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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Author Interview ~ Allie Pleiter

An avid knitter, coffee junkie, and devoted chocoholic, Allie Pleiter writes both fiction and non-fiction. The enthusiastic but slightly untidy mother of two, Allie spends her days writing books, doing laundry, running carpools, and finding new ways to avoid housework. She grew up in Connecticut, holds a BS in Speech from Northwestern University, spent fifteen years in the field of professional fundraising, and currently lives in suburban Chicago, Illinois. The “dare from a friend” to begin writing nine years ago has given rise to a career spanning two parenting books, six novels including the multi-nominated MY SO-CALLED LOVE LIFE, and various national speaking engagements on faith, women’s issues, and writing. Visit her website at

Time to crow: What new book or project do you have coming out?

Two new ones, actually. In June MASKED BY MOONLIGHT, my first historical for Steeple Hill, comes out. Then I’ll have the first in a three-book series set in Kentucky, BLUEGRASS HERO, out in August. It’s great fun to be living in 21st century Kentucky and 19th century San Francisco at the same time—along with my here-and-now Illinois life, as well.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?

Well, I wish it were as simple as “what if Zorro met Lois Lane?,” but it’s never quite that simple. I was intrigued with the idea of dual identities, with people coming to know each other on a variety of levels without realizing the connection, and yes, I wanted an excuse to fence. Being able to say I know how to crack a bull-whip also is a cool addition to the resume.

Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

I have one of the most unusual—and I suppose annoying—stories on this. I started on a dare. Really. Someone dared me to write a book. That someone (a friend of twenty years) happened to be an editor, so it pays to have well-placed dares in that regard. I will tell you, however, that God set it up in such an outrageous manner so that I wouldn’t have any grounds to brag about it. This is entirely God’s doing, and no one is more amused about it than me. When I found out that it was all really going to happen, I stood slack-jawed for a moment in the middle of my kitchen, then I immediately reached for all available chocolate. I’ve been slack-jawed and sugar-crazed for ten years now, with no sign of a let-up.

Do you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?

I’ve only recently began to suffer from writer’s block, although I’ve been banging my head against the wall for decades (connection perhaps?). I have an absurdly short attention span as a writer—no matter what I try, I can never produce more than 1500-2000 words a day. No cabin in the woods to crank out The Great American Novel for me—it’s a daily dose or I’ll never get it done. So, I usually try to write until I know what will happen next, and stop there so I can “percolate” over the course of the day until my next writing session. This is good writer’s block prevention, but it does mean that I am occasionally staring at the blinking cursor wondering HOW I’ll get to what happens next. In those instances, it’s just about putting words down on the page until they start to make sense. Which means I’ll go back and cut loads of it the next day, but at least it will get me over the hump. And chocolate. Did I mention the chocolate?

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?

I only know the barest of basics when I start a book, so often I’m peeling back the layers of a character as I go. This means the first 100 pages of a book are often exploration for me, requiring lots of re-writing and cutting. I’ve discovered that while I’m in the insecure place of exploration, I often try to be CLEVER. I don’t know my characters well enough to trust them to be witty on their own, so I try to be witty FOR them. It never works. The most difficult part for me is trusting my process, because I’m never convinced of a story’s merit until much farther along in the process. By the way, this makes the synopsis-proposal part of my job absolutely excruciating—even after ten books!

How did (or do) you climb out (overcome it)?

Remembering that there’s only one way from here to there—THROUGH. The only antidote to that insecure, uncomfortable feeling is to keep writing until I find the story I was trying to tell in the first place. I’ve recently had a book where that didn’t uncover itself until the third full-scale re-write. It was awful, but I can say that the end result was completely worth it. So I try to remember that history when I get bogged down in the present muck and mire.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

All over. Kitchen counter, back porch, airplane, coffeeshop. I began writing when my kids were very small, so the concept of writing whenever and wherever for short spurts became hard-wired into my writing process. We thought of building me an office a year ago, but given my work-style, it made no sense—I’d never be in it, just flitting in and out of it all day long and that hardly warrants building another room onto your house. So I bought a very nice desk that serves as my “office,” but I write everywhere. God bless laptops!

What does a typical day look like for you?

I’m a very serious student of my productivity, so I have a sophisticated system of lists and timetables. I’ve actually taught classes on how I schedule out the writing of a book—we sometimes fool ourselves into thinking something so “artistic” can’t be managed, but it can. My day will consist of a full task list in numerical order that bounces around between work, family, home, and church tasks as the day goes along. It’s computerized so that I have a print-out every morning of appointments and tasks. I’ve been self-employed most of my adult life, so it’s become a natural work-style. I go from sun-up to sun-down, but it’s such a collection of work/play/family/etc that it doesn’t feel like a workday. I do take Sundays off unless I’m really under the gun.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

Both. Although like I said, anything over 2,000 words a day is unusual for me. Some days I knock off my writing in an hour. Other days it seems to take endless hours. But for a working author, it’s never just about getting the story down—there’s editing, promoting, checking galleys, writing proposals—so that the actual story creation is only one piece of a very multi-staged process. It’s not unusual for me to be working on four books at once at various stages in the process. I’ve found that a bit hard to get used to. If it’s 2pm, I’m in Kentucky, right?

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

BRIEFLY? Well, I suppose there’s always some nugget—either character or premise—that catches my imagination. Then I start working off of that—who’d be a good foil for that personality? Where do I want to set a book next? I’ve always liked to play with opposites, so I often start a list—something like dark vs light, planned vs. spontaneous, art vs. science, that sort of thing.

Then I poke around in the story, one or two thousand words at a time, until I feel like I’ve gotten the bones of it. Then I force myself to start the synopsis, hate it, go back and work some more on the sample chapters, force myself back to the synopsis, and repeat the process until I’ve gotten enough to formulate a good proposal. When the book is sold, I book a trip to the location (I LOVE location research) and shoot to have 100 or so pages underneath me by the time I take the trip.

I try and write the rest of the manuscript through in one draft, because I’ve always found you don’t know what’s important until the end. Then I go back and rewrite in broad strokes knowing what I know now and cutting all that exploratory stuff I talked about earlier. I’m a firm believer in doing your final edit out of order (pages mixed up) so that you are forced to look at the writing, not getting pulled into the story. I’m happiest when I’m completely sick of the story by the time I have to turn it in—that tells me I’ve taken it as far as I can until I step back and let the editor show me where I’ve missed the mark. I’m usually glad to dig my teeth into a rewrite because I’ve had a bit of a breather (and spent some time in other stories to “cleanse my palate”) when I return to the manuscript.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

I’ve just finished Maureen Lang’s The Oak Leaves, and enjoyed her lyrical style and tender stories. I also read everything by Alexander McCall Smith because of his subtle, dry wit—his books make especially wonderful audiobooks. I’ll line up for Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books as long as she keep them coming.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

You’ve heard me say it before: “Hush up and write.” Get out of your own way, put the craft in your head but don’t get obsessed with its execution, and just let the story tell itself until you know how to fine-tune it.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

I kept waiting for it to feel more secure. To feel “established.” Less like pulling miracles out of thin air. It never does. Even staring down a dozen books, it’s still a strange and bumpy process—so make friends with your process, bumps and all. Also, surround yourself with some people who are amazed at what you do, and others who couldn’t care less (children are especially good at this) to keep you balanced and grounded. Even your bestselling novels will not come visit you in the nursing home.

How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?

As a raging extravert, this stuff comes easily to me. I love to read my book in public, and have had some really fun booksignings just because they were fun. I have never been able to blog consistently, but I’ll talk/type your ear off in an interview. So I do face-to-face as often as time permits, which isn’t very often in the digital world. I’m still a firm believer in mailed post cards (dinosaur to some), am learning to love websites and email, and take in as many conferences and book fairs as my calendar and checkbook can stand. I try do to what I can and not freak out about what others are doing. I do believe a good book is still the best publicity there is—so I never let my PR work take the place of actual writing.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Dark chocolate—70% cacao or higher—is the secret to my success. Go thou and do likewise.
To read a review of Allie's book, The Perfect Blend, click here.


  1. Loved the last chocolate comment!!! I really enjoy Allie's chick lit-feel...might have to give her historical a whirl, though. Thanks for the interview!

  2. I love Allie's books! I started with Bad Heiress Day, loved My So-Called Love Life, loved Perfect Blend with it's Oscar worthy kiss, and absolutely can't wait to read more. Thanks for the fun interview and the exhortation at the end.

  3. You've been a wonderful guest, Allie. Thanks for stopping by!


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