scenario—along the lines of the movie, Sliding Doors. I’m exploring a metaphysical twist for the third book of this series. Roxie, the character who fought me for the lead in The Prince Charming Hoax, exchanges “consciousness” with another character when they are trapped in a car that has plunged into a canal. She wakes up in the other woman’s body.
In addition to writing these books, I’m writing a series of erotica titles with two writing partners that will be published under a new pen name.
I’m also working with another author to create a new publishing platform that will distribute and promote boomer lit books and authors of all genres.
Q: Where can readers learn more about you?
A: Here are the links to my blogs and social media:
Shelley Lieber: http://shelleylieber.blogspot.com
Elyse Grant: http://elysegrant.blogspot.com