September 15, 2008
Sibling rivalry is a touchy subject. We all would like to believe that it’s a moot point once we reach adulthood, but… it’s not. It’s just the same old story, but with a whole different set of issues. In a nutshell, with age comes the knowledge of learning how to channel our feelings of jealousy and sometimes resentment in what we hope is a much more productive way. Sometimes we tend to forget how supportive our siblings have been in helping us become the person we are today. The old adage is true…blood is thicker than water. If only it were that simple, right?
This month’s Jen’s Jewels, Ellen Meister, touches upon this very subject in her latest release, THE SMART ONE. It’s the hilarious story of three sisters who get caught up in one big mess with only each other to rely on. From start to finish, Ellen plays up the importance of family loyalties, trust, and above all the true meaning of love. It’s a feel-good book that makes you want to go hug your brother or sister and tell them how much you love them!
As part of this interview,
Go ahead and grab yourself a pumpkin spice latte (my favorite autumnal drink) and get to know this month’s shining gem…Ellen Meister.
Jen: Please tell us a little bit about your educational and professional background that led to you becoming a writer of contemporary romance novels. And, what attracted you most to this particular genre?
Ellen: First off, I love contemporary romance novels, but I think the broader label (no pun intended!) of contemporary women's fiction is a better fit for my books. My first novel, SECRET CONFESSIONS OF THE APPLEWOOD PTA, is often referred to as mom lit, and my new book, THE SMART ONE, is considered a sister story, albeit with romantic and mystery elements.
As far as my background, I was an English major in college and always dreamed of being a novelist one day. But upon graduation, I went the pragmatic route and had a career as an advertising and sales promotion copywriter. It wasn't until after my three children were born that I decided to stop procrastinating and pursue my lifelong dream.
I never felt like I chose a genre, but like the genre chose me. Always fascinated by the inner lives of "ordinary" women, I was compelled to explore the pain, passion, joy and heartache buried beneath the surface.
Jen: From conception to completion, approximately how long does it take for you to complete your standard length novel? What is the most challenging part of a book to write? And, which is the most fun?
Ellen: My first book took me two years to write, but I'm at the point now where I can finish a novel in a year if I really set firm goals.
For me, the most challenging part is when I decide to make a change that requires unraveling much of what I've written. It can be so intimidating!
I have to admit that I love writing dialogue. There's rhythm and cadence to those passages—I can hear it as I write—and to me it's like music.
Jen: There is nothing quite like that feeling of accomplishment when an author sees her work on the bookstore shelves for the first time. Your debut novel, Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA, was very well-received. Now comes your next hurdle…writing book #2! How did you arrive at the premise for The Smart One?
Ellen: Thank you, Jen! You're right about that sense of accomplishment. I wept the first time I walked into a store and saw my book.
THE SMART ONE started out as the idea to take a close look at the relationship between sisters, and explore the ways in which we continue to define—and limit—ourselves by our childhood labels. The more I thought about the idea, the more I knew I had the beginnings of a novel I would want to read. And when I sat down and wrote an experimental chapter and my protagonist's voice emerged, I knew I had the beginning of a novel I wanted to write!
Jen: The three main characters (who are sisters, may I add) in The Smart One have very distinct voices that parlay their inner struggles to the reader quite brilliantly. Of the three…Clare, Bev, and Joey, who can you best relate to and why?
Ellen: Thanks so much. While none of the sisters is truly based on me, I found emotional common ground with all three. In fact, I think that's imperative for a novelist. You have to find something to relate to in each of your characters, even your antagonist.
Jen: Bev seems to be your typical middle child. Not surprisingly, she has been pushed to the side more times than not by her beautiful older sister, Clare, and also by her needy, yet flashy younger sister, Joey. I think without her realizing it, she is the gel that holds her family together. What are her greatest strengths? Weaknesses? Why has she had such poor choice in men?
Ellen: Bev probably thinks her intelligence is her greatest strength, but I think it's her heart. She has a profound capacity for love, which is why she wants so much to help people better themselves. Her weakness is her fear of failure, and her insistence on thinking it comes from her family rather than herself. This ties right into her bad career choices as well as her love life.
Jen: Without giving away any spoilers, why did you choose to incorporate a whodunit aspect into the novel? How does this enable you to move the story along without losing sight of the main focus, which is the relationship among these three siblings?
Ellen: The whodunit storyline is actually inspired by a true crime that happened right in my home town, and thus captured my attention. I knew it was something I wanted to write about and explore, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the macabre discovery could act as the very catalyst that sets the sisters' journey in motion, leading them to their arcs as individuals … and changing the nature of their relationship.
Jen: The two most colorful characters in the book are Mr. and Mrs. Goodwin, the couple who are interested in buying the Waxman’s home. How do these two compliment your tongue-in-cheek sense of humor without offending the reader in the process? What significance do they play in helping move along the storyline?
Ellen: I suspect that every novel has at least one element that's utterly organic and took the writer by surprise. That's the case with the Goodwins. They just showed up, and I fell in love with them. Obviously, they play a key role in several aspects of the plot, but also point to the differences in Kenny and Bev's sensibilities, and allowed me to explore the theme of acceptance.
Jen: Bev’s on-again, off-again boyfriend named Kenny Waxman is a truly complex character with many facets to his persona. What are his most prevalent insecurities? And what makes him so vulnerable in respect to his ever-present need to gain Bev’s approval and ultimately her love?
Ellen: Kenny grew up with a monster of a father, and his greatest fear is that deep down he's just like him. Honing his sense of humor and becoming a comedy writer was a coping device, setting him apart from his angry dad. I believe that the reason he wants Bev's love is that he's truly in love with her … and always has been.
Jen: As is always the case, Bev’s older sister, Clare, has many chinks in her armor that come to light despite her best efforts to keep them hidden. Would it be fair to say that she is not unlike many stay-at-home moms today who feel drowned by their circumstances without knowing a way to overcome them?
Ellen: Yes, I think it's easy to look at women who are beautiful and rich and assume they have it all. But in my experience, there's always some pain beneath the surface if you look hard enough. And that's what I tried to show with Clare.
Jen: I have to mention that the twist towards the end of the book was well-executed. (That’s all I can say about it without giving too much away!!) Please tell us about the youngest sister, Joey. Why is she such the rebel? What exactly is she yearning for that makes her willing to roll the dice time and time again?
Ellen: For Joey, taking chances comes naturally. And since it was the very thing that got her attention as a child, it's a hard habit to break. And you're right—hard to go any further without issuing a spoiler alert!
Jen: What is your favorite scene in the novel and why?
Ellen: Oh, dear. This is almost like being asked which one of my kids is my favorite (they all are!). But I think I have special affection for the scene where the three sisters make the grisly discovery.
Jen: If given the choice, would you change anything about your writing career thus far? And what, if anything, has surprised you most about the publishing business?
Ellen: I don't really believe in regrets, so there's nothing I would change. (Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger, and all that.) But I would have to say that the biggest surprise is how darned hard it is to sell books.
Jen: Are you at work on your next novel? And if so, what can you share with us about it?
Ellen: Oh, yes, I'm hard at work on my next novel. I can't reveal too much yet, but I will say that it's a departure for me—darker, more serious and higher concept.
Jen: Please tell us about your new website. Do you have e-mail notification of new releases? Mailing list? Do you participate in author phone chats? And if so, how would my readers go about scheduling one? Do you have a blog? Any upcoming appearances? Book signings?
Ellen: All of the above! If your readers visit ellenmeister.com, they can register for my mailing list, sign up for a phone-in author chat, see where I'm appearing, read my blog, etc.
Jen: Thank you so much for stopping by to chat with my readers. It has been an absolute pleasure being able to have you here. Congratulations on what is sure to become your next big hit! I wish you only the best in your writing career.
Ellen: Jen, this was a wonderful interview! Thanks so much for your careful read of THE SMART ONE and very insightful questions. All the best!
I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Ellen. Please stop by your favorite book store or local library today to pick up a copy of THE SMART ONE.
Okay…here we go. Time for the trivia question! Be one of the first five people to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the correct answer to the following question and you’ll win! Good luck!
What is the title of Ellen’s first book?
Next month, I will be bringing to you my interview with
Until next time…Jen