In honor of Women’s History Month, Write On! is talking to female writers. This week’s Write On! Q&A is with Laurie Graff, author of The Shiksa Syndrome: A Novel, about a Manhattan publicist who pretends she’s not Jewish in order to meet a Jewish man, as well as the bestselling You Have To Kiss A Lot Of Frogs and Looking For Mr. Goodfrog (Red Dress Ink). Also an actress, Graff lives in New York City.
How did you get started as a writer?
I’m chatty and a natural storyteller. I was working as an actress, and I always told animated stories to friends—mainly about quirky dates because they were funny. People told me I should be writing it all down—thinking I’d perform it one day as a solo show. I never really wanted to do that. Anyway, I did start writing them, and then reading the stories aloud. People responded so positively and pushed me to “do something” with my writing.
Has your acting helped with writing? And/or vice versa?
My writing is SO work-intensive it has kind of killed my acting. But it’s invaluable seeing a character through an actor’s head; you’re trained to understand motivation, conflict, internal narrative. I also read everything aloud and have an innate feel for dialogue that rings true to a character.
How did you end up writing chick-lit?
As I said, I was just writing down my stories. It just so happened that the year I tried to get published was the year of chick-lit. So it was the easy way to package my work.
What are the particular challenges to this genre?
I am not writing chick-lit. I just happen to write from the point of view of a New York City working, single Jewish woman because that’s who I am and what I know. My first novels, You Have to Kiss A Lot of Frogs and Looking for Mr. Goodfrog were called chick-lit. Broadway Books (Random House) actually calls The Shiksa Syndrome women’s fiction. But, like acting, in writing you also get typecast. Chick-lit might follow me forever, but it’s just a marketing label. When Rona Jaffe wrote The Best of Everything in 1958, no one called it chick-lit. Maybe the biggest challenge is for the work to stand out as my work, instead of a part of genre.
What is your favorite part of the process?
Seeing someone pick up my book in a store.
What is the one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
Nothing! It’s a much harder business than I could have imagined. Had I known then what I know now, I might not have even started. There is much to be said for just trusting your own gut and following your own star. I sent my Frog book out on my own to Red Dress Ink on a fluke, and it was picked up out of the Slush Pile.
Any advice for writers?
Write what you want. Don’t get bogged down with everyone’s opinions of what you should be writing and how you should be writing it. You can have one friend you share with whom you really trust, but trust yourself most. Do it for fun, with no-to-low stakes. And then when you have a finished product you love, work your ass off to get it out the world.