This interview originally appeared in my free monthly writing newsletter WRITING UP A STORM last year after I met Harley Jane Kozak at the Malice Domestic conference in Arlington, Virginia. I hope you’ll enjoy it!
Guest Blogger for Kevin (8-12 – 8-19)
GAYLE TRENT: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview! With the
success of DATING DEAD MEN (Agatha Winner for Best First Novel) and
DATING IS MURDER, I’m sure you’re swamped. Many of our readers
probably remember you as Harley Jane Kozak the actress (“Guiding
Light,” “Santa Barbara,” “Parenthood,” “Arachnophobia,” and many
other stage and screen credits). Do you still find time to act, or
are you a full-time novelist now?
HARLEY JANE KOZAK: I’m writing full-time as well as playing mom to 3 kids, ages 5,
3 and 3, so that pretty much mandates my “retirement” from acting
for the moment. Still, I find myself doing play-readings and the
occasional odd acting job, if someone actually comes and seeks me
out, but it’s rare.
GT: In both DATING DEAD MEN and DATING IS MURDER, Wollie shows such
love and compassion for her brother P.B., who is mentally ill.
Wollie also shows a great deal of patience with her eccentric Uncle
Theo and her mother. Where did you get the inspiration for these
HJK: The character of PB was based very loosely on a friend of mine
who spent a month in a locked ward in Bellevue Psychiatric when we
were all in our twenties. I visited him every day, while on my lunch
break or after workâ€”I was on Guiding Light at the timeâ€”and it
forever changed my perception of the mentally ill. I was struck by
how illness affects not only the person, but the family. Happily, my
friend’s experience was a one-time-only incident (he was convinced,
for that month, that he was Jesus, which might’ve been okay, except
that he was a rather violent Jesus) and that got me thinking about
having a loved one with a long-term disorder.
GT: I read that there was a ten-year break between your writing
DATING DEAD MEN and DATING IS MURDER. Was it hard for you to pick
back up the threads, the characters’ individual personalities, etc.
to write the second book?
HJK: Aha! You heard wrong. It took eight years to write Dating Dead
Men, and two more years to sell it and get it published. Then I
started in pretty quickly on Dating is Murder, so there wasn’t much
of a break.
GT: Do you think being an actress helps you “get into character”
when writing your books? For example, I’m no actress but when I’m
working on a book, I tell myself I have to “get into character” and
think like whoever I’m writing about.
HJK: Exactly. I think all writers get into character, and perhaps
it’s a little easier for actors, but I suspect we all have strong
imaginations, which is what “getting into character” requires. Where
my acting helps more is in picturing the feasibility of something
I’ve written. It’s a lot easier to type “a single tear trickled down
her face” than to do it. Same thing with dialogue. What looks
eloquent and poetic on the page is sometimes impossible to actually
say, so I think actors develop a discernment for what’s art for
effect versus what humans actually do. The other thing is that when
I look at scenes I’ve written I find I’ve put myself in my
protagonist’s shoes, but what about those poor supporting players?
In a lot of my first drafts, those people are strictly there to prop
up my heroine. So I have to go back and act out their stuff too.
GT: What is your writing schedule like? Do you have a specific
routine you follow daily, or do you write when inspiration strikes?
HJK: Yikes! It’s 5:30 a.m. and I’m supposed to be working on my
current book as I type! Before the kids wake up. And later, when
they nap or the babysitter starts work, I’ll write for another hour
or two. And whatever’s not done by the time they’re in bed tonight
will get done then. I try to write 2-3 pages a day while on the
first draft of the novel, plus research and revision and plotting.
GT: Do you outline, make character sketches, etc., or is your
writing less structured?
HJK: Just enough of outlining and character sketching to feel
confident that I know what I’m doing. I’m a little to the left of
the outlining camp, a little more bohemian, but I do have a loose 5-
page plan of what’s ahead, so that I’m not completely making it up
as I go along. In the second book and the third (the one I’m writing
now) I knew whodunit and what they did when I start writing, but
that’s about it.
GT: Do you find it difficult to write both a compelling mystery (I
was totally surprised by the outcome of DATING IS MURDER) and a
HJK: I started writing Dating Dead Men (with a different title) as a
piece of literary fiction, and Wollie’s kind of wacky circumstances
and attitudeâ€”her voice, I guessâ€”is just something that came
naturally. It was 2 whole years before I stumbled onto the fact that
it was really a murder mystery. With Dating is Murder, I knew from
the start, of course!
GT: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
HJK: Rejection is an inevitable part of the artistic life, so learn
how to survive it and transcend it.
GT: Are there any other pointers you could pass along to our readers?
HJK: Hang in there.
Readers, please visit Harley Jane Kozak online at
http://www.harleyjanekozak.com and if you haven’t read her books, I
highly recommend them! Her next book has the working-title DEAD EX.
It’s the 3rd in the series and this time Wollie is the “romance
correspondent” for a show called SOAP DIRT, dating–and rating–the
male stars of daytime TV. Meanwhile, an old boyfriend turns up dead,
and Wollie’s drawn into the investigation, against her better
judgment. . . . Also, check out The Lipstick Chronicles where Harley
and other writers post blogs. (http://thelipstickchronicles.typepad.com/the_lipstick_chronicles/)