Sunday, September 13, 2020

Q&A with Ellen Meister

Ellen Meister is the author of the new novel Love Sold Separately. Her other books include Farewell, Dorothy Parker and Dorothy Parker Drank Here, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal blog.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Love Sold Separately, and for your character Dana?

A: The idea for the book started with the character, and at first, it was just a fleeting thought. I was watching one of the home shopping channels, and marveling at the women hosts. They were so pristine, so perfect, polished as gems.

It amused me to think of an imperfect woman landing in that environment—someone who drank too much, got high, misbehaved, even rebelled against fashion. I had no story to go with it, so I just tucked it away.

Then one day my muse flew in and said a murder mystery in that setting could be a lot of fun. At first, I rejected the inspiration, because I had never before written a mystery. But the idea wouldn’t leave me alone, so I began the long learning curve of figuring out how to write a mystery … and once I started, I was hooked!

Q: You said in one of our previous interviews that you usually have a good idea of how your book will end before you start writing it. Was that the case this time?

A: Yes, I always know how I want a book to end. Or, at very least, the arc of my main character. I think that’s an important goal to write toward.

And with a mystery, knowing the ending is even more important, because there are so many moving parts to fit together—including all those carefully-placed red herrings! Plus, I like the idea of having all the main players assembled for the big reveal, and that can be a very precise needle to thread. So with a mystery, the planning is even more precise.

Q: Are you a fan of shopping channels, and did you need to do much research to write this book?

A: Here’s my confession: Before writing Love Sold Separately, I often tuned into the shopping channels to help me fall asleep at night. The buzz of voices gushing over products was just the right background for me to nod off. And until I started the book, I had only made a single purchase.

But once I started writing it, I began paying more attention to the hosts, and what they did. My respect began to grow. Then, I took a backstage tour of the QVC studio in Pennsylvania. I brought a healthy dose of cynicism with me. My goal was to get some inside intel—maybe even dirt—that would help me add verisimilitude to my scenes.

And let me tell you, I didn’t find anything suspicious about how the sausage was made. The staff there is almost worshipful about the company and the work they do. And once I saw, firsthand, the kind of quality checks they do on the merchandise they sell, I was a convert, too!

Q: The novel is set in New York City--how important is setting to you in your writing?

A: It can be vital, creating the precise atmosphere I’m after. In this case, I needed Dana to have a cosmopolitan edge to her. Also, as an ambitious and serious actor, she needed to be in either New York or Los Angeles.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I recently finished the second book in the Dana Barry series, and I’m excited about it. There’s a horrible male character—kind of a cross between Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and a few other unsavories—and I had the pleasure of pushing him off a roof at a cocktail party. (insert evil laugh) And now I’m thinking about how to follow that up.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Readers who want more information should check out my website,, where they can sign up for my newsletter or just drop me a line. I’d love to hear from them!  

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Ellen Meister.

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