I was recently honored to be interviewed by best-selling author and writing instructor Chris Rogers about my newly published book Love on the Rocks with a Twist: Delightful Fiction with Lessons on Dealing with Others.
Chris has published more novels and anthologies then I can keep track of. To mention just a few, she made her name with her Dixie Flanagan series of thrillers; more recently, Chris’s Emissary launched a second thriller series that features an alien character. Here Lies a Wicked Man begins a series of cozy mysteries, and Paradise Cursed a paranormal fiction series. Her books about how to write fiction are a veritable gold mine for newbies as well as seasoned writers.
Here’s the interview:
Chris: Recently I visited with one of the most talented women I know. For more than a decade, Margaret Anderson regularly designed and taught her own curricula for courses in persuasive communication at Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies.
I’ve personally used the skills Margaret teaches, which I learned from her excellent book, Bridges to Consensus—in Congregations. Although illustrated by examples in religious settings, the techniques are absolutely invaluable in any business meeting as well as in everyday life.
Most recently, Margaret turned her writing talent to what seems, at least on the surface, to be an entirely different direction: a lively collection of short stories titled Love on the Rocks with a Twist—Delightful Fiction with Lessons on Dealing with Others.
Q 1: After the success of Bridges to Consensus, what inspired you to veer into fiction?
A 1: It wasn’t so much a matter of veering into fiction, but rather, of merging a former hobby with my professional activities.
One of the most important things I’ve learned since starting my own business is that people have a hard time thinking of a person as more than one thing. For example, if you’re an engineer and you also play in the Houston Symphony, a person will either remember you as an engineer or a musician.
So, although I’ve written fiction as a pastime for many years, I was reluctant to make that widely known. If people can only remember one or two words about me, I want them to remember “Persuasion Coach.”
Over the years, I’ve written a little collection of short stories, but I didn’t publish them for that very reason—people might forget my day job. However, my sister mentioned that I seem to find lessons about consensus building, persuasion and communication everywhere.
That got me thinking that I could publish an anthology and add study notes after each story. The notes would comment on the communication and consensus-building skills, or lack thereof, demonstrated by the characters. I would combine my best fiction with lessons on dealing with others. Thus, I hope, readers can both enjoy the stories, and also remember my profession: helping people learn to get what they need from others, while building bridges, rather than burning them.
Q 2: Part of what makes the stories so enjoyable is the delightfully concise manner in which they’re written. As an author and writing instructor myself, I recognize this as a unique style that’s all your own. Can you tell us a little about that?
A 2: I don’t think conciseness is something I work at. On the contrary, it seems that my natural tendency is to write in too minimalist a fashion. I focus on the action—who did what and who said what. When I first started working with fiction writers’ critique groups, I heard a lot of, “More sensory detail here,” “You need a few more beats there.” I would describe a major event, such as death of a loved one, and my critiquing partners would say, “How does the character feel about what just happened?” And there I was thinking, We all know how she feels. She feels awful. Wouldn’t anybody? Silly me.
So I tend to draft my fiction in my just-the-facts fashion, and then go back and add more detail. That’s the part I have to work at.
Q 3: Are you an avid reader of romance novels?
A 3: Formulaic modern romance, not so high on my list. I do like classic romance novels, such as those of Jane Austen. The two intertwined love stories in Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend are among my favorites. I also like mystery, mainstream and some fantasy, almost any genre, provided the characters are interesting.
Q 4: The stories in Love On the Rocks have a decidedly different “twist” from most stories on the topic of romance. Do they bear a resemblance to your own romantic encounters?
A 4: As I explain in the book’s introductory piece, “What’s the Twist?” and the study notes that follow, the twist in these stories involves characters who understand that a kiss doesn’t turn a frog into a prince or princess. They’re perfectly capable of living happy, fulfilling lives on their own, and of walking away from any frog who would make their lives worse rather than better. In some of the stories, that’s just what a character does, walk away from the frog and live happily ever after.
As for me, there is a resemblance in that I don’t kiss frogs, and I have walked away from several of them.
Q 5: One of the short stories in this book won a coveted national contest. How has receiving such an acknowledgement affected your writing decisions over time?
A 5: This honor encouraged me to continue writing fiction, albeit only as a hobby until recently. I thought of myself as knowledgeable and helpful in my professional field, training, coaching and consulting on interactional skills. However, the Writers Digest prize helped me to believe that I could also be entertaining.
In addition, I liked the style, or “author voice” I used in the prize-winning piece, “Duet for Flute and Phantom.” So, apparently, did the judges. I would describe it as including touches of flippant humor from characters who can laugh at themselves. This seems to work best in first person. I’ve continued to develop and use this voice in the lighter stories I’ve written since that time. For the more serious pieces, I tone down the humor, often switching to third person.
Q 6: Until I met you, I’d never come across a course on persuasive communication exactly like yours. How did you come to develop these techniques?
A 6: It began when I read Getting to Yes by Drs. Roger Fisher and William Ury, back when it was first published in the 1980s. It has become a negotiation classic. Later, I learned that one could actually take summer workshops from these two Harvard professors, and I took both their basic and advanced negotiation workshops.
I found that practicing interest-driven negotiation, persuasion and consensus building changed my life dramatically—all aspects of life from business to personal. I felt compelled to continue studying interactional dynamics through classes on related topics, such as various types of mediation, and through independent reading. I gleaned additional nuances from my own use of the skills.
I have the type of personality that sees intersections. I began to see intersections between interest-driven skills and things like psychological, cultural and temperamental differences that affect how people deal with others.
Meanwhile, I had long wanted to teach professionally. I didn’t care to teach a captive audience of children. I prefered to teach adults something they wanted to learn. But I hadn’t known what that subject matter might be until interest-driven skills changed my life for the better.
As I continued to practice such skills, and to meld them with self-study in intersecting areas, I developed my own training materials, and “The Persuasion Coach” was born.
Q 7: Do you coach individuals in how to use persuasion skills for romantic interactions?
A 7: In all these years, I’ve only had one client come to me for that purpose, and I did coach her. But most of my clients and trainees want to use the skills I teach primarily in their working lives, whether day jobs or volunteer work. I had one student at Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies take my class to better deal with her teenage son.
Once in a while, someone involved in a troubled marriage contacts me, and I see that what they really need is a psychologist and/or a divorce attorney. I don’t take these cases. I direct them to other types of professionals.
I’ve found that people who read my earlier book, Bridges to Consensus in Congregations, quickly realize that, even though the examples occur in congregational settings, they can be applied in any situation where thinking people think differently from one another.
Likewise, I hope that those who read Love on the Rocks with a Twist will realize that, while the love stories make a fun read, the skills in the study notes can be applied anywhere.
Q 8: What is the main thought you want readers to walk away with after enjoying the pure fun of Love on the Rocks?
A 8: I’d like readers to walk away thinking, I want to assimilate these interactional skills. I want to learn more.
Q 9: What’s next? Now that you’ve published a fiction anthology, do you have another book planned?
A 9: I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, ”So many books, so little time.” For me, that applies not only to books I wish to read, but also to books I want to write. I’ve started a story about a private investigator who uses my skills in her work. It’s too early to say whether this story will be long enough to publish as a novel, or will be only one piece in an anthology. In any case, I will definitely include a study guide, possibly in a separate volume.
However, knowing myself as I do, it’s also possible that I’ll put this detective story on the back burner if I wake up with a better idea tomorrow.
I am grateful to Chris Rogers for providing such thoughtful, and thought provoking, questions.