It's a pleasure to have Saralee Rosenberg here today to tell us about her latest novel, DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD (Avona Books), which Publisher's Weekly said was "Full of edgy wit and chicken-soup-for-the soul warmth. If you enjoy giddy diversions, this bumpy suburban ride is well worth the trip."
Glad to have you here, Saralee!
Q. What was the inspiration for your new novel?
A. Of my four novels, DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD is the only one that was inspired by, well, me! This story is based on my first novel, ALL IN THE CARDS, which was never published, but did take a very exciting journey to Hollywood. Back in 1997, Bette Midler optioned it for a feature film (she was looking for a follow up comedy to “First Wives Club”). Exactly! Wow! First time out and it’s a homerun. Sadly, the reason you never heard of it is because ultimately, Bette and her partner couldn’t get financing or find the right screenwriter to adapt it. Bye bye Bette... Now fast forward to a few years ago. My novels, A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, CLAIRE VOYANT and FATE & MS. FORTUNE had done very well but were about single women looking for love in all the wrong places. I wanted to write about my “peeps” in the suburbs and pitched my editor on letting me rewrite ALL IN THE CARDS. She was hesitant because she wasn’t sure Avon was the right publisher for a suburban/soccer mom story with bickering neighbors. Then came “Desperate Housewives” and suddenly it was, get me suburban/soccer mom stories with bickering neighbors. Timing is everything.... So although DEAR NEIGHBOR is an incarnation of my earliest novel, it is a much richer, deeper, funnier story and is resonating with readers of all ages.
Q. When you got that first phone call announcing you had sold a novel, how did you react? How did you celebrate?
A. Phew. You can’t imagine the relief. I had given up a successful career writing non-fiction, which had sent me on two national book tours, including an appearance on Oprah (heaven!!!!), only to have my writing life come to a screeching halt when I switched to working on a novel. It took me three years to write A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, another year to find an agent, and the agent a year and a half to make the sale to Lyssa Keusch at Avon. In theory, the sale should have been one of the greatest events of my life, if not for the timing. I got word that the deal was done exactly two days after 9-11, and because I live in the New York area, the grief and shock was all I or anyone could think about. I let family and friends know, of course, but run out and buy diamonds or book a cruise? Didn’t happen. And interestingly enough, all of my book celebrations since then have been, not subdued as much as put in perspective. I’m sure that my joy and satisfaction will always be tempered with the memory that life is so full of yin and yang. And maybe that’s for the best.
Q. Is there a scene you cut from the book that you kind of wish you could put back in?
A. Funny you should ask. Originally, I wanted to title the book Same S--T, Different Zip because the story was very much about that no matter where you live, you have to put up with so much petty neighbor crap and competition. For obvious reasons, I wasn’t allowed to have a curse in the title but in keeping with the theme, I incorporated a funny blog in the story titled, “You Say You Want A Revelation”. It was “written” by a mom in Georgia and Mindy was so hooked on it, she couldn’t wait for the next post. Unfortunately, the blog, which appeared every few chapters, took up a lot of space and got cut on the editing room floor. Bummer. It had some very funny commentary, but I did get to include one out-take in the back of the book.
Q. Do you put friends in books? Have any of them recognized themselves?
A. I get asked all the time by family and friends to be in one of my novels, but I tend not to go there unless they’re willing to buy several dozen books in appreciation for being immortalized (if Girl Scout Moms can bribe, so can I). Once I did give in and named a character after a friend, only to describe the character as a philandering shoplifter. She was horrified and wanted to know how I knew? I didn’t know, I made it up, but boy did that make things interesting afterwards... Also, my husband’s business partner had been prodding me for years, to which I would say that a character who sold insurance, played golf and visited his grandkids in Florida would not exactly be memorable. But finally, in Dear Neighbor, to get him to stop bugging me, I did name a minor character Steven Hoffman. I made him a lawyer in Portland, and it really made Steve’s day... then he asked why he wasn’t a major character and could I feature him again in the next book? Men!!!!
Q. If Oprah invited you on her show, what would the theme of that show be?
A. Sigh. I’ve actually had the distinct privilege of appearing on Oprah to discuss my non-fiction book, 50 FABULOUS PLACES TO RAISE A FAMILY, and I gotta tell you, it was awesome. She was soooo nice and I and my husband/co-author were treated like royalty. We got the limousine, the fancy hotel, the nice dinner out, hair and make-up and a souvenir coffee cup that still sits on my desk as a pen holder. And Steadman was there, too (he smelled so good!) Would I love to be a guest again? Are you kidding me? It would be a dream come true to be invited back as a best selling novelist. In fact, I had a dream scene in DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD that involved my character Mindy being on the show to talk about what it was like to live next door to Beth, the bitch. It had to be cut because of space limitations, but trust me, Oprah is always on my mind. Nobody sells a book like her.
Q. What is one of your strangest/most quirky author experiences?
A. My first three novels are a trilogy in that they all deal with the supernatural. All of my main characters have funny and intriguing encounters with the other side, the after life, and/or a ghost. But never did I expect that I would personally have a strange encounter with the spirit world while I was hard at work. And yet... I had been writing my debut novel, A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE over a three year period, and as you can imagine, was very very tired. All I wanted to do was cross the finish line, have a good cry and eat a box of Mallomars... One night, I was working on the final pages and was so bleary eyed I convinced myself that the ending was terrible but maybe my editor wouldn’t notice, or would say to me, no, this is great, don’t change a word. But just as I was fixing the last page, we had a power outage and the whole house went dark. It was so strange. There was no storm, no reason to lose power. But when the lights came back on a minute later, I had lost the latest version of the ending. It literally disappeared and I freaked out and cried. How could this happen? On a whim I called my neighbors to see if their power had gone out but it turned out ours was the only house that did... Clearly it was a sign from above. The next morning I started over on the ending, and when I finished, it was so much better, so much more rewarding. This time I cried from joy. I had finished and it was great.
Q. Would your high school friends be surprised to discover you’d become a novelist?
A. Funny question. When I attended my 20th high school reunion in Munster, Indiana, I had been living in New York since graduating college and had lost contact with most of my classmates. One of the first people I ran into was Mary Ann Jugovic, the class valedictorian and the sweetest girl ever. The first thing I said to her is, “please tell me that you went to med school and became a pediatrician.” To which she said, “only if you tell me that you moved to New York and became a writer.” And the verdict was? She was a pediatrician with a beautiful family and I was an author with a beautiful family. Dreams do come true.
Yes they do! Thanks for the visit, Saralee, and to any of you out there who write fiction, would YOUR high school friends be surprised by your calling?