Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews
Our wonderful guest interviewer Susan Kleinman was a Gurfein Fellow at the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College and teaches creative writing at the Writing Institute and at the Bronxville Adult School. Susan’s short stories have appeared in many literary journals including The Baltimore Review, Inkwell and JewishFinction.net, and her articles, book reviews and essays have run in dozens of publications in the US and abroad, including The New York Times, New York magazine, Cosmopolitan and Redbook.
Here Susan interviews Eileen Palma, the author of ‘Worth the Weight’.
As the founder of Considerable Carriages, a company that makes super-sized strollers for overweight babies, Jack Moskowitz makes his living enabling childhood obesity. Youth-fitness guru Kate Richards spends her life fighting the tubby-tots epidemic. After Kate lambastes Considerable Carriages in a TV appearance, Jack vows to destroy her… but when he meets her in a local New York City dog park, he is smitten. Kate is quiet taken with Jack, too — and how could she not be? He’s handsome, charming and available (in New York City where the first two adjectives almost always preclude the third…) And, because he has given her a fake name, she has no idea that he is really her nemesis. Sparks fly, and the two embark on a romance that is almost kiboshed when Kate finds out who Jack really is. And although fans of romantic comedy can surely guess how the plot winds up, it is nonetheless compelling, in this debut novel by Eileen Palma – funny, sexy, sharply observed, and un-put-down-able. I recently asked Eileen about the genesis of Worth the Weight (Diversion Books, available though all major booksellers) and about the challenges and pleasures of writing romantic comedy. Here’s what she had to say:
Susan Kleinman: How did you come up with the idea for Considerable Carriages? And did the idea for the company come up first with the characters stemming from that, or did you come up with the characters and then need something they could disagree about?
Eileen Palma: I came up with the idea for supersized strollers first, and then the characters and story flowed organically from there. Recovering from a pregnancy related autoimmune disorder, I struggled with pushing my own daughter Molly in a stroller because I was too weak and I fatigued easily. So I ditched the stroller when Molly turned two and she walked all over Manhattan with me. I had this morbid fascination with mothers who pushed their kindergartners around in strollers when I couldn’t even handle pushing a tiny toddler. On one hand I was amazed that the moms were strong enough to push these big kids around, on the other hand, I was worried that these poor kids weren’t getting any exercise. Then years later, at Disney World I saw kids that looked like fourth graders being pushed around the theme park in strollers. That’s when I got the idea of a stroller company that has jumped the shark with supersized cup holders, snack trays, iPod sync up, DVD players and a weight capacity of 83 pounds. Then I created my male protagonist, Jack Moskowitz, CEO and co-creator of Considerable Carriages. Of course his love interest would have to think his company was totally despicable, so along came Kate Richards, host of ABC’s KidFit and author of the first ever kids’ diet cookbook called Mini-Munchies.
SK: In a romantic comedy – whether it’s a novel or a movie – we can pretty much bet from the outset that the two main characters will end up together. But even knowing (more or less) how the book would end, I was riveted to every scene. How do you keep the reader turning pages even when the ending is a given?
EP: Thank you! In rom-coms, as you said, everyone knows the two protagonists will end up together. The story then becomes how they take that journey to happily ever after. The journey is what keeps the reader turning the page to see how the protagonists can overcome the obstacles standing in their way. I also like to tell a story that makes the reader laugh, cry and laugh again all over the span of a page.
SK: You clearly have your finger on the pulse of New York, where the book is set. Do you think the story is New York-specific, or might it have taken place in any large city?
EP: This story works best in either NYC or LA, because so much of Jake and Kate’s love story is controlled by the tabloids and online gossip magazines. If they were hanging out in Waterloo, Iowa, the tabloids never would have had the chance to photograph them and write blind articles about Kate Richards and her new mystery man. Since I’ve never been to LA and I’m a Big Apple girl, that made my choice very easy. I picked Chelsea as the backdrop for Jack and Kate’s love story because there were so many interesting places for them to hang out, like Chelsea Piers, The New York Trapeze School, Lucky Strike.
SK: Has there been any talk about making the novel into a movie? And either way, whom would you envision playing Kate and Jack on the big screen?
EP: I have always loved watching rom-com movies. I always picture how my rom-coms would play out on the big screen as I write them. My dream is for a big movie producer to read Worth the Weight and for them to love it so much that they turn it into a movie starring Kate Hudson as Kate and Seth Rogen as Jack. So if you know any movie producers, feel free to pass my book along to them.
SK: Some of the sex scenes in the book are pretty steamy. Did you have fun writing them, or were you plagued by internal censor that likes to remind us writers that we have to show our faces at the next PTA meeting?
EP: My first draft of Worth the Weight was G rated, and I kept getting feedback that there wasn’t enough romantic tension. So, I decided to spice it up to see if that would help amp things up. Why write a sex scene if you’re not going to write a good one? A poorly written sex scene is worse than no sex scene at all. So I told myself to turn those little censors off while I was writing. Fast forward to a few weeks before my pub date and I started to get nervous that no one would want to sit next to me in church, or the other mothers at school would whisper about me at drop off. When no one gave me the proverbial scarlet letter, I decided to stop worrying about it. However, I gave my old-school father, the retired fire captain, a paperback copy with thick black markers lines covering any of the spicy scenes.
SK: How do you feel about the label “chick lit.” Embrace it? Reject it? Resent it?
EP: I think chick lit has gotten a bad rap over the years. The market was flooded with chick lit in the post Bridget Jones days and it became the case of too much of a good thing. Agents suddenly found it as hard to sell chick lit as it is to sell teen vampire stories today. Writers became embarrassed to call their work chick lit. But I’ve always loved reading quality chick lit and I am proud to write romantic comedies that could also satisfy chick lit readers.
SK: Part of an author’s job these days, is to promote her own book on social media – and you do it in such an authentic, gracious way. Can you tell us a bit about what you see as the benefits of challenges of publishing in the age of social media?
EP: Thank you! I think the key word is authentic. As long as you present yourself in an authentic and positive way, social media can be a wonderful thing. I think of it as a way to connect with readers, promote my book and speaking engagements and for people to see who I am underneath the writing. I set up an eight month long book tour almost solely through social media connections. Childhood Facebook friends heard about Worth the Weight through social media, and wrote wonderful things about it on social media. As long as you stay positive and avoid posting about controversial topics, social media is a powerful way to promote yourself and your writing.
SK: What are you working on now?
EP: My writing is social commentary on what is “trending”. One of my pregnant friends posted pictures on Facebook of a trip she took with her husband to Paris in her second trimester and labeled the album “Babymoon”. A couple of weeks later another pregnant friend posted her babymoon pictures from a beach vacation. I decided that Babymoon had to be the title of my next book. Usually a Babymoon is a trip that a couple takes to have their last romantic hurrah before the baby comes. Of course in a rom-com, the babymoon has to have a ridiculous twist.
SK: Thanks, Eileen! Can’t wait to read Babymoon!