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, Avon, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, has
generously donated five copies of THE SMART ONE for you, my readers, to win. So don’t forget to
look for the trivia question at the end of the column. Good luck!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 FIVE winner to
correctly answer the following question and you could win your very own copy.
What is the title of
Ellen’s first book?
Next month, I will be bringing to you my interview with New York Times
Bestselling Author Allison Brennan. You won’t want to miss it!
Until next time...Jen
When a twist of fate landed Jennifer at the "Reading with Ripa" roundtable
discussion with Kelly Ripa and Meg Cabot, she knew that her career as a French
teacher would essentially be over. Instead, she figured out a clever way to
combine her love for reading and writing and "voilà" She became a book reviewer
and columnist with www.freshfiction.com. On the sidelines, her parents secretly
hoped that her French degree from Vanderbilt would one day come in handy and
Jennifer is happy to report that the phrases ‘Je ne sais pas' and ‘C'est
incroyable!' have been quite useful when reviewing certain selections! As is
typical in her whirlwind life, one thing led to another and soon she found
herself facilitating a popular moms' book club and writing a column she cleverly
named Jen's Jewels. (Jewelry is one of her many addictions, as is the color pink
and Lilly Pulitzer, which when you think about it, would probably make for a
good story! Hint! Hint! ) To keep herself away from her favorite retailer, Ann
Taylor, she serves on the Board of Trustees of the Harford County Public Library
in Maryland. As a national trainer for The Arthritis Foundation's Aquatic and
Land Exercise Classes, she is an advocate for those like herself who suffer from
arthritis, the nation's #1 cause of disability. When asked how she manages to do
all of these things and actually get some sleep at night, she simply replied,
"It's just Par for the Course." Hmm! Now where have we heard that before?
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