This month, I’m thrilled to be talking with one of my very favorite authors and human beings, Maddie Dawson!
Maddie is a transplanted Southerner living in the Northeast, and the bestselling author of eleven novels. She specializes in humorous literary fiction about people stumbling toward love, family, connection, and hope - and usually finding it in the most unlikely circumstances. Her books have been translated into fifteen languages.
Marie Bostwick: What was your journey from mild-mannered civilian to multi-published author?
Maddie Dawson: Ha! My journey toward fiction writing actually began on a hot day in Florida when I was six years old, and I wanted money for the ice cream man, and my mama said no. And so I stomped into my room and wrote a story about a king who slept for three hours and forty-five seconds. I glued the pages together and went door to door until I’d sold my book for 25 cents, which was enough for two banana popsicles! TWO OF THEM. To my shock, my mother was furious with me for “bothering” the neighbors, but the lesson I came away with was quite different from what she intended: writing was going to provide me with a future of frozen desserts.
After that, I was always writing something. I was always scrawling into a notebook while everybody else was learning how to ride their bikes with no hands and later, practicing how to put on eyeliner and flirt with guys. After I graduated from college, I worked as a reporter for The New Haven Register (where they tried valiantly to teach my fiction-writing heart that journalism meant everything had to be true! So disappointing!) After the births of my three children, I wrote a humor column for Working Mother Magazine about what it was really like raising kids, and I published three nonfiction humor books about parenting.
But I always had a novel in the drawer, a book I sneaked up on whenever there wasn’t a carpool to run or a pile of laundry to do or kids’ homework to supervise. And—after seventeen years of throwing myself at that book, it was (amazingly) picked up by a publisher in a bidding war, and my career as a novelist took off, the career I’d always dreamed of. Since then, I’ve written eleven novels, with the latest to come out this May, called Let’s Pretend This Will Work. (Hmmm. A good title for my entire writing career, don’t you think?)
Marie: Humor is one of the hallmarks of a Maddie Dawson book. How’d you get to be so darned funny? Were you born that way? Did you come from a long line of funny people?
Maddie: Wow. Thank you for those kind words. Charles Schulz, who drew the Peanuts cartoons, once said that humor comes from tragedy, that it wouldn’t be funny at all if Charlie Brown got to kick the football even one time. I think he’s right. Comedy and tragedy have a fine line separating them.
I come from a long line of hilarious, tale-spinning Southerners, people whose lives were filled with plenty of shenanigans and heartaches, the kinds of things that should make the average person think twice about their life choices. My relatives went on endlessly—and hilariously—about their cheating hearts, their many divorces, affairs, serial marriages, near-fatal lightning strikes—and possibly even a murder, although that was billed as a mercy killing and may not have even happened. (Some things remain unconfirmed and may have just been concocted for the value of the story.) Anything could be made into a story! And everything was fair game for a laugh.
I’m not quite as talented as my forebears when it comes to being outrageous, but I do appreciate a tale that starts out as The Worst Thing in the Whole World and then—call it gallows humor—becomes something that bonds people, brings us all together in an understanding that life is weird and unpredictable and strange, and that we are all in for the wild ride. That realization can always make me laugh. And then cry. For me, laughter and tears exist side by side, often in the same sentence.
Marie: Where does the book idea start for you? With a character? A problem? A place? Something else?
Maddie: Ah, I love when a book shows up and wants to be written. What a moment that is - usually at an inconvenient time, when I’m driving or sleeping or soaking wet without a notepad in the bathtub! What usually happens is a character appears in my head - usually a woman, and she’s in a situation she needs to tell me about. For days she flits in and out of my consciousness, telling me bits and pieces. After a few days of trying to bat her away, I give up and start taking notes.
It may take days or weeks to write the first pages. I move along tentatively, writing a sentence and then scratching it out. The first fifty pages get so many drafts, as I begin again and again. And then the moment comes, when magic happens, and the story seems to click into place. When I know this is going to be a book. And I know why I need to tell this story. It’s like being on a sled then, skimming along. I can start to outline chapters, think of events that need to occur and which other characters are involved. Some days I can write 20 pages, while others I can only do a couple of sentences. I’m immersed by now, even seeing things through my characters’ eyes instead of my own.
Things go wrong still: there are bumps, there are backtrackings to do, and inevitably, there comes a point when all seems lost, and I think the book won’t work after all. But then…well, magic happens. I suddenly know what I need to do, and I begin the period of revision, which is my very favorite part. I give the book to readers who offer advice and critiques, and I rewrite four hundred more times - and voila! I collapse into a puddle.
Marie: If people haven’t read any of your books yet, where do you suggest they start?
Maddie: Although I love all the books who’ve moved into my head, I think I’d recommend Matchmaking for Beginners, which is the hopeful, humorous story of Marnie, a woman who she inherits a brownstone in Brooklyn from her ex-husband’s great aunt, who is a matchmaker and psychic. Readers liked it because of the matchmaking great aunt, Blix, whose mantra was “Whatever happens, love that.” I think Blix truly struck a chord with people, because of her belief that everyone deserves love.
There’s a sequel too - A Happy Catastrophe - which takes place when Marnie takes over Blix’s matchmaking projects and finds love for herself, in the most unlikely person she’d ever met.
Marie: What do you want people to take away or how do you want them to feel when coming to the end of a Maddie Dawson novel?
Maddie: I want to leave people with a sense of having been on a true-to-life trip, accompanied by a person who could have been a friend of theirs. My characters are like me and my friends: neurotic, funny, sometimes whining, always trying to move forward and cope with disasters—and I hope that my books communicate that life is filled with unexpected joys and sorrows, and that it’s through trusting in the unknown that sometimes the sweetest answers come.
Marie: What are you working on now? When can we read it?
Maddie: Until, like, fifteen minutes ago, I’ve been at work on Let’s Pretend This Will Work, which is a fun romantic comedy about love and chaos, a Brooklyn psychic who gets things wrong, mismatched families, death, grief, second chances...and a co-op daycare with lots of misbehaving toddlers and parents. It goes on sale June 1st, and I think possibly it has the best cover EVER. I had so much fun writing this book, which is based on my own experience as a parent in such a co-op. (Years later, I’m still waking up in the middle of the night thinking I’m late to a daycare turn.)
Maddie Dawson grew up in the South, born into a family of outrageous storytellers. Her various careers as a substitute English teacher, department-store clerk, medical-records typist, waitress, cat sitter, wedding-invitation-company receptionist, nanny, day care worker, electrocardiogram technician, and Taco Bell taco maker were made bearable by thinking up stories as she worked. Today Maddie lives in Guilford, Connecticut, with her husband. She's the bestselling author of six previous novels: Matchmaking for Beginners, The Survivor's Guide to Family Happiness, The Opposite of Maybe, The Stuff That Never Happened, Kissing Games of the World, and A Piece of Normal.
When not curled up with a good book, Marie Bostwick can usually be found in her office, trying to write one.
A New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of eighteen uplifting works of historical and contemporary fiction, Marie’s books are beloved by readers across the globe.
Drawing on her lifelong love of quilting and her unshakable belief in the power of sisterhood, Marie’s popular Cobbled Court Quilt series has been embraced by quilters and non-sewers alike. Her standalone books have also found a passionate following among lovers of women’s fiction. Marie’s novel, The Second Sister” was adapted into the 2018 Hallmark Hall of Fame feature film “Christmas Everlasting”, starring Patti LaBelle. Marie’s most recent novel, Hope on the Inside, was published in March 2019 and was chosen as a Reader’s Digest “Select Editions” book.
Marie’s latest endeavor is Fiercely Marie, a lifestyle blog that encourages women to live every minute and love every moment. She is currently working on her next novel, “The Restoration of Celia Fairchild”, which will be published by William Morrow in the spring of 2021.
Marie lives in Washington state with her husband and a beautiful but moderately spoiled Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
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