August 2009


Dan Begley is the author of Ms. Taken Identity, about a guy who writes a chick lit novel. He is a full-time writer who has also been a member of the English faculty at the University of Missouri-St Louis and Cor Jesu Academy. He lives in St Louis with his wife and is working on his next novel. (Interview by Angela Smith)

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  1. 1. Five or 10 years ago did you picture yourself writing a novel?

    I think I've always wanted to write a novel. I still remember my sixth grade nun cleaning out her classroom closet at the end of the school year and giving me a Carpenters album and a brand new notebook. My parents got the album. The notebook: that was all mine. I planned to use it to write a book that summer. Something about blank pages screamed at me to fill them. Alas, I didn't get my book finished that summer, but many summers - and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing later - I finally did.

  2. 2. Why did you write a chick lit novel?

    A few years back, I was working on a book called Never This Way Again, a literary novel inspired by Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken. It was symbolic and lyrical and had many pretty sentences. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the book not taken, as all agents passed on it. My wife suggested I write something fun and upbeat, like chick lit. Ha! Are you kidding? It wasn't that I didn't like chick lit; it just didn't seem like guys did it, sort of like going into the women's locker room. Some places we just don't belong. But then I realized my wife had hit upon a brilliant plot idea: A guy who has no business writing chick lit actually writing chick lit. I had instant conflict and the perfect fish-out-of-water set up. Plus, I'd get to write about pop culture and romance and sex and dating, and even get to poke a little fun at Oprah (sorry, O). I'd found my genre. In hindsight, it was a happy - and perfect - accident that brought Ms. Taken Identity about.

  3. 3. What did you learn about women while writing this book?

    I've known my wife for 13 years - we've been married for over nine - so I'd picked up some excellent info about women in that time. And she didn't even know I was researching her! Seriously, she's beautiful and smart and we have great conversations - plus we have wonderful female friends - so I went into the project with a comfortable understanding of a woman's world. I did have to do research for the chick lit genre, though, and that meant reading all sorts of women's magazines, such as Glamour and Allure and Cosmo. And let me tell you, reading Cosmo was eye-opening. Every other piece was about sex, and none too shy about it. Wow. More than anything, though, I wanted to let women in on the way guys think, especially when it comes to relationships. And here's the message: expect more from your man. We know how to listen. We know how to express ourselves. We know how to be thoughtful and generous and kind. Don't settle for second-class treatment, because you're not second class. There's a guy out there who can't wait to love you, the right way.

  4. 4. Do you relate much to your main character, Mitch Samuel? Is he based on anyone you know?

    I would say that Mitch represents, in some ways, the attitude I had years ago about popular fiction (i.e. that it's beneath him). I was weaned on the classics in college. My idea of a writer was James Joyce. I once wrote an 18-page indecipherable short story in the style of Ulysses; boy did I think I was clever. My classmates thought otherwise. I've come to realize that more than anything, a good story should entertain. You should want to keep turning pages because you can't wait to see what happens next. You should be emotionally attached to the characters. You should care. So, in many ways, I'm much more in Katharine Longwell's camp when it comes to that.

  5. 5. Do you read much chick lit? If so, what titles/authors have you enjoyed?

    I can't pretend that I've read a ton of chick lit, but I will say that Bridget Jones's Diary and Good in Bed were on my shelf at home before I started writing Ms. Taken Identity. Both are great. I'd also read a novel in the early 90s called The Love Letter by Cathleen Schine. Early chick lit, and a fun read, as I recall. And of course, there's Jane Austen, who's the original classic. While writing MTI, I started sampling more chick lit by authors such as Sophie Kinsella and Cecelia Ahern and Jane Green and Brenda Janowitz and Liza Palmer. My favorite, I think, was Emily Giffin. There's something very cozy and comfortable about her writing style and story-telling, even when she's writing about a maid of honor having an affair with the groom-to-be.

  6. 6. What inspired the pink slipper cover?

    I suppose my publisher got wind of the pair I like to wear around my house. (I'm kidding!) I have no idea where they came up with that idea, but I love it. I just wish the legs would've been hairier. I wanted manly man legs on display. Ah, well. Otherwise, it's perfect.

  7. 7. Have you yet spied a guy reading your book?

    I have yet to actually see a guy reading it, but I have received quite a few emails from guys who read it and really liked it. After all, the story is told from a guy's point of view. And my narrator is pretty honest about all the thoughts that he has about women and relationships and sex - noble or otherwise - and guys are finding that it rings true for them.

  8. 8. You have revealed you were once an extra in a Gerard Butler movie. Tell us more . . .

    Ah, well Gerard and I go back a long way. We were actually roommates together in college ... OK, not quite. A few years back, before he was who he is now, he made a movie called The Game of Their Lives. It was a soccer movie about the US World Cup team that defeated England in 1950 in a stunning upset. Gerard played the US's goalkeeper, Frank Borghi. A good portion of the movie was filmed here in St Louis, and they needed extras as spectators for various soccer matches from Borghi's early days. I was one of those fans, clapping a lot for either Gerard's team or the team he was playing; I have no idea which team he was on (he was an unknown at the time). Unfortunately, I never got the chance to meet him. But if I may: if you ever want to see a wonderful Gerard Butler movie, watch Dear Frankie. One of my all-time favorites.

  9. 9. What are you working on now?

    I'm working on a novel that is similar in style and tone to Ms. Taken Identity. Once again, it is told from a guy's POV and focuses on an unlikely relationship between the main character and a woman, on paper, he shouldn't be with. I apologize for being vague, but I will tell you that firemen, first love and chocolate all play a role. I'm writing it as we speak.

  10. 10. Do you think chick lit deserves its bad press?

    As a genre, absolutely not. No more than sci-fi or mystery or thriller or any other genre deserves bad press. Only bad stories, poorly written, deserve bad press. Are there any like that within chick lit? Sure. Maybe some are flat or predictable or trite. But that's true in any genre. The best of chick lit novels - and there are quite a few, as I see it - have heart and humor and intelligence. Will you ever confuse them with Virginia Woolf? Nope. And thank goodness, I say.

  11. 11. Have you felt accepted into the chick lit author stable?

    One hundred per cent yes. I've gotten the warmest reception from readers and bloggers and even other chick lit authors. I feel like I'm one of the girls now. I think that's such a credit to writers and fans of chick lit. There's a genuine "niceness" that I find infectious.

  12. 12. Do you see yourself writing another chick lit book in the future?

    Yes. Since that's what I'm doing right now!

  13. 13. You said your wife encouraged you to write a chick lit novel, what does she think of Ms. Taken Identity?

    Let's just say she's glad she made the suggestion!

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