Phyllis Piano spent more than 30 years working in Fortune 500 companies, serving as an officer in several. She is a member of the International Advisory Committee of APCO Worldwide. Her first novel, Hostile Takeover: A Love Story, will be published October 4. Below, she details for authors how she used her real-life corporate business experience to create her romance novel.
I always knew I wanted to write a novel—for decades, that thought was in the back of my head. But with a 24/7 job that took me all over the world, my dream had to wait. I conjured up the plot for Hostile Takeover: A Love Story in my head and kept it there for years, actually reciting it to one of my close colleagues once after a long day at work. When I left the full-time corporate grind behind and had the time to actually start writing, the words poured out of my head onto the computer screen and my dream of writing my first book came true, finally.
When I learned that there weren’t that many fictional books set in the corporate environment, I thought it would be fun to meld fantasy with reality. I called upon my many years working in Fortune 500 companies to create a fun and sexy workplace romance for my first book, Hostile Takeover: A Love Story, which will be published October 4 through SparkPress.
The lead character, Molly, is a corporate lawyer who works closely with the CEO to take over companies. But when her company faces a hostile takeover by the man who was her first love, the sparks fly.
Now, I wasn’t a corporate lawyer, but I was a corporate communications executive, working closely with many lawyers over the years and exposed to a myriad of rules, laws and regulations. For Hostile Takeover: A Love Story, I was able to draw upon years of rich experiences with very large acquisitions, coordinating with the media, and creating extensive communication plans for all kinds of business events.
By the way, I did meet my husband at work, so maybe that inspired me to write about romance in a corporate setting for my first book. But that’s a story for another novel!
While I don’t claim to be an expert, I’ll share some tips I found useful in melding fiction with real-life business experiences to create a novel:
Write about what you know
Particularly for new fiction writers, it may be helpful to start by falling back on your own life experiences—for me, that was the corporate environment—as that can give you an “easy” start. Writing a book is never easy, but particularly if you are a novice, rely on your own experiences for a fast start.
Insert “small” real-life work experiences throughout
In Hostile Takeover: A Love Story, I infused the story with little things that really happened in my job. For example, I used to squeeze a stress ball at my desk during meetings, so I inserted that into a few scenes with the main character, Molly. (I did not include the real-life story of how I squeezed it too hard when I was interviewing a job candidate and it broke open, squirting gooey gel all over my office and me!) Add tiny details from your life and job to add realism to your writing.
Feature real laws, rules and guidelines
In my corporate career, we strictly adhered to laws and regulations, including the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Selective Disclosure and Insider Trading rules. The SEC guidelines around acquisitions played heavily in my book. I did have a bit of fun with them on the romance side! Find a way to make real rules and laws guide your story for authenticity.
Focus on the human element of the workplace
In our jobs, there’s so much effort that goes into the day-to-day work, but the things that we really remember are the emotional moments, the highs and lows, the conflicts and victories. For example, I tend to remember how I felt during times of great challenge, rather than what I did. Bring out those emotional-filled moments in your writing that have stuck with you over time.
Be credible, but have fun as you spin your tale
By all means, use the internet and other research sources to make sure you represent everything in your stories accurately. But focusing too much on guidelines and regulations, particularly in a corporate setting, can make for a boring novel. So be sure to take some creative risks in your writing. I had some fun with the media coverage of my Hostile couple, for example. Be accurate, but create some dramatic events that go beyond your experience and capture the readers’ interest.
A typical day at the office usually doesn’t usually include romance and high emotion. I actually thought about that fact when coming up with the title of my book and also created some scenes where Molly’s sex life was discussed in formal business meetings. Capitalize on juxtaposition.
Learn as you go
While I am a “rookie” novel writer with my first book published this year, book #2 is being edited and I am writing #3. With early feedback on Hostile and great tips from editors and others, I have tried to incorporate what I have learned, particularly about the infusion of real life experience and dialogue. I am hoping to challenge myself as I learn, moving out of my comfort zone to become a better writer with each new book. Apply lessons learned to improve your writing.