Interview with Michele Featuring
It’s Not Your Mother’s Bridge Club
What inspired you to write this book?
It’s Not Your Mother’s Bridge Club is the story of a group of women who gather monthly to play the dice game “bunko.” I’ve been part of bunko group for the past eight years. This means eight years of first-Thursday-of-the-month, girls’-night-out experiences, and each time I get together with these women they make me laugh, they make me cry, and they make me know I’ve got friends on whom I can rely when I truly need them. Since millions of American women belong to bunko groups, I believed they’d be able to relate to the women of the Snake Eyes Dice Club. And so I created a group of fictional characters. I’ve tried to make them as funny and interesting as my real life friends . . . but this was a tall order.
Give us an idea of the plot/subject without giving too much away.
This is primarily a character study. Most bunko groups have 12 players who play a simple dice game that takes very little thought and no strategy. I reduced the number to eight. Believe me it was enough having eight fictional women living in my head as I wrote their story. The characters are middle-aged and middle-to upper-middleclass, and they live in a desert community, the Rattlesnake Valley. What they have in common is their membership in the Snake Eyes Dice Club. Other than their monthly gatherings, they don’t have much interaction. They are wrapped up in busy family lives dealing with everything from the mundane soccer car pool and children’s extracurricular activities to the heart-wrenching drama of coping with the death of a child. There’s a selfish Botox and fashion addiction along with a battle with infertility and the caring for an elderly parent. Another member of the club faces alcoholism, which often rears its ugly head on bunko night, along with club members who struggle to make ends meet among a group of more financially privileged women, and also manage children and work in the wake of divorce. Because of their differences, I chose a format allowing each of the eight women to relate her story in first person. We get to know the characters individually, learn to understand the self-centered nature of each as she goes through everyday life, and as the story of this group spans one year, from September to September, we see how they grow together and learn to support one another.
What is the primary message you’d like your readers to take away from this book? (If a novel, is there an underlying theme?)
This is an inside look at a suburban enclave, which I believe highlights the cultural phenomenon that moves women to form groups such as the Snake Eyes Dice Club—or a bunko group. Even though it’s told in eight distinct voices, I don’t try to focus on what makes them different, but instead, what makes them the same.
Tell us about your writing process.
I come up with my best material in the shower. Seriously. Some people sing in the shower? I come up with opening lines. I’ve been doing this since I was a newspaper columnist back in the San Francisco Bay Area. Whenever I’m stuck, I take off my clothes and turn on the spigot. Sometimes I physically write a line or two in the steam of the shower wall. When writing fiction vs. essay or memoir material, the characters live inside me. I dream about them. I don’t always know what direction they’re going to take and this makes the process both mysterious and highly entertaining.
I posted this particular novel chapter by chapter on an Internet website called thenextbigwriter.com, a site that gives readers the opportunity to review, comment and critique the work. I admit their suggestions—particularly those from men commenting on the male characters (and wanting to keep me in line, I suppose)—had a tremendous influence on me. It was motivating having an audience throughout the writing process, who urged me to continue. Just prior to pulling it from the site, readers voted it to the number one position for novels. Incidentally, I found it interesting that I had more male readers/reviewers than female. It seemed all the men were eager for a glimpse at what really happens on girls’ night out.
Who are your favorite authors and who influenced your writing?
Everything I read influences my writing to some extent. I don’t tend to read fiction while I’m writing a novel; however, I’m a big fan of daily newspapers and particularly love the columnists and op-ed pieces. I grew up reading the poetry of Sylvia Plath and was fascinated by the tragedy of her personal story. The Bell Jar may have been the most influential novel I’ve ever read. Classics like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith were also early influences. When I was an aspiring journalist and ultimate columnist I loved everything by Anna Quindlen. Some of my favorite novelists include Barbara Kingsolver, Sue Miller, Wallace Stegner, and Alice Walker. I also love the humor essayists Laurie Notaro and David Sedaris—anything that can make me laugh right out loud is welcome on my nightstand.
What are you reading right now?
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It’s fabulous, and is this month’s selection of the book club to which I belong. Yes, in addition to belonging to a bunko group, I also belong to a monthly book club—another group of women. I’ve always said that a bunko group is like a book club without having to read a book in advance of getting together.
Can you offer a glimpse into your “real life” and share with us a bit of your personal life—Outside of writing, what’s important to you (i.e., hobbies, passions, causes, family)?
The name of my first book (non-fiction) is I’m Living Your Dream Life. My life may look very attractive from the outside looking in because we spend our winters in the temperate, beautiful Sonoran desert, and then escape the summer heat and head to the great Northwoods of Wisconsin. The only problem is that in the woods, where we live on a fresh-water lake, we are not on vacation. My husband and I, along with our two daughters, own a family vacation facility called Sandy Point Resort. We’ve operated it for the past 16 years. Life at Sandy Point is a seven-day per week job and it has its challenges. It definitely beats working in a newsroom or a trading floor, which were our previous occupations, and it truly is a dream life for our children. We also proudly lay claim to creating the world’s first disc golf resort. Both professional disc (Frisbee) golfers, we have a world-class course on our property and host one of the PDGA disc golf tour’s most popular annual events, The Northwoods Open.
As for my causes, when I’m Living Your Dream Life was in production, my 20-year old niece, Stephanie Rose, suffered a fatal heart attack triggered by the herb ephedra (Ma Huang) contained in a dietary supplement. Thrust into the limelight upon the book’s release and obligated to promote it, I used my public appearances, interviews and articles to focus on the cause of herb awareness. We formed an organization called HerBeware and held fund-raising events where we sold books and t-shirts to help spread the message: “Just because it’s all natural, it doesn’t mean it’s safe.” I heard from people across the country with their own stories about ephedra and other unregulated herbs, and we were pleased to see the FDA finally ban this substance (which, by the way tests positive for amphetamines in the human system) approximately one year after Stephanie’s death.
With the publication of It’s Not Your Mother’s Bridge Club, I’ve received a lot of comments about the cover and have been asked repeatedly, “Are THOSE real?” Or “What kind of bra is that?” The first answer is, borrowing from the Seinfeld show, “They’re real, and they’re spectacular!” The second: “It’s not your mother’s push-up bra.” On another note, I’m happy to report they are breast cancer free. Breast cancer is a topic that touches all women, particularly women over 40 when they face their annual mammograms. We know what it’s like to await that paperwork. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. In this story, one of the characters has lost her mother to breast cancer, but all eight of the women in the Snake Eyes Dice Club are free of this disease. I figured they had enough to deal with considering the problems and flaws I did give them. Just after the book’s release, however, I returned to Tucson from Wisconsin and had lunch with a dear friend, who told me she received the “bad paperwork.” Bad paperwork = bad mammogram. That sealed it for me. To date, I’ve donated all the profits we’ve made on book sales in our little shop at Sandy Point Resort to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and intend to seek out Bunco For Breast Cancer ® (aka Bunko for Breast Cancer) organizations throughout the country. We’re having tank tops made to emulate the cover artwork and we’ll help promote breast cancer awareness and donate funds for the cure.
The theme for my next bunko party will be, of course, Bunko for Breast Cancer. By the way, our group has always spelled Bunko with a “K”. The World Bunco Association, which has a supplemental trademark on the word “bunco” for book titles (and why I couldn’t use it in my title without a license agreement for up to 50% of the royalties of book sales) spells it with a “C”. Both bunko and bunco are acceptable spellings.
Tell us something surprising about you and/or something very few people know about you.
I don’t like talking about my books. I’m a good writer, but not a great author (aka promoter.) This is why I’m so grateful to reviewers and to interviewers who make the process friendly and encouraging. Yes, I want to share my work and it gives me great joy when people tell me what they loved about my story, but it’s difficult for me to come out from behind my computer and self-promote. Donating book sale profits to causes that are important to me has made this process easier.
Would you be willing to share your biggest challenge/failure and how it changed your life? How about your biggest success, personal and/or professional and how it affected your perspective?
My biggest challenge is being a parent. I have two daughters, Willow, 13, and Camille, 11. They’re healthy, gorgeous, intelligent girls and each day I count my blessings for having them in my life. I, however, beat myself up constantly about whether or not I’m a good parent and try not to live vicariously through their strengths and weaknesses. But man, it’s difficult! I’m sure they find me very demanding and too stern a disciplinarian. Parenthood has changed my life forever. My life is no longer just about me. I’m ALWAYS preoccupied with the health and well being of my girls.
As far as my biggest success, it has to be my marriage. The most wonderful partner in the world, Mike Cozzens, and I celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary on October 6, 2008. I am my husband’s biggest fan and I haven’t met anyone else with whom I’d rather spend time.
What’s next for you ~ Anything else you’d like to offer?
My publisher would like a sequel to I’m Living Your Dream Life, as it’s a strong title for his company, particularly for aspiring innkeepers. (I start writing this book in my head nearly every day, particularly when I’m in Wisconsin.) I’d also like to write a sequel to It’s Not Your Mother’s Bridge Club, where I can turn up the focus on one or two of the individual characters and give them true character arcs, as opposed to focusing on a group of eight and its “character” arc. I enjoyed creating and getting to know these women so much that I’d like to see how they evolve individually.
Finally, I have a story begging to be told called “Irish Twins,” about sisters born 11 months apart. They essentially have experienced the same childhood but have had very different outcomes.
If I can stop micro-managing my children’s lives for an hour or so, I may get started on one of these projects. First, however, I have to run out and drive the soccer carpool to practice.