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Creative Careers Interviews

Cathy Yardley: Chick-Lit Author

By Molly J. Anderson-Childers | Posted June 1, 2007 | Updated July 11, 2019

I first became acquainted with author Cathy Yardley when I picked up her book, Will Write for Shoes: How To Write a Chick Lit Novel, at the local library. A few weeks and a hefty overdue fine later, I had started working on my own Chick Lit novel, inspired by this fresh how-to guide. I also ordered a copy of the book from my local bookshop, reasoning that such a valuable tool should be kept close at hand.

I contacted Cathy, told her about my new novel, and thanked her for bringing Will Write for Shoes to the public eye. I also asked if she'd be interested in giving me an exclusive interview for Creativity Portal, and to my delight, she agreed. Author of Surf Girl School, L.A. Woman, The Driven Snowe, and other novels, this busy and successful gal has a lot to say!

Q: Define Chick Lit. What differentiates Chick Lit from traditional women's fiction?

A: Chick Lit is a subset of traditional women's fiction, I think. I define Chick Lit as a "coming-of-age" or "coming-of-consciousness" story, with at least one woman protagonist, written in a humorous and often upbeat tone.

Q: Your book, Will Write for Shoes, is an amazing resource. What inspired you to create a how-to book for writers?

A: I love teaching, and I've been an advocate for Chick Lit since it "crossed the pond" from England and Ireland. I realized that I could write a book from all the classes and advice I'd given. So I finally did!

Q: Was it difficult to transition into this project after years of writing fiction? How was working on this project different from writing a novel? Are there different challenges and rewards inherent in working on a non-fiction project?

A: It was a different process, without question. For one thing, the proposal for non-fiction is far more marketing-based: you need to list who your competition is, what the market is, and how you're planning on promoting it right up front. (Actually, that was good training for how I'm approaching my fiction projects — I'd recommend it to anyone.) It was a lot easier than writing fiction, however, because the structure was logical and linear, and again, I'd taught so many classes on the subjects I wrote about that I knew all my material right off the bat. Fiction's a much more organic, unpredictable process.

Q: Reading Will Write for Shoes helped me to begin my own Chick Lit novel. What makes this book a useful guide for writers? What does it offer that differentiates it from other how-to books about writing?

A: I think that it's very conversational, and that makes it more approachable than some of the other writing guides, which can be a little dry. Also, it covers the entire spectrum of the writing process, from getting an idea to actually selling your work. Plus, it's got my handy (and crazy) "Cathy's Insane Guide to Plotting," which hopefully helps people who are just starting their manuscripts figure out how to tackle an entire novel one bite at a time.

Q: Describe your work habits. Give us an idea of the way you structure your time when you're working on a book.

A: I've got a fifteen month old son, so my time is highly regimented. I have a schedule for all the books I'm under deadline for, charting out how many scenes per day I need to get done. I give myself about a week to hammer out a plot outline, then I like to do a two-week "flash draft", a week or so break, then a full month at least for revision. That's for a 320 page book.

Q: You have such a distinctive voice. Reading one of your books is a lot like chatting with a girlfriend. Tell us how you developed it as a novelist. Was it tough to cross over to the how-to market and still retain your individual voice and style?

A: I didn't really develop my voice, per se. That's just how I write. The lucky part was finding Chick Lit, which fit my voice so perfectly. I used to try writing historical romance novels, then I tried writing mystery — and boy, was that disastrous! Once I found Chick Lit and romance, I realized where I'd been going wrong. The how-to market wasn't difficult, considering it was still for a subject I love and one where the voice made it a natural fit. It'd be interesting to see if my voice was embraced in something that tends to be more academic, like "how to get a mortgage" or something.

Q: Chick Lit is huge right now — one of the fastest-growing genres in publishing today. Why are women crying out for these stories now, more than ever before? What are some of the current market trends?

A: Actually, Chick Lit is melding back into women's fiction right now. Women are the largest portion of readers in the market, and they're constant consumers. Right now, women are looking for more serious subjects, veering away from the traditional Chick Lit motifs like Sex In The City. I think that a positive, upbeat treatment of a tough subject — like Lolly Winton's Good Grief, which is a story about a woman dealing with her husband's death — are far more popular right now. Also, ensemble novels that tackle women growing and changing are popular: Debbie Macomber's books, or The Friday Night Knitting Club are good examples.

Q: Many dismiss Chick Lit as trendy, escapist fluff. However, I feel it is an important turning point in the world of publishing — female writers are creating strong, believable female characters that readers find irresistible, funny, and relevant. The commercial success and popularity of such books as Sex and the City and Bridget Jones' Diary prove that this is no mere flash in the pan. Talk about this "revolution of the pen." Why is it more important than ever for women to share their stories with the world?

A: People always dismiss women's stories as fluff or somehow less important. I think the most important thing to remember is this: the people who call Chick Lit fluff are never going to buy your book, they're not your audience, so don't even worry about impressing them. You know your audience, you respect your audience, and that's all that matters. I don't know if it's a revolution, necessarily, but I think that women are different now, and today's authors need to remain real and write from that inner truth (that sounds so woo-woo!) If you have a story that you can tell, with a humorous spin, about something that really matters to you, that's going to sell like hotcakes. Women are looking to connect, now more than ever, since the concept of neighborhoods and large family structure are dissolving, and friends are the best support women can have… including the "friends" that exist in novels.

Q: With an eye to emerging trends, discuss some of the hot new sub-genres and cross-genres under the Chick Lit umbrella.

A: Mommy Lit is huge, obviously (seems like everybody's pregnant these days, doesn't it? It's the largest birth rate since the last Baby Boom.) Again, I'm seeing more of a return to traditional Women's Fiction, but I think keeping the same tone that Chick Lit established (a little more funny, taking itself a little less seriously) will sell well.

Q: Once you've gone Chick Lit, can you ever go back? In Will Write for Shoes, you discussed the dangers of being "pigeon-holed". Have you had experiences with this phenomenon in your dealings with publishers? Are you ever worried that you won't be able to break out of this genre if you decide to write something new and different?

A: Well, I'm coming out with erotica next, so I think I'm going to be fine, LOL! I'm writing a reinterpretation of three fairy tales in modern settings, and I am having a blast doing it. So, no, I'm not being pigeon-holed. I may be diluting my brand…. but that's a different conversation.

Q: When I'm in the intense first stages of a new writing project, everything else gets put on hold so I can blaze through my first draft as quickly as possible. I'm productive, but exhausted! Does this ever happen to you? How do you pace yourself and effectively manage your time when you're working on a new book and finishing up other projects at the same time?

A: Again, I can't afford to get too off course. I used to be more of a push-drag writer… go for a while, dragging my feet, then slam through a draft, doing like forty pages a day. Since having my son, that doesn't work anymore (my brain's usually tapioca after two scenes if I'm watching him all day, too.) So pacing is hugely important to me now. I don't overload my schedule, but I keep an eye on my progress.

Q: What is your favorite way to spoil yourself after a hard day at the desk?

A: Two words: Ice. Cream.

Q: I always wonder what other writers are reading. What's the title of the book on your bedside table right now? What's the last book you recommended to a friend? What is the best book to read on a plane?

A: I really loved Stephanie Meyer's YA vampire series, starting with Twilight. Very imaginative, for such an established genre, and surprisingly romantic. Also, I've just read Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. If you haven't read it, rush out and get it now!! It is brilliant. It's funny, and well-written, and just amazingly creative.

Q: Many writers enjoy other types of creative expression, like drumming, working with clay, or painting, What are some of your other artistic endeavors? How do you express yourself when words just aren't enough?

A: I used to like drawing, but it's been a while. I like baking, too, but haven't had a lot of time for it. I actually find myself doing organizing to soothe myself, though. I think sales and promotion can be very creative, if you look at it like a game.

Q: Can you share a funny story about a bad date?

A: Hmmm. I went to the opening of an opera with this guy. We missed the first act, because traffic was bad. Then we went to a horribly expensive restaurant where I got three clams for dinner. (Swear to God, three of 'em.) Then, during dinner, he started talking my ear off about how I should give Rush Limbaugh a chance. We finished up with a limo ride around San Francisco. I remember thinking: this would be so romantic if I were with someone else.

Q: Do you have any tattoos?

A: Yup. Just one, though. A candle, on my right outer thigh.

Q: What's your secret guilty pleasure?

A: Wouldn't really be much of a secret if I told you, would it? Just kidding. Casual computer games. I can knock out two hours straight on Cake Mania from Yahoo Games.

Q: How do you like to spend your weekends? What do you do to relax? What do you do that's just for fun, just for you?

A: Given the opportunity, I love browsing in bookstores or at the library. Books are like a religion for me, so hanging out in places that are home to books and book-lovers is like going to church.

Q: Claire Cook, author of Must Love Dogs, actually created a personal ad to help research that novel. What crazy, surprising, or unusual things have you done in the name of research?

A: For my book Turning Japanese, which comes out in 2009, I went to Tokyo. That was fairly insane, but a lot of fun. I've also gone clubbing a lot and met with DJ's to research Couch World.

Q: Any tricks for staying on good terms with your Muses? What inspires you and fills you with juicy ideas?

A: Read voraciously, and try to do something new every day.

Q: In perusing your website, I notice you've got a new series of fairy-tale based fantasy fiction novels coming out from Avon Red. What inspired this shift in theme and content? It's quite a departure from what you've written in the past.

A: I'm currently working on an erotic fairy tale trilogy. The first book is CRAVE: The Seduction of Snow White, and it comes out in June 2008. The second book will be about Sleeping Beauty, and the third about Beauty and the Beast. I have always loved fairy tales — I love the fact that they're still fascinating and relevant, and that they were basically a way to help young girls through their coming of age trials back in the day.

There's this fantastic non-fiction book called Spinning Straw Into Gold that gives a scholarly study into why fairy tales still apply to women's lives. Anyway, long story short, I decided to approach it in the dark, highly sexualized way that the originals often emphasized. (These are a lot hotter, though!)

Q: Share some strategies for writers focusing on voice, plot, and character development.

A: Your voice is your voice, although I'll say you can influence a bit by reading your favorite authors as they apply to the story you're writing. For example, if I wanted to write something very scary and dramatic and descriptive, I'd read some Anne Rice. If I wanted something more folksy, I'd read Garrison Keillor or Stephen King. Strange, but true. I'd also watch movies that put me in the mood. As far as plot, my outlining is legendary! And character development: I'd say get to know your characters as well as you can. Write a biography on each main character.

Q: One last question, just for fun: Describe the perfect pair of shoes.

A: They've got high heels, they're gorgeous, and after a full night of dancing, your feet still feel like heaven!

Learn more about Cathy Yardley's writing and new releases at www.cathyyardley.com.

©2007 Molly J. Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.

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