Angelina and I laughed over a cappuccino together during the Florida Library Association’s Annual Conference near Walt Disney World last month. Her quirky sense of humor (full disclosure: my family is from Boston) should serve her well as President-Elect of The Florida Authors and Publishers Association.
Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.
I’m from a small town in Massachusetts that no one has ever heard of. I just tell people I’m from Springfield because everyone from New England knows where that is. I moved to Florida to attend college in Orlando, where I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business. I live in Fort Myers now. I went back for my high school reunion and was reminded how funny everyone is up there. Sometimes when I give a speech in Florida, people don’t know I have a background in radio and stand-up comedy and I deliver a funny line straight and they don’t know if it’s a joke or not. (Massachussians always get it.) I write the copy for the shows and always loved writing. I just never thought it was an actual career option. I’ve had several regular jobs in my life, but I would get bored and quit. I’m a quitter. My parents can’t believe I finished a few books. I guess I quit being a quitter.
What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
I got cancer a few years ago and went I went to the bookstore at the cancer center and asked for a funny book. The woman I asked looked at me like I was an alien and snapped, “No one wants a funny cancer book!” I’ll never forget her saying that to me. I proved her wrong. What a sucker! Not only did Thank God I Got Cancer…I’m Not a Hypochondriac Anymore! go on to win several awards and become a #1 bestseller in three categories on Amazon, but that very same cancer center carries the book and a few months ago, they gave me a beautiful, large crystal award for it. The pages in this book are literally ripped from the journal I kept while I was in treatment. I was never close to anyone who had cancer, so I wrote it like a playbook for cancer.
What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
I hate to sound like a jerk but looking back, I didn’t really have many obstacles. I joined a writing group in 2012 when I realized I wanted to write a book and got lots of sage advice from people who had been both traditionally and independently published and asked people questions. I wasn’t afraid to admit I had no idea what I was doing. The writing community is very strange in that they want to help other writers succeed. You don’t find that in many professions. So, I’ve heard. I never stayed in one long enough to find out.
What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
I’ve had a few but my favorite was in 2014. I was writing a book about recovery and Betty Ford allowed me to tour rehab and talk to the counselors and residents. They made me promise in return that I would write an upbeat, funny story about recovery. No pressure, there! I did win a national award in humor for Mark Taylor’s Checkered Past: Recovery Road (The Lottery Heiress) (Volume 2) the next year. Many people have contacted me and asked me when and where I went to rehab because they wanted to know I was in with them. I reply that I only did the research there and am not in recovery. I know that seems strange but people thinking I was in rehab is the compliment of my life!
What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
I love anything by Dave Barry or Nora Ephron. I miss her. She was a great storyteller.
Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?
I don’t write in my manuscript every day. I do however carry a journal with me at all times and write in that every day. I used to keep digital notes in my smart phone until it crashed on me one day and I lost everything. I don’t chance it with technology anymore. I have heard several authors tell me their writing rituals but I’ve never heard any author have the same ones. We are all unique in our processes.
What are your interests outside of writing?
I used to be heavily involved with a rehab for homeless people but the cancer book has become the focus for my life right now. It’s hard to go through what I went though and come out the same person. When you’re in cancer treatment with the same people every day, some who are terminal, you wonder why it wasn’t you. It’s important for me to take the message out that early diagnosis saved my life and I had no symptoms of cancer. It was found on a routine exam. In Florida, someone is diagnosed with cancer every five minutes, so it’s important for people to know there are more survivors now than ever!
Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.
The first thing you need to do is join a writing group. I recommend you go to an actual group and not an online one. You need to network and meet people. That’s a huge missed opportunity in the writing business. The second thing to do is hire a professional editor. I can’t tell you how many people tell me, “Oh, I don’t need an editor, my spouse said it was good.” An editor will tell you the truth but they will also know how to analyze things such as continuity problems, character development, point-of-view issues, etc. Your spouse will lie to you and say your manuscript is perfect to avoid being smothered. Then, hire a copy editor. They will make sure there are no glaring mistakes in the actual book format. You don’t want the same person doing those two jobs and most people don’t know that.
I wouldn’t say I’d do much differently than I did. One thing I do (that most people I know won’t do) is I travel two hours every month to go to one of my writing groups. It is filled with NY Times and USA Today Bestsellers. If you want to be successful as an author, you have to be with people who are more successful than you. They don’t mind sharing their knowledge. You can’t expect everything to come to you. You have to be willing to go after what you want. Lastly, I know an author who was in her 70’s when she wrote her first book and she has had several made into movies. It’s never too late to go after your dream!
Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers. To suggest an author interview, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org