Cindi Rizzo (2)

I met Cindy Rizzo early on in each of our writing careers. Cindy and I became friends on Facebook shortly after I released Sunset Island. I was readying Awaiting My Assignment and she was preparing for the release of her first book, Exception to the Rule. Our books released a couple of weeks apart. We did an interview then and exchanged encouraging e-mails with each other as our books made their way up the charts. Interestingly, Cindy just released her second book, Love Is Enough and my next book, It’s Complicatedwill be available again at the same time as Cindy's book. In talking about our upcoming releases, Cindy and I thought it would be fun to swap books and then do an interview. The result of our conversation follows.

Welcome back Cindy. Thanks for this opportunity to talk about our books and whatever else comes up.

AJ: First question: Give us an idea of what the new book, Love Is Enough is about.

This is a book about two women, a US Congresswoman, Angie Antonelli, and a wealthy investment manager, Jan Clifford, who meet on a blind date and have an immediate and intense connection.  Like many lesbians, they quickly become involved, and then some major issues arise.  First, Angie is blindsided by the unexpected return of her first love who’d left her in their senior year of college to be with someone else.  This happens just as Angie was ready to tell Jan she loved her.  Then as Angie faces a tough fight for re-election to Congress, a business deal that Jan’s firm is handling becomes a big issue in her race and Jan refuses to walk away from the deal.  So there are a number of tests that this new relationship faces, including (and I won’t give away what it is) the famous “Galileo Test.”

AJ, I’m not nearly as prolific as you are, but I do seem to release books at the same time as you.  You have a new one coming out very soon.  Talk about it.

AJ: Yes, I have released several books this past year, but remember that I had a backlog when Desert Palm Press signed me. Now that I’m having to create new books, my production rate will slow. And yes, we’ve had two of our books out at the same time. On the surface, it would appear hard to believe we have become friends. I think the fact that we both started out at the same time and were able to share the experience together helped. Although I’ve yet to find another lesfic author who was not supportive and helpful to another author.

Thanks for asking about my next book. It’s Complicated deals with a sensitive subject and is a bit more of an emotional journey than I usually write. It is a book that everyone will have an opinion about and could make for some great discussions as a book club read. More information about it can be found here on my Author’s page:

Your new story, Love Is Enough, is a follow up to Exception To The Rule. You aged the characters substantially and have them now well established in their careers. Do you consider your books a series and will there be a third with the same characters?

I’ve given this question a lot of thought.  Love Is Enough is not a sequel to Exception to the Rule.  Each book stands on its own.  But Angie was a prominent supporting character in Exception and her friends, Robin and Tracy, who are in Love Is Enough, were the main characters in that book.  Exception followed their lives in college (1993-97), when they all met.  Love Is Enough catches up with them in their 30s. 

I have other books in mind that will feature some of the supporting and minor characters from these books.  I guess I’m seeing these women as part of an extended community of people whose lives touch one another.  I don’t have a name yet for this series.  My working name is The Exception Series, but I don’t know if I’ll use that.  But definitely, there are many stories to be told about the people who populate these books and I’m excited about shining the spotlight on more of them and bringing back some of the main characters from the first two books.

AJ, did you set out to write a series with your books or did it just happen?

AJ: I wrote Sunset Island with no intention to continue with a series. However, the characters spoke to readers and they wrote asking for more. So I happily obliged with the rest of the series. 

Where did the idea for your books come from? Is any part of it based on real life or are they entirely and purely fictional?

I started the book that became Exception to the Rule in about 1990.  So originally, the book was set in what was then the present and what became the past when it was finally published in 2013.  Back then I wanted to write a book about three young women who already knew they were lesbians, and not another coming out book.  I wanted their stories to focus on what it meant to come into adulthood as young lesbians.  So while neither book is based on actual events from my own life, there are some elements of things that have happened to me that are in the books, especially this new one.  For example, like Angie, I was actually left for someone else without any warning and, while the events in Love Is Enough regarding that are completely made up, a lot of the feelings are based on my own.  There’s a quote from Angie describing what she went through that rings really true to my experience.  She says, “It was like the foundation of my life crumbled under me. I was destroyed. I knew in my bones, as she was telling me that day that there was no way back. In that moment, I just knew it was over. The whole thing had turned to rubble all around me. There was nothing that could be fixed.”

AJ: Your characters’ first date is on a sailboat. Are you a sailor? If not, did you go out sailing with someone to get the flavor of that setting? 

No.  This is all Angie’s fault because she has this lifelong attraction to jocks, so I knew Jan needed a sport.  I chose sailing because it went with her background as a well-to-do New England preppie.  Luckily one of my friends knows a lot about sailing, so she answered my questions and became a beta reader, especially focused on the descriptions of sailing.  I also watched instructional videos and read some things.  Plus, I know a lot about the setting, which is Boston and Cambridge on the Charles River where I lived for many years.  That helped a lot.

How do you research issues in your books that aren’t things you know a lot about?

AJ: I’ve been fortunate that, so far, hobbies and interests are pretty much from my own experiences. I have spent a lot of time in Maine camping, and have cruised numerous times to Canada with stops in Maine. Biking is a recurring theme. It is something I enjoy but am not that good at, LOL. I steal…er, uh, borrow professions from friends who, haven’t complained yet. I use the internet when I have a technical question to answer, or ask others who may have a knowledge of the subject. When socializing with friends, following a humorous comment, I’m often asked, “Will that show up in your next book?”

Who do you envision playing each of your characters?

There are two young actresses from the TV show, Pretty Little Liars, who I think would be great.  Lucy Hale as Angie and Sasha Pieterse as Tracy.  Robin is Ellen Page, for sure.  But I have not found my Jan yet.  If anyone has a suggestion, I’d be thrilled.  She needs to be very attractive, on the butch side, and very earnest, not cocky.  If you find someone who plays cocky well, she can be Nicky.

Do you think about this with your books?  Who are the two leads in Sunset Island?

AJ: I never think about it until after the book is written. I thought about it more with the Friends Series. I see Sasha Alexander as Amanda. The jury is still out on Melanie!

What was your favorite part or scene to write in Love Is Enough?

I had the most fun with the final third of the book—the meeting at Nicky’s office about the so-called second front and the TV show near the end.  Those were my two favorites I think.  I love writing dialogue and both of those are filled with dialogue.

Does dialogue come easy to you?

AJ: It depends on what’s happening in the story. I hear it in my head, although sometimes, like with other parts of the stories, the characters are whispering to make it more difficult.

What's your favorite line from the new book?

So many come to mind, all of them in dialogue.  I’ll give you a sweet one and a funny one.  On their first date in an Italian restaurant, Angie and Jan are holding hands and then the waiter comes and they pull their hands away.  After, Angie says, “I’m really interested in hearing the rest of the Cliff story if you feel like continuing. I’m also really interested in”—she paused and looked down at her plate shyly—“your hand.”  And then when Angie takes Jan to meet Robin and Tracy, Robin complains that they have to go to a political fundraiser for Angie that will be filed with rich people.  Since Robin is now a successful author, Angie says, “If you want to avoid rich people, Robin, don’t look in the mirror.”  It’s so emblematic of the sibling-type relationship Angie has with Robin and Tracy.  They push each other’s buttons in this very loving way.

I had trouble with this question.  Do specific lines from your books stay with you?

AJ: I'm sorry that was difficutl. One line in particular in Awaiting My Assignment, especially stuck with me. It was when Amanda discovers that she has been so rudely betrayed and she says, “Oh my God! I’m the other woman!” It sort of reminded me of the famous line, "My mother...a waitress."

I know you have a full time, responsible and time-consuming job, got married recently, and have an active life. When do you find the time to write?

Weekends, lunch hours, sometimes at night.  I took a week off to finish Exception.  I’m a terrible procrastinator, so I end up playing around on Facebook a lot when I should be writing or sending my book to reviewers, etc.  And, yes, married life is really good.  We still have to have an actual wedding.  It’s currently scheduled for the summer of 2016.

I have a feeling your much more disciplined than I am about your writing.  Is that true?

AJ: Only when I’m really on a roll and hot into the story. Otherwise, I can while away the hours on Facebook with the best of them. I do try to work on my book everyday. I'm retired, so there is ample time, most days to do so.

Do you need quiet to write, or can you steal moments on a train or subway to either think about or write a scene?

There’s a great line from an interview with the wonderful author, Chris Paynter, that has stayed with me.  Chris said that sometimes she looks like she’s zoned out and her wife says to her, “you’re thinking about writing, aren’t you?”  That’s me.  I think about my characters all the time in my head, and in that way the story and the scenes in the story become clear to me.  It’s hard for me to just sit at the computer without that thinking and imagining process.  Like a lot of people, I think in the shower, or on the way to work, or in a boring meeting.  And, yes, I need complete quiet to work.  When other authors talk about writing to music, I can’t even imagine it.  Even classical music.  In order to listen to what’s in my head, I can’t have anything else going on. 

What environment works best for you?

AJ: Much to my partner’s annoyance, I can tune out almost anything if I’m focused. So in answer to your question to me above, yes, I guess I’d call myself disciplined…in a flexible sort of way (grin.)

What writing process do you use?  Do you have everything plotted out neatly, or do you let the story develop on its own?

I’m more of a pantser, but the thinking process ahead of time really helps me as a kind of planning exercise.  I also use the computer program Scrivener for the first draft, so I can at least list out the scenes that are coming up so I won’t forget.  I can also store any research I’ve done there.  For example, when I found what I needed about campaign finance laws, I just copied it into Scrivener and used it when I got to that part of the book.

Do you outline your books first?

AJ: I develop the plot from start to finish in my head and make notes about character names, jobs, locations, quirks, and descriptions. I find I pretty much stick to my original ideas, although sometimes I come up with a surprise or two along the way, like with the Bernie plot twist in Awaiting My Assignment. That wasn’t in the original plan.

You recently attended a Lesfic event in England and the Con in Oregon. How would you say they were similar and how were they different?

Both were attended by fabulous women!  The Con is solely focused on lesfic.  So all of the workshops, readings and sessions are all about the books and the community of authors, publishers, editors and readers.  It was an amazing experience.  I learned a lot and met wonderful women.  L Fest in England is a lesbian arts festival that features music, film, book readings, etc.  It was indoors and outdoors at a racetrack near Birmingham where the Con was in a hotel.  I was so excited to meet many of my UK lesfic friends and we had a crazy time playing English drinking games.  I think they all got the impression that I’m a big partier, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

AJ: You live in NYC. What sports teams do you favor?

I have split loyalties because I was born and raised in NYC, spent 27 years living in Boston, and then returned to NYC in 2006.  So my teams are the Red Sox, the Mets, the Patriots and the Jets.  I also went to my first NY Liberty game this summer.  That’s the women’s pro basketball team.  So now I’m a fan of the Liberty as well as UConn women’s basketball.  And while I like all these teams, I’m not a rabid sports fan really. 

Are you into sports?

AJ: Not really. I used to follow football, but not so much any more. Now that Jeter retired, I don’t see myself watching too much baseball either. Watching soccer tires me out. I find myself sitting in front of the TV trying to catch my breath. I couldn’t run like that, even in my youth when I was in good shape.

Tell us a secret that few people know about you?

I identify as an introvert even though I’m not shy.  I’m very friendly and am not afraid to approach people or make friends.  So it looks like I’m an extrovert, but really, I need a lot of quiet, alone time to feel re-charged.  Luckily, my wife is the same way, so we spend a lot of time at home at our desks, which are in the same room, and that makes us very happy.

Your turn, AJ.

AJ: Hmm…I may have to rethink this new dialogue format for my interviews, where turn about is fair play. Ok, don’t tell anyone…I hate peanut butter.

What is your favorite part of the writing process and what is your least favorite?

In terms of actual writing, I like the feeling of being in the groove, like I said before about the final third of Love Is Enough.  It just poured out of me.  And I love creating characters.  In terms of the process in the larger sense, I like interacting with readers and other writers.  It’s been so wonderful for me to find community in all of this, and even a few close friends. 

I struggle a lot with plot.  One of the reasons I didn’t finish Exception in 1990 was because I had these three characters—Robin, Tracy and Angie—but I had no idea what should happen to them.  It wasn’t until I realized that this was a romance, that I could move it forward.  I think Love Is Enough has a more developed plot and I’m proud that I was able to do that.  It’s where I want to keep improving.  In the larger sense of the process, as an indie, I struggle a lot with marketing and getting the word out about the book.  It’s a lot of work.

How about you?

AJ: I’ve been fortunate to have “borrowed” this interview idea from Eden Glenn. Not only has it been an interesting way to meet other authors and learn about their books, it’s allowed me to have others learn about my work through my interviews.

What was it like to give your first in person autograph?

A little surreal.  I kept thinking, “you want my autograph, really?”

What about you?

AJ: My first request actually came from a friend. I just laughed until I realized she was serious. Other than if I was purchasing a car or other big-ticket item for someone, I can’t imagine why they’d want it. It is surreal.

There is a lot of work related to being an Indie author. After these two, do you see yourself continuing with self-publishing or do you see yourself, at some point in the future, signing with a publisher for future books?

This is my eternal Hamlet question:  to indie or not to indie?  I’m thinking a lot about the hybrid option.  Writing some books or stories as an indie and others with publishers.  Not every publisher ties you into them forever, so I do have that option.  For example, Ylva Publishing has a story of mine in their upcoming holiday themed anthology, Unwrap These Presents.  It’s a Chanukah story about two ultra-Orthodox Jewish teenagers who fall in love with each other.  I’m really excited about it and it’s been a pleasure to work with Ylva.

Would you ever think of contributing a short story to an anthology?


I never say never. I’ve been so busy writing, editing, and setting up the websites (I do my own and the Desert Palm Press websites). In addition, I’ve done all my covers except the first. So I would consider it, certainly, if I had time.

Is there something you hated doing when you were younger that you enjoy doing today?

I did not read for pleasure when I was younger.  My parents saw I was getting good grades so they didn’t push me to read.  I got to watch a lot of TV instead.  But that changed at some point in college and I began to read all the time and watched very little TV.  Because of this, I had huge gaps in my knowledge of children’s literature because I’d never read Alice in Wonderland or Winnie the Pooh.  But then I had children and I read all those books to them, so I got caught up.

And you?

AJ: Don’t shoot me for this response, but it was the first thing that came to mind. I now, sometimes, twiddle my thumbs. I thought it was so pointless when, as a kid, I’d watch my Great-grandmother do it and just wonder…why? Now, sometimes when I’m a passenger in a car I find myself doing it. It’s oddly calming. 

This has been quite a year for you. When you look back over the past year, is there a specific moment or event that stands out in your mind?

Winning the Goldie for Debut Fiction was just amazing.  I walked around the entire night with this silly grin on my face.  I really didn’t expect to win and I was the only indie who did in that category.  So it was truly extraordinary.

You’ve had enormous success with your books.  I know you like hearing from readers. Is that what stands out for you?

AJ: Congratulations on your well deserved award.

Yes, I’d say hearing from readers is one of the great rewards of writing. I love hearing from readers about how the book impacted them, e.g., keeping them awake, or causing them to ‘waste’ the day away reading my work. I don’t think there’s any bigger compliment than to know someone lost themselves in my stories.


Thank you Cindy for a great conversation. I appreciate your coming back. Thank you for the interview and huge and heart-felt congratulations on the success of Exception To The Rule. I wish you similar success with Love Is Enough.


You can contact Cindy at the links below:



You can find her books here:


Love Is Enough on Amazon and Exception to the Rule on Amazon (both available in paperback and e-book)

Both books also available on Smashwords



Cover design Jan Wandrag


© JEN 2014