Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Next Big Thing! An Interview About My Next Book

The Next Big Thing is an author interview series currently generating lots of buzz for its inside look into how writers, working in a variety of genres, create their best work. My special thanks to Becki Melchione who, along with Lauren Eisenberg Davis, invited me to participate and provided the questions. You can see Becki’s interview about her book, Practice Radical Hope: Motherhood After Cancer at:

And now, although I’ve never been taller than 5‘ 3” in my life, it’s my turn to be The Next Big Thing!
Seeing Midlife Crisis on the bookstore shelf
 for the first time was a major thrill!

1. What is the working title of your book?
My new novel is called Happy Any Day Now.

2. What genre does your book fall under?
It’s considered mainstream women’s fiction, but I think men will also enjoy it. My first novel, My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet), was primarily marketed to women. But I got some wonderful,  surprising fan mail from men sent to my website Apparently, a number of XYers thought the story—and the characters—delivered some deep insights into female behavior. I’m amazed and also amused that many men really do think woman are a mystery and that guys need an operating manual to figure out how we work.

3. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Half-Jewish, half-Korean cellist deals with the return of two men—one father, one boyfriend—who deserted her when she was younger and, as a result of their reappearance, develops a  case of stage fright that threatens her career and her happiness. Whew! One very long, pretty convoluted  sentence that hardly tells it all.

4. Where did the idea come from for the book?
While doing some genealogical research, I unearthed the ship’s manifest for my maternal grandmother who emigrated from Austria around the turn of the century. That started me thinking about the immigrant experience which is universal. And so Grace, a Korean war-bride, and the mother of my protagonist was born. Judith came next, and soon we had a quorum of characters in search of a plot.

One strong thread of that plot came from a different direction. Having people from high school and college find me on Facebook and other sources online, sparked the theme of loss and return. What happens when important figures from your past suddenly barge into your present to make mischief? I had fun exploring that theme and constructing the narrative around it.

That’s as close as I can get to the source of the book’s origin. I try not to over-analyze the creative process. It’s like sleight-of-hand. You don’t want to look too closely. My theory is: don’t mess with the magic.

5. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

It’s difficult  to cast Judith and Grace because there are few Asian-American actors in the spotlight. Shame. But Lucy Liu would be perfect for Judith Soo Jin Raphael. Kathy Bates has Grace’s build and sly sense of humor. I think Daniel Crag would be spot-on as Geoff,  Judith’s big, bluff Australian boyfriend. And for Charlie, the judge who resurfaces to shake-up her life, Bradley Cooper, but aged by ten years with some laugh lines and a little gray in the hair. He’s got to lose the beard, though—Charles Evans Pruitt would only wear a beard if he broke the hand that held his razor. Cooper’s got the elegance, the intelligence, and Charlie’s electric blue eyes that Judith finds so hypnotic. Also, as her father, that rascal Irwin—Richard Drayfuss.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have had an agent for my past two books—a wonderful one, Elaine English. She handles only women’s fiction and is currently not taking on new clients. She’s been more than an agent really; she she’s been a mentor and a friend.

Happy Any Day Now and the book to follow will be published by Penguin/New American Library. Pub date for Happy Any Day Now is scheduled for this coming August. It can be pre-ordered on Amazon right now.

I’m already working on the next novel  a stand-alone with a whole new cast, fresh settings, and different challenges. It’s been fun writing so far.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript for Happy Any Day Now?

Almost a year. But that was the first draft. There were four or five more.  I kept coming up with ways to sharpen a plot point, add nuance to a character, prune extraneous material. I know writers who disparage the editing process. But that’s where the story really comes to life, in the editing. It’s the polishing that makes it shine.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I can’t distance myself far enough to make that kind of judgment. The story is still too fresh and the characters too present. Ask me again in five years when I hope to have a grander perspective.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’m  always inspired to write by the woman—and men—who face challenges in their lives with grace and humor. My books have serious themes, but I’ve been told they’re LOL funny.  I want my readers to laugh a lot and tear up occasionally and come away feeling they’ve had a good, satisfying read.

On a more personal level, when things get tough in my life, especially in the writing aspect, I look to my daughter—my greatest accomplishment—whose confidence in me never falters. “Just a speed bump” she tells me, when I hit one with teeth-rattling force. Kids and grandkids are inspiring. You want to make them proud, and you want to serve as an example that creative expression is an essential part of a rich life.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Well, Happy Any Day Now deals with a character who’s bright, energetic, sexy, witty,  open to new adventures—and she’s on the cusp of fifty. Midlife and beyond can be (not to sound treacly) the beginning of your most happy, productive, fulfilling days. I count myself as a living example of that little bonus.  After all, it's the skills I've honed and the history I've amassed that help me write books people want to read.  I figure that more than compensates for a blaze of candles on the birthday cake.

Coming Up On Next Big Thing! Alan Zendell writes that he has been a physicist, engineer, and software developer. Later in life, he turned to writing fiction. His name is attached to three novels, a number of short stories, and an epic novel which is currently being serialized. His first love is science fiction, but he has a soft spot for romance and marriage which manages to peek out of everything he writes. Alan will discuss his well-reviewed novel, The Portal, next Friday at
In the meantime, I'd love to hear questions or comments about my Next Big Thing! interview.
Toby Devens



Thursday, March 7, 2013

What’s IN, What’s OUT—for Midlifers

I was browsing the Harper’s Bazaar website for a costume detail I needed for my novel under construction. Suddenly, up popped the magazine’s list of what’s hot and what’s definitely pass√© for this spring. It occurred to me that it was time to inaugurate this blog’s annual thumbs up/thumbs down feature. It focuses on our generation and isn’t restricted to fashion, though it kicks off that way. are some of my personal cheers and boos with an invitation to contribute your own.

1. OUT: Shoes with seven inch heels. Decades back, when (in Bass Weejuns or Doc Martens) I took to the barricades for women’s rights, I couldn't have imagined we’d ever again be hobbled by something we chose to wear.
In the 21st century, females are tottering back to repressive attire in what one online store markets as “slut stilettos.” Incredible. Women of all ages unite! We've come too far to give up our soles (and our souls)

IN: High heels, if you elect to wear them. But of respectable, and not dangerous, heights. My podatrist recommends high-ish heels for her patients with plantar fasciitis. Good for the arches. And I appreciate the extra height and the shapely way my legs look in heels. But never, ever, the ankle-breakers.

2. OUT:  Lots of Jewelry Worn Simultaneously. At a reunion I recently attended, one woman had decked herself out like a Christmas tree. She wore a thick gold necklace, fussy earrings, a large pin, and multi bracelets and rings. What was she thinking? Maybe she wanted to flaunt her grown-up success to the junior high classmates who tormented her decades before, but bling overkill does not equal revenge. Or elegance.

IN: Statement Jewelry: One interesting or beautiful piece (plus earrings and watch, if desired) does the trick. Too much suggests you’re trying to distract from body parts that are not what they once were.

3. OUT: Phoning your kids more than once a day. Enough already. Your children (grandchildren are another story) should no longer be the primary focus of your life. They’re grownups with lives of their own. Give the young’uns breathing space. Play with friends your own age who will not inherit. They’ll actually tell you when you’re boring them to bits.

IN:  Texting and Facebook. The kids are great about calling, so I show my gratitude by trying not to over-phone. Instead, I text with my  daughter and daughters-in-law. In quick exchanges, I establish that they’re wonderful (with or without communication) and they conclude I’m thriving. When I worry about them getting home safely through a snowstorm or just want to check out their adventures, I go to their Facebook pages.  They don’t even need to know I’ve dropped by. Very CIA.

4. OUT: Reading a so-so book to the very end. Certainly, give it a chance. Some authors clear their throats, as my writer friends say, taking a while to set up the story. Feel free to skim. If, however, by chapter three, the book hasn’t hooked you, fuhggedboudit.

IN: Book clubs. You’re corralled into reading books wouldn’t normally choose. My couples book club has done The Art of Fielding, The Geography of Bliss, Steve Jobs’ bio, Unbroken. We’re all over the map. New experiences create new brain cells.  And it’s so much fun to trade critiques.

5. OUT: Emails that contain poetic treacle celebrating the winter of our lives. These depressing odes began pouring in on my fortieth birthday. Oh, puh-leeze. Every morning, I wake up healthy is a renewed spring. The trick to growing older is to make each day a year.
IN: Emails that direct you to YouTube for doo-wop renditions by The Platters, or Yo-Yo Ma playing the prelude from  Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1. Messages from long lost cousins. Tips about new uses for vinegar. Supposedly, you can make your nail polish application last longer if you first wipe your nails with a cotton ball soaked in distilled white vingar. Now that was a helpful email.

6. OUT: High impact aerobics. Until two years ago, I was taking classes with women barely out of puberty. I am very competitive; I kept up.  Problem was, my knee didn’t. I limped into the orthopedist who said,  “You’ve got what I call scaloppini cartilage. Pounded very thin. My dear, you have zumbaed your last zumba.”

IN: Aqua Zumba. You dance in a heated pool. No pressure on the knee and  the water’s resistance makes for a super cardio workout. So, not quite finished yet, Doc.

7. OUT: Procrastinating. As businessman Victor Kiam said, “Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin.”  We postpone because we’re afraid of failure. Which brings me to my favorite quote of Kiam’s: “Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward.”  Brilliant.

IN: Getting it done. I recently heard a rabbi say to his congregation, “God can get it perfect. You’re not God. All you have to do is get it done.” My new credo? Do it. Then edit.

8. OUT: Twenty-and early-thirty-something actors. So confident. So boring. So predictable with their smooth skin and oddly named children.

IN: Acting in the extreme. I give you Maggie Smith and Quvenzhan√© Wallis.  Terrence Stamp and Suraj Sharma, the boy from Life of Pi.

9. OUT: Canasta, Rummykub, and Mexican Train.

IN: Words with Friends, Kindle Scrabble, Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies.

10: OUT:  Long-winded Blog entries.

IN:  Your own Ins and Outs. Looking forward to your sharing them.

Toby Devens