Gwen Carter is a mom and published author living in Florida. Her most recent novel, Her Fake Engagement, is being published by St. Martins Press this summer. Her novella, Miss Christmas, is currently being made into a Hallmark Christmas movie. She publishes under the nom de plume Gigi Garrett.
Tell us a bit about yourself: how would you describe yourself and your life in a quick snapshot?
Um, I feel much more sympathetic with Miss America contestants now, because this is hard. Who am I? I feel like my mind went blank the moment you asked me.
I’m a mother, a friend, and a writer. And I’d like to say that I’m both levelheaded and my mind is also in the clouds a lot of the time. I’m also someone who has a hard time describing herself. You know… perfect 10… model… (she laughs) hero.
Northeasterner by blood, Midwesterner by upbringing. But I found my heart in Florida.
If you had to describe yourself using three adjectives, what would they be?
Loyal, creative, and playful.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always, always – since I could first read – wanted to be a writer.
What was your very first job?
What do you do to occupy your time: work, family, community?
Most of my time is spent chasing my children or getting them to stop chasing each other. And then I’m also involved with my daughter’s school. Really, truthfully, in my spare time, in the brief pauses and infrequent naps, that’s when I do my writing.
What was once a full-time career is now a part-time career. I’m keeping my foot in the door, paddle in the water, because I’m not ready to exit my career. I’m just trying to keep afloat. I’m leaning in – or am I leaning back? I’m just leaning, I guess. Tilting? Is a tilt less than a lean? You tilt, then you lean. Tilting is a new 'it' word. I’m tilting.
I went to journalism school and I intended to write for a magazine, even though it had always been my lifelong goal to write fiction. And then I got out of school in 2008, right in the midst of the recession, when magazines were closing and there weren’t a lot of opportunities. So I was living with my parents at 26 and thought, “Why not try the fiction thing?”
It really presented itself because of the recession. Because my topic – Young Adult fiction – was very timely, I got on the fast track. I didn’t realize it was the fast track at the time. My first book was the easiest to write and easiest to publish. I really fell into Young Adult, and wrote three novels and one novella in my late twenties. I feel like that was the right time to reflect back on being a teenager, on growing up.
After having kids, I tried my first adult novella, and I did that by myself, because I wanted to try something different. I self-published and I got in the Christmas novella genre. Christmas novellas are like the publishing equivalent of resortwear; there is a one-month sales window for it, but its really popular.
I made every good step and misstep and bad step. I did everything myself – the cover, putting it on Amazon and trying to market it - myself. I learned more with that book than with my first four. I think there is a market for self-published books. There is a high demand for Christmas novellas.
I actually wrote it with the idea that it was going to be a very Hallmark Christmas story. And then I was like, “How could this actually be a Hallmark movie?” But I didn’t have any connections, or know anyone, so I emailed the president of development at Hallmark and they actually emailed me back. It was like buying one lottery ticket and winning the lottery. They wanted more info, and then they read it and put a two-year option on it. As of now it is slated to be made for this Christmas. I try not to dot my ‘I’s’ before it’s time. I hope it’s fabulous and that some amazing star from our childhood is in it. I’m keeping all my fingers crossed.
What are the hardest decisions you’ve had to make?
Where to live. That’s a very hard decision for Millennials. Your family is in one place, your friends are in another place, and then, career-wise, I think there is an ideal city for most careers… but most of us have families or spouses who are in other cities. I miss being in New York, where I lived for a time, from a career perspective – there are so many resources and workshops and things to do – but I love living in Florida. I was really reluctant to move here. The weather is amazing and living close to the ocean has brought a lot of tranquility to my life. I never realized how much I would like living close to the water.
Then, this is clichéd, the whole work-life balance thing with childcare and just trying to figure it out. And all I’ve figured out is that you figure it out day-by-day. You’re just constantly figuring it out. Some days I’m going to get a lot of work done and some days I’m not. And that’s okay for right now.
Tell us about any mentors or figures that are crucial to how you see the world or what you’ve chosen to do.
Ann Martin, who wrote the Babysitters Club books, really showed me how invested people can be in your literature. It doesn’t have to be some classic that they’re going to teach for 100 years. She got kids to love to read with her books; they certainly got me to love reading. I’ve followed her career and she now writes very literary Young Adult novels. And it’s showed me that you can do so many things with your career. She wrote hundreds of Babysitters Club novels, and now she’s dealing with a different style of writing and a different subject matter. I’ve been really blown away. She’s my writing hero.
My friends are also very inspiring. Growing up, not many mothers I knew worked, and I’m so inspired by the variety of careers my friends have found or made.
What do you consider to be your greatest success thus far?
I would say, in some ways, getting Hallmark to pay attention to my novel would be a success. A lot of people look down on self-published novels. But I think it [my success with Hallmark] goes to show that people are often more receptive than you think they are. If you believe in your work, other people may believe in it too.
Also, rejection is so common in the publishing world, which has been a great lesson; my skin is very thick. I really just am writing with the hope of reaching some people, not everyone.
What has been your greatest failure and what did you learn from it?
I feel like I missed the whole Twitter/social media boat. When my first book came out in 2011 Twitter was still fairly new, and authors weren’t really using it. But then two years later authors had really learned how to use it. I wish that when that I had been on that ship when it sailed. Some authors have become really famous because of their media presence, not necessarily because of their books, and I admire their diligence. I wish I had invested the time in learning about new technologies.
Where do you see yourself in 10 or 20 years?
I hope I continue to work in this genre, and also in romance (my upcoming digital novella is romance), while also crossing over to new genres. I’m really interested in legal thrillers. Now, I’d have to study a lot of law and read a ton of those legal thrillers, but maybe in ten years I’ll be doing that! And I hope I’m both publishing myself and working with a publisher.
I want to keep all the genres open. I’m really interested in lots of different styles. (Laughing) I realize I won’t be doing all of these at the same time.
What is the top item on your bucket list – something you’d love to do but haven’t yet?
I would like to go to Yellowstone. It sounds pretty incredible and I feel like the park system in general is really incredible and I’ve only gone to a few. So, I’d like to start crossing off some of these national parks and taking my children to them. Especially since my kids live in Florida – other parts of America are so different and equally beautiful.
Describe your personal style: how does it reflect your day to day and your values?
I think my personal style right now is very fast fashion. It’s not fast fashion because I’m constantly changing it and super trendy, but, literally, in the sense that I have to get dressed very quickly.
I do love fashion and style, but in the last 12 months since having my second baby, I’ve embraced fashion that is quick and easy to put on. And that isn’t my work out clothes. My goal is to step away from the athleisure. Put on my Kit and step away from the athleisure.
If you ran into your 18-year old self, what advice would you give her?
Be confident. All the best things that have happened to me arose from times when I was confident. Eighteen is a hard age, and so I would tell her to be confident in who she is. Good things will happen.
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Letting go of people’s expectations of me. I know that’s a general thing to say. But I feel like this year, has been transformative for me. I’m Palestinian-American and a Muslim-American, but I don’t look like what people’s stereotype of those.