Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wendy Corsi Staub on Writing, Optioning And The Importance Of A Dog

Live to TellInspiration comes in many places.  Realizing that Grand Central Station no longer had baggage lockers, author Wendy Corsi Staub thought about where she could stash a bag while she went about her business in the city.  As she walked through the terminal, she passed the sign for the Lost and Found, which got her thinking about the process of turning something in to the Lost and Found and then trying to retrieve it.  Wendy now had the opening of Live To Tell, the first in a trilogy of thrillers. 

Wendy was the guest author at book club last night. She is a prolific writer having authored books in different genres:  thriller/mystery, chic-lit, young adult as well as ghost writing biographies. 

Authors have so many different writing processes.  John Irving always knows the ending of his book before he starts writing. Wendy explained her method. “I edit during the writing process.  The story is ever evolving and I'm constantly rereading, rewriting, cutting and pasting, adding and deleting.  When I reach the end of the manuscript, it's DONE.  I wish I could be one of those authors who writes a complete first draft, then goes back and does a second draft and then a third, but that's just not comfortable for me. I edit as I go and the first draft is my final draft, then it goes straight to my husband for a read. I tweak for typos and continuity per his feedback and then it lands on my editor’s desk.”   She said that when you first get published, you have to turn in outlines. She’s not big on outlines. Her editor, Lucia Macro (book club member) said it’s rare that any of her authors work with outlines; in fact she could only think of one who plotted a whole book before writing it.  Wendy submits story summaries and a first chapter.

Surprisingly Lucia told us that authors do have the final say on their content. (Not always the case for musicians working with a record label.) The editor and author share the same vision for the book, but it’s the editor’s job to make sure the author is not taking it in a very wrong direction. Wendy was once an editor and she believes in working with her editor.  As with most musicians, I’m assuming most writers are precious with their art.  Editors are there to make the art more sellable and readable.  Artists don’t always see it that way.  Aren’t two heads better than one?  Wendy thinks so. 

Live to tell is set in New York City and it’s suburbs.  Lauren Walsh is recently divorced from Nick, the on again/off again dad.  She’s in what she thought was her dream house, a sprawling suburban Victorian in need of upgrades.  Is she a little woe-is-me?  Probably, but she had the rug pulled out from under her. Her husband leaves her for an older woman, gets an apartment in a doorman building in White Plains and takes the kids whenever he gets around to it.  She’s got the responsibility and he has the girlfriend. 

Her youngest daughter Sadie loses Fred, her beloved stuffed animal.  It’s more than a toy.  It was a gift from Nick and it’s one piece of her dad she can hold on to.  Nick reluctantly goes to the Lost and Found in Grand Central to claim what he thinks is Fred.  It’s not Fred and it’s filled with more than just stuffing. 

As with any good thriller, Live To Tell engaged me.  It’s hard to write about the story without giving it away.  To coin a phrase, the plot thickens, the kids are involved and a ruthless politician needs to get his way.  There seems to be no shortage of inspiration from stories in the news regarding politicians and their sordid lives.  Wendy mentioned that when she was writing this book, the Eliot Spitzer scandal was in full swing. 

Live to Tell would be a perfect cable TV movie, actually it would perfectly play out as a mini-series.   I asked Wendy if she was approached about optioning her work for film or TV and she said there has been interest. A lot of times she’s told what I have heard too many times as a manager and it’s ridiculous, “You need to have a strong male lead.  We can’t have just a female lead.”  I’ve worked with many female musicians and used to hear from radio stations,  “Even though we love the record, we can’t add it this week as we already have two female musicians on our play list”.  Why is the entertainment industry still so female-phobic?  A look at today’s iTunes chart shows who is leading the pack.  Six of the Top 10 downloads are from female artists (I’m including Black Eyed Peas).  At number one is Adele and Lady Gaga has two slots. Get over it Hollywood. We love our female leads. 

The characters are very believable, the story is cohesive and I was cheering for the good guys. I can’t think of a better summary for a mini-series. 

Apparently you can judge a book by its cover.  Lucia told us that the book cover is really important, especially in the thriller and chic-lit world.  People do buy a book based on its cover.  Buyers at stores pay a lot of attention to book covers.  A few authors have told me that if a book cover is approved and it isn’t a true representation of the story, it is easier for the author to amend his/her story to include something from the artwork rather than change the cover.  Art influencing art? 

Since many of us in book club are dog lovers, we had to ask about Chauncey, the Walsh’s pet.  I won’t say what happens to Chauncey, but I will say that once Wendy had a dog killed in one of her books. She got so much negative mail that she would never go down that path again. 

Scared to DeathWendy Corsi Staub’s most recent book is Scared To Death, the follow up to Live To Tell.

Fascinating piece on Grand Central's Lost and Found and other secrets.  

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