Author Interview: G.G. Vandagriff

Where were you born and where do you call home?

I was born in California and have called many places home (Stanford, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Southern Cal., Southwest Missouri, Oakwood, Ohio) but I am happiest here on the bench of the Wasatch Mountains with a splendid view of Utah Valley, Utah Lake, and the Oquirrh Mountain Range—all of which I see from my office window!

What or who inspired you to write?  And how long have you been writing?

I write the way most people read.  To escape to the worlds in my imagination.  I have been writing (or at least drawing stories) since I could hold a crayon. So, virtually all my life. As a child I wrote endless tales of the adventures of Sandy O’Hara.  I studied writing at Stanford and was inspired to write my award winning epic The Last Waltz: A Novel of Love and War when I lived and studied in Austria.  I worked in finance to put my husband through law school, but when I quit to become a Mom, I took up my writing in earnest.  It was a long apprenticeship.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

When I had half a dozen books out, probably, and was writing a magazine column.  I have never thought of myself as anything else, vocation wise.  I certainly wasn’t a very good International Banker!

What is the name of your most recent book and if you had to sum it up in 30 or less words, what would you say?

The Only Way to Paradise is the tale of four women who ditch their therapist and journey to Florence to try to heal themselves.  With the help of one another and the love of the Italian people, they finally find themselves swathed in agape (charity) and on the road to Paradise.

I love reading the warnings on the blurbs for many books. If you could write a warning label for yourself as a person or an author, what would it say? 

That’s easy!  Do not read this book if you don’t want to find yourself jetting to Florence the first chance you get!

If you gave some of your characters an opportunity to speak for themselves, what would they say?

Great question! MacKenzie would say:  I was a control freak and it nearly cost me my family.  Staring at the David sculpture, it was as though I heard him say, “I used the be a block of marble.  The chisel was slow and painful, but I became this beautiful statue.  Give up your chisel, MacKenzie.  Then you may find God.”  Roxie would show you the red Vespa scooter she rented and say, “If you don’t want to fall in love, don’t buy a lycra cycle suit and ride your scooter up to the Piazzale Michelangelo at sunset.”  Sara would say, “If you have any secrets to hide, don’t go to Florence!”  And lastly, Georgia did say, “In Italy there are always men. Fascinating men.”

What does your protagonist think about you? Would he or she want to hang out with you, the author?

Since there is a good deal of me in all my characters, I am sure we would be fast friends.  They were with me constantly the two months I lived there, researching and visiting all the places they would find enchanting.

Which character speaks the loudest, to you? Do any of them clamour to be heard over the others?

I think Roxie speaks the loudest.  She appears to be an extrovert, but every time she feels anxiety, she does something outrageous—like singing and soft-shoeing in the rain, or doing cartwheels down the hallowed Vasari Corridor.  In reality, Roxie has a huge and dangerous secret that even she doesn’t know.

Do your characters try to make like bunnies and create ever more convoluted plots for you? Or do you have to coax them out of your characters?

I am a discovery writer and write completely from character.  It takes me a long time to winkle out all their secrets.  I start with who I think they are (these four came to me in the night), but they always, in every book, become extremely complex.  I lost count of how many drafts of this book I wrote, because my characters weren’t finished telling their stories.

Have you based any of your characters on someone you know, or real events in your own life?

There are real people in my book—the owner of the B & B where they stay in Florence, her son and daughter-in-law have become my Italian family.  The characters are all based on parts of my character, except Sara.  She is a Vietnamese immigrant whose story is based on that of my son’s best friend.  It took me three trips to Florence to discover the  “agape piece” which turned out to be the theme of the book, the ultimate healing balm.  All the crazy experiences that the “crazy ladies” have, really happened to me.

Do you have a specific writing style?

My style is probably different for every book.  I genre hop.  I have written 12 books, two of which are non-fiction.  My 5 mysteries are witty and sometimes slapstick, but also have a serious side and are interlarded with a long romantic tangle.  This book is written in a literary style, but still has humor.  My most literary book is Pieces of Paris.  There every word, every syllable was chosen with care.  My historical epic is written in the “voice”of the period (only in English).

How did you come up with the title?

Actually, the original title was “The Crazy Ladies of Oakwood,” but in the middle of the night, when I was sleeping, I woke up, grabbed at that agape piece, and realized the title was meant to be The Only Way to Paradise, because ultimately love is our ticket.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Several.  All these women are masquerading as people they have sort of “dropped into being.”  None of them realize the richness, the love, and the talents they have hidden.  Italy is wonderful that way—it changes you into who you really are, if you let it.  But you have to live in the moment and listen, see, and most of all feel what it’s telling you.  Each woman learns the lesson most important for her happiness.  And then, there is agape—that love which comes so naturally to the Italians that I feel would change the world if we could all emulate it.  I go to Florence yearly in order to get recharged.

Do you have plans for a new book?   Is this book part of a series? 

If this book really takes off, I would like to write three more.  This is primarily about MacKenzie.  I would like to write one focusing more specifically on each character.  I am now writing another historical romance—this one set in Regency England.  I am at the exciting stage where the characters are revealing themselves to me and I am doing massive rewrites.

How did you come up with the title and cover design?

I think I answered the one about the title above.  The cover design was done by my exceedingly talented photographer husband.  The picture was actually taken in Amalfi, not Florence.  The door is from a photo taken in Mykonos, Greece.  He used photoshop to give it the feel of a painting.  To go with the title, I wanted a “passage.”

Where do you see yourself in five (5) years?

Hopefully, still traveling and writing.  Fans have been screaming for a sequel to: The Last Waltz (which will necessitate trips to Provence and Poland), my last genealogy novel (which I have already outlined and researched—it will be set in Florence).  I also want to write some more historical romances.  I am a passionate lady.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

If they had a decent healthcare system, I think I would love to live in Lucca—a little town in Tuscany, not far from Florence.  It is the birthplace of Puccini, and they have a Puccini concert every night.  It is a walled town with no cars allowed inside.

Is there an Author that you would really like to meet?

I would love to meet Marisa de los Santos, who wrote my favorite contemporary novel: Love Walked In.  Like my novel, hers is a  treatment of all different sorts of love.

What books have most influenced your writing most and why?

Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, opened my creative floodgates.  I recommend it highly!  Morally, I am most influenced by the great nineteenth century writers: Tolstoy, Gaskill, Charlotte Bronte, and Austen.  I also treasure critic John Gardner’s book: On Moral Fiction—especially the parts where he quotes Tolstoy as saying that art should be a moral act, and as such should affirm life and not trivialize it, tear it down, or cause it to appear random or meaningless.

Do you prefer ebooks, paperbacks or hardcover?

I like trade paperbacks or e-books.  I’m becoming more and more a fan of e-books for fiction, but for research I need the trade paperbacks.  Also, for my most beloved Classical authors,I like sturdy hardbacks.

Are you a self published (Indie) Author or big trad published?

I am both.  My first eleven books were traditionally published by three different publishers.  I wanted to self-publish this one, hopefully to gain a wider readership.  All my publishers were niche publishers.  I want to be more generally known.  I am pleased that I am finding readers all over the world now.  My trad. Pubishers priced my e-books too high.  Now, my e-books are outselling my paperbacks.  Since I see that as the future of publishing, I wanted to get on the bandwagon early and get my books known.  Amazon has been terrific to me, for some reason.  They are currently doing two special offers with this book, have published my bio on my book page (not just my author page), as well as a special “Note to the Readers” that appears at the front of my book. 

How do you market/promote your books?

That’s a good question.  I do absolutely everything I can from blog tours to giveaways.  This book will be free on Amazon for three days starting Jan 27.  This really boosted sales of my whole mystery series when I offered the first volume free.  I have done radio interviews.  I write columns for an on-line magazine which brings a lot of traffic to my blog and website.  I have fan pages on Amazon, Goodreads, and several different ones on Facebook.  I send out a monthly e-mail newsletter.  I try to keep a weekly blog.  I offer writing samples on my website, as well a photos of Florence.  I watch the bookblogs site for bloggers (like you, bless you)

What do you think makes a book a really good/bestseller ?

A really good bestseller is a book that makes people think and maybe changes them for the better, or informs them about something important.  Unfortunately, these days sex and sensationalism usually make a bestseller, although I am cheered by the success of such books as The Help, and the two latest bestsellers by Emily Giffin, and other writers of women’s fiction.

What was your favourite chapter (or part) to write and why?

I think I loved most MacKenzie’s chapters of self-discovery, because she grew up in an oppressive household like my family of orgin’s, and she’d lost her way in her own marriage, turning into someone she really wasn’t.   Feeling her coming alive in Florence was a parallel experience for me.  I loved to see the Renaissance and the rest of Tuscany through her new eyes.

What has been the toughest criticism you’ve been given as an author?  What has been the best component?

The worst criticism was from my freshman English t.a.  From his store of great wisdom he informed me that I had great promise as a writer, but I needed to give up my religion. That kept me from writing anything for years, and made me tremendously insecure when I did write.  I don’t write overtly religious books, but I do write books about truth.  I never preach. 

The best component is when I win awards!  I don’t know why.  Probably because I secretly fear I’m not good.  But Max Perkins (editor to Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings)says all of them had the same problem, as does any writer “worth his salt,” so I guess I’m in good company.

What do you do to unwind and relax?

Since we got our home theater two years ago, I collapse into my zero grav chair and watch TV.  My tastes vary from Burn Notice to Blue Bloods, to TV versions of the classics.  My all time favorite movie is the four hour dramatization of Elizabeth Gaskill’s North and South.  It illustrates the upheaval in England with the rise of industrialization and the middle class.  Margaret Hale is my favorite heroine,andRichard Armitage is to die for.

Have you ever read a book more than once?

Definitely.  Over and over.  I’ve lost count of the times I’ve read the classics, particularly Jane Eyre.  I keep hoping that I will absorb the author’s wisdom and creativity by osmosis.

Is there a particular movie that you preferred over the book version?

North and South.

What book are you currently reading and in what format (ebook/paperback/hardcover)?

I have been ill, and am writing a romance set in Regency England, and I dearly need a laugh.  So I’m rereading all of Georgette Heyer and laughing outloud.

Are there any new Authors that have seized your interest and why?

An author who is new to me is Caroline (?) Leavitt, author of Pictures of You.  I love her style of writing, her characters, and the way she successfully portrays emotion.  Also love   Emily Giffin—The Heart of the Matter, and Love the One You’re With.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Do writing practice every day until you find your voice (Natalie Goldberg has great tips on this).  Once you find your voice be true to it.  Be true to yourself and what your believe.  Read On Moral Fiction.  The better stuff you read, the better stuff you will write.

What is the best advice that you have ever been given when it comes to writing?

To write from deep down inside where all my conflicts and wisdom lie

Cats or dogs?


Favourite food?


Vanilla or chocolate ice cream?


What are 4 things you never leave home without?

Lip gloss
A picture of my grandchildren

Laptop or desktop for writing?

Both.  Laptop while lying in my zero grav chair for composition. Desktop for editing and blogging and e-mail

Where and when do you prefer to do your writing?

My favorite place of all time is the Café Robiglio at the end of my street in Florence.  It had the most fantastic bitter-sweet hot chocolate and delectable pastries and I love to hear the emotional Italian all around me at any time of day.  I set up my laptop by the window and Italy is my backdrop.

One of your favourite quotes

Work without Vision is Drudgery.  Vision without Work is Dreaming.  Work and Vision—That is Destiny.-

List 3 of your all time favourite books?

Jane Eyre
Anna Karenina
Love Walked In

List 3 of your all time favourite movies?

North and South
What about Bob?
Room With a View

An actor you have a crush on –

Richard Armitage

What is a movie or TV show that you watched recently and really enjoyed?

Burn Notice, Blue Bloods, Gifted Man, Person of Interest, NCIS, White Collar

Where can your readers stalk you?

Site | Blog | G.G. Vandagriff-Author Facebook
Fans of G.G. Vandagriff Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
Google + | Amazon | PTSD

Works By G.G. Vandagriff




Women’s Fiction:



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  1. Thanks for the terrific interview, Anya! Best ever

    1. It’s easy with such a great author to interview 😉
      Thanks for stopping by the House!

    • Brenda on February 11th, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    What a fantastic interview–questions and answers.

  2. I agree with Brenda. Great interview, ladies!

    1. Thanks!
      I love interviewing interesting authors (GG is great!)

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