"I'm sorry to say that I'm one of those people whose heart always does a little skip when I walk into the dentist office for a root canal and I see the latest issue of People," she confessed. "It's a bonus if they have also US Weekly. It's absolutely heaven when they have Stars or the Enquirer. I don't watch TV; the only way I get any popular culture is from my tabloids. But I don't have a subscription. That would ruin the guilty pleasure. It's more fun if I can sneak reading them at the checkout lines or the doctor's offices. I once dropped a dentist because he was too superior to have tabloids in his waiting room. His receptionist said he only wanted classy magazines like National Geographic or Sunset. Excuse me? If I'm about to get a root canal done, I don't want to be reading about the Pygmy in the Amazon learning how to grow rare cactus. I want to read about how prickly Sean Penn dumped trophy-babe Scarlett Johansson in Hollywood."
How does her addiction tie in to her writing Compulsively Mr. Darcy? A few years ago, she read about Brad and Angelina adopting a Vietnamese orphan in the tabloid. She was inspired to write about the Netherfield gang from Pride and Prejudice traveling to Vietnam to adopt a trendy Hollywood baby.
I asked her, "When did you first consider yourself a writer?"
" Honestly? It was when I saw the 'Best Book' review here, on Long and Short Review. I'd received an excellent review from Publishers Weekly, but I thought that was a fluke and the reviewer there must have had a good spring roll at a Vietnamese restaurant that day. When I read the review here at LASR, and saw that your reviewer got the characters and the humor I'd intended, and she laughed at the mention of armpits and tweezers, then I considered myself a writer. The story I wanted to tell did come across the way I wanted it to a reader who hasn't read Jane Austen, no less. That tickled me to no end. The same week, a box of my author's copies arrived in the mail. I have to confess that until I saw the physical book, I'd been waiting for my agent to call and say, 'Sorry. The publisher made a mistake. They've decided not to publish your book after all. They're calling you a faker. And I agree with them.'"
Nina is in denial about the existence of writer's block, because if she admits it exists, she might indulge herself and procrastinate. She tries to write every single day, allowing herself the freedom to write a vomit-first draft and not be perfect. She then has to spend a lot of time in revision, but it works for her.
"I can always revise and edit something to make it better," she explained, "but I need to have words on paper first. If I'm truly stuck, I get up and go for a long walk or a long run around the block. Somehow, movement helps me get the kinks out."
The original title for Compulsively Mr. Darcy was Love and Acceptance.
"Fortunately, my publisher asked me to change it since it was cheesy and smaltzy," she said. "They asked me to come up with a list of ten alternatives. I turned to family and friends who've read the book for help. When the publisher bought the book, the acquisition editor called it a compulsive read. From that, my sister suggested, 'Compulsively Mr. Darcy.' I think sometimes other people are better at titles for your stories than you are. My plan is to have other people come up with titles for stories I write. "
When she's not writing, it's Nina's goal to find the perfect container for everything in the house.
"Know those clear, hard plastic containers that Jelly Belly come in? They make perfect Barbie shoe organizers, did you know that? I'm very proud of that discovery, and I tell every parent I meet at on the playgrounds that. When my husband took my favored-customer card to The Container Store away and told me to get a life, I decided to take up writing. I've been warning him, though, if not enough people buy my book and this publishing author deal doesn't work out, I'm going to be a frequent flyer at 'Hold Everything,'" she told me.
Nina was surprised to discover that years of reading tabloids didn't prepare one to write a novel. It seemed to her that the research took more time than the actual writing.
"Fortunately, everyone is very helpful and pleased to be asked to help with research. Of course, I was a little embarrassed to tell some people I was simply writing an irreverent, spicy romance, not the great, deep, navel-contemplating American novel they were hoping," she admitted.
"There are many Austen-inspired works out these days," I said. "How do you keep your writing different from all the others?"
"I don't think most Jane Austen writers get their inspiration from reading the tabloids, so I'm probably safe," she said. "Seriously, I don't think that's a big concern for me as yet. My mind tends to go to odd, quirky places and I write for myself as a reader. Don't tell my agent this, but I actually don't write a book to get published. I write a story because something about the characters or situations appeal to me. I write because I have passion for the characters or the subject, not because I want to see my name in print, though that's very nice. At the risk of sounding very smaltzy here, I'm happy to be published because people are enjoying and laughing at my jokes, not because it means I've arrived as an author. But, please, again, do not tell my agent this. I really want to be a successful author so I can justify her signing me. If you saw the list of big name authors she's representing, you'd understand."
"What is the one thing most readers would be surprised to learn about you?" I wondered.
"That, despite my wise-cracking online presence and the spiciness in my writing, I'm actually quite shy and very polite in person. My mother sent me to etiquette school to learn how to pour tea without scalding your guests, how to write calligraphy without getting ink on your fingers, how to demurely eat a banana in public without having strange men stare hungrily at you and so forth… so I'm quite prepared," she assured me. "I was once invited to the vice president's mansion (by Tipper Gore) with a group of women and acquitted myself quite properly. Too bad Gore didn't win, I would have loved to frame that photo of me and Tipper on my mantel. My mother would have been over the moon, although she wouldn't have voted for Gore. Btw, wasn't it sad about Al and Tipper? Forty years, and they're calling it quit? What? She found out for real that he didn't discover the Internet after all? If he's showing up with Scarlet Johansson as his trophy-babe one of these days on my tabloid, that's it, I'm going over to Ace Hardware and buy myself the most energy-wasting light bulb there is."
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About the Author: As a child, Nina Benneton promised the French Catholic nuns who taught her that she would grow up and find the cure for cancer, effect world peace, and win a Nobel Prize for something, anything. Alas, her own Mr. Darcy and the requisite number of beautiful children interrupted her plans. Tired of alphabetizing her spices and searching for stray Barbie shoes, she turned to writing.
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