Earlier this week I caught up with Meagan Adele Lopez, actor, world traveler, blogger and now a first-time author. She self-published her novel, Three Questions: Because a quarter-life crisis needs answers, in October of last year. It was featured on The Displaced Nation’s post Best of 2011: Books for, by and about expats.
Meagan — who is also known as MAL and the Lady Who Lunches (after her blog of that title) — may have just three questions, but I had quite a few more! I wanted to find out what inspired her to write her book, which she is now attempting to turn into a screenplay — the story behind the story…
Here’s what she had to say.
Meagan, I think it’s fair to say that you’ve been around a bit — I mean that in the nicest possible sense! Would you mind telling us a bit about your background — where you grew up, what you studied?
Do you mean I’ve been around as in I’ve lived for a long time, or do you mean I’ve traveled loads? (I won’t bother going to the other possibility!) Actually, I am getting up there in age — just six more months of my twenties; but there’s no need to rub it in, Tony! Just kidding. I think I’ll be relieved to be out of my twenties. What a crazy ride they were!
No, of course I wasn’t referring to your age — I’m an English gentleman, remember? I meant, you’ve lived in quite a few places — and that was before you moved abroad.
By the time I was 12 years old, I had lived in 12 different houses, and four different states. I pretty much grew up in a suburb of Baltimore called Towson. I say “pretty much” because I also lived in Tennessee and New Jersey for two years in between. But Towson is where I call home.
You have a passion for acting. When did you develop it?
Since I was eight years old, acting was all I wanted to do. For high school, I auditioned for a conservatory arts school called Baltimore School for the Arts (it boasts Jada Pinkett, Josh Charles and Tupac as students), where I was lucky enough to be trained by professional actors everyday.
Funnily enough, I wanted to be an actor, too. What drew you to the profession?
I had this fear that my life would pass too fast, and acting was somehow a way to slow down time, and be “in the moment.” Nowadays I find that writing is what does this for me. I am able to record thoughts and moments forever. Very existential, I know.
But you haven’t completely lost your passion for acting — I see you’ve instilled it in your main character, Adele (“Del”), in Three Questions. And I noticed there’s a mention of a horror film in your author’s bio — could you tell us a bit about that?
About the horror film? Oh no, you really don’t want to know about that (wink). But okay, my first starring role was in a horror movie called Sleepy Hollow High, about students who believe that the legend of Sleepy Hollow is real. It’s one of those films that is so cheesy and kitschy that it might be considered entertaining at some level. At the time, I was just excited to be in something, but it certainly wasn’t Oscar-worthy — ahem — at all.
And you also got into some major motion pictures?
My first speaking role in a big Hollywood movie was as a cocktail guest in Traffic, with Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas — now there’s an Oscar worthy film. Unfortunately, my lines got cut — but you can still see me shaking Michael Douglas’s hand. I got my Screen Actors Guild card from acting in small parts in Enemy of the State, a spy-thriller starring Will Smith, and The Replacements, a college football film starring Keanu Reeves. Numb3rs was my first TV show.
Wow — you gave all that up to become a writer?
I got disillusioned with acting after working in casting for four years. I saw how completely random and superficial some of the choices can be for who gets cast. I’d gotten into acting for a much more altruistic goal — I wanted to make a difference in how people see the world — but ultimately realized that the place where I could make a real difference, because I have control over my own success, was with writing. Without great content, after all, actors couldn’t do their job!
Well you’re having plenty of success with writing. In addition to the book (which we’ll come to, don’t worry!), you started up a popular expat blog, A Lady Who Lunches, while you were living in the UK. Now that you’ve repatriated, and are living in Chicago, are you still keeping it up?
When I got to Chicago, the blog went through a bit of an identity crisis. Even though I’d never lived in that city, writing about the adventures of a newbie Chicagoan didn’t really interest me. Especially since I was no longer lunching — I was working, hard. Though I still have the same URL and twitter handle (@theladylunches), I now call the blog by my own name, and I’m glad I’ve kept it up. It’s a built-in fan platform that has helped me to sell my novel.
You’re also something of a social media guru. Are there any secrets you can impart to other bloggers about building an audience?
I didn’t set out for the blog to become popular (and thank you for saying so). It was a lot of ground work, as well as trial and error. You can’t expect results from a blog unless you’re updating it frequently, creating a community with other similar, like-minded people, and engaging with them on a consistent basis. My biggest piece of advice to other bloggers is to take a course in SEO. I never really paid attention to SEO, and it wasn’t until I took a course that I realized the importance of knowing the basics. Simple things like: are people even searching for the topics that you’re writing? Are you wasting two hours of writing time on a topic that gets only 100 hits per month?
Now let’s turn to Three Questions, which follows the developing love between two young people — who have only met each other once, by chance, on a night out in Las Vegas. The love interest, Guy, is from England, as is your real-life boyfriend, Jock. So what I’d like to know is, just how much of the book is autobiographical?
This is a question that Jock and I dodge quite often! I would say that about sixty percent of the book is autobiographical. There are many similar personality characteristics between Guy (Del’s boyfriend) and Jock, and between Del and me, Even the outline of the story conforms quite closely to what happened to Jock and me. Jock and I did meet in Las Vegas before his trip to Africa, and we did write letters back and forth to get to know each other. Hey — they always say to write about what you know, so that’s what I did! However, “how” things happened — and obviously the ending — are all very different.
One of my favorite aspects of the book was the use of the three questions in each email between Del and Guy, which the couple used to get to know one another during their long separation. It’s genius! Where did the idea for that come from?
Thanks, Tony! It came from Jock, actually. He used to play a questions game with his mates in England when they were out at the pubs. They were quirky questions like “If you were an animal, what would you be?” When Jock went traveling through Africa and we had only met that one night, he decided to take a slightly different spin on it, and ask me three VERY different questions to get to know me. It was such a great way to get to know someone, and build up the intensity and connection. I highly recommend it for anyone who has a long-distance relationship.
Tell us about the screenplay for the novel.
At the end of last year, I raised some money through a Kickstarter campaign to take the novel to the next level, which hopefully will include turning it into a movie. I’m working on the screenplay now, and then I’ll pitch it to Hollywood. What they do with it after that is up to them.
To give you a taster, Meagan has just released this movie-style trailer for the book, which is awesome!
Right, here’s something your fans will be keen to know the answer to: are you writing another book, and can you share any juicy details with us? Is it about travel again?
I’m now working on a second novel, which — particularly as a citizen of The Displaced Nation — you’ll be interested to learn is about someone who is forcibly, not voluntarily, displaced. It’s about a Cuban teenager who was torn from her homeland and true love in the early 1960s — and the struggles, ghosts and eventual success she faces in the United States leading up to today.
Love is a recurring theme in your writing, and one we’ve been looking into recently at The Displaced Nation. So, post Valentines Day, do you have an advice for the singletons out there, wherever they are?
My only advice is to figure out who you are first, and what you want before worrying about finding someone. I really believe that the right man or woman will come when you finally decide that you’re the most important person in your life, and you are taking care of you.
And I have to ask this of someone who has written such a beautiful and memorable love story; tell me about True Love. Does it exist? Is there one person for each of us?
Wow — that’s the kind of question that years ago, I always used to ask everyone else. I never thought I’d be on the receiving end. (Maybe I am getting old?!) I come from a family where love comes multiple times in their lives, so for a long time I never believed that there could be only one person for me. What I’ve come to learn is that with a mixture of timing, chemistry and hard work, true love can certainly be created. How else do I explain running into Jock in a bar in Vegas on Easter Sunday, and thus creating a life out of it, despite our different backgrounds, cultures and nationalities?
Yes, how does a girl from Towson get together with a bloke from Portsmouth? Can I ask, how is Jock coping with the transition to life in Chicago?
Ah… besides the constant yelling at the way we drive, the lack of manners that Americans have when opening doors, and absolutely hating the egos and pompous attitudes of our politicians and media? I would say he’s adjusted much better than I did when I was in England! (I did a lot better in Paris!) Luckily, Chicago has a variety of cultures. He has actually started a business with another Englishman, and found another good friend who’s English. Plus, I think he secretly loves the attention that his accent brings him.
And will your love story have a traditional ending — any plans to tie the knot?
He has one more year before he has to get down on his hands and knees. I gave him five years not thinking he would take the entire five! But we’ve had a few cross-continental moves in the past four years, which has made it challenging to find the right moment.
In Three Questions, Del describes her perfect future as “living by the water in a big city, traveling as much as possible.” You’ve traveled and lived in France and England, and now you’re living in the Windy City, presumably somewhere near the lake… Have you found that perfect future yet? Or is your dream different from Del’s?
Perhaps when I first started writing the book, that was my dream. But success is very important to me as well. I want to leave this life with a feeling that I have left a significant mark on people’s lives. I don’t think I will feel satisfied until that happens, which means I may always be striving to better myself, to make a difference… On a more practical note, I can see myself back in SoCal or having a flat in Paris eventually. That’s not too much to ask for, is it??
Thanks very much, Meagan! It was great chatting with you.
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So, what do you all think? I loved Meagan’s book Three Questions and I’m not normally a fan of love stories and chick lit. I strongly recommend you all give it a read. Three Questions is available now on Amazon.com for the Kindle and, most excitingly of all, is now in paperback!
Three Questions on Amazon Kindle
Three Questions in Paperback
And luckily for you lot, Meagan has also agreed to participate in a giveaway, just for Displaced Nation readers!!!
She’s agreed to give a free ebook to the first 15 people who tweet: I want a free copy of @theladylunches’ new romance from afar novel, #ThreeQuestions via @displacednation
AND, she’s offered to give away a free copy of the paperback to the best comment in the comments section.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s chat
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s episode from our long-running expat soap, Libby’s Life. You can look forward to a battle with tiger-mums, a three-hour glucose tolerance test, one suspected case of galloping dandruff, and the crowning glory of a Valentine’s Day party for three-year-olds. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)
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Images: Meagan Adele Lopez; Three Questions book cover (designed by Kathleen Bergen).