June 2008


Melissa Senate is a former book editor who is now a full-time writer. Her debut book See Jane Date launched the Red Dress Ink imprint. Her latest novel Questions to Ask Before Marrying is out this month. She lives in Maine with her son, Max.

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  1. Tell us about your latest novel, Questions to Ask Before Marrying.

    The novel is about estranged twin sisters on a long and bumpy road trip from Maine to Las Vegas. Stella, a professional muse and face reader, is trying to convince Ruby, a conservative school teacher, that her 'boring' fiance is all wrong for her. Meanwhile, Stella, pregnant from a one-night stand, is searching for her baby's father, whose name she isn't sure of. Stella has another very big reason for 'kidnapping' Ruby to Las Vegas, and it ends up changing both of them forever.

  2. What is the most important question to ask before marrying?

    I think it might be: Can you really and truly live with this person, day in and day out! You usually know that pretty quickly in a relationship.

  3. Which sister was the most fun to create - Ruby or Stella?

    I love them both, but I must say that Stella stole the show for me. Even though she didn't have her own point of view, she came so alive for me that I felt we did have her point of view. Her story, her past, was so emotional - the sudden death of her first love, her job as a 'muse' to a married artist, her job as a face reader, her flitting from country to country, and her search now, for the father of her unborn baby, whose first name she isn't so sure of. For the baby's sake, Stella wants to get a grip, and her struggle to do so really captured me.

  4. Have you ever taken off on a road trip yourself?

    I've driven from New York City, where I lived for 15 years, to Maine, where I've lived for the past four years, a gazillion times, and it's a very long, dull, seven-hour drive. I've never done a fun road trip, like Ruby and Stella go on in Questions To Ask Before Marrying - where you can really see different parts of the country, see the landscape totally change. I would love that. When my son (he's almost 6) gets a little older, I'm going to take him on a fun road trip. He'd make a hilarious companion and sees the fun and joy in everything.

  5. Tell us about your next book project.

    So excited about this! I just sold my next two books to a new publisher, to Simon & Schuster's Downtown Press imprint. The first book is about an unmoored New Yorker who discovers she has a half-sister she never knew existed. I have a thing for writing about sisters!

  6. How did you make the switch from book editing to writing?

    In 2000, I quit my job as an editor to enter a grad school program in English Education, with the goal of teaching high school English in the New York City public school system, which desperately needed dedicated teachers. The summer before the program started, I wrote See Jane Date and sold it. At the end of the first year of the program, I sold my next two novels and decided to focus on writing for the time being. The time being has now lasted for eight years and is ongoing! I do want to finish my grad work and get certified to teach high school English. That is really a dream of mine. I was never encouraged as a teenager and it turned out I had a book in me, a writing career in me. I really want to encourage teens. I can't think of anything more important. Yikes, totally forgot the editing part of the question: after 13 years as an editor (Harlequin Books and two young adult book packagers), it was time for a change. I do think I am a good editor for myself; I can usually write myself a pretty decent revision letter! But I miss a ton in my own work - elements that don't work or angles that need reshaping, refocusing. I love the revision process.

  7. Do you think your characters and plots have evolved over the years?

    Interestingly enough, no. I think my writing itself has evolved a bit; what I'm interested in exploring emotionally in my characters has evolved. But at its core, the essence, my books are always about women, young or not, dealing with a kind of loneliness that they can't figure out how to shake (because it's internal). That's what I like to write about, and chick lit, as a genre, was born of that loneliness, I think. I really think that's what Bridget Jones's Diary was all about - a woman feeling so isolated within herself until she's able to burst out.

  8. Red Dress Ink has launched a lot of new authors. How does it feel to be the author who launched the imprint?

    That magical turn of events was so unexpected! It was my first book, the first book I'd ever written, and it took on a mini-life of its own, launching the imprint. That book was very special to me, on so many different levels. It changed my life because it turned me into a writer, and I was about to do something completely different with my life!

  9. Do you think chick lit gets bad press?

    Yes and no, to be very honest. Chick lit is what it is. People who like chick lit and understand what chick lit means know it's not a negative label; it's just a label, just a word, a marketing term, and often it's accurate. Red Dress Ink novels are chick lit. Chick lit doesn't mean less than, doesn't mean frothy, doesn't mean dumbing down of literature. It means a book with a certain tone, a certain sensibility about a woman's experience, usually a personal journey towards fulfillment. It's the tone and the style that makes a book chick lit to me. I love it. I love all types of women's fiction, all types of fiction.

  10. What was it like to see your book See Jane Date on screen?

    This was up there with the top highlights of my life, along with welcoming my son into the world and typing The End at the end of my very first manuscript when I wasn't sure if I'd ever be able to actually write a novel in the first place. Seeing my characters brought to life, even through someone else's vision, was amazing. I loved the movie. Did not get to meet my teenaged heartthrob, Antonio Sabato Jr., who played Jane's heartbreaker, but he was in it!

  11. Is it hard to stop thinking about your characters at the end of a book?

    Always. I still think about Ruby and Stella, and interestingly enough, two minor characters who stole their scenes completely: their aunt and cousin. I get so enmeshed in my characters' emotional worlds that the characters feel very real to me.

  12. What upcoming chick lit books are you most keen to read?

    Reconstructing Brigid by Lee Nichols. She's hilarious!

  13. What are three things you couldn't live without?

    1. Diet Coke.
    2. My son's devilish grin when he's done something 'a little bit bad, mama'.
    3. Girlfriends.
  14. Name your favourite . . .

    1. book: Anne of Green Gables
    2. TV show: I admit it: I am hooked on What Not To Wear
    3. movie: Always and forever: Annie Hall
    4. song: Let's Get It On, Marvin Gaye
    5. season: Fall. In Maine, you never want Fall to end, especially if you don't have a garage, which I don't.
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