light, fun-filled stories to help you believe in the Happily Ever After; Jennifer Sommersby, her other self, writes YA and is repped by Victoria Doherty-Munro at Writers House.
Eliza, what inspired you to write Dear Dwayne, With Love?
Mmm, Dwayne Johnson, of course! LOL … no, seriously, though, I’d have to say that the book was born after my own experiences with trying to get my butt in gear. Because my job is rather sedentary and I’m not an outdoorsy adventurous type (a travesty considering I live in a beautiful province where outdoorsy adventure is just outside my door!), I developed Baker’s cysts behind my knees. They’re annoying and can make working long hours rather uncomfortable, so my doctor said the best way to treat them was to GET ACTIVE. For Mother’s Day 2015, my kids and husband bought me three sessions with a personal trainer—yes, this was a welcome gift!—and I hit the gym. I still work with my awesome trainer, Shelly, now three years later, whenever my workout routine needs refreshing. (Plus she’s become a dear friend, so it’s nice to have an inspiring, positive cheerleader in your corner.) For folks getting into exercise for the first time or after a long time away, I can’t recommend enough the importance of hiring someone who knows that they’re doing. Prevent injury! Save your knees!
During the subsequent year to 18 months, Shelly and I worked together regularly, and I began to see major changes in my fitness profile.
Every time I would add more weight to a lift or master a new skill, I would joke that I should tweet my buddy Dwayne Johnson and let him know how awesome I’m doing.
That’s how the idea for the book was born. If Dwayne inspires me to work harder and not give up when I’m wanting to curl up and take a nap on the gym mats, then maybe he would be able to provide the same inspiration for others via Dear Dwayne, With Love. With a little help from Dani and Miraculously Beautiful Marco, of course.
If you could live as a character in any one of your novels for a day, which one would it be and why?
I’d spend a day as Dani because hanging out with Marco would be awesome. OR I would wait until it was race day and then I could see Dwayne Johnson in real life! Ahhhh! I’d faint! Otherwise—I’d be Hollie Porter. She lives on a gorgeous island off the coast of British Columbia and teaches kids about otters and sea life, and her hunk of a man, Concierge Ryan … yeah, I could spend some time as Hollie, I think. *wink*
Did you research Dwayne Johnson so that your fictional character could be close to the real Dwayne?
I did a TON of research on Dwayne. I even watched wrestling for the first time—spent lots of time on YouTube and on the wrestling wikis online getting the tiniest details right. I watched every film he’s done, including the most recent, Skyscraper; I read every book I could find on him, and there are a surprising number in the kids’ department at the bookstore (LOL). I watched Ballers, his HBO show, as well as every interview I could find with him (the Oprah Master Class interview is terrific, as is every film junket setup with Kevin Hart, and oh, the Under Armour stuff—he’s their spokesperson—I’ve spent a lot of money on Under Armour in the last few years as a result). I regularly purchase the fitness magazines that profile him and talk about his workout routine; I follow him on all social media platforms, though he’s definitely best on Instagram; and I follow what he’s doing via IMDB Pro.
I’m pretty intense when it comes to research, but I draw the line at prying into his family life. I made sure that I included information that was available via public channels, i.e., I didn’t go past the line that would otherwise be considered appropriate. Even a public figure needs privacy.
Bottom line, though, I just didn’t want to get him wrong. Readers would certainly let me know if I did! We had to get permission from his legal team to use him in the book, so I needed to make sure that the details were completely accurate and not at all disparaging. I think I got his voice down—at least that’s what readers have told me. I would love to meet him in real life one day—he was up here in BC filming Skyscraper last year and a lot of people stalked the set to see if they could get a hello, but I was chicken. Actors and crew are there to work, and they don’t need me hanging around for a photo op. I am still sorta kicking myself about that …
Recently I’ve been struggling with writer’s block. What strategies do you use to help with writer’s block?
Writer’s block sucks. Like so many things in life, the only way through it is through it. When I’m stuck, I spend time reading and watching movies to give my brain a chance to rest. I will also start writing something else—something as simple as a letter to a friend—just to take the pressure off. Take up a different form of art completely—drawing, sculpting, or even painting those silly plaster Christmas ornaments the craft stores sell every year. Or, go to the gym! Get outside! Get some fresh air and let your brain have a moment to resituate itself to the writing task at hand.
Another approach that sometimes works is skipping to a different part of the story and trying to come in through a back door where you’re not feeling the pressure to get that next scene perfect. Or start writing something completely new! Sometimes our internal editor is blocking us from putting new words on the page because there is something fundamentally out of place with the current story, whether it be weak characters or shoddy structure or a flimsy plot. Sometimes a block can happen when your subconscious is trying to tell you, “Hey, this isn’t working. Take a step back for a second.” As hokey as that sounds, I truly believe it, and a little distance can bring clarity.
Last question Eliza, have you given any thought to writing a series?
You know, I have. I’d love to write a series along the lines of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series—something where the characters are well loved by readers and the comedy is terrific. I don’t have a lot of experience with writing series, though my young adult novel, Sleight, which came out in April under my real name, is a duology (two books), and I’m currently revising the sequel (comes out fall 2019). It’s a ton of work because it’s a huge story, but for the Eliza Gordon books, a series could be fun.
Must Love Otters wasn’t supposed to be a series, but people asked for a sequel, so I wrote Hollie Porter Builds a Raft. Folks have asked for a third book, but since Raft came out in 2015, I think there are just too many years in between books to make it work. I’m currently toying with a spin-off to Must Love Otters with a new character as well as early plotting for a series about an undercover journalist whose personal life is a gong show. We’ll see if I can pull it off. I have three other Eliza books in the early stages, but they’re all standalones, so it’ll be a real feat if I can write a series and actually make it work. I have mad respect for writers who can write five, ten, or more books in a single story vein. Impressive!