Welcome to the Author Spotlight, Sandra Antonelli, and congratulations on the release of ‘Driving In Neutral ’! Can you give us the blurb, please?
Level headed Olivia Regen walks away from her car-racing career and the wreckage of a bad marriage to take on new work that’s far removed from the twists of racetrack. Her new life is about control, calm and the good friends that she adores. But her first task on her very first day involves getting up close and too personal with her claustrophobic boss, alone in a broken elevator. Her unconventional solution for restoring his equilibrium shocks them both and leaves Olivia shaken. Determined to stick to her plan, Olivia drives headlong into work and planning her best friend’s wedding, leaving no room for kissing, elevators, or workplace relationships. But Emerson is not one to be out-manoeuvred. Can he convince Olivia that her fear of falling in love again is just another kind of claustrophobia – one that is destined to leave them both lonely?
You write more mature protagonists than the average romance novel. What is it about older women that inspires you to write?
Inspired? I wouldn’t say I was inspired as much as I was irritated. Older women are fascinating and have amazing stories, but I noticed that there are so few lead female characters over 40 in fiction, and even fewer in romance. The mature woman shows up, but typically as a secondary character or—and here’s where I get a bee in my bonnet—as a stereotype. There’s the pervasive idea that once a woman passes 40 she becomes one of several things, a mother, grandmother, comic relief, or invisible. Thanks, Hollywood and fashion magazines. This is, however, beginning to change. We’re beginning to see more mature women in a larger variety of roles, especially in television, which seems to be a little bit more open to experimentation with expectations than film. There have been a few movies that stretch the boundaries as well, most of them rom coms, most of them starring Meryl Streep or Diane Keaton, but it would be great if other actresses over 40 were given the chance to do the same. I’d love to see Holly Hunter and Helen Mirren as the leads in a Rom Com. Personally, I’ve always liked reading about people with more life experience, even when I was a kid. For me, older people had and have a more interesting history, more expansive baggage, and a longer ride on the emotional rollercoaster—and they’re still trying to get life and love right.
‘Driving In Neutral’ is set in Chicago. How important is setting in your stories?
Setting can be another character in a story. I wrote Driving in Neutral before I began my Los Alamos series (A Basic Renovation & For Your Eyes Only) and I chose Chicago because it’s one of my favourites cities (next to Melbourne and Los Alamos, New Mexico), but essentially the town serves more as a backdrop in Driving in Neutral, whereas in the Los Alamos books the town and its history, as the birthplace of the atom bomb, play a part in characters’ lives and in the storyline.
Your first two novels, ‘A Basic Renovation’ and ‘For Your Eyes Only’ are part of your Los Alamos series. What was the inspiration about that particular location?
I’ve been there a number of times. It’s startlingly beautiful and set on a series of mesas below the Jemez Mountains. It’s such a pretty little town with such a bizarre history. First it was the location of a Boys’ Ranch School, then it became the secret location for the development of the first atomic bombs. These days it’s the home of a nuclear research facility. I liked that the town a secret past and a present-day link to science. It fit well with the secrets kept by the characters in A Basic Renovation and For Your Eyes Only.
Plotter or Panster?
Plotter? What’s that? Oh that idea makes me cringe. I’m a puzzler. I have bits and pieces of stories, usually dialogue and simple scenes, that I have to find a way to fit together. I don’t plot and find trying to do so kills my mojo dead.
You recently attained your PhD, so congratulations Dr Antonelli! How on earth did you manage to complete your doctorate, work and write a novel at the same time? What are your tips for time management?
Aww, thank you! Part of the doctorate included writing a novel. So I had built-in time for writing the creative piece, which was For Your Eyes Only (my PhD is in Creative writing: romance fiction). As for time management… I’m ridiculously organised. I like neat and tidy and order. I had set working times, sometimes scheduled by my supervisors, but mostly everything was fixed around business hours. I seldom did work at home. My husband is a psychologist who does a lot of work-life-balance consultations. I’m not saying he’s rubbed off because, I am ridiculously organised, but I think I’d be a model to hold up for how to get the balance right. Or I’d be a great example of a compulsive control freak. So my tips for time management? Get 8 hours of sleep, always eat a good breakfast, spend a set number of hours writing (I write from 9am to 1pm), get some exercise, and spend the rest of the day and weekends doing other things. For good health and creativity, you have to have another part to your life beyond bottom in seat, fingers on keyboard.
You’ve recently completed a ‘75 Days of Phobia blog-athon’. What sort of phobias do you discuss? Are there certain phobias that seem to be common amongst writers?
The series ran the gamut from spiders and clowns (the 2 most commonly mentioned phobias) to Louise Forster’s egg phobia and a deeply rooted fear of antique jewellery. I now have a phobia of doing another 75 Days of Anything Blog series.
Which authors have inspired you and your writing the most? Why?
I really love Elmore Leonard, James Thurber, Daphne DuMauirer, as well as songwriters Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbook, and Jenny Crusie. Leonard’s work is sharp, witty, taut, and has killer dialogue. Thurber’s work wry, snarky, insightful and appreciates the need for daydreaming. DuMaurier is amazing at setting a mood though characterisation of protagonists and locations. Difford & Tilbrook (you’d know them as UK Squeeze, I know them as Squeeze) craft stories into little powerpop gems; everything, from character, setting, and plot, fits into a three and a half-minute song (go listen to Goodbye Girl for proof). Jenny Crusie’s influence was her advice to “write the story I wanted to read.”
Are there any other genres you would like to try?
Mystery. Maybe. Yeah. Mystery.
Could you give us a sneaky peek at one of your favourite parts of ‘Driving In Neutral’, please?
“Does knowing those details make me a little more respectable now?”
“I didn’t think you were unrespectable.”
“Then what was with the surprised look on your face?”
“What surprised look?”
As she planted her hands on her hips she made a face, her mouth hanging open in a round O. “Your jaw made a pretty big clunk when it hit the pavement after I said I was married twice. In fact, it made more noise that time than when you found out I used to race.”
“You just don’t look the type,”
“For what, racing and test driving?”
“No, for being married twice.”
“There’s a type?”
“And that is…”
“Las Vegas strippers and gold-digging girls in their twenties.” His eyes wandered over her, dipping low to glance at her breasts before returning to her face. “You don’t look like a girl to me.”
“No. And I don’t like girls.”
“I guess I’m not your type then.”
“Why would you think that?”
“You don’t like girls.”
“I don’t like girls. I like women.”
“How old are you, Maxwell?”
“Then you’re old enough to know better than to play this kind of game.”
“I’m not into playing games.”
She moved to the car’s open door, leaving one hand on the frame and the other on the low roof before she swung inside. “You’re my boss, so how about we just keep this a strictly business, employer-employee relationship and handle it with good taste?”
“I know exactly how good you taste.”
Olivia maintained a blank façade. There was no way she’d let on she’d thought about how he tasted too…
Sandra is kindly gifting not one but two of her books! There will be one e-copy of For Your Eyes Only and one e-copy of Driving in Neutral up for grabs. All you have to do is leave a comment below. The lucky winners will be notified by email, so please ensure that we can contact you!
This prize is open world wide and will be drawn one week after posting date.
If you’d like to connect with Sandra, you can find her: