Today, my guest is Laurie Boris who is here to talk about her novel, The Joke's On Me.
1) Tell me a little about your book.
The Joke's on Me is a contemporary novel. It’s told from the point of view of Frankie Goldberg, a former actress and stand-up comic whose career is tanking abysmally. Frankie has lived in Hollywood for the past fifteen years, becoming estranged from her family. But in a moment of panic, a natural disaster sends her back to her mother’s bed and breakfast in Woodstock, New York. Frankie spent her adolescence there, helping her mother and chasing after her crush, the handyman’s handsome son. Pulling into the driveway with the only possession she has left, a red convertible, she hopes for comfort but only finds bad news. Her sister Jude, a famous feminist, whom Frankie has always detested (and delighted in lampooning in her act) has moved in and taken over…even Frankie’s old room. Jude has put their mother in a nursing home, and plans to turn the bankrupt B&B into a holistic health retreat. Now Frankie has to decide…turn tail and run, or put her anger aside and help. Or just stay angry and help.
2) What gave you the idea for this particular story?
I was working in Woodstock at the time, for a couple who ran a small business out of their home. Woodstock’s an interesting little town. On the surface, it’s all peace, love, and understanding. But underneath, there’s conflict between the locals (who lived there before the Woodstock concert, which wasn’t even held in Woodstock) and the transplants (mostly weekenders from Manhattan who got seduced by the Woodstock vibe and moved there full-time.) Some of the transplants feel entitled. They cut in line at the deli. They try to block new construction. They stop traffic by having conversations in the middle of the street. I love the place and love the people, but there’s this funny undercurrent of social politics no one really talks about. One day, stuck in traffic waiting for someone’s conversation to end, Frankie popped into my head, railing about this and that. She had a story to tell me about what happened when she came home to this quirky, at times over-the-top place. The conflict between Frankie and Jude felt to me like the Woodstock Generation versus the “Me, too,” generation—the kids who came along after the Baby Boomers took all the attention. This, plus the characters I had the good luck to meet while in Woodstock, enriched Frankie’s story.
3) Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time?
I’m a freelance writer by day, so I write my fiction around the work. I have to be very disciplined. I map out blocks of time. I’m a morning person, and I try to write fiction then, at least an hour every morning. Then more on weekends. So I guess I’d call myself a part-time fiction writer.
4) When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
My mother claims it was when I was two or three years old and wrote on my sheets with crayons. But I always liked to write. I’ve kept a journal since junior high. But the concept of being a writer popped up in an odd way. I was living in Boston and had just quit my assistant art director job to go freelance. (I was a graphic designer then—my first career.) My boyfriend at the time, a musician, said, “So, what are you going to do with your days?” Maybe this was a preemptive strike to let me know that I wasn’t going to spend them getting in the way of his music! That’s when I thought, “I’m going to be a writer.” I wrote a lot of rotten short stories and eventually got better. And got a new boyfriend, whom I married.
5) What do you hope readers will take from your writing?
I like to entertain; I like to make people laugh. I like to raise difficult questions, but they’re much easier to take with a little humor. There’s this great quote by C.K. Chesterton: “Humor can get in under the door while seriousness is still fumbling at the handle.”
6) Which genres do you write, which do you prefer, and why?
I write contemporary, humorous fiction, some stories darker than others. This is the genre I prefer, because it’s immediate. We face complex challenges today that were unknown thirty, forty years ago. Heck, just ordering a cup of coffee is an adventure. I find it fascinating to translate that into my work. I like to give a character the problems I’ve muddled through, and say, “Here. See what you can do with this.” But I love to read historical fiction, and would love to try writing in that genre one day.
7) What is the toughest part about being a writer and how do you get past it?
Rejection can be evil. It gets easier, though. When I got my first, I cried. Now I look at a rejection and think, “Well, that’s just one more closer to my goal.” Enforcing the discipline required to make writing a habit and revise draft after draft can also be tough. It’s so easy and so tempting to give up after the first draft of a novel. I should know; I have several waiting for me in my documents folder. That’s one way of avoiding rejection: if I don’t finish it and put it out there, it can’t be rejected. Now I’m learning to get past it by just making myself do it. I put “editing project whatever” on my to-do list like a doctor’s appointment.
8) Is there anything in your story based upon a real life event? If so, tell me about it.
Except for living near Woodstock, oddly, no. This is probably the most non-autobiographical novel I’ve written. Although the minor-league baseball team in the book is based on our local single-A ball team, The Hudson Valley Renegades.
9) How much is your protagonist like you? How different?
Frankie is a subset of me, cubed. We both have completely unmanageable hair. We both love baseball and cooking. Like her, I can be snarky, and I like to make people laugh. But while I’m kind of shy, and usually think of the perfect witty response in the car on the way home, she’s out with it right away and won’t back down. My grandmother used to call that moxie. This lack of moxie is why I’m not a stand-up comic, like Frankie. And she’s a much better cook.
10) What kind of research did you do for this type of story?
I didn’t have to do much. I did have to learn a bit of Yiddish, and my mother was a great help to me there.
11) Do writing violent or highly sexual scenes bother you? Why or why not?
They don’t bother me, as long as they’re pertinent to the book and congruent with the characters. I’ve written them for other books. The only violence in The Joke’s on Me involves a pot of marinara, and nobody gets hurt.
12) What about your book makes it special?
Frankie! She is adorably flawed, and so utterly human underneath her bravado. Also, what’s special about The Joke’s on Me is that although it’s technically “contemporary fiction,” aspects of the story fall between “chick lit” and “women’s fiction.” I like to call it “humorous women’s fiction.” It takes the best of both genres: the heart and deep family connection of women’s fiction and the breezy humor of chick lit.
13) What is your marketing plan?
I’m doing a blog tour (schedule to come) and events at local bookstores and libraries. I’ll also have some fun contests on my Facebook page. I might even throw in some recipes.
14) Where can people learn more about you and your work?
Cruise over to my website, http://laurieboris.com or my book’s site, http://thejokesonme.net/ to learn more about me and the book.
15) Any tips for new writers hoping to write in the genre of your book?
Persistence! Keep at it. Learn to write great dialogue and compelling characters. Read omnivorously and learn from great writers. We need you. We need your stories.
The Joke’s on Me is Laurie Boris’s debut novel. It’s a story about family love and redemption, told through the eyes of former actress and stand-up comic Frankie Goldberg. Frankie has lived in Los Angeles for the past fifteen years, relegating her family to the outer regions of her solar system while she pursued her own, middling success. But a disaster sends Frankie scrambling back to her mother’s bed and breakfast in Woodstock, New York. She craves comfort, but finds that the joke's on her. Her much-older sister Jude, who incurred Frankie’s wrath by leaving home when Frankie was just a toddler, has moved in and taken over. She’s put their mother, following a stroke and subsequent memory loss, into a nursing home. Now Jude, a prominent social activist, is turning the nearly bankrupt B&B into a holistic health retreat. For her mother’s sake, Frankie agrees to stay for the summer and help. But will Frankie ever consider her sister’s company to be anything but an obligation? Or will the lure of family connection—and a possible new romance—prove stronger than her urge to bolt toward a fresh start in Hollywood?