Monday, August 9, 2010

Author Interview--Lori Tharps

Welcome to another Author Interview! I met Lori Tharps on the SheWrites (men are welcome too) website, and this interview is the result of our conversation. Her first novel will be released a week from today--August 16th!

Review from front cover:
"A great read! I can only imagine the discussions this novel will stimulate in book clubs." Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House.

Blurb from the press release:
"Zora Anderson, an African American 30-year-old college dropout with wanderlust, leaves her accidental au pair position in Paris and returns to her hometown of Ann Arbor with no life plan in mind and no real goals on the horizon. With pressure mounting from her well-educated, upper-middle class parents to do something useful with her life and with her own self-doubt growing, Zora decides to start over in New York and sublets a small Fort Greene studio apartment from a friend who is attending college in Massachusetts. After combing the newspaper classifieds and finding a want ad for a “substitute me,” Zora lands a job in Park Slope with a Wasp-y professional couple in their 30s, Kate and Brad Carter, to look after their young son, Oliver.

Although Zora’s primary goal is to merely keep the rent money coming in to pay for her sublet, she soon becomes attached to Oliver, a baby with a sweet disposition who is adored by his parents. But as happy as she is with the Carters, Zora keeps her job a secret from her parents whom she is certain will view her position as demeaning and not much different than one of servitude. While Oliver’s mother, Kate, initially feels ambivalent about returning to work after her maternity leave, she soon adjusts to being back in the office and spends long hours there as she keeps a close eye on a competitive colleague who wants her job. With Kate’s new long hours, Zora begins working overtime to accommodate her employer’s hectic schedule and becomes a true substitute in the Carter household in ways she never would have imagined."

The Interview:

Are you a pantser or plotter, or a mix?
I'm definitely a writer who loves an outline. I get too overwhelmed if I don't have a clear outline of where my story is going. That being said, even though I use an outline, there is still plenty of room for my characters to get their own ideas and lead me down a different path than the one I intended.

Best thinking activity? (e.g. washing dishes, folding clothes, driving)
That's a tie between showering  (when I'm not rushing) and taking long walks by  myself. Sadly, I don't get to do either activity as often as I'd like because I have kids!

How do you go about choosing names, locations etc?
I am such a thief. I usually 'borrow' other people's names that I really like and who remind me of my characters.  Most of my friends will probably read SUBSTITUTE ME and chuckle at all of my name choices. Locations are easy. I choose places that I know well so I can write about them convincingly without having to travel.

Worst/most interesting writing related injury? (e.g. falling off chair or tripping over whilst trying to do something you're sure your MC could manage)
During the never ending revision process of writing SUBSTITUTE ME, I thought I'd developed some rare disease that was making me almost fall over from dizziness whenever I spent too much time at the computer. I thought I might have a brain tumor, but it turned out I just needed glasses. So, I guess you could say, I broke my perfect 20/20 vision by being a writer and being glued to my computer screen.

How did you fall in love with this story idea?
The idea for SUBSTITUTE ME actually started a long time ago when I was faced with hiring a nanny for my first born. (He's nine now.) It was an overwhelming experience for me and I felt like such a fraud interviewing women twice my age to come and care for my baby. After that I just became so much more interested in the delicate dance between mother and nanny in big cities like New York. The more I discovered about these complex relationships, the more I wanted to tell a story about someone experiencing one. I went through many different variation of what kind of story to tell before I connected with the characters who now inhabit the book.

How long did you work on Substitute Me?
Three years. I wrote the first draft though in three weeks.

Which character to you relate to the most?
To be honest, I relate to both Kate, the career-driven mother and Zora, the still hasn't found herself nanny in equal amounts. I have been in Kate's position before, trying to figure out how to combine work and motherhood. I also understand some of Zora's desires to just enjoy life as it is, but neither woman is very much like me. However, I understand both of them.

What is your favorite moment, scene or simply a line from the story?
I like the ending, but I won't say why.

Best part of the writing process?

Finishing that first draft and just getting a complete story down on paper. It feels so good and after that it's just about revising.

I met you on SheWrites when I read your post about needing some publicity help of a special nature. My favorite quote from your post is:

Of course it’s not the book for everyone, but I’d say women who enjoy Jodi Picoult or Jacqueline Mitchard novels might like it. And for anyone who found themselves completely engaged with the subject matter of Kathryn Stockett’s, The Help or Ayelet Waldman’s, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, Substitute Me will probably be right up their alley. Suffice it to say, I want the book to be a bestseller, but more importantly, I just want a lot of women to read it and discuss it and pass it on to their friends and say, “you’ve got to read this book.” I want this book to start conversations and perhaps even push us all a little bit to change our thinking. My writing mantra has always been, “I write to change the world.”  How would you like this to change the way we see each other? To change the world?

Well, all of the work I do as a writer is to get people to think about our similarities and differences with a more open mind. I want people to realize that even though we come from different places, at the end of the day most people put their pants on one leg at a time.

As far as SUBSTITUTE ME is concerned, I just think it will be a conversation starter on issues like adequate childcare, mothers who want to work outside the home being demonized, and issues of race when it comes to domestic workers. By no means is this book preachy in any way, nor does it have any kind of moral agenda. It's just a good story that I think will get people talking about some important issues.

Anything else you want us to know about you, or the book?
I just hope people enjoy the book and consider it for a Book Club pick because I guarantee there will be debate as to how the story SHOULD end. I've written two non-fiction books (Hair Story and Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain) but I think writing this book, SUBSTITUTE ME was the most fun I've ever had!


  1. Great giveaway and interview. Left me interested in reading the book.

  2. Great interview. Congrats to Lori on her new release!

  3. Links:

  4. Yay for the giveaway! Great interveiw. First draft in three weeks? That's an AWESOME speed to write at.


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