Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Denise Williams Interview - How to Fail at Flirting

Photo Credit: © D&orfs Photography

Denise Williams wrote her first book in the 2nd grade. I Hate You and its sequel, I Still Hate You, featured a tough, funny heroine, a quirky hero, witty banter, and a dragon. Minus the dragons, these are still the books she likes to write. After penning those early works, she finished second grade and eventually earned a PhD.

A diversity trainer and co-creator of a women’s empowerment group, she is dedicated to developing flawed, multidimensional characters who struggle with those issues impacting real women. After growing up a military brat around the world and across the country, Denise now lives in Iowa with her husband, son, and two ornery shih-tzus who think they own the house.

What inspired you to pen your first novel? 
HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING is my first novel, and I started writing it as a new mom with a busy day job—I wanted a creative outlet. I ran into an ex on Facebook and it got me thinking about the impact that past relationships have on us. 

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way? 
So many people and things have influenced my writing, but I’ll focus on what I haven’t shared before. I was a psychology major in college, but I took a few creative writing classes. In one of them, we were reading aloud short pieces we’d written and a classmate read his story about his former roommate who was an international student named Wale adjusting to life in the US. It was funny, gripping, sad, and hopeful at the same time. I don’t remember the classmate’s name, the professor’s name, or even what I wrote for the class, but twenty years later, I remember exactly how I felt listening to his words. I think that’s the power of being an author, that your words could stick with someone and touch them in a deep and lasting way. I hope I have or that I will write something like that, something that lives up to the story of Wale. 

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published. 
I joined the 2020 debut author group and helped to lead the group of authors of color within the big group. Getting to know those individuals in the small and large space has been so incredibly rewarding. Across genres, we’ve met regularly for months, support one another, share advice, and provide a community of writers that has been one of the best parts of being a debut author. 

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel? 
“Man, that Denise Williams is an excellent writer!” After they think that, though, I hope they’re thinking about perceptions of professors—who they are and what they do. I hope they’re thinking about what is on their own to-do list for life and what might be stopping them from checking off boxes. I hope they’re thinking that healing and love don’t have to be mutually exclusive. After that, I’d hope they return to thinking they love the book. 

In your new book; HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING is about Dr. Naya Turner, a professor who threw herself into work following an abusive relationship. Years later, she’s still healing and her job is in trouble; she decides to re-claim some spontaneity in her life. as a good type A person, she does this by making a to-do list that includes flirting with a stranger. Despite some serious flirting fails, the stranger ends up being someone she can’t get enough of. Jake is in town on business and seems perfect until a few of his secrets come out and Naya has to decide between love and her career. 

  • 1. Jake was inspired by a guy at a bar who flirted with some friends and I. Thanks for the inspiration, guy wearing a blue polo shirt. 
  • 2. The book originally began in Texas. 
  • 3. I enjoy writing love scenes and several were cut along the way, including one involving cake and one filled with Star Wars references. 
  • 4. Jake has never seen Star Wars, and we have this in common. If you’re trying to reconcile this with #3, know it involved a lot of Googling and my husband saying “Stop asking me and just watch the movies.” 
  • 5. There is a deleted scene of Naya and Jake drunkenly singing “Land Down Under” by Men at Work at a piano bar together. 
  • 6. Naya shares with Jake that she always wanted to find her name on pencils when she was a kid, a curse for people with uncommon names. He buys her pencils with her name printed on them, and that is my favorite moment in the book. 
  • 7. I based Felicia on my oldest friend, something I didn’t tell her beforehand. When she read an early version of the book, she told me “I really liked the Felicia character.” 
  • 8. Naya teaches math education. If there is a subject I would never want to teach, it’s math. 
  • 9. The hero of my next book, THE FASTEST WAY TO FALL, has a cameo in HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING. 
  • 10. Jake and Naya share a kiss on the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier in Chicago. To date, that is the only Ferris wheel I’ve ever ridden.
What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book? 
It’s funny. With this book, writing was the distraction! I had an infant son, new job, and ongoing research project when I started writing. Now, writing every book following HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING, I am a sucker for social media and that infant is now four and is a (usually) delightful but effective distraction from writing. 

What part of Naya did you enjoy writing the most? 
Naya has spent so much of her life silencing herself and reigning herself in. I loved writing the scenes where she takes risks and lets herself go a little wild, even when it doesn’t turn out that well. Even as I wrote these scenes, I felt inspired to take some of my own risks. 

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why? 
I’d introduce Naya to Kimba from Kennedy Ryan’s QUEEN MOVE. Kimba is so self-possessed and knows her own power that I think Naya would find her incredibly empowering (like I do!). 

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Jake? 
When I started writing, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make a nerdy hero charming and sexy. Those were the things I wanted in a hero, but it surprised me when so many people resonated with my hot nerd, Jake. 

  • 1. “I knew better than to judge a student so harshly based on his appearance. A penchant for Top-Siders and sherbet-colored shirts didn’t influence his intellectual ability. Quinton or Quenton would either surprise me by acing the final or he’d fail the exam spectacularly in a blaze of styling gel.” 
  • 2. “This sounds like an instruction manual from the fifties on how to land a man.”
    “You don’t need to land a man, just to board one.” 
  • 3. “And tell the sexy-as-sin woman I’m trying to impress I’m scared of heights? No way.” 
    “You’re trying to impress me?” 
    He surprised me by turning to wrap both his arms around my waist, bringing us together. “Is it working?” 
  • 4. “He felt like safety, like home, like more.” 
  • 5. “What’s at the bottom of the ocean and shivers?” I tipped up my chin, awaiting the punch line. “A nervous wreck.” 
  • 6. “Hey, this dress was expensive. I can’t have you tearing it off me.” 
    “Give me more credit than that. I’d ease it off slowly,” he said, planting sweet little kisses by my ear before lightly sucking on the left lobe. “And I’d place it gently on a padded hanger before even thinking of pleasuring you. You’d beg, tell me you want me, but I’d say, ‘No, Naya, you know this dress is my first priority, and I’ll be back in twenty minutes after I run it to the dry cleaner.” 
  • 7. “So, you were the mack-daddiest of all the studs at math camp?” 
  • 8. “Imagine the shortest, least-coordinated person you knew in high school, the one who wore suspenders to gym class and corrected everyone’s grammar. The grown version of that guy gets picked for basketball teams before me.” 
  • 9. “Take me to my bedroom.” Do something reckless. Check. 
  • 10. “…I understand if—” 
    I stopped short. His kiss was full of gentle sweetness, a hint of hunger and want. Our tongues met, sliding over each other’s, and his fingers brushed the sensitive skin near my ear. We pulled apart, just an inch, and he pressed his forehead to mine. 
    “Please don’t finish that sentence,” he said, cupping my face in both of his warm palms. “I don’t want an if.” 
What’s the most ridiculous fact you know? 
17th century British landscape architecture favored a natural look while French landscape architecture of the same period was highly-manicured. Shout out to my 17th Century British Literature course in college! 

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before? 
True love—no question. If I think about my worst heartbreaks, the ones that left me feeling broken and hopeless, I learned the most about myself in the aftermath. 

Best date you've ever had? 
Okay, hopefully my husband isn’t reading this. My best date was actually with an ex who is now a dear friend. I don’t remember the beginning of the date, but we stopped for coffee and talked for hours and ended up closing the shop down. I think it was the best because we had such a great connection that we lost track of everything going on around us. There’s a lot of those moments for Jake and Naya in HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING. 

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go? 
Naya is a survivor of intimate partner violence in HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING. I am fortunate to not share that experience with my character, but one theme of the book is how past relationships shape us. I have a host of memories of partners who ranged from giving me less than what I deserved to lying and cheating. I think if I could, I’d travel back to the first time that happened, and I’d stand up for myself. Hopefully it would be easier the next time and the time after that. 

At a movie theater which arm rest is yours? 
Both of them! Just kidding. It’s been so long since I was in a theater, but usually the one to my right is mine. 

What event in your life would make a good movie? 
When I’m not writing, I work in higher education. My first full-time job was running a residence hall that housed 1,700 mostly freshman students. It might be a better TV show than a movie, but I have stories on stories on stories from that job. If Netflix is reading, hit me up! 

Who has had the most influence in your life? 
My parents. That’s a cliché answer perhaps, but they raised my brother in a house where humor and creativity were valued, where ideas were discussed, and where we had to eat our peas. Thanks for everything, Mom and Dad (except the peas…I still hate them). 

What is one unique thing are you afraid of? 
Butterflies! I gave that trait to Naya in the book, but butterflied creep me out. My worst date? A surprise trip to a butterfly house. 

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer? 
Wow—it’s hard to choose! I think the best moment so far was seeing a positive review from someone I didn’t know. By that point, I’d seen positive things from friends, critique partners, my agent and editor, but the first time a reader told me my words touched them…yeah, that was amazing. 

One daring to-do list and a crash course in flirtation turn a Type A overachiever’s world upside down.

When her flailing department lands on the university's chopping block, Professor Naya Turner’s friends convince her to shed her frumpy cardigan for an evening on the town. For one night her focus will stray from her demanding job and she’ll tackle a new kind of to-do list. When she meets a charming stranger in town on business, he presents the perfect opportunity to check off the items on her list. Let the guy buy her a drink. Check. Try something new. Check. A no-strings-attached hookup. Check…almost.

Jake makes her laugh and challenges Naya to rebuild her confidence, which was left toppled by her abusive ex-boyfriend. Soon she’s flirting with the chance at a more serious romantic relationship—except nothing can be that easy. The complicated strings around her dating Jake might destroy her career.

Naya has two options. She can protect her professional reputation and return to her old life or she can flirt with the unknown and stay with the person who makes her feel like she's finally living again.

You can purchase How to Fail at Flirting at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you DENISE WILLIAMS for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of How to Fail at Flirting by Denise Williams.