22 Jan 2014

A chat with chick lit author Donna Joy Usher

Do dreams inspire your writing? What did you last dream about?
Absolutely. I came up with the ideas for The Seven Steps to Closure and The War Faery Series from dreams that I had.
Hmmm, the last thing I dreamt about…. I finished reading Jim Butcher’s Cold Days before I went to sleep last night. It had a pretty spectacular ending with a twist I didn’t see coming. I spent the whole night dreaming about that, but I was a participant not a spectator.

When did you first start writing? And when were you first published?
I started writing my first book when I was about 8. It sucked, and I gave up for a while after that. About 7 years ago I gave it another shot. That also sucked. Finally I got it together and finished the first draft of The Seven Steps to Closure in July 2011. It was published in May 2012.

What is it about this genre that appeals to you the most? Do you read other genres?
I love writing chicklit because it has such a humorous edge to it, but I also read and write other genres. When I was 12 I read The Lord of the Rings and have been a huge fantasy fan ever since. I also love reading horror. Apart from The Chanel Series, which is chicklit, I am also working on The War Faery Series, a YA urban fantasy trilogy, and have a chicklit/sci-fi series in mind.

What's the title of your latest book? Can you tell us about it?
Cocoa and Chanel, which is the first in a chicklit come mystery series. It’s about Chanel, who accidentally joins the police force and gets posted to Kings Cross in Sydney, where there is a serial killer on the loose. She’s naïve, and clutzy and intent on discovering the identity of the killer. She’s got some great friends and her Mum is a hoot. There’s some romance and some action, and it gets a little scary in parts, but mainly it’s just funny.

What inspired you to write it?
I worked with a dental nurse who had been a hairdresser and then joined the police force. She was naïve, and smart and silly at the same time. She was also hysterically funny. The original idea for Chanel was based on her character, but after I started writing she took on an identity of her own.

Is it part of a series?
Yes, I’m about to start writing number 2.

Have you ever spotted anyone reading your books anywhere?
No damn it. Every time I use public transport I check out what everybody is reading hoping that someone will be so I can do a ta-da moment. Sigh. Maybe next year.

Who designs your covers?
Derek Murphy from Creativindie. He has a real talent for giving me exactly what I want.

If your latest book was made into a film, who would you cast?
Geez, that’s a hard one. I’d have to cast Daniel Craig there somewhere, because it’s the only way I’m ever going to get close to him. On that note I’d probably get Ewan McGregor and Colin Firth… but the question wasn’t who would I like to drool all over was it.
Thinking Music…….
For the Mum - Renee Zellweger.
For Chanel – Hayden Panattiere, mainly because she looks like how I imagine Chanel does.
For Martine – Mark Wahlberg. You have to read it to get it!
For Bruce – Taylor Lautner

What's your favourite Chick Lit book that made it to the big screen?

Definitely the original chicklit book – The Diary of Bridget Jones. I read it in a night and then read it again the next night.

What were the last two books you read?
No Place Like Home by Caroline Overington, and Cold Days by Jim Butcher.

Name one female author who you think deserves to be better known.
Me? (Hee hee, just kidding.) Actually I have 2 girlfriends who both deserve to be better known.
Kristy Berridge, author of the YA horror The Hunted Series. She’s also just released Diary of a Teenage Zombie which is an awesome read.
Rachel Amphlett, thriller writer of White Gold and Under Fire. She’s currently writing a romantic thriller which I can’t wait to get my hands on.

Where do you write?
I love to sit at the head of my small dining room table. It allows me to look over the living area and out the sliding doors on either end of my house. So even though I am inside writing I can see the outside world and the sky.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An accountant, a vet, a dress designer and a physiotherapist; sadly, I never wanted to be a princess…or a fireman.

In the movie of your life, who would play you?
Image courtesy: Eva Rinaldi from Sydney Australia
I’d like to have Sandra Bullock if she’d do it. She’s funny and smart and really kind.

Speed Round...
Top drink to make you tipsy? 
Champagne – because according to my husband I drink it like lolly water.
Shopaholic or shopadon't? Shopadon’t! I hate spending my spare time at the shops.
Sky high heels or closer to the ground? I feel claustrophobic in high heels. I think it’s because I can’t run in them and I like to be able to run away if I have to.
E.L. James or Jilly Cooper? Jilly Cooper
Cry baby or tough cookie? Tough cookie – I once walked for a week with 100 blisters on my feet and ended up with blood poisoning. (You could also call that stupid!)
Exotic beach or enchanted forest?  That’s a tough one. If I go to Cairns I can have both.

Born in Brisbane, Donna Joy Usher started her working life as a dentist. After 15 years of drilling and filling she discovered there was more to life, and put pen to paper. Now she drills by day and writes by night. When not doing either of those things she likes spending time with her husband and two little dogs, fishing and camping, motorbike riding, stand-up paddle boarding, traveling and drinking wine on her deck.
Her debut novel, The Seven Steps to Closure, took gold in the humour category of the 2012 elit Publishing Awards and was shortlisted for the Shirley You Jest 2012 Book Awards and the 2013 Indie Excellence Awards.
She has lived in a myriad of places: Melbourne, Perth, England, Rockhampton, Roxby Downs, Sydney, Cairns and is now situated on the New South Wales Central Coast.
The Seven Steps to Closure on Amazon
Cocoa and Chanel on Amazon

Cocoa and Chanel Excerpt
It wasn’t my boss that I hated. It was my boss’s husband, Lenny - a fat lazy specimen of a man, with overtly frisky hands. Everybody knew Lenny was a perve, everybody that is except Cindy, my boss.
Lenny and Cindy owned Glamor, the prestigious hairdressing salon I worked at. And when I say prestigious, I mean prestigious for Hickery, the small country town I grew up in. We served coffee and our magazines were current. That was as good as it gets in Hickery.
I was in the storeroom sorting out stock when the bell on Glamor’s front door jangled. That was the last noise I wanted to hear fifteen minutes before knock-off time on a Friday. With Cindy, the client always came first - which was a nice work ethic, but it sucked when it meant I stayed late. And that Friday night I had plans to meet Becky, my best friend, at Hickery’s one and only bar, The Brimstone. I didn’t want to be stuck at work trying to guess the exact shade of lilac hair old Mrs Peterson wanted when I could be sharing a bottle of sparkling wine with Becky.
‘Cindy?’ I called out, crossing my fingers. She had taken the day off to visit her Mum.
The door to the storeroom opened and I groaned inwardly as Lenny leant against the door frame.
‘Oh hi,’ I said dismissively, hoping Cindy was with him.
‘Chanel,’ he said, nodding his head at me and attempting to look down my blouse.
I stood up, assessing whether I could make it out the door without having to rub up against his rotund gut. It didn’t look good. Between my boobs and his belly there just wasn’t enough room for both of us.
‘Excuse me,’ I said, smiling brightly as I gestured towards the doorway.
He didn’t move away, as I’d really hoped he would, but instead lurched further into the cramped storeroom. Leering down at me, he said, ‘Nice girl like you should have a man to look after her.’
‘I don’t need a man to look after me,’ I said as I backed away from him. The truth was that I didn’t have a man, not because I didn’t want one, but because the hot men were a little light on the ground in Hickery. ‘And anyway,’ I added, ‘I’ve got Cocoa.’ Cocoa was the love of my life. A miniature black schnauzer my now ex-boyfriend, Tommy, had given me for my birthday last year.
‘That’s a dog, not a man. A girl like you needs a real man.’ He grabbed his crutch as he uttered the last words and moved even closer.
Oh shit. I was in serious trouble.
‘And how lucky Cindy is to have you.’ I could smell the stench of his fetid breath tainted with a hint of alcohol. ‘By the way where is Cindy?’
‘At her Mum’s.’
‘Great,’ I said, squishing myself into the far corner of the room. My mind raced, trying to come up with a suitable plan to get out of my situation which was, in every way, shape and form, bad. To start with, Lenny was my boss’s husband. But more importantly, he was an odious specimen of a man. I found him physically repugnant and if I rejected his advances the creep would probably tell Cindy I’d hit on him. If he did that I’d be out job hunting on Monday. As the only other hairdressing shop in town was owned by my ex-boyfriend’s mother, and as I had broken his heart and stomped on his soul (her words) I felt that the chances of my gaining employment there were pretty poor. On the other hand if I did sleep with Lenny I would have to go home and slit my wrists, because there was no way I was going to be able to live with that memory.
Knee him in the balls and run, my brain advised my body.
I’ve always been a bit of a chicken and by the time my body had computed the message, reacted with horror at the thought of using violence before finally agreeing with my brain, he was far too close to achieve enough force for an effective impact.
He looked down my blouse and licked his lips, making me regret my bra choice that morning (you never know when Mr Right is going to walk through the front door), and then said, ‘So how about it?’
A vision of Lenny taking me against the storeroom shelves flashed through my mind and I froze in horror. Taking my silence as assent, he put one hand on my left breast and squeezed. ‘Bet that feels good,’ he said.
My knee took on a life of its own jabbing upwards. It missed his groin and bounced off the bottom of his stomach which was hard like a rock, and not in a good way.
I shoved him backwards with both hands and yelled, ‘Get off me.’ My breast could still feel the imprint of his fingers. I was going to have to get it counselling.
He looked confused, red creeping up his cheeks to his hairline, highlighting the hair plugs that lived there. ‘I thought you wanted it,’ he said.
‘Wanted what?’
‘Well, you always wear those short little dresses and …..’ he finished the sentence by mimicking big boobs with his hands.
‘I have big breasts Lenny,’ I said.
He stared at them, eyes glazing over, and then reached out a hand saying, ‘Yes you do.’
‘That wasn’t permission,’ I said, slapping his hand away. ‘So that’s it? I wear a short dress and push-up bra and you think I want to shag you in the storeroom?’
‘Would you prefer a hotel?’
I could see I was getting nowhere and changed my tactic without fully thinking it through. ‘Anyway it wouldn’t be fair on you,’ I said, ‘what with me leaving and everything.’
‘Uhuh.’ I kept a neutral expression on my face while my brain flitted from excuse to excuse, looking for a plausible one. ‘I’m joining the Police Force,’ I blurted out. ‘So, as you can see this would be totally unacceptable. After all, it is illegal.’ I was pretty proud of myself. I’d come up with the perfect alibi to prevent an affair, and I’d done it under extreme pressure. It seemed to have the desired effect because he backed away from me with his hands held high.
‘Police Force?’ he said doubtfully.
‘Just waiting for my enrolment date.’
‘Police Force?’ he said again.
‘Yes, the Police Force.’
‘You don’t seem like the type to join the Police Force.’
‘Why not?’
‘Well,’ he said slowly, ‘you don’t look like a dyke.’
I felt like smacking myself in the head. Good one brain – you could have played the lesbian card, but noooo, you had to choose the Police Force.
I pulled myself up straight and said, ‘I’m not a dyke, I’m a law abiding citizen just trying to do my part.’ I looked at my watch. ‘Knock off time.’
I tried to keep skin contact to a minimum as I pushed past him and out of the storeroom.

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