A forensic accountant, a pet psychic, a psychologist, and five Best Actress Oscar nominees…what do they have in common? These are some of the many intriguing characters created by prolific author Tracie Banister. Banister has written three books: Blame It On The Fame, In Need Of Therapy and . She is currently working on her fourth book set in New York. This novel is about two antagonistic chefs. I recently spoke to Banister about her writing and her favorite characters in her books. Read what she had to say below:
When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer?
“Always, really. I’ve always loved books. I started writing my own original work when I was in elementary school, plays, essays and short stories. It was something that I enjoyed doing in my spare time. I used to do it on the typewriter because there were no computers back then or else they hadn’t become super popular (laughs). In my elementary school, plays that I did were actually produced by my class in front of friends at school and that kinda gave me the bug. When you start getting positive feedback and see your work brought to life in some way, that probably was my first taste and I always just kept writing through school. In the back of my mind, I always dreamed of becoming a published writer but it seemed like a far off fantasy, like being a princess or something (laughs) so of course I went to school and studied. I probably thought that I would grow up to be a psychologist.
I always wrote in my spare time and it just kinda flowered. I wrote a historical romance novel if you can believe it (laughs). I have such a thing for Gone With The Wind since I was young so I wanted to write historical romance. I started writing that when I was I think about twenty and that entertained me. I actually had parties when I had people come over and I would read the pages aloud like a writing salon. I’m probably a frustrated actress or something performing my work for others (laughs). I think writers, actors, anybody in the arts, we kinda live for the validation and getting that feedback from people.
As time went on the historical novel wasn’t completed and kinda fell on the back burner for a long time. I probably really didn’t seriously think of publishing again for another ten or fifteen years and then at the urging of my family and friends who said why do you keep writing things for yourself. So instead of just wondering if I’m good enough, I should just do it. I had an agent for my first book which was an amazing result, how hard it is in the publishing climate to get an agent and this book, by the way still hasn’t seen the light of day. It’s a light mystery with a Chick Lit vibe. The thing is when my agent sent it to publishers, I got really great feedback. They said, ‘this is really Chick Lit more than mystery and that seems to be your area of strength.’ I was like, ‘you’re right, why didn’t I think of that.’ They dismissed it because of the Chick Lit aspect.
This was during many years past Brigid Jones Diary when Chick Lit was being considered the red-headed stepchild of the publishing industry because they had so much of it and they didn’t want to take on any new Chick Lit. This sent me back to the drawing board. I guess at that point I embraced…even though I was being told over and over again that I had talent basically I was told not to waste my time on Chick Lit. I’m stubborn and that kinda made me want to do it even more.
So I decided to just commit myself to writing romantic comedy/Chick Lit and that’s what I started doing and fortunately my decision to do that stuff hit the big time and it was a new avenue that opened up for authors. I thought let me go out there and get my own readers. I ended up publishing my first book almost four years ago. Blame It On The Fame came out on January 18th. I’ve published three books now, found a lot of wonderful readers. It has been a great experience.”
Your first novel, Blame It On The Fame, is an intriguing look at the personal and professional journeys of 5 actresses competing for the Best Actress Oscar. What inspired you to write this book?
“I’ve always been very interested in pop culture and the celebrity world I grew up watching Entertainment Tonight and I always loved the movies. I grew up in Southern California, went to high school there and obviously the Oscars are a big thing in Southern California. We would have viewing parties. My friends would come over. I just thought it would be really fun to delve into that world.
Once I started thinking about it, it was all right there. You know there are five actresses nominated for Best Actress and looking at it from a Chick Lit angle I said ‘ that perfect.’ You’ve got your five leads, you just need to come up with five different types of actresses and personalities and back stories and goals and motivations and go from there.”
Blame It On The Fame is such a realistic look at the Hollywood entertainment industry and the behind-the-scenes politics of winning an Oscar. How long did it take you to research this book?
“It took several years to write the book and I usually research as I go along. I’ve read a lot of biographies and autobiographies of actors during the Golden Age of Hollywood. I’ve always been fascinated by that when I was growing up. I felt like I got a research basis there. Plus, I grew up in Southern California and I heard all the stories and going to parties with my parents…I wasn’t connected to studio heads or anything like that (laughs) but you meet a lot of struggling actors and actresses and hear about them going on auditions and how hard it is to break into the business and the politics.
I did do my own actual research on the Oscars, like where it takes place, the food at the after parties, all that kind of stuff, the process of voting. My characters were just an amalgamation of stories I’ve heard over the years and my perspectives of things. All of that was just distilled out into these five characters. It’s like any piece of fiction. You take reality and you amp it up with the emphasis to be exciting for readers but you want to have that core of reality.”
Your second novel, In Need of Therapy, is set in Miami and examines the personal and professional life of Dr. Pilar Alvarez. You did a marvelous job capturing the authentic flavor of the Miami setting as well as the Cuban-American culture. What challenges did you experience in writing this book that you didn’t face with the first book?
“Of every book I’ve written, In Need of Therapy was the easiest maybe because Pilar was the most like me in a lot of ways except she’s more of a mediator and I have more of a fiery temperament (laughs). For some reason that book just really flowed out and I didn’t torture myself. I finished it in the shortest amount of time. I’m a very slow writer. Twin Piques took about two years to write. I wrote In Need of Therapy in about seven months.”
Your third book, Twin Piques, is a humorous and engaging look at identical twins, Willa and Sloane Tobin. What was your favorite part in writing these characters?
“My favorite part I would say is the sisterhood. I don’t have a sister. I have a brother, but my mother comes from a family of three sisters and I have friends whose best friends are their sisters. It’s a really unique, special and wonderful relationship. I loved exploring that in the book. Willa and Sloane love each other and will always support each other, but they don’t always understand each other.”
Your books are classified as Chick Lit. Yet, you’ve created many memorable characters that transcend gender and age. In what ways has the Chick Lit label helped or hurt your efforts to promote your books?
“I don’t have a problem with the term chick. I like it. It’s cute. I don’t mind being called chick, but I grew up in the ’80s. My girlfriends and I call each other chick (laughs). I’m a feminist, make no mistake, but I know a lot of women have a problem being called chick as a term that demeans a little bit, but I really don’t have a problem with it.
Plus, whether you’re indie or traditionally published, you do have to categorize your books. Chick Lit or romantic comedy which I feel are interchangeable because Chick Lit’s main elements are romance and comedy. People do sometimes have a perception that you’re not going to get much depth, but not true at all. Chick Lit is not all fluffy. Some serious things happen in Chick Lit but you deal with it with humor. So I accept the label and I’m proud of it.”
Of all the characters you’ve written, which 3 ones have been your favorites and why?
“My initial impulse is to pick the supporting characters because they’re usually crazier, larger than life and fun. But I don’t want to ignore my leads. My favorite character in Blame It On The Fame is Danielle even though she’s horrible (laughs). I have a feeling that there are way more Danielles in Hollywood. A lot of actors, what you see is not how they are in real life. It’s all a carefully constructed press image.
I really had fun with her because she was so two-faced and so awful (laughs). She loved and cared more about her fans than she did her husband and children. That’s sad but also fascinating. I did give her psychological motivations as to why she turned out that way. But guess who was the most successful of all the women in the book? Her. You kinda have to be that way to succeed in Hollywood. You have to be cutthroat. You have to be selfish. But you also have to be talented which she was, not to take anything away from her.
In Need of Therapy…I’m going to say Izzy because she’s really smart. She doesn’t care what other people say. She’s young, self involved. She shoots from the hip and that’s awesome (laughs). I don’t do that in real life, but to get to do that through a character is awesome. She has no filter. From Twin Piques, I’d say Sloane. Sloane’s my girl. She’s prickly. She’s complicated. She’s layered and nuanced. She really grows in the book. As a writer, she’s a challenge.”
Any current projects that you’re working on that you can share with us?
“My current book, which is book four, I’m hoping to finish it in a month or so, the first draft anyway. Then it has to go through revisions and editing. It’s about two antagonistic chefs in New York. The lead character is in an antagonistic relationship with an Italian chef. I don’t want to give too much away. I don’t want to give away why they’re in a bad relationship, but it kinda escalates as the book goes on.
The exciting aspect for me is that it’s set in the culinary world. I’m obsessed with watching food shows (laughs). I don’t eat five-star cuisine, but writing about it has been a joy and I hope people enjoy reading about it. My heroine is very different from any other character I’ve written. This chef is a possible love interest, but there are also two other men who are possible love interests. My hope is that each of these men will have their own merits and that people will be split as to who they want her to end up with. I don’t think it will be obvious (laughs). After that, I will move on to writing the follow-up to In Need of Therapy which is Izzy’s story.”