Today I’m interviewing award winning author Lauren Clark whose contemporary romances are set in the deep south. Lauren is a reformed news junkie, a non-reformed coffee drinker, and an official library geek. Welcome to Coffee Time Romance, Lauren.
Now, down to the nitty gritty.
Can you tell us a bit about Dancing Naked in Dixie?
Travel writer Julia Sullivan lives life in fast-forward. She jet sets to Europe and the Caribbean with barely a moment to blink or sleep. But too many mishaps and missed deadlines have Julia on the verge of being fired.
With a stern warning, and unemployment looming, she's offered one last chance to rescue her career. Julia embarks on an unlikely journey to the ‘Heart of Dixie’—Eufaula, Alabama—home to magnificent mansions, sweet tea, and the annual Pilgrimage.
Julia arrives, soon charmed by the lovely city and her handsome host, but her stay is marred by a shocking discovery. Can Julia's story save her career, Eufaula, and the annual Pilgrimage?
I see Dancing Naked in Dixie was a finalist for the 2012 Faulkner Wisdom competition in New Orleans, LA. The novel also won a Silver Medal for 2012 Readers Favorite Book Awards. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Awards are a way to recognize Indie Books apart, especially if the award is national and a well-known organization. There are a lot of fly-by-night award companies set up that will take an author's money and there is really no benefit, but careful application to organizations like Faulkner, Eric Hoffer, and Readers Favorite (I hope) means that a book is well-edited, plotted, proofread, and may appeal to avid readers.
What other books have you published?
Stay Tuned, published in November of 2011. The story is based on my time behind the scenes when I worked as a news anchor and producer.
How cool that you were a news anchor! What was it like when you published your first book?
It was really fun and scary to publish my first book! I'd written Stay Tuned a few years earlier, so it went through several extensive revisions and ended up being a much better story than if I had published it right away.
What kind of books do you enjoy?
I am very eclectic in my tastes, I love almost every genre of book. My recent favorites include I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella, Flat Out Love by Jessica Park, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and Guilty Wives by James Patterson,
What gave you the idea for Dancing Naked in Dixie? What sparked the muse?
Twelve years ago, I moved to the Deep South after living in the Northeastern part of the United States. It was an exciting, frightening, and wonderful experience! Not only was the climate a huge change (hot & muggy versus blizzards), the food was vastly different (collard greens, ribs, and banana pudding versus hot wings and roast beef), and even the language took a bit of getting used to (phrases like "mash the button" and "that dog don't hunt" were a bit bewildering at first).
When I decided to write Dancing Naked in Dixie, I wanted to take some of my own amusing, amazing, and fascinating experiences, insert them into Julia's life, and have her grow and change into a better person as a result. I crafted Julia as a talented, strong, but scattered female protagonist who faces a major challenge in her life--she's on the verge of being fired because of too many mistakes, mishaps, and missed deadlines. At first, Julia, who's used to five-star hotels and exotic international locations, balks at the idea of covering a story in "small-town" Alabama. In the end, though, her journey enriches her life, uncovers answers to long-hidden family secrets, and helps her find happiness where she least expects it.
Can you share an excerpt?
“Are you always in such a hurry?” Shug asks, his voice slow and steady compared to my frantic pace. My usual velocity is hyper-drive. Get there as fast as I can, I don’t care if I break my neck, or the speed limit.
“Oh, sorry,” I slow my brisk stride into a leisurely walk, “hazard of living in the City. Everyone’s in a rush, twenty-four seven. Always someplace to go, somewhere to be. When I was younger, I used to wish I didn’t have to go to sleep—you know, so I didn’t miss anything.”
Shug gives me a strange, amused look. If he thinks I’m crazy, at least he is polite enough not to say so.
“Where are we going anyway?” A towering statue of a Civil War soldier stares off into the distance as we cross the intersection.
“Honeysuckle Diner,” Shug answers, “just down the street a piece.”
A piece. How cute.
Shug describes the thick French toast and warm, buttery cane syrup. Fluffy eggs. Sausage and grits. Suddenly, I’m famished. Seconds later, we arrive at the door.
“Yoo-hoo,” a simpering voice calls out from across the street. A car door slams.
No. We can’t stop. The smell of fresh-baked biscuits makes me weak. I try to tell Shug telepathically that I’ll die if we don’t go inside now. I look longingly at the Honeysuckle Diner. Shug is completely distracted.
And then I see why.
Thigh-high boots on a pair of long legs, a short red skirt over tights, and a sequin-trimmed sweater. Topped off by a thick, shiny mane of white-blonde hair and a mega-watt smile.
The girl blows a kiss and waves, as if we might somehow miss her or the white Mercedes convertible she just poured herself out of. Gosh, people are friendly down here. And gorgeous.
I glance down at my standard New York garb—black head to toe. What else did I pack? Oh, right. Almost everything I own, down to my panties, is black.
So what? I argue with myself. Why compare myself to a random girl on the street? Someone I’ll never see again.
“Um, that’s my girlfriend,” Shug leans closer to explain. “Mary Katherine.” He gestures for her to come across the street.
Of course. So, she’s not a random girl. Lovely. I’ll bet we’ll be seeing her every day.
But Mary Katherine shakes her head coyly, points a finger to her cell phone, and steps onto the opposite sidewalk. By the time I decide to wave back, she disappears around the corner.
Shug doesn’t seem bothered in the least. He holds open the door to the diner.
My knees weaken at the sight of steaming breakfast plates on every table. Raucous laughter, animated conversation, and the clang of pots and pans from the kitchen make it almost impossible to hear. Shug motions for me to follow him, but stops every few feet. He shakes hands, exchanges back slaps, and chuckles as we move through the crowd.
Curious stares follow us. Polite, inquisitive looks. A wrinkled forehead, pursed lips, a raised eyebrow. If I make eye contact, which I’m trying not to do, the person smiles brightly and chirps a greeting.
Great. I can imagine what they are dreaming up. Star magazine-type rumors, followed by a heinous paparazzi photo. I see it all too clearly. The headline will read: Who’s that girl? Is Shug Jordan cheating on Mary-what’s her name?
Oh well. There’s always food. At least I’ll die embarrassed and happy.
I center my attention on the tiny empty table in the back corner. Mentally, I push Shug toward it. When I start walking, I almost kick him in the ankle. Closer, closer, there you go. A few more feet.
Without warning, another roadblock appears: A short, round, heavily made-up woman stops Shug to hug him and kiss the air next to his cheek. And then someone, who must be her daughter, goes and does the same thing. No one’s in a hurry. Except me.
Five long minutes and three stops later, we make it to the table and sit down. I pick up the narrow menu, hold it in front of my face, and scan the list. Grits, biscuits, red-eye gravy—
“It must be overwhelming,” I hear Shug say.
I edge the menu to one side and peek out. He gives me one of those open and honest looks, with piercing eyes. Like an actor on daytime television about to reveal who killed so-and-so’s sister’s cousin’s mother.
“What must be?” I tilt my head in his direction, thinking Shug must mean the menu. It certainly wasn’t what I’d call gourmet, but even ostrich eggs and endive smeared with peanut butter would do at the moment. Can’t he tell I’m about to gnaw apart the table?
“All of this.” Shug makes a sweeping gesture at the rest of the room. “I’m used to it. I was just thinking, to an outsider, well …” Shug seems to lose his train of thought. He glances down at his own menu, suddenly self-conscious.
Very observant. Pasting on a big smile, I grasp for a witty and off-hand remark, which comes out a jumbled mess. “Oh, no, not at all. It’s different from New York, but I’m not uncomfortable. Quite the contrary. I feel right at home.”
Shug gives me a thoughtful nod and picks up his menu.
It’s not the truth. Me being right at home in small-town Alabama is the equivalent of Kim Kardashian never shopping again.
In New York, it’s all about anonymity. No one cares who you are, unless your last name is Trump. No one says hello or waves, unless it’s to grab a taxi.
A waitress hovers nearby. I hurry to take a look at the menu, and then realize she’s not just wiping down the table next to us. She’s staring. Shug hasn’t even noticed.
Another server appears, and two hands plop down glasses of light brown liquid. “Good morning, y’all! Cute hair, sweetie,” the girl, who appears to be all of nineteen, is calling me sweetie. She inspects my roots and chews on the eraser of her pencil.
“Did I hear you say New York?” Her voice raises several octaves. “I’ve always wanted to visit New York. Rocker-feller Center at Christmas time. The big tree. All of the lights.”
I try not to visibly wince at the mispronunciation, but keep my lips buttoned. The minute I correct someone, I’m certain to butcher some Southern phrase in front of a dozen people.
Shug speaks up. “Julia’s here to do a preview on the Pilgrimage for Getaways Magazine.”
The girl’s eyes widen like I’m a movie star. Her voice rises a few octaves. “A real magazine reporter?” Several heads swivel near our table. “Can you interview me? Can I be in the article?”
I attempt a serious look at Shug, who stifles a laugh, entertained by the entire situation.
“Um, I’ll do my best to include everyone.”
That seems to placate her. The waitress prattles on, waving her notepad. “If you feature the Honeysuckle Inn with a picture,” she taps her lip, “Brad Pitt could see it and come in here. People from London, and Europe. Zillionaires.” She practically jumps up and down.
I shrink down in my seat and reach for the closest glass. Suddenly parched, I take an enormous swallow.
YUCK! It’s so syrupy-sweet I gag. My eyes water. The liquid swills around in my mouth and I long to spit it on the ground. Don’t think about it, I instruct myself. Just do it. I force the tea down my throat in one big gulp.
And start to choke. Then cough. I can’t stop.
“Bless your heart!” The girl drops her notepad and starts pounding my back so hard I’m certain my ribs will crack any second. “She’s choking. Oh, my Lord! Someone help her!”
Do you write in silence, or do you have a playlist of songs? If you listen to music what kind of music inspired you to write Dancing Naked in Dixie?
Silence is golden for me. I write best in a study room on the campus of our local university. If I did pick out songs to complement DNID, here's my "playlist":
1. Montgomery Gentry - My Town - Showcases the true pride people feel about their hometown. This song is so raw, honest, and heartfelt.
2. Zac Brown Band - Chicken Fried - There is nothing like the harmony on this song and the funky, funny lyrics that explain what Southerners love about the South.
3. Thompson Square - Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not? Another great song by a girl-guy duo. It's all about the heady anticipation of a first kiss -- great stuff! Thompson Square has toured with Macon, Georgia's Jason Aldean.
4. Sugarland a/Matt Nathanson - Run - Did you see this video from the 2011 CMA Awards? Amazing performance, amazing song. Great Chemistry between MN and Jennifer Nettles.
5. Lady Antebellum - Just a Kiss - This makes me think about Shug and Julia ... with her leaving to go back to NY and both of them wrestling with admitting that they are "right" for each other.
6. The Band Perry - All Your Life - Everyone's heard "If I Die Young," but All Your Life is all about what people do for love. So romantic.
7. Blake Shelton - Drink On It - Okay, I included this one because Blake Shelton is awfully cute and I loved hearing him joke around on The Voice. The lyrics are adorable and have that sexy suggestion of getting together ... later.
8. Keith Urban - Somebody Like You - I had a hard time choosing from all of his great songs. I've seen Keith Urban in concert and he is so talented.
9. Jason Aldean & Kelly Clarkson - Don't You Want to Stay - I've loved Jason Aldean since he came onto the music scene a few years ago. He's best known for his country-rock songs, but his ballads are lovely and ache with feeling. Kelly Clarkson, of course, has a fabulous voice.
10. Lynyrd Skynard - Sweet Home Alabama - You can't get any better Southern Rock than this.
What is your favourite type of hero, barring your own? ;-)
Not a Fifty Shades of Grey type (LOL). Someone smart, honest, and dedicated. That's sexy.
How do you relax? What hobbies do you take part in?
Playtime with my two boys, bike riding (I have a retro-looking Electra bike), and yoga
What’s the most important advice you can give to a newbie author?
Stick with it. Write a lot. Read a lot. This business is tough and you have to LOVE it.
Anything new in the works you want to share?
I am researching for my next novel, Pie Girls, due out February 14, 2013! This story will follow a girl who’s gone off to a big city (like Atlanta or New York) and vows NEVER to come home. She’s forced to return to home, though, when her romantic relationship falls apart (her husband leaves her for another man). Since she’s burned a lot of bridges in her birthplace, it will be interesting to see how she makes amends.
Where can we find out more about you?
Lauren Clark Books Website
GoodReads Lauren Clark
Twitter Lauren Clark
Facebook Lauren Clark
Now, for the fun stuff!
Are you a full time writer or do you have a day job? Full-time Mom and Writer
What is your favourite colour? PINK
What is your favourite drink? Flavored Coffee (I have a Keurig & Love it)
What is your favourite food? Gourmet Pizza ... I love it with pesto and sundried tomatoes!
Trapped on a desert island what three movies would you take with you? What three books and what three fantasy men?
Movies - Love, Actually, Last of the Mohicans, The Shawshank Redemption
Books - The Shopaholic Series by Sophie Kinsella, My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult, and The Poisonwood Bible
Men - Daniel Craig, Mark Wahlberg, and Ryan Reynolds
Thanks for visiting today, Lauren. You can find out all about Lauren and her books from the links below!
Smart, Sassy Fiction with a Southern Twist
Dancing Naked in Dixie for Kindle
Dancing Naked in Paperback
Dancing Naked for Nook
Dancing Naked for iTunes, iPad, iPhone
Dancing Naked for Kobo
Dancing-Naked-in-Dixie *NEW* Audible Audio Book
Lauren Clark is the author of Stay Tuned and Dancing Naked in Dixie. She writes contemporary novels set in the Deep South; stories sprinkled with sunshine, suspense, and secrets. A former TV news anchor, Lauren adores flavored coffee, local book stores, and anywhere she can stick her toes in the sand. Her big loves are her family, paying it forward, and true-blue friends. Check out her website at www.laurenclarkbooks.com.