Brenda Scott Royce|
Anyone who has ever meditated knows the term "monkey mind"—it's what happens when you try to clear your mind but it keeps jumping around from thought to thought like a naughty little monkey. "Monkey mind" also describes the life of author Brenda Scott Royce, who frenetically hops back and forth between her roles as author, mother, and magazine editor. When not writing, editing, or mothering, she moonlights as a proofreader, copyeditor, children's show writer, and audiobook abridger.
Brenda's first novel, MONKEY LOVE, received rave reviews (Janet Evanovich declared it "delicious as a jelly doughnut!"). The sequel, MONKEY STAR, follows heroine Holly Heckerling to Hollywood, where she lands a job wrangling animals on the set of a major motion picture. This multitasking, multitalented author has monkeys—and a lot more—on her mind.
They say "Write what you know." You have a degree in primatology and worked as a chimpanzee caregiver at an animal sanctuary. Is that why you decided to incorporate monkeys in the plots of your novels?
I guess so! MONKEY LOVE started out as a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy, but early on in the process, I thought, "What's the wackiest thing that could happen next?" I looked around my apartment—at my primatology textbooks piled high on the desk, at the dirty work boots I wore while cleaning chimp cages, at the orangutan painting on the wall, and I thought, "Why not have Holly babysit a monkey?"
Working with chimpanzees, you must have brought home some wild stories. What were some of your most memorable experiences?
Funny things happened practically every day. But one of my favorite experiences was making presents for the chimps at Christmastime. We'd take empty boxes and paper towel tubes, and fill them up with fruit, cereal, nuts, and gummy bears or other yummy treats, then wrap them up in wrapping paper. It was so much fun handing out the presents and watching the chimpanzees tear them open. They'd go crazy. When it was all over, there'd be bits of wrapping paper everywhere—from the floor to the rafters—and the chimps would be pooped. It reminded me of Christmas in my house when my sisters and I were little. Frenzied demolition of gifts, followed by a trancelike, satiated state.
These chimps were retired from biomedical research, and one of the joys of my job was trying to brighten their life a little. They've outlived their usefulness to science and can't be released to the wild, so they'll live out the rest of their lives in captivity. Caring for chimps is back-breaking, heart-aching work, but at the end of the day, after the cleaning and feeding, we could just hang out and interact with them. Those are the moments I'll remember forever.
You've abridged several of Janet Evanovich's audiobooks. What's that like?
It's like taking a knife to an adorably, smoochy-sweet puppydog. You read something that's terribly clever and you laugh out loud, then you take your red pencil to it and slash it out. I've abridged more than 100 books for audio, including about 13 of Janet's. The more I love a book, the harder it is to abridge. But it's my job to take a manuscript and whittle it down to the requisite length for an abridged audiobook (often cutting it by more than half), without sacrificing the plot. In addition to Janet, I've abridged books by Michael Crichton, Mary Kay Andrews, Jane Heller, Elizabeth Lowell, Stephen J. Cannell, Elizabeth George, Margaret Truman, and Al Gore!
Whenever a book is abridged for audio, the author (if he or she is living) approves the abridgment. Some people shun abridged audiobooks. Others view it as an adaptation of the book, much like a movie version (which rarely preserves all the characters and plot points of the original book). Many people will "try out" a new author by listening to the abridged audiobook, so by authorizing an abridgment, an author is opening up more avenues for readers/listeners to discover them.
Janet prefers people listen to her books unabridged, but she also authorizes abridged versions—and she has graciously complimented my abridgments of her work. In one e-mail she called me "an awesome abridger." I've met her a handful of times, and she's always been fabulously friendly to me. She even gave me a wonderful quote for the cover of my book!
In MONKEY STAR, Holly Heckerling has a serious Starbucks addiction. Do you?
I'll answer that once I finish my Frappuccino! Actually, for many years I had an aversion to coffee; I couldn't even stand the smell of it. But when I was writing MONKEY LOVE, a new Starbucks opened in my neighborhood, and I found it was a great place to sit and write or brainstorm, away from the distractions of home. Now I do the majority of my writing in Starbucks, and I'm quite infatuated with the coffee. But a recent incident with my three-year-old son has caused me to cut back. We were driving past Starbucks, and he pointed at the familiar green-and-white logo and said, "Mama's House!"
In MONKEY STAR, Holly is torn between her boyfriend Tom, a college professor, and Colin Daltry, a flirtatious movie star. Do either of these men have a real-life inspiration?
My husband Ramon is convinced that he is Tom. He has a few things in common with Tom, including his profession, but as I keep telling my husband, Tom is fictional. When Ramon was reading the manuscript to MONKEY STAR, he got very agitated as the flirtation between Holly and Colin developed. "She's flirting too much," he'd say. He complained that Holly's date with the movie star was longer than her date with Tom in the first book. He was comparing page counts! As the book progressed, he got more and more jealous. I thought it was sweet … and a little nuts.
As for Colin, in the book he replaces Hugh Jackman on a film. I wanted readers to envision someone like Jackman. Hugh Jackmanesque, if you will. But Colin is his own character. He's cocky and flirtatious on the surface, but also very down-to-earth and playful. He's someone who is enjoying his ride in Hollywood but at the same time cognizant of how fleeting fame and fortune can be.
Wow, tough choice. Readers will have to pick up the book to find out who Holly ends up with. But can you tell us if there will be a third installment in the monkey series?
I hope so. Right now I'm working on an altogether different novel. But Holly still has a lot more to say, and Tallulah the monkey is always up for more mischief! Stay tuned.