NEW RELEASE and GUEST POST
My first self-published book, Better Off Without Him, went through many incarnations before I pushed ‘Publish’. Main character Mona wrote non-fiction, she wrote about other woman’s “Better Off Without Him” stories rather than having one of her own, and, in the end, there was no Happily Ever After. Instead, I had Mona not being able to choose between the two men in her life.
The revisions came slowly – first, from a line editor, and then my agent. The manuscript was submitted to many different publishing houses, and several editors made suggestions as to how it might be improved. So, when I had my final version, complete with a cover and ready to go out into the world, I really thought that Ben and Mona were done. This was it. They were together, they were in love – what more could happen?
I received several requests for a sequel, from reader e-mails and reviewers, but I kept shaking my head. Besides, I had optioned Better Off Without Him to a production company. I no longer had the rights to those characters. Their fate was out of my hands.
Last year the option was not renewed. Mona was mine again. And, let’s face it – sequels were very successful. So I tried to figure out where Mona would go next. Logically, she’d go to Los Angeles. After all, at the end of Better Off, she was going to write a screenplay. The idea of Mona and her assistant, Anthony, running around LA with all those crazy movie types held a lot of promise. But there were a few issues.
I had no idea what LA was like. I’d never been there in my life. I would not feel comfortable writing about a place I didn’t know. And although, in theory, spending a week in Hollywood, and writing it off as ‘research’ was tempting, it would not give me what I needed to write realistically about a woman camped out in the Hollywood Hills and living life in the LA fast lane.
Besides, putting her in California would take her away from where all the great action – and characters – were. How could I write about her daughters? Aunt Lily? And, most importantly, Ben?
Then it occurred to me that, in real time, four years had passed between when Better Off was written and now. All sorts of things can happen in four years. Kids grow up and go off to college. Career dreams get stalled, relationships grow stale and need to move forward or fade away. In an instant, all sorts of possibilities presented themselves.
So, although I never intended to write a sequel to Better Off Without Him, I suddenly found that I had plenty more to say about Mona, Ben, and the rest of the Westfield NJ contingent. I made a few decisions up front. This new book had to read as a stand-alone novel. To make room for new characters, some of the old favorites had to go. Most importantly, this book had to be every bit as funny as the first.
I also wanted to get my readers involved, so I devised a contest for all the subscribers to my newsletter, and asked for their help in creating a new character. I knew that, at some point, there would be a visit to a bridal shop. So I asked my readers to help with the shop owner. I asked for a name, a physical characteristic, and a personality quirk. It was great fun, and I got a terrific response. I took all the suggestions as they came in, and took the top five in each category, then allowed my FB friends to vote on their favorite. When you read the new book and come across Coco Zipperelli, you have my readers to thank!
Writing about old friends was such a treat. I knew all those people, and I really enjoyed revisiting their lives. I put Mona and Ben at a crossroads. I wanted to make sure that Mona’s journey was on track, and my terrific editor, Tiffany Yates Martin, really helped with that. Without terrible dates for Mona to experience, where could I find laugh-out-loud moments? How about planning a wedding or two? Yeah, that worked. People change in four years, right? So let’s give Aunt Lily a bit of a make over. Mona’s sister, mentioned briefly in Better Off, makes an appearance. She was a real hoot. I should have written more about her before!
Once again, the characters took on a life of their own. Other writers will understand. To all you readers out there, you’ll just have to take my word for it. Sometimes, the voices in my head are too loud to ignore, and as a writer, I have to learned to trust them.
So my new book is called Better Than Your Dreams, and writing it was an amazing experience. Will there be a sequel to the sequel? Once again, I feel that Mona and Ben’s story is finished. But I learned an important lesson in writing this book. Never say never.
When Carmella told us the time and place to meet her for wedding-dress shopping, I had a few concerns. First, it involved driving into Brooklyn. I didn’t want to do that, but taking public transportation was out of the question, because, as anyone who’s tried to take a bus/train/subway from the easily-accessible Port Authority building in Manhattan will tell you - you can’t get there from here. At least, not without a local Sherpa to guide you on the way.
So we drove. Miranda, Aunt Lily and I set off bright and early Saturday morning armed with a GPS, MapQuest printout and an old-fashioned street map.
My other worry was the shop itself. It was called Dressed to Kill. Not only did the name throw me off just a little, but also I imagined a thick, battered door with a peephole, where you had to know the secret knock and/or password to enter. Then you’d follow a one-eyed mute (with a limp) to the showroom, where all the dresses would have had the labels removed.
I was surprised - and relieved - to find Dressed to Kill was a simple storefront in a crowded strip mall. Sadly, under the name of the shop was the tag line ‘Formal Fashion to Knock ‘Em Dead’.
Lily got out of the car, took a long look, and shook her head. “Subtle.”
Miranda frowned. “What?” She was still rather clueless about Vincent and the other DeMatrianos, and I was very grateful.
We entered the shop, and, I must say, it was impressive. There were a dozen mannequins standing around, all beautifully dressed in bridal and ball gowns, including a stunning cocktail dress in royal purple that I immediately wanted for myself.
Carmella came out of the back, all smiles. Hug-hug, kiss-kiss. A few seconds later, a tall woman in a plain black dress appeared, hands held, prayer-like, to her lips.
“Ladies,” Carmella said, “this is Coco Zipperelli.”
Coco was a striking woman – big, dark eyes, high cheekbones. And her jet-black hair was swept up off her face in a pompadour. Not an Elvis Presley look. Think Lyle Lovett, 1986.
“Welcome,” she murmured. “Any client of Carmella’s gets my personal attention. Now, who are the brides?”
Miranda and Lily both beamed. Coco clapped her hands together. “Perfect. Now tell me what you’re think you want, then I’ll tell you what you really want.”
Aunt Lily wanted tea length, with a tulle skirt, in the color of spring. Maybe that new orchid color? I had to admit, it made sense. Since her fashion metamorphosis, I could see her in something vibrant and playful.
Coco raised her eyebrows. “Radiant Orchid? Yes, that would work well for you. It’s a great color for your skin tone.” She scurried over and pulled out a beautiful dress, not quite the style Lily wanted, but the color was amazing. There was a tall brass coatrack in the middle of the room, and she hung the dress on it. “Or maybe a bit deeper? A bit more Hyacinth? Or how about Vivid Viola?” She found two more dresses and hung them up as well.
Lily frowned. “What’s the difference, exactly?”
A small cloud passed over Coco’s face. “Well, this is the exact color of grape juice in a clear glass, with the sunlight reflecting off the ice cubes. This is a bit pinker, almost as though some red wine, a Merlot, actually, was mixed in with the grape juice. And this last dress here is about 50/50 wine and juice. Subtle, I admit, but very important.”
Lily took a deep breath and glanced over at Carmella, who was hanging on Coco’s every word.
“Anything in this general grape family,” Lily said at last. “At my age, I have no patience for nuance.”
I glanced at Miranda, who was trying very hard to keep a straight face. Thank God, she only wanted white.
Coco looked disappointed, but squared her shoulders as she turned to Miranda, who whipped out her cell phone and proceeded to show Coco a complete slideshow. Coco was looking over Miranda’s shoulder, shaking her head at some photos, nodding at others. Finally, after a few minutes of intense whispering and pointing, Coco nodded. “Fine. I can totally understand you style. Now, do you want white-white, like a flat, snow white? Or maybe something with a bit of shine, like a frosted ice cube? Of course, we could always go with that lovely white of antique lace.”
Miranda cleared her throat. “I’ll leave that to you.”
Finally, Coco turned to me. “And you, Mona. I saw you eyeing that deep lilac.”
“For what?” I asked.
“Mother of the bride? Unless, of course, you want a more traditional taupe or gray.”
I glanced at Carmella. She was wearing wine-colored skinny jeans, black heels, a clingy knit tunic in black and wine, and a camelhair swing coat.
I turned to Coco. “Size ten.”
Coco nodded, grabbed all the dresses, and hurried towards the back of the shop. “Lottie,” she barked as she turned a corner.
We sat in comfortable wing chairs, listening to chamber music and waited. A short, squat woman, also in black, hurried out, locked the door and turned the sign from OPEN to CLOSED. Then she lowered the shades.
Lily leaned over and whispered, “Should we be worried?”
“Only if Lottie pulls out a machine gun,” I whispered back.
Carmella smiled at the woman. “Thanks, Lottie. Coffee?”
“Sure. Ennybuddy else want some?” Lottie, to my complete delight, had the voice of a merchant marine. If only she had a half-lit cigarette hanging from her lower lip…
In this follow-up to Better Off Without Him, Mona Quincy once again faces life’s tough moments with good friends, lots of laughs, and a cold, dry martini. For the past eighteen months, Mona has had a long-distance relationship with the man of her dreams, Ben Cutler. She’s been in LA working on a screenplay, while he’s been keeping the NJ home fires burning. But now she’s back, and she needs to answer a very serious question – will she marry Ben?
Mona doesn’t think she ever wants to get married again – not even to someone as practically perfect as Ben Cutler. But before she can think about her own marriage plans, she’s got a few other weddings to deal with. Aunt Lily, at seventy-eight, has finally met her match in Vinnie DeMatriano, who just happens to be the uncle of a slightly notorious crime boss. True, they’ve only known each other three months, but they want to tie the knot - in Mona’s back yard. Then Miranda, Mona’s oldest daughter, announces that she’s ready to get married after a three month long courtship of her own – to Ben’s son, David.
Ben believes in love at first sight, and is thrilled for Miranda and David. Mona doesn’t want her daughter to marry anyone after such a short time. As they find themselves at odds for the very first time, Ben thinks they should step back and take some time away from each other. Mona is still unwilling to commit fully to Ben, and can only stand by as Carmella Ciavaglia, Vinnie’s wedding-planner daughter, circles Ben like a great white shark. Will Mona finally get her Happily Ever After? Or has she learned her hardest lesson just a little too late?
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