Tawna Fenske is hilarious. She’s the author I want to hang out with while drinking wine, swapping dirty jokes and digging our toes in the sand.
I’ve been a fan of Tawna’s hilarious-yet-hot romantic comedy novels since I picked up Making Waves in 2011. I mean, it’s about modern-day pirates and there’s tropical island hanky-panky. SOLD. I’ve dug every one of her books (may I recommend her recent novella, Eat, Play, Lust? Her heroine shares my love of Tater Tots), but I especially love her latest, Frisky Business, sent to me by Sourcebooks, Inc. with no obligation to review.
I jumped at the chance to interview Tawna, who also cracks me up on a daily basis via Facebook. Let’s just say our chat involved the phrases “literary grudge f*ck” and “tingly in your swimsuit area.” Read on.
You had quite a journey before becoming a published author. Can you talk a little about how you started writing, some of the obstacles you encountered, and how you overcame them?
My journey to publication was a little bumpy. That’s a bit like saying strippers occasionally dress provocatively.
The short version of the story is that I wrote a couple crappy novels before selling a book to Harlequin’s “Bombshell” line in 2005. Then my editor called—on my 32nd birthday, the same day my cat died and I was told I’d be fired from my job for disobeying the company’s pantyhose requirement—to inform me the line was being cancelled a month before my scheduled debut. I spent the next several years cycling through an agent that didn’t quite work out and writing manuscripts that almost-but-didn’t-quite sell.
When my agent landed me a three-book deal for my romantic comedies in 2010, the joy was somewhat dampened by the fact that my marriage of 13 years crashed and burned that year like a short-circuited vibrator hurled angrily at the bedroom wall.
But I persevered and used the setbacks as an opportunity see writing as a literary grudge f**k and my love life as a sort of late-thirties do-over armed with all the lessons I’d learned the hard way. I went on to rack up multiple published books at three different publishing houses, awesome feedback like a nomination for Contemporary Romance of the Year from RT Book Reviews, and cool publications like the Chicago Tribune not only spelling my name right, but writing things like, “Fenske’s wildly inventive plot & wonderfully quirky characters provide the perfect literary antidote to any romance reader’s summer reading doldrums.”
I’m also engaged to marry an amazing guy, and my newest romantic comedy, Frisky Business, is dedicated to him. He’s the best reason I can think of to write a book about finding love where you least expect it.
Why do you choose to write romantic comedies? What are the upsides and the downsides of being an author in this genre?
That day I mentioned above—the one where my cat died and my book deal got canceled and I was told I’d lose my job? I remember walking out onto my back porch that evening with a glass of wine and thinking, “You know, it’s actually kinda funny if you think about it.” The fact that I could find humor in what was arguably the worst day of my life at that point is part of what prompted me to start writing comedy. I get a lot of emails from readers thanking me for making them laugh when they really needed a lift. That makes me mind-numbingly happy.
The biggest downside to the genre is that a lot of people don’t know it’s a genre. Sounds funny, but readers who go out looking for romance often don’t consider they might also like to laugh, and readers looking for comedy don’t always head for the romance aisle. I had a new release in February with a book called Marine for Hire. It’s a romantic comedy like all my others, but the publisher chose to brand it with this steamy, military-themed cover that made no mention of comedy. I was annoyed at first, but bit my tongue and played along. Their decision was BRILLIANT. The book sold insanely well, spending the first week in the top 30 overall bestsellers on Barnes & Noble. More than half the reviews you’ll see on Amazon and B&N for that book reference the fact that the reader just went out looking for a steamy read, and ended up pleasantly surprised by the humor. I racked up a ton of new readers with that release, and many of them went on to buy my backlist titles and my new release, Frisky Business.
Your heroine in your latest release, Frisky Business, works in nonprofit fundraising. Having been in this exact field for several years, I loved how you got all the details right (dealing with board members’ demands, the “people-pleaser” personality, the struggle of doing a job that so many people mistakenly perceive as easy). How did you research such a specific type of job?
I’m a neurotic researcher with all my books. It comes from spending many years as a journalist before I tried my hand at fiction. Before starting Frisky, I spent a lot of time exploring the exhibits and interviewing staff at the High Desert Museum, in Bend, Oregon. That’s the real-life facility that inspired the Cascade Historical Society and Wildlife Sanctuary (CHSWS—Cheez Whiz!) where much of Frisky Business takes place. The badger digging scene at the fundraiser? Totally a real thing—I’ve watched it more than once!
Can you tell us a bit about your writing process, and how you balance your writing life with other priorities?
I work part-time as the public relations and communications manager for my city’s tourism bureau, which is a fancy way of saying I get paid to take journalists out drinking on the Bend Ale Trail and to learn to stand-up paddleboard so I can write about it. People always ask when I plan to quit my day job, and the answer is that they’ll have to forcibly drag me from the building by my hair. I not only love the job itself, but the fact that it keeps my creative writer brain fueled and functioning. I had a nine-month stint where I did the full-time, stay-at-home-author thing and my creativity definitely suffered. For me at least, it’s important to have a balance between getting out and experiencing things and holing up in my writer cave wearing yoga pants and snickering over penis jokes.
The part-time nature of my day job allows me full days for writing, which I very much enjoy. I like to write for long stretches, often 8 or 10 or 12 hours at a time with the occasional potty and wine break. I’m a seat-of-my-pants writer who prefers not to plot my books out ahead of time, which sometimes conflicts with my editors’ need to have a detailed synopsis of a book before we can go to contract.
As for the balance, there’s no magic formula. You’re catching me in a year I have four book releases and a wedding all in a 12-month span, so I’m admittedly stretched to the max at the moment.
I teach workshops on social media for authors, and social media is also a big part of what I do for the day job. The number one thing I always tell people is to treat it like you’re just hanging out with a group of friends. You’re not selling, you’re not promoting, you’re not beating people over the head with your book until they fall to their knees and agree to buy it—you’re just chatting with your pals. If they enjoy your voice, if they laugh at your jokes, if they come to think of you as a friend because you bond over pets and that time you got caught licking pudding off your keyboard, there’s a good chance they’ll buy your book on their own, both because they enjoy your humor and because they feel the urge to support someone they see as a friend.
Why should people read Frisky Business?
To laugh and feel tingly in your swimsuit area. Isn’t that the best reason to do anything?