I had the pleasure of meeting Malena Lott when I was her "shepherd" at the November 2010 meeting of Ozarks Writers League, where she was the featured speaker. I'd started reading her book, Dating da Vinci and was intrigued by her story of the young, handsome present-day Leonardo da Vinci. From our first meeting at the airport, I knew Malena possessed the very spirit of da Vinci - la vita allegra - joyful living.
Malena is a renaissance woman, full of creativity and inspiration. The interview and links that follow will give you but a taste of how she shares those who are also on a path to la vita allegra.
|Malena and Jan at the OWL Hillbilly Formal|
JAN: In your book, Dating da Vinci, your character—the young widow, Ramona Elise—is attracted to Italian immigrant, Leonard da Vinci’s la vita allegra – joyful living. But dating him leads her to find her own la vita allegra in unexpected ways. What was your inspiration for the book, and for your character, da Vinci?
MALENA: Da Vinci came because of my obsession with him. I had studied him for years before I wrote the book, and you'll see da Vinci quotes everywhere in my life. I even named the creative brainstorming room at my ad agency "The da Vinci Den". My inspiration was from dealing with my own grief. I've lost a lot of loved ones in my life and people close to me, including classmates, as early as 6th grade, and the biggest losses were of my grandparents who raised me, which is why I dedicated the book in their memory. What a lot of people don't know about grief is how much it changes you for life. It never goes away, but does transform your spirit. There is a loss and longing there that never goes away, which is why Ramona refers to it as Before and After and Grievers and Normals. You have a new kind of normal after a loss.
JAN: You founded Book End Babes, a website that promotes “Girls Night Out meets great reads.” I love the concept. I used to be a member of a book club that met once a month. Can you describe how Book End Babes is the same as a “traditional” book club, and how it differs?
MALENA: I wanted to be a part of a community of readers, but something that goes beyond goodreads and online sites. So Book End Babes is an effort to get women to get together at least six times a year in person and read whatever you like and talk about it. Just add to the conversation about books and stories and life. Reading makes people more empathetic and greater citizens, which is why the other slogan is "real babes read books." The online portion is a blog made up of a dozen bloggers who talk about books-to-film, young adult reads, romance, women's fiction and even food writing! A very fun mix to inspire women to read.
JAN: Writer's Digest once published an article on famous writers’ “sins” and how they found redemption. For instance, Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha, stated that he is challenged by debilitating perfectionism in his writing. His redemption? He makes his first pass better than an outline (including some dialogue,) yet still “free” enough to keep him from being too minute and precise. What is your writer-sin? Have you found redemption?
MALENA: I've often said writers are afflicted with OCD, which is both a blessing and a curse. It does keep us obsessed enough with the story to finish it and yet it can get carried away. You question yourself - is the dialogue strong enough? Is that a dumb name? It can get carried away. I have to stop myself from thinking about the book all the time. My redemption is, oddly enough, reading even one line that I love and just saying, "It is done." If I know I did my best, that's all I can do.
JAN: Do you have any writing quirks you’d like to share?
MALENA: I do think writers are a quirky lot. :) For me, I can't write the first draft without a title I love. Now that doesn't mean the title won't change. I have a women's fiction book that I will probably epub next year that started as Loving Lancelot and then became Lost in the Spotlight and now will be Second Acts. I also can become obsessed with who I think would play the character in the movie version of the book, but I think that's more about helping me with characterization than ego. (I hope!)
JAN: What are your five favorite books, and why?
MALENA: My favorite books seem to change the more I read, but back to my original list, I still love A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY by John Irving (named our third child after Owen), LITTLE WOMEN, A BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, BRIDGET JONES DIARY. A lot of my favorite contemporary authors are ones I blog with at Girlfriends Book Club, so be sure and check out these fab authors, too.
JAN: You have a strong marketing background, and are still involved in marketing with small businesses and with writers. Brandgirl Blog I’ve heard you speak about the importance of personal websites, blogs, social networking, etc. Though I was reluctant to join Twitter, since hearing you speak, I have done so, and it has doubled traffic on my blog. Can you share your hints for writers to cast a “wider net?”
MALENA: On the one hand, it's overwhelming, but I'd like for authors to see personal networking as an opportunity. For as much time as it takes to tweet, Facebook, blog and do interviews, real connections are being made and I've made genuine friendships through the process, too. It really is a win-win and if you are only relying on the publisher or a publicist to make those connections for you then those are lost as soon as the ties to those people are gone. Since I'm epubbing FIXER UPPER (launches this week!) on Kindle and through Smashwords for the other ereader format, I've been so thankful for how many contacts I have to help get the word out about my new book. The tip would be that you have to do WAY MORE than you think you do. I may contact 50 blogs/media outlets to get 20 interviews. Also, having a theme or series on your blog is a good way to build a readership. I've done short series, but now I'm doing a 52-week series on verbinizing your life, one action verb at a time! Very excited about it.
JAN: How do you manage your time, being a writer, a marketer, a mother and a wife? What is your writing schedule like?
MALENA: Well, I manage, but I wouldn't say I'm entirely satisfied with it yet, but you have to be forgiving of yourself. My 3 kids have 3 different sets of school times so that means I'm busy taking, picking up and after-school activities, and since my lil guy is in half-day kindergarten I'm really not alone but two and a half a day, five days a week. I used those hours to go to the quiet room at the public library to finish the young adult novel I wrote in 2010. Otherwise I try to get some writing done in the mornings and a few hours on Sunday. I have to have quiet a lot more than I used to, so I might put earbuds in and listen to Bach to help block out noise.
JAN: If you could collaborate on a project with anyone, who would it be and why?
MALENA: The first thing that popped into my head is my husband Rod! He's an editor and a great writer, but he's a film critic and writes articles and features, not long-form fiction or non-fiction. I'd like to do a book on marriage with him some day. We have a good one and I adore him. I'd love to inspire others. Love rules.
Thanks so much to Malena for sharing her thoughts on writing, marketing, scheduling time, reading books . . . To get to know her better, visit her at these sites:
Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for an autographed copy of Dating da Vinci. Drawing will be held on Monday, February 21. Winner will be announced on this blog, on Facebook and Twitter. (See? I've been listening to Malena!)