10 QUESTIONS FOR…Darlene Dennis, “Host or Hostage?”

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Author interview with Darlene Dennis

About Darlene: (Retired English teacher, consultant with Houghton Mifflin text book division, compulsive cook, hostess, rose gardener, aqua exerciser, traveler and mah jongg player)

1. Tell us about your latest book.

In the world of “how to” books, there has been a curious void on the subject of entertaining and managing house guest visits.  Here is a book that fills that vacuum. “Host or Hostage? A Guide for Surviving House Guests” defines the idiosyncratic world of entertaining house guests from beginning to end.  It is the first practical hands-on guide dealing with the nitty gritty of how to invite or avoid house guests, how to make them comfortable and how to manage their timely departure.

2. How did you get started as a writer?

I entertained a bottom of the barrel house guest from hell and decided there were no books that dealt with this particular subject.  I started interviewing people anywhere and everywhere about their house guest experiences and learned that there are people with hellish house guest stories around the world.

3. Describe your usual day.

I begin the day at 6:30, take coffee and the newspaper to my husband in bed, feed and walk the dog and then work out at the YMCA from 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM.  I write or market sporadically.  As an attention deficit person, I jump from task to task in a cycle that keeps me entertained, the house more or less in shape and our social life buzzing.

4. Describe your workspace.

I have a beautiful large office with two desks.  The bay window looks out on the mountains east of us in Encinitas.  Both desks, the round black marble table and the book case are usually a mess of papers.  I’m always in trouble for not being neat.

5. Favorite books

Ooooh!  As an English teacher, this is a tough question.  I especially love Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Lord of the Flies, The Odyssey, To Kill A Mockingbird, Silas Marner, Lorna Doone, All Quiet on The Western Front, Treasure Island, The Prince and the Pauper and everything by Pat Conroy.

6. Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you

I’m a compulsive cook, baker, hostess, rose gardener and book collector.  I can walk into a thrift shop and decorate my house with amazing antique furniture and paintings, as well as fill my closets with upscale clothes, including furs; my jewelry box is filled with gold and diamonds from thrift shops.  Acknowledging people and talking to everyone I meet is one of my techniques for educating myself.

7. Favorite quote

“Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone.”

8. Best and worst part of being a writer

I most enjoy interviewing people to access anecdotal material for my book.  I also enjoy finding appealing vocabulary in everything I read that I can use in another context in my writing. The worst part is being unsure of my own writing style and not knowing whether or not others would enjoy what I have written.  It took the kiss of approval from Joyce Wadler and her editor at The New York Times to lift my confidence.

9. Advice for other writers

Decide on your theme and your audience.  Put your nose to the grindstone and write.  Then find a great editor.  Beware of some self-publishing houses.  Do not give any money to the snake oil hucksters who offer to make you rich if you pay them a lot of money to show you how to access media attention or become a famous speaker. There are no road maps to publicity and publishing success.

10. Tell us a story about your writing experience.

My story is one of, what I suspect, is destiny.  In my fury after entertaining Boorish Bob, I told everyone I was writing a book; never mind that the only thing I knew about writing was to explain the process to high school students and give them writing assignments..  I set about interviewing everyone everywhere.  I would conduct interviews at dinner parties (those discussions were hilarious),  the person sitting next to me at the doctor’s office, the dental hygienist while she cleaned my teeth, the person next to me in the aqua exercise class, the nurse who checked my breasts for cancer (She gave me a great story) and people who traveled with us abroad.   I simply couldn’t stop this obsession with writing about overstepping house guests who seemed to harbor a sense of entitlement.

After boring /irritating everyone for two and a half years, Dianne Kernell, whose locker is across from mine at the gym, said, “Darlene, bring me two of your chapters.”  Now Dianne’s husband is a top of the top academic author.  She is a professional editor and also edits for Sam.  With much trepidation, I gave her three chapters.  She came back to me and said, “I didn’t know what I was going to do if I didn’t like this, but here’s what you need to do . . .”

I was in my late sixties at the time and I decided that I didn’t have enough time left on the planet to wait for an agent to accept my manuscript and then wait for a publishing house to buy it.  I hauled out my “Little Red Hen” archetype and decided to do it myself.  It took one expensive wrong turn with a self-publishing house that I quickly learned was out to pick my pocket.  Dianne discovered that their business manager was one of three attorneys that had been disbarred in Minnesota the year before.  I threatened them with the Attorney Generals office in order to have my money returned.  Then, scrolling the internet, I found the perfect person/company to do the publishing.  Brett Burner of Lamp Post is honest, talented and inexpensive.  The result is a professional product that appeals to a broad range of people.

The point of this story is that everything including Boorish Bob, the clod who overstepped my household boundaries, fell into place, assuring that this book would be written and published.  In less than a year, five journalists, including Joyce Wadler of the New York Times have either used my book as a muse for an article or reviewed it.  I have also been interviewed by three radio personalities including Patt Morrison of NPR and then a television interview at KATU Portland.

I compare writing and publishing “Host or Hostage? A Guide for Surviving House Guests” to a three year pregnancy.  I dream that my baby will grow up to influence hosts and hostesses to establish boundaries so they are better able to enjoy entertaining  without stress.

Where can people buy your book?

Host or Hostage? A Guide for Surviving House Guests is available at www.hostorhostage.com. Soft cover $14.99; Hard cover $25.99.

It is also available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com and other internet sites.

This book is the perfect closing gift for Real estate companies.  House guests have a tendency to arrive at a new residence before the furniture is arranged.

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