Author Spotlight Interview: Marianne Hansen
Today, we continue our series of author spotlight interviews by talking to Marianne Hansen, author of hilarious but poignant Better Off Divorced and The Unscripted Life of Lizzy Dillinger. We caught up with her to find out how a highly-educated mom in Montana found the inspiration for her richly emotional tales of brave and brilliant women.
HG: First off – who IS Marianne Hansen to those readers who might not have heard of her. How do you describe yourself?
MH: I am a humor writer, wife, mother of 3 and purchaser of shoes. I grew up in Connecticut and moved to Utah in high school. I have a JD from U of Iowa, and an MA in Teaching Speakers of Other Languages and a BA in English from BYU, but I’m still trying to convince my family I know what I’m talking about. I’m also still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. It looks like it will be a writer, though. When not writing or watching British television, I can be found answering the question: “What would happen if I…”
HG: So, I was drawn to your writing by Better Off Divorced. What inspired that book in particular? It seems both the antithesis of romance, and yet the most resonant title ever, lol! I love how Grace is such a richly complex character and you managed to still make her strong and inspirational.
MH: Better Off Divorced was inspired, unfortunately, by a friend’s divorce. I thought he was an idiot for leaving her, and I imagined him realizing this in a few years and asking for forgiveness and a second chance. From that imagining, a plot started to form in my head. What would happen if Grace had finally moved on, found someone else, and then her ex came back? It would be hard to trust your ex, but at the same time, there’s so much history there. Life decisions are rarely black and white and I enjoy exploring the grey.
HG: How did you first get bitten by the writing bug? Did you write as a kid?
MH: I’ve written all of my life. I have a “novel” I began writing when I was eleven. The main character was named Anne Elizabeth Hartley and by chapter 5, she’d gotten married, had quintuplets and been in a stage coach robbery. I’m sure it will be developed into a film one day. I kept writing creatively as a hobby while going to school and raising my three kids. About five years ago, I gave myself an ultimatum to either get a book out into the world or give it all up. I couldn’t seem to give it up so I published The Unscripted Life of Lizzy Dillinger.
HG: What was your first foray into publishing?
MH: My first foray into publishing was The Unscripted Life of Lizzy Dillinger. I self-published it along with Better Off Divorced in order to understand the process and learn as much as I could about publishing. Self-publishing has been an amazing experience and I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve met some of the most amazing people through the process. I recommend self-publishing a book to meet authors in the community!
HG: Do you plan your books out in advance, or are you a ‘pantster’?
MH: Am I a pantster or a plotter? This question is a little more difficult. With my first two books, I was much more of a pantster. I knew where the story was going, but I didn’t outline each chapter. I’m now writing a mystery and I’m finding I need to outline so much more. (I live in a small town and I heard a few whispers people were wondering if my books were autobiographical. So now the main character is wanted for murder. I’m waiting to see if people still think my writing is autobiographical…)
Outlining has taught me so much about writing. The story comes much faster when I know what’s happening in each chapter. I can also plan what each character needs to accomplish in each scene. I always thought I would write by the seat of my pants, but I think I’ve converted. I’m almost becoming ridiculous. I’m using different colored pens for different characters and settings and anything else I come up with to write in a new color. If I start adding stickers, I’ll know I’ve gone too far.
HG: How long does it take you to complete a first draft?
MH: Normally, it takes me about 8-12 weeks to write a first draft. This time around, it’s taking much longer because I’m learning a new genre. In fact, I’m in the middle of rewriting my outline and then I will rewrite what I have already written. Every genre has a bit of a different formula and it can take a moment to learn each one. And then to relearn it.
HG: What’s your editing process like?
MH: I write a rough first draft and then I edit it. I then put it away for two weeks and binge watch something that gives my mind a complete break like The Great British Bake Off or something else from England on PBS. After my mind is cleaned out and I’m talking to my dog in a British accent, I take my manuscript out and edit it one more time. Finally, I hire an editor and then a proof reader to go over things I’ve missed.
HG: Do you have a set writing schedule?
MH: I had a set writing schedule for about 3 weeks and then Covid-19 changed all of that. I’m a stay at home mom and so my schedule has always been a bit flexible. I’d finally gotten all appointments and responsibilities on Mondays and Wednesdays, giving me three days to write, and school was shut down. The teachers in our school district are simply amazing, but online school requires a computer and writing requires a computer. I’m adapting by using an iPad and portable keyboard, but it’s taking a bit to get into a groove again. And when I do get into a writing groove, I feel like hearing me type is like the kids hearing the dinner bell. I can be sitting in a chair doing nothing and no one will be around. Once I start typing, they appear and need something. It’s like magic.
HG: How about a writing space or office – or are you more of a laptop-at-Starbucks kind of girl? Not that you can do that right now!
MH: I have an office, but it has become a catch-all. I have a desk that no one is supposed to touch but due to the fact that it’s slightly messy (I know where everything is however) it sometimes gets other things piled on it. I used to love going to a local coffee shop and writing. They always have amazing vibes. Lately, I have driven to a different neighborhood, pulled my car over, and written in the car. It’s not as convenient but it is fairly quiet.
HG: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
MH: The best writing advice I’ve ever received was that writing is hard work. Sometimes I think it should come easy. If I have a talent for it, then I should be able to spew amazing words all the time. But I need to keep at it. There are days I don’t want to write and those are hard days. There are days I think my writing is horrid and those are hard days. There are a lot of hard days because it is work. But it’s work that’s worth it.
HG: What’s the advice you’d like to share with other authors?
MH: My advice? It’s about the writing. No matter what, it’s about the writing. It’s taken me a long time to realize I’ve been writing my whole life without making much money at it. I keep writing because I love writing. Whether or not I write a best seller, I will always love writing. Don’t let publishing or marketing or competition stop you from writing.
HG: Who are your favorite or most inspiring books and authors?
MH: I picked up Anne of Green Gables in fourth grade. She had red hair and I have red hair. That’s all I needed. That series led me to Jane Austen. She led me to Edith Wharton. I loved how they both commented on society and it’s absurdities. I love the humor of Mark Twain. I grew up in Connecticut and we would often visit the Mark Twain house. Hearing the stories of his life and being in the room where he wrote always gave me chills. Lately, I love Janet Evanovich. I have never read a book by her without laughing. And I love to laugh!
HG: So, if readers want to find you, where can they look?