Cindy is the author of the wonderful story Exception to the Rule, which I enjoyed a lot.
So, let’s start the question and answer game with some warmup questions:
Coffee or tea?
Wow, you start with the hard stuff right off the bat, don’t you? OK, I like both, but coffee is the first among equals. Dark roast with half and half. No sugar, please. But I also like tea, especially unsweetened ice tea. I’m trying to make everyone happy.
What puts you in a bad mood?
Feeling slighted can always do it. Knowing that I didn’t do something right or well is a close second. Then of course there’s running out of coffee in the morning.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Remember how Samantha on Bewitched used to wiggle her nose? (I know I’m dating myself.) I’d like to have a superpower so that when I wiggle my nose the traffic light turns from red to green. This way I could get around faster in NYC.
Where is your favorite place you’ve ever traveled to?
I have two. First would be Santa Fe, where I went on a day-trip after a work conference in Albuquerque. I loved all the shopping and we also went to a retreat center called Sol Y Sombra, which was the last home of Georgia O’Keefe. It was an amazing and very spiritual place. My other favorite would be Israel, especially the Old City of Jerusalem, which is a walled-in warren of narrow paths and is partitioned into quarters for Jews, Arabs, Christians and Armenians. One of my prized possessions is a scarf I bought from a Palestinian shopkeeper there.
Dark because, well you know, studies are proving how healthy it is for you. So I make the supreme sacrifice and eat as much of it as I can.
What would you do if you won the lottery?
I work in philanthropy so I’m always thinking about what the Cindy Rizzo Foundation would fund. The other day I had lunch with a colleague who works at another foundation and she joked that it is much more fun to fantasize about having your own foundation than it is to actually have one. And since I know what that entails, I have to agree. But I would pay off our mortgage, make sure our sons had what they needed, do nice things for my family and close friends (I’m sure I would have many new ones if I won the lottery), and then I really would do something philanthropic, probably in the areas of homeless LGBT youth, LGBT film and my partner/spouse/wife (that’s all the same person) would want us to support animal rights and end factory farming.
And now on to the writing-related stuff:
For how many years have you been writing now, and how did you come to it?
I always liked to write and after college I wrote for a newspaper in Boston called Gay Community News. I was also in a writing group for many years. I started writing what ended up being Exception to the Rule in 1990 although then it wasn’t a romance. It was just a novel about three young lesbians in college. I had about 50 pages and just didn’t know what to do with it. What would be the arc of the story? So I didn’t finish it and wrote other things.
In 1995, some of the women in my writing group and I edited a fiction anthology called All The Ways Home, stories about lesbian and gay male parenting. Probably ahead of its time. I had a short story in that book. I also wrote a number of personal essays about being a lesbian parent that were included in other anthologies.
Then I stopped writing for about 10 years. I guess my energies were directed elsewhere. During that time, I met my partner, moved to NYC and changed jobs. Then last year, I began to read lesbian fiction again, something I had done during the former Naiad Press days, and stumbled on this entire lesfic world I hadn’t known existed. I read about a dozen romance novels in a very short period and realized that the book about the women in college could be reconfigured into a romance with a focus on two of the three young women. I tore apart our apartment looking for my old writing notebooks. My partner thought I was possessed I was so intent. I read through the old stuff and the arc of the story finally came to me.
Why do you write? What does it mean to you?
I write to learn and also to get points across about how people relate to one another and about issues in the world. I have this rich inner life where the characters live and where I explore the ins and outs of their lives. It’s helpful to be thinking about them all the time so that when I sit down to write I have a sense of what’s going to happen. But there are times when I sit down at the computer and it just comes out. It’s also an activity I actually like even though I grumble about it a lot and play computer games to avoid it.
How long does it take you to write a novel?
I wrote Exception over a few months, but I’d already had a head start with the old work. I’m working on a second book now that I started last fall and I’m not quite halfway done with the first draft. I have a demanding full-time job so writing has to fit into my lunch breaks, weekends and vacations. I’d like to finish this second book before the end of the winter.
How much time per week do you spend writing?
It varies. When I feel stuck it could be just one hour that week. But when I’m on a roll and feel motivated, I can do 1,000 words a day during the work week and more on the weekends or vacation. One of the difficulties of being self-published (though a lot of authors who have publishers tell me this is true for them as well) is all the time you have to spend on promoting your work. That time takes away from writing too. I was so grateful recently when I was chatting online with writer RJ Samuel and she said, just write the second book and stop obsessing about marketing. That really freed me.
When and where do you write the most?
I do most of my writing at home at my desk. My partner and I live in a one bedroom apartment in Manhattan so there aren’t a lot of quiet, hideaway places. We both have our desks in the living room. Mine faces the wall, so I have few distractions (other than the internet, of course). I also write a little bit at work in my office.
I’m a morning person usually but what I’ve discovered to my surprise is that I tend to write a lot at night after Jenny goes to sleep. I’m not sure why that is but my brain seems to re-engage and I can usually get something done before my bedtime especially when I’m not getting up early for work the next day.
How would you describe yourself?
Ugh, the question I dread most. I learned later in life that I’m an introvert, which means I re-gain my energy when I’m quiet and alone and my energy drains when I’m with people. Almost all of the jobs I’ve had have had some type of social justice aspect to them, so that’s important to me. Other adjectives: wonky, intellectual, funny, butch (though I’m not into sports or fixing stuff), Jewish, city, curious, loyal.
How much of yourself is in your characters?
Some aspects of me are in my characters, but none of them are completely me. I’m into politics like Angie Antonelli in Exception, but I’d never want to run for office. I kid around a lot like Robin Greene, but she’s a far better writer than I am and much more well-rounded in terms of what she’s read and studied. I’m the least like Tracy Patterson, but I found that so much of the arc of Exception was her journey of growing into herself, so I have a lot of affection for her.
What do you find the most challenging part of writing?
Thinking through the plot. I can create characters and settings pretty well, but figuring out what happens to them and what kind of situations they find themselves in that need to be resolved is sometimes difficult for me. I’m not sure I could ever write a thriller.
What are you reading right now?
I’ve been reading a lot of lesfic because I learn something from every book I read, whether it’s how to do something or how not to do something. When I was starting to work on Exception, I read a lot of lesfic romance to understand the genre better and then I read what I call “adjacent genres” – young adult, erotica, romantic erotica. I really wanted to understand the boundaries and the differences.
I recently finished Angela Jayne Peach’s book Play My Love and Heather Blackstone’s Like Jazz. I also read The Lexington Connection by ME Logan, which I gobbled down in a day. Next up are RJ Samuel’s Falling Colours, and AJ Adaire’s new book, Awaiting My Assignment. I’ve got a few more on my Kindle on deck after those. One day I will get back to Jhumpa Lahiri and Amy Tan and all the rest of the literary fiction I used to read.
What do you think makes a good romance novel?
The ones I’ve liked the most have been what I would describe as “tightly written.” A clear focus on the two main characters and a connection between them that I could feel. I’m pro-sex in romance, so I like a well written sex scene, but it’s always best when I already care about the people and can clearly understand how they got to that moment.
What advice would you give new authors?
Go for it. But make sure you let a diverse group of people read and comment on your work before it goes public. Try to think through the feedback you get. Every word is not a pearl. If you see this as a learning process, you’ll maintain the frame of mind that you can benefit from feedback to get better. But don’t get in your own way. Believe in yourself.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on my second novel, about 27,000 words in. It’s not a sequel to Exception, more like second in a series. This book focuses on Angie, who played a supporting role in the first book. The book takes place in 2010 when Angie is running for her second term in Congress. The characters are now all in their 30s. This story kind of turns the journey in Exception on its head. Instead of two people who don’t come together until late in the book, these characters come together right away, but then need to figure out if they can stay together. Angie’s life as a politician figures very prominently.
What future writing projects can we look forward to?
After this second book, I’d like to tackle historical romance, which will take a lot more work and research. I’d like to focus back in the South, but during the Civil Rights era. This may involve the story of Millicent Farrell, a character from Exception. I’d also like to write about a time period I lived through in the 1970s and 80s, which was the lesbian feminist era. There are so many stories from that time and no one is writing them. I hope they will. And finally, I have a “second chance” themed romance in my head that could end up as a novella. We’ll see.
Thank you for your interesting answers, Cindy. It was great having you here.