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What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life?
I am most proud of two accomplishments in my life: Crumbs Aren’t Enough and the Baltimore Bee.
First, I am, of course, very proud of writing and publishing my first novel. It was an extremely long and difficult process and I am so thankful to have completed it. If you want to learn more, visit raquelwhiting.com and check out my Behind the Pages series where I talk about all that it took to put this novel out.
Second, I am most proud of the Baltimore Bee, which is the Baltimore regional spelling bee. I moved back to Baltimore in August 2005 and realized that Baltimore did not have a citywide spelling bee. While most of the other counties and regions in Maryland had a bee, Baltimore did not and I wanted to change that. So, my friend Daniel Wilcox, who played with the Baltimore Ravens, and I started the Baltimore Bee. Since we started in 2006, we’ve held eight bees featuring more than 400 spellers from 30 schools throughout Baltimore City and Baltimore County. Each year our annual winner represents the region at the Scripps National Bee.
How has your upbringing influenced your writing?
I grew up in Baltimore with my mom. She is a great mom who worked really hard to give me an opportunity to succeed. She worked two jobs and sacrificed to send me to excellent schools. Even though times were tough a lot, my mom taught me from a young age that no matter how little we had, we always had something to give. So she instilled in me a commitment to service from a young age. I volunteered in tutoring programs, served as a candy striper in the emergency room of an inner city hospital, and worked at a homeless shelter for women. From this service mentality that my mom ingrained in me, I knew from a young age that I wanted to have purpose and meaning in my life and I write with this in mind.
Even though I am writing novels that are funny and entertaining, I want them to also share messages and have meaning. For example, as I wrote Crumbs Aren’t Enough, I thought about all of the women struggling in bad relationships – and while I would never purport to be a relationships “expert,” I have been in that struggle. Through the novel, I wanted to share the lessons I’d learned. I plan to write two more books following Charlie Bennett through her relationship development. While all of my novels may not focus on personal relationship challenges, the common thread will be sharing messages through entertaining storytelling.
When and why did you begin writing?
I actually didn’t get hit with the writing bug until I decided to write a novel. What made me write a novel? Let me tell you, during this close to six-year journey, I have asked myself this question many times. It all started in the summer of 2007. I had on my heart to start a website, perfectlyme.com, to encourage people (mostly women and girls) to love themselves despite what others might consider flaws and imperfections. I got the website up by the end of August and started blogging. While writing content for the site, I started to think about my own journey to self-acceptance. And I started to feel the pull to write a book to share that journey. My first title was My Journey to Perfectly Me. But, despite the title, I didn’t want it to be a memoir or self-help book. I wanted it to be fiction based on my life. I wanted to be able to change the names and embellish or play down events in order to drive home certain points. If you want to really get a sense of my original thought, check out the Crumbs Aren’t Enough prologue, which I wrote from my perspective – not the perspective of the main character, Charlie.
I started writing right after Thanksgiving that year. It seemed so easy. I finished a chapter every couple of weeks. I couldn’t believe people made such a big deal about writing a novel, I was killing it. I finished the first draft in early May 2008 and I thought I was done. I decided to change the name to Perfectly Me? At the time, my story was so personally infused in the novel that I wanted to carry on the Perfectly Me brand. My friend, Allyson Jones, graciously offered to read it and provide editorial comments for me. (Thank God she did. She started me on my way to the novel I just released.) I happily accepted. I thought it would be great to have another set of eyes on my masterpiece.
Remember, I thought I was finished. So I expected mere grammatical changes nothing more. I just knew that my story line, character development, and plot development were perfect. You know what they say, pride goeth before the fall. When she returned the edits to me, I fell hard. There was so much blue ink. I am sure Allyson, an acupuncturist and professor at Tai Sophia, used blue ink to make it look less aggressive than red ink, but I felt sick. A lot of her changes were developmental and I was not prepared for that at all. She shockingly wanted more dialogue where all I had done was narrate a scene. She wanted more development around the characters’ personalities. The reason I said “shockingly” was because I realized after getting her feedback that I hadn’t even read a novel in years so I was probably the least suited person to write one. Lucky for me, I had just quit my job so I had some time to do all of the work required.
Ok, so I had just quit my job and I wasn’t starting my new job until three months later. I figured this was perfect. I would have three months to wrap up this final draft. I knew it would be hard but I was committed to knocking it out. I treated the novel like it was my job. I woke up every morning showered and headed to the coffee shop. I usually worked at the Firehouse in the Canton Square. I would work for eight hours and then go home and have dinner. I finished what I again believed was the final draft within that time period. I felt confident this time. I had developed the characters more, expanded the dialogue, and set the scenes appropriately. I was so happy and I celebrated by hanging out with a friend at Grand Cru and then visiting my friend Traci at Pazo. I started my new job and I excitedly waited for Allyson’s feedback on my masterpiece. Two months later, Allyson returned that draft with almost just as much red ink. I was again devastated. I couldn’t believe that after all of my dedicated hard work, I was again back to the drawing board with significant work to do. The difference this time was I had a new job that was very demanding. So now I basically had a second job. I had to excel at my day job which was almost like having a job and a half and work on revising my novel in the evenings and on weekends. It took me another year to complete the third draft. Allyson and I worked together on the fourth draft, editing it together. It felt complete finally. It had been four years and I was ready to share my “baby” with the world. But it wasn’t time yet.
I didn’t finally “give birth” until two years and two drafts later. I am very proud of the end product but it was a long process as you can see.
What genre are you most comfortable writing?
I am most comfortable writing Chicklit. I love that that novels in this genre focus on female heroines who are usually flawed like Charlie Bennett, the main character of Crumbs Aren’t Enough. And in the end you get to cheer on this flawed heroine as she battles personal and professional challenges. A friend recently asked me, “Have you always loved Chicklit?” As I thought about my answer, I remembered when I was first introduced to the genre and felt guilty. I had a confession to make. I nervously shared with her, “This is going to sound terrible from a Chicklit author but it’s the truth and it’s important for me to be open and honest. Please don’t judge me. So prior to 2005, I actually didn’t read Chicklit novels or any novels to be exact. I was more of a political or business book kind of girl. I remember going to the Bahamas with my friend Rebecca and she was reading a romance novel and I was reading David Gergen’s Eyewitness to Power. She turned to me on the beach and said, “Are you seriously reading that book on the beach?” I honestly didn’t think anything was wrong with my reading choice. See I always had an interest in politics and history and those are the kinds of books I enjoyed reading and I never really saw reading as an escape. And then a friend shared Something Borrowed with me and my eyes were opened to this smart, funny genre of Chicklit.” She laughed at my pseudo confession. I can be melodramatic at times to say the least. Anyway, I was hooked on Chicklit after reading Emily Giffin’s books.
For those of you, who are not familiar with Emily Giffin – she is awesome. Something Borrowed, her first novel, focuses on the friendship/competition between Rachel and Darcy. I think we’ve all had a bestie who we love but with whom feel like we are in some sort of unspoken/undeclared competition. Well, Darcy and Rachel are no different except Darcy always seems to win except when it comes to Dex. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot in case you haven’t read it yet. But, it was a great read and so began my love affair with Chicklit. I was so intrigued with this genre that I had been missing out on that I went back and read some of the classics – Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Devil Wears Prada. I love female heroines who are flawed and loveable. Aren’t we all in some way? Well I definitely am and so is Charlie Bennett, my Chicklit heroine. As far as some of my recent favorites, I thoroughly enjoyed On Dublin Street by Samantha Young. Jocelyn, the main character, has had some truly awful things happen in her life and has experienced tremendous loss. She moves to Edinburgh to start fresh and meets the mysterious, super good-looking Braden Carmichael. It is a little Fifty Shade-ish and does not disappoint. Ok, full disclosure, it has some steamy sex scenes, which are racier than my taste but it is mild compared to Fifty Shades of Grey. On Dublin Street is a great read – engaging with great character development. I’m currently reading Thirty Two Going on Spinster by Becky Monson. Julia, the main character, is in a rut – going nowhere professionally and living in her parents’ basement. She is very amusing and gets into some quirky situations like Charlie from Crumbs Aren’t Enough. I am only a third of the way through the book but I know it is going to be one of my faves. Next on my “to read” list, in all of my spare time, is Dangerous Curves Ahead – A Perfect Fit Novel by Sugar Jamison.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I was inspired to write my first book because of my own personal relationship challenges. Like Charlie, the main character, I accepted a lot of crumbs from men I dated. I had lots of crappy relationships and I couldn’t figure out why. This went on for years. I wanted to have a great relationship, I wanted to get married, but I couldn’t seem to attract the right guys or develop positive romantic experiences. Then, I found an amazing therapist who helped me change my life. Throughout the therapy process, I learned that a big part of my problem was that I didn’t think “I was good enough.” Not even good enough for the crappy men I was dating. This feeling was the direct result of my low self-esteem.
My self-esteem was low for a lot of reasons and if you are interested in hearing more please contact me at raquelwhiting.com. But, needless to say I didn’t feel good about myself and that needed to change. I had to build myself up before I could even think about getting involved with anyone romantically. When I finally got to that place of feeling good about myself and knowing that I was “good enough,” I could start attracting the right relationships.
I don’t think I was alone in this struggle. In fact, I’ve watched some of my friends go through the same battle. So I wanted to share with women some of the lessons I learned during my journey to self-love and acceptance. I want others who are in crappy relationships to know that there is a different way. They can have better relationships and they should demand them. I’ve had people ask me why I didn’t write a self-help book or a memoir instead of a novel. My answer is always the same – while I am passionate about helping women feel better about themselves and hence attract the right relationships, I am not an expert and I don’t ever want to give people the impression that I have all the answers. But, I believe I am a great storyteller and I hope the story that is weaved in Crumbs Aren’t Enough will help other women get to the place where they are seeking out the best relationships. I hope women can relate with Charlie and learn from her clear mistakes. She is such a fun woman and she is easy to love – and when you love her, you want the best for her.
Who or what influenced your writing once you began?
As I shared earlier, I read Something Borrowed, absolutely loved it, and fell in love with the Chicklit genre. Emily Giffin not only entertained me but she inspired me to start writing. I first read her novels around the same time that I started building my perfectly me self-esteem programs. As I thought about how to share the message with more women, I had on my heart to write a Chicklit novel that was funny and engaging but also dealt with this important issue with which so many women struggle. I love Emily Giffin’s style and it definitely influenced my writing. I remember staying up all night to find out what was going to happen between Dex and Rachel. I wanted people to feel the same way reading Crumbs Aren’t Enough. One of the best compliments I’ve received was when one of my readers said that my style was similar to Emily’s. I was over the moon because I had hoped to draw readers in to my characters the same way that I was drawn in to Rachel and Darcy’s worlds in Something Borrowed and Something Blue. Emily Giffin also inspired me because she’s a former lawyer, who figured out how to turn her passion into a full-time career, which is my aspiration.
What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general?
The most challenging part for me is basically not being able to write full time. My typical day usually includes about 9-10 hours at work. I am an executive at a K-12 education company and it’s a pretty demanding job. I have to work hard to fit in time for writing. I spoke to another writer recently and she told me how she writes during her lunch break. I felt so jealous because I am usually on conference calls or in meetings during lunch so I don’t get that daytime writing. When I get home, I have dinner and get to work on my passion, writing. I wish I could write all day. Charlie has more to tell and I want to make sure I get it out quickly.
Do you intend to make writing a career?
Yes, I plan on making writing a full-time career. I don’t know when that will happen but it’s my goal. Until then, I will keep plugging away late at night and early in the morning.
What is your favorite quality about yourself?
My favorite quality is that I am determined – I am always determined to finish anything I start. This novel is a perfect example. Once I started, I had to finish it no matter what. I’ve been like this since I was very young. The word quit is not in my vocabulary.
What is your least favorite quality about yourself?
My least favorite quality is how hard I am on myself. I don’t ever give myself a break – if I don’t do it right the first time or if I don’t do things “perfectly” I tend to come down hard on myself. I am working toward recognizing and appreciating my own humanity and understanding that everything I do is not going to be perfect and it’s ok if I fail or make a mistake.
What is your favorite quote, by whom, and why?
My favorite quote is, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be” by Lao Tzu. I love this quote because I believe that letting go of all of the ideas we hold about who we should be and who we were in the past allows us to enjoy our lives and ultimately become who we are supposed to be. Letting go of that past opens up space for all the possibilities of the future. I know this probably sounds cliché but it’s like a caterpillar that has to let go of being a caterpillar in order to become a butterfly. This quote challenges me to let go of my past-self daily to open up possibilities for my future.