Fiction Fest: Q&A with Annette Haws, author of ‘The Accidental Marriage’

Haws_A_72688-1157_loresAfter 14 years teaching in the public school system, “The Accidental Marriage” author Annette Haws set aside her denim jumpers and sturdy shoes to pursue her interest in writing fiction. She is a native of a small college town on the northern edge of Utah and a people watcher from an early age. She examines the tribulations and the foibles of characters playing their parts on a small stage.

Haws’ first novel, “Waiting for the Light to Change, won Best of State, a Whitney Award for Best Fiction, and the League of Utah Writers award for best published fiction.  She’s also been published in Sunstone and Dialogue. She is the mother of four above-average children and is the spouse of a patient husband.  She blogs at annettehaws.com.

Haws recently took some time to answer a few questions in our Fiction Fest hot seat. “The Accidental Marriage” is available in bookstores and from online retailers.

What led to the creation of “The Accidental Marriage?”

I was writing something dark and dystopian—30,000 words in—when I realized it would probably never be published. People are always asking me why I don’t write pieces that are funny, because people think I’m funny, and they don’t realize how very difficult humor really is. So I decided to write a romance about believable characters who have real problems.

What’s your writing routine like?

I write in the mornings and edit in the afternoons. That is, I write after I go to the gym three mornings a week with one of my best friends, an 87-year-old woman who has a wonderful sense of humor. We think of ourselves as gym rats who don’t wear spandex. Everyone loves us.

Accidental-Marriage,-TheWhen writing characters, do you base them on real-life people?

Sometimes yes; sometimes no. Elliot and Nina just came the way they are. I must have known them in a past life. Secondary characters are more difficult. Sometimes I begin with models, but they usually take on a life of their own after a few days.

What, if any, role does music play in your writing?

I don’t play music while I’m at the key board. However, when I’m writing a tear-jerking conclusion, I listen to Henry Mancini’s love theme from “Two for the Road” while I’m riding the bike at the gym. I can cry just listening to it. Music is powerful, no question about that.

What’s the most joy writing has brought to you?

I love the process. I cross out days on my calendar that are writing days. I don’t answer the phone. I don’t make the bed or do the dishes. Those days are gifts that I give myself. I also love to hear from readers; that’s tremendously rewarding.

What’s your current work in progress?

I’m reworking a manuscript about a woman who discovers her sister is an elusive serial killer who thinks the murders are justified. I’m writing a new piece about a group of elderly women who live on the same floor in the Eagle Gate Apartments. It’s based loosely on my adorable Aunt Maedae and her eclectic collection of friends.

Who would play “The Accidental Marriage” main characters in the motion picture version of your novel?

I’ve been staring at this question for 10 minutes, and I can’t think of anyone who could play Nina. Nina is just Nina. If I ran into her at the mall, I would know her in a minute and check her finger for a ring. There is such a definite picture of her in my head that I can’t substitute another face. Sorry.

What one thing do you hope readers take from “The Accidental Marriage?”

Perhaps the most important thing is that we all stand on the shoulders of the people who have come before. And . . . love is a gift not to be taken lightly.

Which author(s) had the most influence on your writing style?

I like to think my voice is my own, but I read really good writers to get into a positive rhythm, particularly if I get stuck. I always read the short fiction in the New Yorker Magazine—never miss. That’s a short writing tutorial each week. I don’t always enjoy the content, but the writing is beautiful.

What advice would you like to offer to aspiring novelists?

Join a critique group that demands short, incremental deadlines. My critique group doesn’t meet formally any more, and I really miss the discipline it imposed. Plus, people in your critique group get to walk around inside your head; you become wonderful friends.