When I travel, I enjoy the opportunity to randomly meet strangers and hear their stories. Last year on a business trip, I was seated next to a young writer whose two books had at that time sold over 10,000 copies and was just completing a third. We were probably talking about writing even before our plane left the ground. I found her genre especially interesting, and unusual. Stephanie Fowers writes comic romance in a Mormon cultural setting.
At the end of June I asked her to elaborate on her writing career here at Ennyman's Territory. She obliged and what follows will be both helpful for aspiring writers and entertaining for the rest of us.
Ennyman: You've won some short story awards and have published two books that seem to be giving you a following. When and how did you first realize you were a writer?
Steph: I was a storyteller before I became a writer. I could play 'Barbies' and 'cheerleaders' and 'house' and stare off into space with fantastic daydreams for hours. My teachers in kindergarten and first grade were worried because I wasn't learning the alphabet. So, the only way my mom could convince me to learn that crazy busywork was to assure me that once I did, I could take all my great ideas and write them into books. After that, I learned the alphabet in two weeks and lurched from the lowest reading group to the highest in a month. Instead of talking about flunking me, my teachers wanted me to skip a grade, but my mom wouldn't let them do that to me either.
I loved creative writing and reading my stories out loud to the class. Once my second grade teacher fell off her chair she was laughing so hard. I entered every writing contest with stories of talking donuts and dark mysterious diamonds,and to my surprise, I won a few of them too.
In junior high, I was a big movie watcher and not a big book reader (probably because I didn't know how to find the good books), so I decided I wanted to make a book that was as good as a movie. And oh boy, was my first novel DRAMATIC--it had tall elves (which I thought I made up), evil zombies, loyal dogs, a poor orphaned princess baby...(everyone knows orphans have more fun).
Unfortunately, at this point in my life, I was 'cursed with coolness,' so if anyone at school asked me what I was writing, I told them I was doing homework because writing--especially fantasy-- was SUCH a geeky thing to do! It was a terrible day when I lost my first manuscript during a track meet, and I was too clueless to figure out how to retrieve it again. So, I started writing my novel again, though this time it was less tragic and more comedy with a few serious undertones.
I finished it when I was a freshman and tried to get my mom to read it, but she couldn't read my writing, so I had to learn to type. A year later, after typing it up, my mom still couldn't get through the first chapter because I kept talking about how the hero had such amazing clear blue eyes, constantly dimpled when he talked, and slurred everything (which I thought was terribly romantic). It always makes me laugh when I hear: "Don't put your work past your relatives and friends because they won't be honest about your work," but my relatives and friends are brutally honest. I can always depend on an opinion from them, whether I like it or not.
Instead of giving up on my audience, I read a chapter a night to my younger sister. That's when I realized my work appealed to the younger crowd. My little sister ate it up, and begged me to write her another book, so I did. Each night I'd read her a new chapter from our new book and each night, she'd sigh over the romance and root for our characters in their crazy misadventures. My poor mom! Instead of having a teenager who got into trouble, she was worried that I WASN'T getting into trouble. I didn't want to socialize, I just wanted to write! One day, she asked me if I had anemia...if I felt too weak to go out and socialize.
And still, none of my friends knew that I liked to write. I kept it hidden like a dark secret. I went to BYU Idaho (a junior college), and kept pretending that my novels were just huge homework assignments. After I came back from an LDS mission to the Philippines, I felt a little more comfortable with sharing my likes and interests with my friends. Suddenly, it was okay to be a nerd--after all I was the biggest nerd in the Philippines--I spoke Tagalog like a caveman, had to wear a skirt all the time, sweated like a dog and the Filipinos still smiled and accepted me.
I remember the first time I told one of my friends that I wanted to be a writer. Instead of looking at me like I'd grown horns or that I was some kind of daydreamer, she looked excited and told me I'd make a great one! Everyone had that reaction. I decided I shouldn't care anymore what anyone thought about my decision--nerd, failure, whatever they thought, it wouldn't change who I was.
Soon after, I got a letter from a friend who told me that she had written a novel and she was shopping it around. That's when I decided to rewrite my high school novel and finish the ones I attempted at college. I'd wake up at four in the morning and write until I had to go to work, and then I'd get home from work and write until I went to bed. Still, no publishing companies wanted my work.
I went to BYU Provo to finish my education, though my poor dejected homework was always secondary to my creative writing. My education was my back-up plan, but I was determined to succeed at what I really wanted to do. At this point, I was writing YA fantasy mingled with romance and comedy...until one day, I looked at the people around me and realized... they were weirder than anything I was writing. I started listening in on funny conversations, and noticing hilarious dating patterns. I was pretty crazy too if I thought about it... and that's when I got the idea to write a romantic comedy set in my world. That was 'Rules of Engagement.' I sent it to a smaller publishing company called Covenant Communications. They called eight months later after I had completely forgotten about sending it. I thought it was a prank call from one of my friends or siblings and almost laughed and told the publisher where to go, but then I held my tongue. I'm glad I did because it was real. Covenant really accepted my book.
E: When we met you had published two books (Rules of Engagement and Meet Your Match). You were working on a third. Is that Prank Wars?
Steph: Yeah, that was Prank Wars. I finished it soon after we talked on the plane. Covenant Communications is looking at it right now. I'm super excited about it because it's romantic comedy with a mystery, which is like taking my romantic comedy books and mixing them with the adventure that I put into my fantasy books. It's different than anything else that I've done before.
I've also finished a YA fantasy called 'With a Kiss.' It plays with the idea of fairy tales and princesses in the modern world. I'm waiting on an agent to tell me what she thinks about it, but then again I'm always waiting on agents to give the final word, right? It's all part of the adventure. I haven't been able to break into the fantasy/sci-fi market yet, but that certainly doesn't stop me from trying. I'm writing an anti-vampire book right now... that's because I'm bitter against vampire books getting all the action lately, so if you can't join 'em, beat 'em I always say!
E: I love your sense of humor. Where does that come from?
Steph: Everyone in my family loves to laugh. It's the highest honor to tell a joke that gets everybody to fall off their seats with laughter. Now I see the value of being serious every once in awhile and I don't feel I have to give in to the pressure of being the main entertainer in social situations anymore, but I still make people laugh by opening my mouth and being myself, which makes me pretty happy that it comes naturally.
E: Your first two novels you call "Chick Lit" but before that you were writing some sci-fi/ fantasy. What attracted you to the science fiction/fantasy genre?
Steph: I love the fact that anything can happen in science fiction/fantasy. I can make a world where wolves are wisecracking jerks looking for some fast food or I can write how vampires are lisping human wannabes with OCD. Yes, I'm mad at vampires!--ever since controlling, undefeatable vampires came into vogue.
E: You mention liking Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austin. Why? And what do you think of Pride & Prejudice and Zombies?
Steph: I LOVE Jane Austen. She is hilarious with a great sense of humor. She's also observant. Jane makes true-to-life characters who are interesting and funny because they are realistic. She takes the society she lives in and pokes fun at it in a good-natured way. I know she must've been bombarded by well-doers who wanted her to get married because of the lines Elizabeth and others say in her books. None of the heroines agree to a marriage without love. I can tell she writes from experience.
As far as 'Pride and Prejudice with Zombies?'--that totally made me laugh. Zombies are funny no matter what. I also make film and we just finished filming a short zombie western--and we laughed the entire time. So yeah, I really want to see the movie version of 'Pride and Prejudice with Zombies.' The book was a little slow (although I loved the fact the author called the zombies 'the unmentionables'). The movie I know will be cool...hopefully...
E: You are one of ten kids. What do your siblings think about your writing career?
Steph: My brothers and sisters are proud of me. We all went after what we wanted to do: we have doctors, architects, entrepreneurs, homemakers, filmmakers, marketers, pharmacists, accountants. But really, my siblings (and my parents) want us all to remember what makes us the happiest, which is our relationships with family and loved ones. The careers are fun and support us, but it’s good to keep everything in perspective.
E: Do you have any sci fi/fantasy stories online? Does your sci fi/ fantasy have the same humorous bent as your other stories?
Steph: I haven't put any of my sci-fi stories online, but that's a good idea. I've written about seven books that haven't been published (some of them WAY too dramatic and silly from my early writing days). My books have ranged from extremely end-of-the-world-serious to books that make fun of those books. I like reading both. It's actually funny because an agent rejected my last book because it was too dark and then I gave that same book to a publisher who rejected it because it was too light. Go figure. Someday, I'll get it right.
E: Thanks, Steph, for sharing yourself here.
You can learn more about Steph and her writing at:
Top right: Stephanie dressed up as a fairie. Middle: The author playing putt-putt. Bottom photo, L to R: Stephanie Fowers, friend Hilary (who is composer in a musical Fowers is writing) and younger sister Jacqueline, who as a child loved to listen to Fowers' novels.