Five For Friday: Samantha Stroh Bailey

Five For Friday: Samantha Stroh Bailey

Have you ever been friends with someone you’ve never met? Well, officially met at least? The internet is so funny that way. Take for instance my association with one Samantha Stroh Bailey, author and blogger extraordinaire. We’ve bounced ideas off each other, we’ve promoted our books together, and we’ve never (in person at least) even shared a bottle of wine!

The gorgeous and talented Samantha Stroh Bailey!
Here she is: The gorgeous, talented Samantha Stroh Bailey.

Yes, she has a quick wit and a kind soul, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret about why I’m so thrilled to “know” Sam: She’s a f@cking fantastic writer! There are scenes from her book Finding Lucas that are forever emblazoned on my brain (the happy part of my brain). She writes with such color and life, I just want to keep reading her. And you will, too! (Hey, I’d love if you shared a similar internet friendship story with me in the comments section, as well as leaving love notes for Sam because she totally deserves hundreds of them.)

Before we get started, you’re going to want to know how to connect with Sam:

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Blog

Go ahead and click on these now, “like” and “follow” and what not, and come back. You won’t be sorry!

Oh great, you’re back. Come on–let’s meet Sam!

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1. I’ve already told you how much I enjoyed Finding Lucas (readers: please check out my review by clicking here). The story is so real, the characters so colorful. In fact, I think the strongest element going in your book is the characters–especially Jamie’s family! Do your characters pop out of your head like that, or are they based on people you know?

Thank you so much for saying that, Francine, and I give that compliment right back to your writing. It’s a mix of both. I don’t do a detailed outline of my characters before I start writing because I find they develop organically as I write. I know their jobs, physical attributes, and relationship to my main character, but who they become is entirely of their own making. I do loosely base some of their qualities on people I know and love and some of their quirks are qualities I see in myself. I also give them attributes that I don’t like in people I’ve crossed paths with over the years, and I embellish them, such as Derek’s materialism, Jeanette’s snottiness, and Eva’s bitchiness. The villains are so much fun to write!

2. What inspired you to write Finding Lucas? And…without getting yourself in trouble at home…did you ever feel (before you were married, of course!) that one that “got away”?

I love this question because Lucas is very, very loosely based on my own one-time “friend with benefits.” I was lying in bed one night and Jack popped into my head. It had been years since I’d last seen or spoken to him, and I wanted to know how we was doing, if he was married, and I hoped he was happy. He was such a good friend and such a great person to have in my life through high school and early university, and I wanted to re-connect. Not once did I consider him (or anyone else) as the one “who got away” because I’ve been with my husband since I was 22 years old, and I am now, well, I’m not 22. But, Jack is someone who holds a special place in my life. And when I started thinking of how I would track him down, the plot for Finding Lucas came to me, and off I went. So many of us want to know what happened to the people who touched our lives in some way, and most of us do a bit of googling to find out. Though few of us go on a cross-country hunt to find them!

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3. Aside from the Canadian thing, you and I pretty similar in terms of being blonde and petite and lifestyle–juggling writing fiction with freelance writing career and raising two small kids. Can you tell us about your writing process. (And when you find the time to do your own writing?)

Oh, my life is such a juggle, and I’m sure you understand completely. Until October, I was a stay at home mom with my daughter (my son is in school), and I would write and edit during her naps and at night. It was insane! I’d always dreamed of working from home and having my own business so the fact that I was doing it made the craziness and exhaustion all worth it. Now, I’m finally working full-time again, and I divide my day between writing/editing for my clients (they come first), promoting Finding Lucas, and finishing the final edits on my second novel, Everything But, which I hope to release in the late spring/early summer. And thanks to you, I have an idea for my third book, but shhh, don’t tell anyone.

I work from 9-4 and when it comes to writing my novels, I always get my plot ideas late at night (or from chatting with awesome writers like you). I always need to know the first line, and once I’ve typed that, I just write. I don’t stop to edit (which just about kills me), and I force myself to just let the story develop as it wants to. I have to shove all of the doubt and fear away until I have enough of a story to go back and flesh it out, fixing and cutting. I love to cut! It is so hard to cut my own work, but the best advice I ever got from a writer friend of mine was this: whatever you think is your best line, isn’t. It’s self-indulgent and you need to chop it. So, I do.

4. Okay, my curiosity is officially piqued! What can you share about your new book with us?

I am almost ready to hand Everything But over to my beta readers. It’s women’s fiction and there are strong, sassy female characters, a few romances, and some very funny moments. But it is also quite serious at times. It’s about Maddy Taylor, a woman who had it all–a gorgeous husband, hot career, and all of the time and freedom she craved because she never wanted to have kids. Until she changes her mind, but her husband hasn’t. The novel follows Maddy as she struggles to have both love and a child. She learns whether it’s possible to get everything you want or if she’ll always have everything but…

5. So in your spare time (hahahahaahahahaa!), what are some of the other things you like to do?

Ha ha ha ha, indeed! Actually, I force myself to have down time because as cheesy as this sounds, I truly believe that we have one life to live and we’d better make the most of it. I want to be happy and that includes reading (I read every single day), going out for dinner with my husband and friends, dancing (oh, I love dancing!) and just being a silly goof with my kids. I find it very hard to say no and not pile my plate with too many things, but I’m learning.

BONUS QUESTION: When are you coming to New York so we can get together for drinks like in one of the crazy scenes in your books (just slightly less crazy…)?

Oh my God, New York City is my favorite place in the world. I always feel like I’m home there. I went with my best friend last summer (our first ever trip away from the kids), and we’re trying to make it an annual event. I would come tomorrow if I could. How have I not met you yet?

How indeed! You better give me a heads-up the next time you’re in town. Okay, let’s get into the book. Following is an excerpt from Finding Lucas. After that, I’ll post a synopsis about the book, as well as how to buy it. What are you waiting for?

Start reading now!

“Jamie Ross? That is you!”

No. Please no. Not when I’m red-faced, sweaty and looking like an electric blue sausage. I recognize that husky, snide voice instantly, and I slowly turn around. Yup, it’s Claire Howard. The high school nemesis I was just talking about last night. The one who stole Lucas right out from under me. Who was it who said that when you talk about someone you see them?

And she’s breathtaking. Still. Long, shiny, strawberry blonde hair, startling grey eyes and porcelain skin. Not the pasty, dehydrated kind, but the creamy, smooth kind. Diamonds drip from the sparkling studs in her perfectly adorable earlobes to her little toe ring.

I look at Derek. He’s staring; his mouth, hanging open slightly. I want to smack him. She kisses my clammy, crimson cheek with cinnamon lipstick. Just to leave a mark, I’m sure.

“God, Jamie, how long has it been?”

“Fifteen years, Claire.”

Like you don’t know, you man-stealing slut. I probably wouldn’t be so angry if Lucy hadn’t dredged up all that stuff about Lucas last night. But now it feels like it just happened yesterday.

“You look exactly the same,” she tells me, moving her left hand in front of my face just so I can catch the massive rock on her finger.

She is not giving me a compliment. I’ve already mentioned my unfortunate awkward years, and to add to the pear-shaped body, I also had glasses and braces. But I was smart and funny, and that’s what got me Lucas. I’m sure the adoring gazes I’d constantly shot in his direction didn’t hurt any. But, Claire had the Southern Belle accent (her family had moved to Chicago from Savannah) and the DD chest.

Looking at her now, the chest looks suspiciously higher and firmer than it should be after all of these years. With small boobs, you never really worry about sagging and future nips and tucks.

“Jamie, introduce me,” Derek says, scowling.

“Oh goodness, how rude of me. Derek, this is Claire, a, um, girl from high school. Claire, this is my boyfriend, Derek.”

Her eyes are huge with amazement that I could have a boyfriend who looks like Derek. Clanging warning bells go off in my head. What if she does it again? Steals him too? If I turn my back for a second, she might toss him over her satiny shoulder and walk right out. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea. They’re both looking at me strangely. Perhaps because I’m grinning like an idiot and laughing to myself.

“Do you live around here, Claire?” Derek asks, slipping an arm around my waist.

Considering we weren’t even speaking two seconds ago, I know this means he wants me to invite her over. I know that he doesn’t know who she is to me, but can’t he see how stiff and uncomfortable I am? After five years, you’d think he’d be able to read my body language.

“Oh no, not down here,” she says, eyeing me up and down and smoothing her yellow wrap dress so it hugs her curves even more tightly. “I was at a breakfast meeting for my new marketing campaign. I’m the advertising director at Goldman Sachs. We live in the Gold Coast. Do you know the new gated community?”

I wish I had a sweatshirt to cover my huge butt.

~~~~~~~~

Buy Finding Lucas!

Amazon.com

Kobo

~~~~~~~~~

About Finding Lucas

Can you ever really go back to the past? After five long years of living with Derek, her former bad-boy-turned-metrosexual boyfriend, Jamie Ross finally reaches her breaking point. She’s had enough of his sneering disdain for her second hand wardrobe, unusual family and low-paying job as the associate producer of Chicago’s sleaziest daytime talk show. When her new boss plans a segment on reuniting lost loves, Jamie remembers Lucas, her first love and the boy she’d lost ten years earlier. Spurred on by her gang of quirky friends, Jamie goes on a hilarious, disastrous and life changing hunt to track Lucas down. But are some loves best left behind?

More About Samantha Stroh Bailey

Samantha Stroh Bailey has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen. In fact, she even sent her first manuscript, Freddy the Flame, to publishers when she was ten years old. After 15 years of teaching ESL to adults, including at the University of Toronto, she decided to live her dreams of being a fulltime writer and editor. Now the owner of Perfect Pen Communications, she not only gets to write novels, but also writes and edits for magazines, websites, businesses, students and other authors. Her work has appeared in Now Magazine, The Village Post, Oxford University Press, Abilities Magazine, on mommyish.com and many other publications. Samantha also has a Masters of Education in Applied Linguistics. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two children. Finding Lucas is her first novel.

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Girly Books Blog Hop Winner–and Other News

Girly Books Blog Hop Winner–and Other News

For the past few days, I have been delighted to welcome so many new readers to my blog for the Girly Books Blog Hop. I’ve had a great time learning about your favorite, inspiring places. I’m so glad you made it here! I can only have 1 winner for my giveaway, alas, so please join me in congratulating Marlena!

Marlena will receive a $10 Amazon.com gift card plus a FREE ecopy of The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything or Rita Hayworth’s Shoes. A kooky, funny psychological drama or screwball rom-com… I wonder which one she’ll choose?

Now, more fun to report… I recently did a guest post for author Louise Wise in the voice of Harriet, a character from The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything. She’s writing a “Household Hints” column. It’s pretty scary (in a hilarious way, I hope): http://www.louisewise.com/2013/01/how-to-be-domestic-goddess-or-at-least.html?spref=tw

I also recently did a fun “A Taste of Tuesday” piece for author Monique McDonnell: http://moniquemcdonell.weebly.com/2/post/2013/01/taste-of-tuesday-with-francine-lasala.html

I do love appearing on other people’s blogs, for interviews, articles, or whatever you have in mind. Can I appear on  yours? Drop me a note at francine@francinelasala.com if you’re looking for guests. Upcoming guests here in the Shed include Samantha Stroh Bailey (Finding Lucas), Wendy Ely (Jesse’s Brother) and more.

Last, but far from least, about two weeks ago I started a Facebook group all about keeping the joy in life in your sights. It’s called The “Joy Jar” Project and it’s ballooned to over 400 members! (Did I mention it’s only 2 weeks old?) Please join this group; it will do your soul good!

That’s all I got for now. Thanks for visiting, and please hook-up with me all over the web (I do “like” and “follow” back, and I love to share and tweet your news):

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads

Have a great day, and thanks for stopping by!

Francine

Girly Books Blog Hop: Location! Location! Location!

Girly Books Blog Hop: Location! Location! Location!

It’s that time again… Time for some of your favorite authors, and sure-to-become-favorite authors, to get together and have a blast writing on a topic together. Our job: This time around to each entertain and enlighten you about one of our beloved locations in writing, the setting that really inspires us and our characters. Your job: To “hop” to these blogs, one by one, and leave comments if you want to qualify for the amazing GRAND PRIZE our hostess Libby Mercer has assembled. It’s pretty darn impressive, I tell you! (And a huge thanks to Libby for putting this all together!) You can also get a chance to receive a smaller prize when you comment below!

Come meet one of my favorite places in the world!
Come meet one of my favorite places in the world!

So what exotic port of call can you expect to be transported to from my Crazy Shed? A city of romance and magic. A place where people fall in love and find themselves and dreams really do come true…

Ladies and gentlemen (because I know dudes are here reading these), allow me to introduce you to one of my favorite places on Planet Earth: Bayside, Queens, New York City!

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Beautiful Bayside! (We used to live to the left of that bus.)

Crazy, this town. I wasn’t born there, but I was born as a writer of fiction there. I didn’t grow up (to age 21) there, but I grew into a woman (from ages 23-35, on and off) there. I met my husband there. Came back there after our wedding and honeymoon. Brought our first child home. It’s fair to say my heart is there, no matter where I happen to live now.

I think that’s the reason all my stories are set in Bayside.

Those who know my work know I have a tendency to jump genres, but there are two significant threads that make my stories mine: They always involve a lost soul finding her (and could be his at some point, you never know) way. And they are always set in this unexpected town.

The apartment Amy shared with David in Rita Hayworth’s Shoes, where the neighborhood guys act as a “Greek chorus” of sorts on the front stoop. The Aberdeen Funeral Home, where Amy first meets Deck. The college where they work, Stratton University. In The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything, Mina heads to Bayside for her appointment at the Pearls of Wisdom Dental Spa, and both Char-a’tee Pryce and Alex seem to live there.

Bayside is a real place, so of course it begs the question: Do I use real locations in my stories?

While I’m sure the wacky Aberdeen and over-the-top Pearls of Wisdom would both do killer business in Bayside, neither of these places, alas, is real. However, the diner where everyone always seems to meet up is. The Omega is an old-fashioned coffee-shop kind of joint on 32nd Avenue off of Francis Lewis Blvd., and it is one of the kindest establishments imaginable. I can’t even begin to count the number of keystrokes I made there back in the day, or the number of French fries I consumed…

Ah, the Omega! That's the owner, John, on the right. A very kind man. A very cool place.
Ah, the Omega! That’s the owner, John, on the right. A very kind man. A very cool place. (A terrible picture, I know, but I stole it from the Internet. Can you imagine that this was the only one I could find? I mean, it’s the Omega for cripes sake!)

One of the places I really wish I could visit, though, is the fictional Smitty’s. For a divey second-hand store, it sure gets a lot of action. It’s in Smitty that Amy falls for the magic shoes, and Mina finds the dragonfly-topped perfume bottle that re-sparks her mojo. Smitty’s is already playing prominently in two of my WIPs: as both a once-elegant home goods store turned dump in one, and a portal to ancient Greece in another. (Oh yeah. That’s true.) I wonder what kind of magic could be found in Smitty’s if it were real? Hmmmm….

Anyway, while I only lived in Bayside about 25% of my life, it remains my favorite place on earth. Except for Tuscany. And St. Martin. And Paris. Oh, and the South of France. But it’s right up there with them. And while hundreds, thousands of others have penned stories that unfold in all these other wonderful and exotic places, I bet there’s only a handful of us (or maybe just me) who feels such an inspired affinity for this quaint, quasi-suburban town.

And now for the rest of the writers on this tour. Please click on the links you’ll find below and enjoy the journey! If no links show for you because I am techo-challenged, simply click here, and you’ll be taken to the page of someone who knows what she’s doing… In any case, please be sure to leave me a comment about your most inspiring place, and you’ll get a chance to win a FREE ebook, set in, you guessed it, Bayside! Choose the quirky psychological drama / mystery The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything or the screwball rom-com Rita Hayworth’s Shoes. You’ll also win a $10 Amazon.com gift card you can use to discover more books…like ones from the other authors listed below.

Happy travels!

25.

Five For Friday: Bonnie Trachtenberg

Five For Friday: Bonnie Trachtenberg

Beautiful Bonnie!
Beautiful Bonnie!

I can’t tell you how excited I am about today’s guest in the “Shed.” I’ve known Bonnie Trachtenberg for years. We used to work together as copywriters before each of us set off on our fiction-writing paths.

Because I have a background as an editor in traditional book publishing, Bonnie and I chatted before she published Wedlocked–when I was supposed to know something and be able to give her some advice. Well, turns out, I didn’t know anything!

These days, Bonnie is one of a handful of indies who have set the standard for how the book publishing game is played. I couldn’t be more proud of all she’s accomplished, or delighted that she’ll still not only give me the time of day, but also much-appreciated advice. Here, she graciously shares some of that advice with you, too.

Following the interview, you’ll find out how to connect with Bonnie, as well as where to pick up her books. And you will want to read them, believe me, because they are as fun and fabulous as she is!

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1. Did you always want to be a novelist? Which authors and books have inspired you to want to pursue a career in fiction?

Not always. Although writing always came naturally to me, I didn’t even realize I wanted to be a writer until I was out of college, and then it took years before I actually earned a living at it. It wasn’t until I became Senior Writer and Copy Chief at Book-of-the-Month Club that I worked up the confidence to write a novel. I was inspired to write romantic comedies after reading the works of authors like Jane Austen, Nora Ephron, Susan Isaacs, Janet Evanovich, Jennifer Weiner, and many others.


2. I remember those days at the Clubs! Seems a lifetime ago. Before that, you were in Hollywood. You know I can’t help but be intrigued by that! Can you tell us about any script projects you worked on, actors you dated…?

It does seem a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? Well, after college, I thought I wanted to be a screenwriter since I loved movies. After moving out to LA, I wrote two of them, one of which made the rounds in Hollywood thanks to a producer’s interest. It was set in Coney Island in 1945, between VE and VJ day, and was the story of a 17-year-old singer who’s engaged to a returning soldier, but falls in love with a musician who has come to live with her family. The other was a quirky love story set in the 1960s. I’m sorry to disappoint you, Francine, but I never dated any actors! However I did date/meet all kinds of interesting Hollywood types who, years later, made for great characters in my novels! The protagonist of Wedlocked, Rebecca Ross, is a struggling actress in Hollywood whose heart is broken by a film producer, causing her to rebound into a disastrously funny marriage. The protagonist in Neurotically Yours, Dara Harrison, is a single advice columnist in LA who opens up a dating service for the romantically challenged, and inadvertently ends up becoming one of its members. So as you can see, there was plenty of room to use all my nutty experiences out in LaLa Land!

Wedlocked Book Cover

3. Wedlocked and Neurotically Yours (excerpt following interview!) are both great tales, but your own publishing story is like a Cinderella story for indies everywhere. Over the past couple of years, you’ve won a ton of awards and both your books have become bestsellers. Can you tell us how you decided to go indie, and maybe share some secrets for others on how to get the word out about their books?

Well, as I waited for my agent, the fabulous Victoria Skurnick of Levine Greenberg, to send Wedlocked out, my husband, a very wise business man, kept telling me over and over again I should be going indie. Having been raised at a time when traditional publishing ruled, and having worked at Book-of-the-Month Club, I had a poor idea of what indie publishing really entailed and, to be honest, turned my nose up at it. But when Victoria had no luck, I decided to take my husband’s advice, and boy am I glad I did! I got in just as the indie book world began to explode, and quickly learned all about social marketing by doing it round the clock. With a lot of work and the good luck of finding such amazing people as Melissa Foster (international bestselling author and owner of the World Literary Café) and Linn B. Halton (owner of LoveaHappyEnding.com, where I have my advice column) I found an incredible network of authors ready, willing, and able to help me get my name and my books out there in the world, as I helped them with theirs. I think going indie is a completely different and much more arduous route for a writer than traditional publishing, but it can also be more financially rewarding in the percentage of royalties you collect. I write the books and I sell the books, so shouldn’t I collect the bulk of the money? Makes sense to me! I also love having control over my content, my price, and everything else related to my books. I highly recommend all authors (indie or not) check out www.WorldLiteraryCafe.com and www.Fostering-Success.com. Both are wonderful resources that will help you learn how to sell your books and offer an incredibly supportive community!

4. Can you tell us about your writing process? Are you structured and disciplined? Or do are you more of a “write-it-as-it-comes” type? And do you have a special outfit or beverage or chair necessary for writing? Or are you the kind of writer who can write anywhere?

I am not a structured person when it comes to writing. I sometimes envy writers who sit down and just start writing, and then report in how many thousands of words they write a day, but that’s just not me. Before I start the actual writing of my books, I have to “live” in the new world of my book and get familiar with my characters in my head. Sometimes that means months of just jotting down notes and ideas and daydreaming about the story. Then, when I think I have a good synopsis, I sit down with a box of index cards and write out the story scene by scene. I need to know what is going to happen–and how–before I begin the actual writing. This ensures that by the time I finish my first draft, I’m very close to the final one. Therefore, my editing process is much faster and easier than many other writers who “wing” it on the first go-round. If you know in advance what’s going to happen, you don’t waste time writing things that you will end up cutting or greatly modifying because they no longer work in the context of the story. When I write, I like to switch rooms daily depending on my mood. On cold stormy days, I love bringing my laptop into bed with me or stretching out on the chaise lounge in my living room in front of the fire. Right now, I’m working from my sunny new kitchen. I do have an office, but find that I only write there sporadically. My favorite drink is flavored coffee before noon, Vitamin Zero Water after lunch, and an assortment of herbal teas the rest of the evening. And as for clothes–they are always very comfortable. I love that my work attire consists of sweats, yoga pants, tee shirts, leggings, and the occasional pajama set. Can’t beat that!

Neurotically Yours Cover JPEG


5. You have a great sense of humor, and it really comes through in your characters and their antics. Would you ever take a stab at writing outside the RomCom genre?

Thanks, Francine. Funny you should say that. My new book is about a materialistic, driven party planner in NYC who has a near death experience that completely upends her life. Most people would probably think that might not lend itself to a RomCom, but I plan to write it as such since I seem to have found a good niche in that genre and really enjoy writing it. Even if a book is serious though, there’s usually room for some comedy relief, and I can’t really imagine writing books that don’t have a great romance in them (except maybe for a humor book I wrote years back that I plan to publish in the near future.) I won’t say never, but I’m very happy as a RomCom writer!

BONUS QUESTION: If Hollywood called and decided to offer you a two-picture deal for your books, who would play Rebecca Ross and Dara Harrison?

Well, after I jumped up and down and screamed my lungs out for a few weeks, I’d recommend Reese Witherspoon play Rebecca Ross, and Jennifer Aniston play Dara Harrison. In truth, my books really lend themselves to the big screen, and my first is being shopped around Hollywood as we speak. Wish me luck!

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I wish you all the luck in the world, Bonnie! Just don’t forget the little people when you win your screenwriting Oscar in a few years from now. 🙂

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Here’s more about Bonnie, her books, and how to connect with her. When you get to the end, a special treat awaits: An excerpt from Neurotically Yours!

Bonnie Trachtenberg is the author of two bestselling romantic comedies, Neurotically Yours, and her debut novel Wedlocked, which won the Gold Readers Favorite Award, the Beach Book Festival Award and the Indie Excellence Award. She writes a monthly relationship and advice column for LoveaHappyEnding.com. Bonnie was senior writer and copy chief at Book-of-the-Month Club and has written seven children’s book adaptations. She lives in New York with her husband, four cats and a dog. You can learn more about Bonnie Trachtenberg and read her blog at http://www.BonnieTrachtenberg.com.

Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/writebrainedny
Follow her on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/btracht/
Buy Wedlocked at Amazon: http://ning.it/ovIMiw
Buy Wedlocked at Barnes & Noble: http://ning.it/pPRGvC
Buy Neurotically Yours at Amazon: http://amzn.to/HY4PyF
Buy Neurotically Yours at Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/KumteQ
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EXCERPT from Neurotically Yours
Chapter Three
Leaning back in her office chair, still feeling rejuvenated from her workout, Dara spoke on the phone, while glancing at what she’d just written on her computer screen:Ten Questions to Ask a Man on Your First Date (Assume Nothing!)
Are you married?
Do you have a steady girlfriend?
Do you live with any females (including your mother)?
Are there any women with whom you are sleeping and would call a “close friend”?
Are there any female relationships in your life that you would classify as “complicated”?
Do you have any reason to hate your mother?
How many children are you supporting?
How many children might come looking for you in the future?
Are you wanted in any of the fifty states or abroad?
Is there any reason your fingerprints might be on file with the FBI?“I’d be delighted to speak at the seminar, Ms. Randolph,” Dara said, dragging her attention back to the phone. “How much time is allotted for each speaker? Great, I’ll make sure to prepare enough material. You know, you should really put an ad in our paper if you want to increase your attendance.” She laughed charmingly. “Of course you can use my name. I’d be flattered.” Dara noticed Reggie standing over her shoulder and motioned that she was almost done. “Okay, terrific. Bye now.”

Dara sat up and looked at him with excitement.

“I just got my first full seminar,” she sang.

“I’m impressed,” he told her.

“Now, what can I do for you, my darling Reginald?”

“For me? Nothing,” he said, then lowered his voice to an ominous whisper, “but The Beast wants to see you.”

Dara’s high spirits began to deflate. “Oh, what now?” she asked with exasperation.

Over the last month, since Bob “The Beast” Bastley had taken over the job of editor-in-chief, she’d been chewed out for several new company violations, most notably: contaminating the refrigerator with outdated half and half; eating a grilled cheese sandwich at her desk instead of in the newly christened Corporate Dining Area (a makeshift four-by-four kitchen); and using Valuable Company Time to schedule a dentist appointment.

“I don’t know,” said Reggie. “Did you flush something other than toilet paper down the toilet?”

“I’m going to flush his K-Mart tie down the toilet,” she whispered angrily, “after I strangle him with it.”

“Now, now,” Reggie whispered back, “he’s only trying to ‘ensure a safe and hospitable work environment for everyone.’ Remember?”

Reggie flashed his stunningly white teeth.“Hospitable, my ass,” she retorted, rolling her chair back on the plastic carpet saver and heading toward the editor’s office.

Dara took a cleansing breath and knocked on the half open door. The Beast glanced up from his computer with barely disguised annoyance, his diminutive figure eclipsed by his oversized desk.  He had brown wavy hair combed neatly to one side, wore an ill-fitting bargain basement suit, and looked to be in his late twenties. She wondered how someone so young could secure an editor-in-chief position at a reputable entertainment newspaper. Smitty, the previous editor, had been with the paper for twenty years until his retirement, an announcement that had brought tears to Dara’s eyes. She knew that work relationships like theirs came few and far between.

“You wanted to see me?” she asked.“Yes. Please close the door and have a seat.”Something in his formal tone told her this had nothing to do with outdated dairy products. She waited for him to open his mouth and breathe some fire her way, but instead, he opened a folder on his desk and shuffled through the stack of papers inside. It didn’t take long for Dara to realize the folder contained a collection of her columns. He pursed his flaky lips and narrowed his eyes as he looked at her.

“I’ve read over your columns, Dara, and I’m very concerned.”

“Really? Why would they concern you?”

“I’ve never seen an advice columnist let loose on her readers the way you do. You’ve been writing this column for, what, almost eight years?”

Dara nodded slowly.

“I understand that a column will progress along with the columnist over a period of time. It’s only natural—but in your case…”

“Yes?”

“Well, I find the progression quite disturbing.”

“Disturbing?” she echoed with surprise.

“Well,” he said, “early on, your column was more like a pep talk, more hopeful. That’s good. That’s what people want to hear, but lately…”

The Beast tapped his bony fingers on his desk while sighing.

“You can get to the point, Bob,” she said with some irreverence. The change in tone brought out the editor she was starting to know and hate.

“Telling people they’re better off on their own is not the best romantic advice.”

“It is if they’re dating a creep.”

“Last month you suggested that a forty-eight-year-old woman—” he shuffled through the file so he could quote her accurately, “‘would be better off with goldfish for company than the pathetic stream of misfits polluting her dating waters.’”

“Well, it’s true,” Dara replied.

He pulled out another page. “And in March, you told Stymied in Santa Monica that, and I quote again, ‘Couples therapy would be a waste of time considering your fiancé’s obvious obsession with killing small, defenseless animals.’”

Bob looked sternly at Dara. “So he’s a hunter,” he said with annoyance. “Lots of people are hunters. That doesn’t disqualify such a person from couples therapy—or good relationships.”

“It does when the person does it every weekend instead of paying some modicum of attention to his fiancée. My God, they’re not even married yet, and he’s totally ignoring her, not to mention murdering innocent wildlife.”

“Well,” Bob added as he pulled Exhibit C from the pile, “at least you’re an equal opportunity offender. You told this man that his girlfriend was ‘clearly a narcissist who will play nice until she sinks her claws deep enough into your skin to hold you down and eat you alive.’ Then you quoted lyrics from a Hall and Oates song, ‘Maneater.’”

“Yes,” Dara commented coolly, “I’ve seen it happen many times with women like that.”
    “You told him to ‘get over his hard-on for bitches unless he wants a life of pain and misery.’”
She nodded with assuredness. “Sound advice.”

The Beast huffed at her and began to raise his voice, “First of all, you can’t diagnose someone with a personality disorder when you’ve never even met her.”

“Oh, come on, it’s so obvious though—” she started.

“And, second, if he breaks up with her after reading this, we could have a lawsuit on our hands!”

“We have a disclaimer, remember? This is only for entertainment purposes, blah, blah, blah—”

“That doesn’t mean someone won’t start trouble anyway! We live in a very litigious state.”

The Beast tried to calm himself with a deep breath. “Dara, your column is way too… depressing.”

“Depressing?” she repeated with indignation. “Then why is it more popular than ever? I’ll tell you why,” she added before he could interrupt. “Because people know it’s the truth. I’m not dolling up my advice with bull and phony platitudes. I tell it like it is, and my readers appreciate it. There’s a hunger for practicality and realism out there. Many of my readers are older and wiser and more cynical because of it. They’d see right through a fairy tale answer.”

“And what about the hopeful younger readers?” he asked.

She folded her arms across her chest. “They’d do well to get their heads out of the clouds and learn the lessons early so they don’t have to become cynical older readers,” she proclaimed.

“Dara, it’s not the readers who are cynical, it’s you. And as editor of this paper, it’s up to me to decide its tone.”

He looked intently at her, but she didn’t shrink from the gaze.

“No offense, but if your advice works so well, I imagine it would have worked for you by now. That ring isn’t fooling anyone around here.”

The remark hit her like a kick in the stomach. She swallowed and felt her cheeks burn. “Excuse me, Bob,” she said venomously, “but what does or does not happen in my private life is none of your business and does not affect my job in any way.”

“You’re right. It is none of my business, but you have to admit this fact might give some people…pause,” he said leaning back in his chair. “Anyway, getting back to the subject at hand, I don’t like cynicism. I’ve decided to go with another, more cheerful columnist. I’m sorry.”

At first his words didn’t compute.

“Excuse me?” she managed with a slight laugh. The thought that she was being fired was so unbelievable that her brain couldn’t comprehend it.

“I’ve arranged for a severance package for you. HR will lay out the details.”

The no-nonsense tone coming from a man who could have been her annoying little brother made the reality even more difficult to accept. She leaned forward.

“Do you have any idea how popular my column is? How many thank you letters I get? That I have actual fans?!”

When The Beast shook his head and said nothing, Dara couldn’t seem to choke out any more words.

“You have until tomorrow to clear out your things—and that includes anything you might be…storing in the company refrigerator.”

The “Joy Jar” Project

The “Joy Jar” Project

Maybe some of you have found yourselves a member of a Facebook group called The ‘Joy Jar’ Project. Maybe you were intrigued; maybe you were annoyed, who knows. I’m not in the habit of signing people up for things, but Big Brother FB doesn’t let you create a group without tossing a few “twigs” in the fire. So if I added you, consider it means that I think you’re thin (Get it? Twiggy? Ha ha ha!)

Okay, let’s get serious for a minute here. The idea of this jar is not original. The group was inspired by a photo that’s been going around on Facebook. Surely you’ve seen it:

What inspired the group.
What inspired the group.

I saw it and was instantly hooked. I couldn’t wait to start one and I did, January 1. Here’s mine, taken the first day:

Our "Joy Jar" for 2013. Are you staring one?
Our “Joy Jar” for 2013.

I keep a pen and notebook next to my jar, and any time I can, I scratch out a happy event, no matter how small, and drop it into the jar. A good parking spot just opened for me! I chatted on the phone with a friend for an hour! I won the lottery! (Well, maybe not that. Not yet…)

In any case, I felt so optimistic when I started this, I labeled the jar “Part 1.” If I don’t have this jar filled by the end of the year, by the springtime even, then I did it wrong. Why? Because the world is full of small miracles. Of flickering “fireflies” (more on this later) of happiness, which you will see if you open yourself to seeing them. No matter what other bullshit you’re being barraged with, you just have to be open to seeing them. Imagine you’re lost on a dark path, and then a thousand fireflies come to light your way. A thousand fireflies, a thousand happy thoughts. See where I’m going with this?

Because of this jar, I still have high hopes for 2013. Even if it is starting to look an awful lot like that bitch, 2012. This jar, the growing contents of this jar, make me feel not so oppressed by life anymore. To push the metaphor to (or probably well beyond) its absolute limit, I feel, well, enlightened, and able to focus on finding ways to create better news for myself. I now also find myself craving hearing good news from others. Hence the group (here’s the description):

Remember when you were a kid, and how joyful you felt capturing fireflies in a jar? As grown ups, we can have that “magic” again, simply by paying attention to those things that make us happy. By placing them, as notes, in a jar created for just that purpose, and taking them out when we need a reminder that our lives are full of good things, of magic, of joy. Please use this group to share the good things in your life, big or small. And please invite others to join us here. I look forward to collecting “fireflies” of happiness with you!

In the scheme of being rooked into FB groups, this isn’t a bad one. So don’t be annoyed if I try and rook you in. Because I’m probably going to try and rook you in. But heck, it’s a happy place! It’s open. The walls are calling out for happy thoughts. Anyone is free to comment, but no whining please. Let’s just enjoy sharing the joy!

Join The “Joy Jar” Project on Facebook!

Follow The “Joy Jar” Project on Twitter!

Five For Friday: Char-a’tee Pryce

Five For Friday: Char-a’tee Pryce

Yes, I have been slacking on my interview segment. I promised myself I would get a bunch of interviews lined up and ready to roll for 2013. But that was in 2012, when I was behind the 8-ball on just about everything. So instead of admitting how unprepared I am, I’m going to flip it around and be “creative” instead. Why not, right?

My guest today pops right from the pages of my novel, The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything. It’s not Mina, because, while you may or may not know this, people with amnesia give dreadful interviews. It’s not Alex, because of course cagey people make horrible interview subjects as well. So let’s hope third choice is a charm. And how could she not be. This character was Mina’s core. Kept her grounded and, well, sane… Maybe… Please put your hands together and welcome the incomparable, the indomitable Char-a’tee Q. Pryce!

Yes, this is Mo’Nique but this is exactly who came to mind in writing Char-a’tee! So just play along, okay?

1. I’m so honored you could join us today, Ms. Pryce. I’m such a big fan! I mean, I know technically I wrote you and everything. But to be honest, I have no idea where you came from. I mean, you weren’t even in the original plan I had for the book. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hmmph.

Can you elaborate on that?

Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Okay…?

Third choice? Third? For realz? Shee-it. Ain’t no one more important to that story than me and you know it. Not Lily. Not Stalin. Not no one.

Well, technically Lily, or Mina, is the protagonist. And it is a story about her vague, suspicious relationship with Alex, who you call Stalin, among other names, so…

Well that may be, but I give the book color. Texture! Without Char-a’tee Pryce, no one would ever read past chapter 6.

2. I don’t know. Maybe you’re right. But let’s talk about your name. You really do have such an unusual name, but then I can’t help but think it’s supposed to mean something. Is it supposed to mean something?

Bitch, you wrote it. You tell me!

Oh. Well, I guess…

Ha! Old Char’s just yanking your chain, Dishwater.

Dishwater? Oh for my blonde hair. Like you mean like you call Mina “Lily”…

Chuh. My girl Lily’s pure platinum and porcelain. And you? Just look at that shee-it you got goin’ on. Listen baby, you can paint yellow stripes into your hair much as you want. Ain’t gonna make you a blonde.

3. Uh. Okay. So let’s move on then, shall we? So…uh…what are some of your hobbies?

I enjoy knitting, crocheting, and baking.

Can you be serious?

(Laughs.) Can you imagine ol’ Char sittin’ around crocheting potholders? (Laughs again. Keeps laughing. Still laughing. Coughing. Choke… Choke…)

Are you okay?

(Gasping. Tearing. Waving a hand in front of her face.) You got something to drink?

This is my imagination. I guess I could get you anything you want.

You got Couvoisier?

Oh, you want booze. Well can it wait until we’re done here? I’ll join you!

Fine. (Muttering) Uppity bitch.

What was that?

What was the question again?

Hobbies?

Yeah. I like screwing masseuses.

4. Come on. Did you really give it up for Paolo at the Pearls of Wisdom Dental Spa?

Char don’t kiss and tell. That’s between me and him. Hey, why don’t you make this more interesting and conjure his fine Portuguese ass over here?

Because this is about YOU!

Fair enough.

5. Let’s change the subject. Like you said in your first answer, you are kind of a crucial character in the story.

The most crucial…

Pretty crucial. And you give Mina lots of great advice. Is there a Char-a’tee mantra? Words my readers can take away with them to make a better life?

Tell your readers to buy my book.

You have a book?

Not yet. But I’m planning one.

Do you need help writing it? Because you know, I am also a ghostwriter. You can check out my client list on my website. http://www.francinelasala.com

Is that all you know how to do, Dishwater? Shameless self-promoting?

I’m pretty good with dialog…

Chuh. Whatever you say.

BONUS QUESTION: We’re heading out for a night of drinking–me and you. Where are we going? What are we drinking? And how does the night end?

Dishwater, you really think you can last a night out with Char?

Hey, I haven’t always been a suburban mom, you know.

You drive a Volvo station wagon.

I have a past!

I bet you think you do, sweet thing. Okay, okay. I’ll humor you. Here’s what we’d do. We’d head to a nightclub and do tequila shots all night and dirty dance with hot, half-naked men.

But I’m married!

You really have no imagination, do you?

I guess not.

Well at the very least try and conjure up that Couvosier you promised and let’s get our drink on.

Thanks, Char. Please visit us again! And visit Char-a’tee any time you want when you read the book!

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~~~

Let’s connect!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/francinelasala

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Francine-LaSala-Author/223109337705912

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4679863.Francine_LaSala

New Year, New Resolutions – And Hopefully New Results!

New Year, New Resolutions – And Hopefully New Results!

A couple of days ago I posted about all the things in 2012 I could find to be grateful about. I struggled to compile that list because in all honesty, I can’t imagine a worse year–ending with my husband twisting his ankle and falling down the stairs at about 11:20pm. (Those who know him, please take the moment you need to chuckle at the visual.) But it also ended with a wonderful gift: The birth of my beautiful nephew, Xavier!

My luscious new nephew!
My luscious new nephew!

Got me to thinking that while the year was utter crap, this was likely not just the Universe being a vindictive whore. There are things in our lives that are never in our control, and we’re ridiculous to think they are, but there are things we can do to help the good stuff swing our way. So in that spirit, here are some of my random resolutions. What are yours? Let me know in the comments section!

Start getting up early in the morning again. My most productive times have always been those stretches when I get up early. Scary early. Farmer early. Like 4:00 AM early. Sounds insane, I know, but getting up at that hour actually makes exercise and personal writing possible before the madness of the day descends. Okay, I already failed Day 1 getting up at 10… But my kids slept until 10! And tomorrow is another day. Is there something behind this getting up at the crack of dawn? Click on this. I’m pretty sure the getting up early again thing is the key to getting the rest back on track. Time to set the alarm.

More exercise, less vice-ercise. If I realized one thing in 2012, it’s that I’m old. Well, maybe not old, but not as young as I want to believe I am. So in 2013, I guess there needs to be more attention to be paid to lifting weights than wine glasses. We’ll see how that goes!

Moratorium on Facebook word games. This definitely goes with the vices. I have lost so many hours to these time-suckers, and while I enjoy the sense of connection they provide, especially when I have 2, 3, 5 games going with the same person…maybe a phone call, an IM session at the very least, is a better use of my time and a better way to connect. (Those of you who play these with me will already notice I’ve quit. Please don’t tempt me by inviting me to play. Let me enjoy being smug about this one at least for a week? Pretty please?) I’m also pretty psyched that now having a Kindle, I can read in bed when I can’t sleep at night instead of screwing around on Facebook. (Though honestly, I’m hoping some of these new resolutions are going to help squash the insomnia.)

Reach out more to friends and loved ones. There are few things in the world as self-absorbing as depression, and when I feel dark, I tend to withdraw. But I’m thinking that’s not the answer. Maybe I don’t call because I don’t have anything good to talk about, but why not just call and LISTEN? Ask and engage and let others tell me all the good they’re going through?! Why has this not occurred to me before? Yep! Too self-absorbed!

Be a nicer wife and mom. It’s easy to lose patience with the ones who are closest to you. Especially when they are little and have many needs. Especially when they are big and tend to be clumsy… (Please see above.) But there is nothing in the world more important to me than these guys, and I never want any of them to doubt that for a minute.

Grow my hair and learn to do cool shit like this:

Hair bow!
Hair bow!

Well, maybe not that. But like many mothers of young children who are unemployed, broke, and chronically blue, my appearance has not been at the top of my list lately. Now I know what you’re going to say… Self-absorbed! But I think it’s okay to focus on yourself, if you’re doing it in a positive way. And like Getting Up Early, this is one of those domino-effect ones. Paying more attention to appearance means wanting to look better in my clothes, which means I will have to stop being lazy about losing weight. It also means having the means to properly clothe my new awesomeness, so that quest should also keep me occupied and productive.

Blog more. Hey, I got a post out on New Years Day! That’s progress already!

I could go on, but I guess I’m just going to start with these and see how I do. I’m going to make good use of what I’m calling my “Joy Jar,” and I’m looking forward to reaching out to more of you more in 2013, and hoping you’ll also reach out to me! (But not via Words with Friends or Scrabble. Please have mercy.)

Our "Joy Jar" for 2013. Are you staring one?
Our “Joy Jar” for 2013. Are you staring one?

Happy New Year!