Condo Divas is a humorous take on the politics of a condo community based on the author’s dozen years on the board. A burned-out Mattie copes with board members and residents who scheme, sneak, and sidestep rules as they go about solving—and creating—major issues of pets, parking, and people with their own skewed logic. Over sixty million people live in three hundred thousand communities run by homeowners associations; two million of these people volunteer for the thankless task of serving on the board. One of them wants out. This is her story.
Tell us something about yourself.
I’m an ex-park ranger and chicken rancher (think The Egg and I) who landed a job as a proofreader/editor at an engineering firm because English was my forte. After 25 years as a technical writer working with engineers and scientists, I expertly edited, cut, and turned words into charts to meet page limits. In order to write Franca’s Story: Survival in World War II Italy, the memoir of a friend, I had to go back to college to re-learn creative writing skills—how to use adverbs and adjectives, how to set up scenes and write dialogue, how to describe something that would engage the senses of the reader. After all, I was writing a book about Italy.
What inspired you to write this book?
People are funny. I was continually amazed at the weird situations and odd people that I dealt with in the years I was president. Some loved rules, others didn’t pay any attention to them, and these personalities collided on a regular basis. Hot issues are dog poop, back-in parking, hardwood floors, and doing illegal things in the hot tub.
How did you choose the title?
One of my fellow board members and I emailed regularly, privately discussing residents or situations. We started creating our own imaginative solutions to the issues and signing the emails “diva.” My book coach was against it, but the reaction from people when I tell them the name confirms that it was a good choice.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
It’s actually a creative non-fiction based on my life, but I still live with these people. I had to call it a fiction or move to a yurt in the hills. I changed names, combined events, altered the building, hoping to render them unrecognizable. I don’t want to get sued.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
Sitting in an apple tree in 6th grade reading Ann of Green Gables. In high school, I was a yearbook editor, and in college, I wrote short stories. I dropped out, married a chicken rancher, worked as a park ranger for almost a decade. After my divorce, I was hired as a proofreader for a huge engineering company and began doing their newsletter, writing weekly personality profiles that made the engineers seem almost human.
In 2003, after hearing stories from my friend Franca about her experience in the war, I asked her if I could fulfill my dream of writing a book by writing her memoir. I went through writing classes at Bellevue Community College with Peggy King Anderson, University of Washington with Skye Moody, and at David Guterson’s Fields End on Bainbridge Island. Two and one-half years later, our book won two national awards: The Benjamin Franklin gold award for best interior design using 1-2 colors, and ForeWord Magazine’s silver award for 2005 Book of the Year – Memoir.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I take long walks and, when the ideas come, I write them in the Notes feature on my iPhone. I think Condo Divas may be the first book written on an iPhone. Hey Steve Jobs….
Also, I worked with Man Martin, a humorist and author from Georgia, who was my book coach. I wanted to keep things light and humorous, but I started out killing off characters in the first few chapters. Man helped me by reviewing and commenting on my chapters on a regular basis. It was a monthly Sunday ritual phone conference. His lack of knowledge about condos was a plus because it made me clarify numerous things that might have confused a reader who has never experienced community living.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
I still live among these people, so I opted for names like Sonny and Cher for the ultra conservative couple, Dick Janey for the gay partner of Fred Flint. JC was obvious for the carpenter. Lydia came from a search for a biblical name. Mattie O’Hara, the heroine, is a take on Matahari. A fellow dog walker named the dogs, Double and Trouble. In the sequel, Double is gone (sad), so Trouble is joined by Chaos, because that’s what the new pup causes.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?
Research rules. Even with 12 years under my belt, I learned a lot about different condo communities and their rules, towns and the different codes, and that rooftop gardens are not as unusual as I thought. And there are thousands of stories still to be told. Almost every property manager and realtor who sees the book has said, “Boy, have I got a story for you!” I direct them to my web page, where I am collecting them on a regular basis: www.wimerpublishing.com.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
I’d hire the PR people while the book is being written, get things stirred up so the anticipation is there when it comes out. I was a little late, due to finances. Yet they got me on a couple of the local TV stations and some radio shows, and private readings for condos and realty companies.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
Favorite authors include Shel Silverstein (Runny Babbit, read aloud with a glass of wine, it is hysterical!), Annie Proulx, Steig Larsson, Alexie Sherman, and Anthony Capella. I’m currently reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and have The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks waiting.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
It’s the sequel to Condo Divas. I’ve been working at a senior retirement place and have buckets of story ideas and characters to have fun with.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Don’t write books for the financial rewards. Do it for the love of it, because books are your passion.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
Condo dwellers and members of homeowners associations, empty nesters who are downsizing to condos, first-time condo owners, real estate investors, and anyone who enjoys sitcoms.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
Go to my web page: www.wimerpublishing.com where you can see the Condo Divas hats.
Condo Divas paperback is available from Mercer Island Books, an independent bookstore that ships free anywhere in the USA; call 206-232-6920. It’s also available in both paperback and ebook on Amazon.com.
Thank you! And remember, it’s fun to be a bit of a diva now and then.