Susan Elizabeth Phillips, writing from the middle of the country in Naperville, Illinois, is known as a witty romance novelist. She doesn't disappoint with her new book, Match Me if You Can (Morrow), which immediately landed on the New York Times bestsellers list. Galley Girl caught up with Phillips by phone, as she was having tea at a little cafe in Phoenix, taking a breather from her hectic book tour:
Galley Girl: How did you get into the romance biz?
Author Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Susan Elizabeth Phillips: I was at home with young kids, and my best friend and I decided we were going to write a historical romance together. We sold that book three weeks after it was submitted to Dell Publishing, on 120 pages. Then she went to law school, and I was on my own.
GG: How many books have you written since?
SEP: "Match Me if You Can" is No. 17.
GG: Your new book deals with the world of matchmakers. Give me a sound bite.
SEP: A young woman with a checkered employment record inherits her grandmother's matchmaking business, and takes on the client from hell. That's this super Chicago sports agent, who expects him to find her the perfect wife. His idea of perfect and her idea of perfect are a little bit different. I think it's a little bit like Bridget Jones meets Jerry Maguire. I loved that movie.
GG: How would you describe Annabelle Granger, your matchmaker?
SEP: I think Annabelle is kind of Everywoman. Annabelle's smart. She really wants to make her way in the world, but things keep happening, getting in her way. She's also the youngest child in a family of over-achievers. She's got one brother who's a surgeon; her father is a surgeon; her mother was a bank vice-president; another brother is the head of an accounting firm. So she sees herself as the family failure. I think a lot of people can identify with that, with their position in the family, and with the competitiveness of trying to find their place in the family.
GG: You mentioned Bridget Jones. What's the distinction between chicklit and romance?
SEP: In my own work, I don't make any distinction at all. People say, what do you write? I say, I write romance, women's fiction, chicklit. I think it all fits very comfortably under the same umbrella. Basically, I write books for womenbooks about relationships, books that make you laugh and sometimes make you cry a little.
GG: What has to be in a book for it to be considered a romance?
SEP: The love story between the hero and the heroine has to be at the center of the book. I think that's pretty true in my books. I usually write a secondary love story, with maybe nontraditional characters. Sometimes I write older characters. I'm interested in female friendships, and family relationships. So I don't write the traditional romance, where you just have the hero and the heroine's love story. I like intertwining relationships.
GG: After all of these books, where do you get your inspiration?
SEP: A warehouse outside of Tulsa. (Laughs). I don't know. It doesn't get easier for me. It gets harder, because I'm really close with my readers. My website bulletin board is the place I interact with my readers. I do a lot of signings. I feel like they're my friends. And I don't want to disappoint anybody. I kind of write from a place of fear, which may not be the best way to do it. I always want to try to bring something fresh to every book. It's getting harder instead of easier. I feel like I work harder with each book. But I don't want it to show on the pages, that's for sure.
GG: What are your work habits? Do you write every day?
SEP: I do. I write pretty much a 9 to 5 day, Monday through Friday. Saturday and Sunday, I try to get a couple hours in each day, just so that I don't lose the flow, and have to have a cold start.
GG: That's a lot of writing.
SEP: It's a lot of writing, but I'm just very, very slow. I would not make it as a journalist, I've got to tell you. I sweat bullets over every sentence, and sometimes, you know, a day will pass and I've written one paragraph, and I've been at the computer for four hours.
GG: They would rip it out of your hands at a publication.
SEP: Oh, I know. I hope I never have to do that.
GG: Has your own love life been romantic?
SEP: We're married 34 years, I think it is now. I'm bad with numbers. My husband is the keeper of the records. But yes. We have two just fabulous sons, one of whom is getting married very soon, and one who is married, and we have our first grandbaby on the way. If that's not a love story, man, I don't know what is.
For a little love, try Phillip's website.