We chatted to Now Novel Coach Zee Monodee about writing feel-good romance, the book coaching process, being a Mauritian author, favorite romance tropes, and more. Watch the video and read the full interview transcript.
Lascelles Marais: 00:00
Hello everyone and welcome! My name is Lascelles Marais from Now Novel, and today I’m going to be interviewing one of our very own coaches, Zee Monodee, a lover and author of many feel-good romances. I hope you enjoy getting to know her a bit today.
Being a Mauritian author
Hi Zee, thank you so much for having an interview with me today. You’re in Mauritius right now. How has the isle of Mauritius, where you are from and currently based, inspired your writing?
Zee Monodee: 00:26
Basically, what I wanted to do for Mauritius, when I started writing, is … Mauritius wasn’t a destination in any story, there weren’t any romances about the people who live here. That’s what I wanted to get out.
We all know Mauritius as the tourist spot, the beaches and everything, but [indistinct] how are the people, what are they doing? How are they living their lives? Is it fun, is it light, is it dark, is it dramatic? That is who I wanted to give.
We don’t have that, we don’t see what life in Mauritius is like, and I was… ‘Okay, I want to write that.’ That’s what I’m going to talk about, that’s what I’m going to show in my writing and that’s how I got started.
The value of happy endings
And you have written many feel-good romances, what sustains your love and interest for writing these stories?
A happy ending. It’s a fun journey. I think we all read for fun, for escapism, just to have a good time, and I think… to me that’s romance. That’s the joy of romance.
You can have comedy, you can have drama, you can have ups and lows, but at the end of the day you know you’re on a happy journey and you’re going to get to a happy ending. You need to have a happy sigh when you close the book.
That’s the spur for me to write feel-good stories. I write stories I want to read, so I think that translates into romance, personally.
Being a book coach and the process
Can you give us a little teaser of what the coaching process is like with you, and what are three main things you focus on in coaching?
I coach very slowly, in the sense that… let’s say we use an analogy.
You coming to me and writing a book is like doing a 5km marathon. You want to start writing right away. I’m not going to get you to start writing right away. I’m going to start you with smaller exercises, build up your muscle spurs, and then start running. Know how to run, and then you run for the big thing.
I’m not that much about the big picture, as much as it’s about the details of your writing. Knowing your story, knowing yourself, knowing how you write, what’s the best way for you to put the story across, and I always tell my clients that the most important thing is getting the first draft done.
Finishing drafts first
Write from start to finish, because there’s not much you can do without finished work. You can elaborate. Deepen it, you can polish it, but you can’t do that with a blank page. You can’t do that without a finished story.
That might make me unpopular maybe, but I will get you to write from start to finish and discover yourself along the way. Have fun with the process of writing, find out what works for you, what doesn’t work for you.
Basically, how you personally are as an author. That’s maybe a longer process, a slower process, that’s what you’re getting if you get me as a coach.
Mm… but that sounds extremely interesting because, like you said, it’s a really great analogy of… if you’re training for a marathon … obviously a book is not sprints, it is a marathon.
You train them first, and then you get them these exercises first, and then you go onto the writing part. And I feel like that’s crucial, because you can’t just say ‘Okay, now do that, and let’s just start writing’. Some people need to just start writing and get it all out, but I feel like some people … you foster who they are as writers [crosstalk].
Exactly, definitely. The gist of it with me, I’ll get you to write start to finish and find yourself along the way.
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Finding your writing voice
I think that’s really important for people who struggle to find their voice.
Yeah… and it’s a trial and error. Because I myself went through that.
I tried different genres and writing different points of view. I did all that once I was already published, so it was like running against the clock because I had deadlines for a new book and I kept blocking on [thoughts such as] ‘This one is a comedy, so maybe it should be in first-person’. I can’t write first-person to save my life, so that was really frustrating for me.
If I had done all this before I had gone through publishing, it would have been a much more rewarding and fun journey. It would have been fun. ‘Let’s try something new today, let’s do this, let’s do that. Oh it doesn’t work? Nevermind, I can fall back on the other. I know I work well in this manner.’
Experimenting before being published
You can’t do that once you’re published.
You don’t have that luxury of time, that luxury of … I won’t say maybe being ‘casual’ with it, but really [indstinct] yourself along the process because a deadline looming on you … it sometimes sucks the joy out of it. You see the deadline and you’re like, ‘I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to get there!’ but where’s the fun in that?
So that’s why I try to get my clients to realize that – most of the time, these are first-time writers, right? – so where they are, they are at the point where they can really enjoy themselves. They can make that process really a joyful one for them until they get to that full book written.
It’s not a race against the clock because you’re not going to get that time back once you’re published. So enjoy the time now, be in the moment, and have fun with it. Then there’s not going to be that feeling, ‘Oh, I should have done that earlier.’
Writing and the importance of joy
With the people you coach, you want them to find the joy in writing it.
Exactly. Because the joy’s going to sustain you. If you do something and you are enjoying it, you’re going to want to come back to it. You’re going to enjoy it and it’s going to be like an escape for you.
Even when it’s a job, even when you’re writing to deadlines, writing is going to be joyful. It’s going to be something you look forward to.
It’s not a chore, it’s not something dreaded – that’s a feeling I don’t want people to have. Because I went through this … like you were saying, you start some work and you don’t know where you’re going with it, then you slam into a wall, and then it’s like, maybe you’ve written 50,000 words, then it’s like, ‘What am I going to do with that now?’
It’s really … I won’t say disappointing, but it’s discouraging. Whereas if you’d taken your time, had fun with it, you’re like ‘OK I wrote 5000 words, it doesn’t work, nevermind, scrape that I’ll start again.’ You’re not slamming into walls.
That’s the thing I want them … I mean I want to protect them from that, slamming into walls, because it’s really terrible – it’s an awful feeling and if you can spare someone that… yeah.
Favorite romance tropes
And what would you say is your favorite romantic trope?
Second chances. My first book was about second chances. Right now the title is The One That Got Away.
So that’s basically a trope I really like to play with, because we’re not the same people at different stages of our lives. So if something maybe didn’t work when we were teenagers or young adults, maybe when we’re a little bit older, more mature, more wise and conversant with life, life gives a second chance and we can try for it again. I really like that idea, I really like the hope of it.
If I had to keep writing a single trope for the rest of my life, that’s the one I would choose.
I love that. My favorite trope is enemies to lovers. I don’t know why, I love it.
Oh that’s so much fun!
Writing from personal experience
And so have your own experiences and struggles and life journey influenced your writing in any way?
Like I was telling you, I’m of Mauritian heritage. And that makes it ‘offend’ my stories, my heroines come from the same background as I do, and then you have mothers that want to marry them [off] as soon as they turn twenty, or the overbearing aunties, the gossip.
That’s the world I grew up in and that’s the world I know best, so a lot of it comes into my writing.
But yeah, I think that there’s a part of us in every story we write, even if it doesn’t get expressed exactly as the same conflict, the same idea, but is translated to whatever you’re putting out. Part of you goes out in there.
Writing as a second chance
For example I actually started writing because I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 22. So it was like, my life could possibly be over in less than a year, and I’d always wanted to be a writer, so why should I wait? I can’t wait anymore, I’m going to write. That’s how I started my first story.
And then the journey of going through breast cancer, and being a breast cancer survivor, that also made it into one of my stories. The heroine faced the same kind of diagnosis and the stuff I went through. And yeah, there are obvious parts of me that go into stories.
But like I was telling you, the hope of a second chance, the hope of finding the right person, of finding your person, I think that gets into all my stories.
That’s very beautiful.
Yeah. I think you can see a lot of every author in their own story, even if they tell you that it’s not them, that a part of them makes it into the end story.
And I can understand in that way, because you are a survivor and that idea of second chances comes very much into your work because you felt like you were given a second chance.
Definitely. It was a second chance, at life. Fortunately I’d already found love with my husband. But that translates into, ‘Everybody can get a chance’. That idea carries through into my stories.
Romance, genre assumptions and requirements
That’s very beautiful. And so then with those feel-good romances, you’re also getting this sense that it’s not just empty or shallow it’s actually… because I think a lot of people who aren’t actually into that genre assume that it’s just wishy-washy, feel-good romances, that it’s like, ‘Okay, you know how it’s going to turn out.’
But there’s actually so much heart when you really put in your life experiences, so much heart you can get out of it.
Yeah, I sometimes feel like feel-good romances are more immersive than any other genre because you have to write the character without any façade, you have to go really deep into them and really show them on the page and I think the readers know that and they read it for this immersive feel.
It’s fully being the character, not just in their shoes but in their head, in their heart, in their feelings, in their experiences.
You have a better scope of showing that in the field of romance, because you can’t hide, for example, behind sexy scenes; and can’t hide behind action scenes like in a thriller.
You can’t really hide from the fact you have to bare your heart out – and that’s the core of romance, the heart of it.
Readers are looking for that, and you’ve really got to deliver that when you’re writing it. And writing the heart of a person is like really being the person you’re trying to communicate through to your audience.
Favorite works of fiction
And out of your many works, which one would you say is your favorite, and why, if you had to choose?
Ah… Favorite, per se… it’s like, my first book because it was about second chances.
It’s really that first series, because it follows the lives of three sisters in Mauritius, what they go through with their family, finding love, getting … finding their place in society, in today’s world. They want to fight for career, they want love at the same time, but then there’s – maybe their mother’s trying to marry them off, or there’s gossip.
It’s really something that’s close to my heart because it’s very much the world I grew up in, the world I live in, so it’s very representative …[indistinct]
Say the name of the series again?
Island Girls: 3 sisters in Mauritius.
Ah OK. And are you releasing any new work in the near future?
Hopefully by the end of the year. I’m going back to one of my series which is set in a small village in Surrey, in England. It’s a bit like a soap opera [indistinct].
There are big families in the village, so at one point this brother meets this person, or the sister in this one or the sister from the other one. It just keeps going, you have a recurring cast throughout this series. Yeah, the location as well, I really like that it is set in the English country. So hopefully book four in that is coming out this year.
Thank you so much for chatting to me today, it was really really wonderful.
Yeah it was a pleasure!
About Zee Monodee
Zee Monodee is a published author of over fifteen books in English and half a dozen in French. As an editor, she has a decade’s experience working with indie authors as well as established publishers such as Decadent Publishing, Red Sage, and Love Africa Press.
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