Did you know that my seventh novel, The Second First Time, began as a different title? And did you know it was inspired by an (almost) actual event?
I’ll tell you all about it.
The Second First Time is about “a second chance at once in a lifetime,” to coin a phrase my aunt Gabriele often says of her marriage to my uncle Joe, the second for both of them. The novel, about two friends who make a second attempt at love after a false start and a cancelled road trip, was, in a way, a false start as well.
Flashback to February 2015…
I had been contracted to write Pasta Wars in late fall of 2014, and I was under a tight deadline to finish a first draft by March 1, 2015. I had recently moved back to my native Long Island, and I was nursing a broken heart. Pasta Wars was helping me in that I was determined to write true romantic comedy, and was writing scenes that made me laugh. However, after reading an article about a study in which two strangers were paired to answer questions that grew increasingly personal and intimate to determine if they, too, would connect in personal in intimate ways, the idea for The Second First Time—originally titled The Do-Over—was conceived. In fact, the idea was so loud and demanding to be written that I had to interrupt writing Pasta Wars and write as much as I could before I had no choice but to resume Pasta Wars and make my deadline.
I wrote 30,000 words of The Do-Over in two weeks.
The Do-Over had been an apt title in its original conception. I’d started writing the book when I thought my best friend—a fellow novelist who lived in Montana—and I not only weren’t going to get together as a couple, but also weren’t going to be able to repair our friendship that had taken a hit. One of the things I love about writing novels is that, as Nora Ephron said through her character in Heartburn, I get to control the story. Since my friend and I never got to take our road trip in reality, I figured we’d take one on the page, so to speak, and answer the questions I had seen in the news article. Only we’d do it vicariously through Sage Merriweather and Jonathan Moss.
In other words, I needed the do-over, a chance to work things out the way I’d them wanted to. I wanted to tell the story my way. And I figured as long as I’d get my way on the page, then the reality would be no big deal.
After those two weeks and 30,000 words, I resumed Pasta Wars. And then something happened.
Not only did we find our way back to our friendship (not in as dramatic fashion as Sage and Jon), but we also fell in love—the real deal, this time—and by the time Pasta Wars was done and The Do-Over was contracted for publication, we were engaged to be married. We even took our road trip!
Turns out the story did go the way I’d wanted to. We’d gotten our do-over before I had a chance to finish it on paper.
Obviously, I was overjoyed about the way things had turned out. But as a writer, this unexpected romantic turn of events had actually worked against me. I found myself at a loss for the emotional thread and motivation of the story. Whenever I write a novel, I need to be emotionally connected to the main character in one way or another. I need to empathize with her (or him). I need to relate to her struggle in one form or another, be it dealing with loss or rejection or self-confidence. The initial spark of the story had fizzled out, and the stakes were no longer present, if they ever had been in the first place.
The idea was still there, however. I just had to figure out how to make it work, and make a new personal connection to it.
In an earlier incarnation, I’d tried to work in a love triangle, but it didn’t seem authentic and the dynamic didn’t work. In reality my friend—and fiancé—and I had done the inner emotional work we’d both needed to do to be able to come back to each other. And we’d done it while separated. Sage, however, had a long way to go in terms of shedding her baggage, and thus the road trip was an inner journey as well as an outer journey for her. I had dug deep and thought about what I had struggled with throughout much singlehood in my twenties and thirties, and from there the new what-if was born. Sage’s do-over went deeper than working things out with Jon. She needed to re-purpose her life’s story, especially where her father was concerned.
The result was a story and a novel that was quite different from the one that had busted out of my chest like the alien during those two weeks in February, but also one I loved when I’d finished it.
The title change had been suggested by my publisher, Lake Union. I had been resistant at first, but my editor, literary agent, and fiancé had convinced me to consider it. My husband had said, “What about The First Next Time, sweetheart?” I made one little change, and we all agreed it was the way to go. I made some final rewrites and edits to the book to support the change, and then it was go for launch.
The Second First Time launched about six weeks after Craig’s and my wedding. We even took a road trip across New England for our honeymoon.
My second chance at once in a lifetime is a love story. The Second First Time is also a love story, both the writing of it and the story itself. As a reviewer said, “This is how real life love goes. Ups and downs, insecurity, overthinking, honesty and communication it’s all there, wrapped up in love and respect.”
That’s exactly what I want my readers to walk away with.
Do you have a second chance story? Tell me about it in the Comments!
The time has come for me to reflect on what’s behind me and what’s ahead of me. In some ways, 2017 was a disappointment. In other ways, it was a pleasant success. And overall, it was a valuable learning experience.
I made 2017 all about gratitude. Save for a small handful of days, I kept a daily journal in which I listed ten (sometimes more) things, people, outcomes, etc., for which I was grateful. This practice was uplifting on good days and reinforcing on bad days. No matter what, I was never in shortage of gratitude.
Personally, I dug into my first year of marriage. People say that first year is always the hardest, and I believe it. My husband and I faced unexpected financial challenges, which changed our lifestyle trajectory, and health challenges, which have a way of putting everything into perspective. And yet, we were grateful to retain many of the qualities of our lifestyle we value—freedom and flexibility to take a couple of road trips (including Devil's Tower in Wyoming and Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, Arizona to attend my brother’s wedding, and Texas to celebrate Thanksgiving with my in-laws); start a freelance editing and book-building business; and—something I had been wanting for many years—adopt a sweet tuxedo cat. My husband and I continued to grow as partners, lovers, and, most importantly, friends. We still laugh together almost every day. Even when we’re not in the same time zone.
We also made a decision to relocate to the East Coast this coming spring. Leaving the Billings, Montana, community that so lovingly embraced me, and the place where my husband’s roots are planted deep, is not going to be easy. But the idea of new adventures, as well as proximity to the ocean and other people and places dear to me, excites both of us.
Professionally, 2017 ended with several highlights:
Yet, I struggled in other areas. I had attempted yet again—and failed, yet again—to maintain a connection to readers via this blog. In fact, I spent much of the year wanting to engage with readers and writers via social media and other options. Other goals, personal and professional, fizzled out.
These are all first-world failures, so to speak. If these are the worst of my shortcomings, then my life is, and continues to be, well-blessed.
So what’s in store for 2018?
I wrote a blog post for The Writer’s Habit about setting goals—I had tailored the post to target my primary audience of writers, but it was inspired by a webinar I had taken hosted by Michael Hyatt for audiences ranging from entrepreneurs to teachers to students to creative professionals to employees of all kinds at every level. As Hyatt says and I have practiced for years, it’s not recommended to share your goals with people outside your inner circle, but I will share one with you here, one that I think will be the game-changer between 2017 and 2018:
Leave my comfort zone as often as possible.
When I examine what I didn’t achieve this past year, whether personally or professionally, the number one reason was that I had been too afraid or reluctant to leave my comfort zone, resulting in giving up on some goals and never getting started on others. I was afraid to take risks. I read and learned a lot, but had difficulty applying what I’d learned. This year I am committed to bringing this particular brand of courage to everything I do, be it writing, teaching, building/growing, and/or moving. I’ll do it with my best friend and favorite person by my side. I’ll do it by thinking from the end and working my way back. I’ll do it with positive affirmations and tracking/measuring my results. I’ll do it one day at a time.
I’d entered 2017 worried. I’m entering 2018 determined. That, too, makes all the difference.
What will 2018 be for you? I encourage you to aim high, leave your comfort zone, and, above all, keep reading.
Hello! I’m excited to tell you that my eighth novel and tenth book, Big Skye Littleton, launched successfully yesterday. At the time of this writing, the book is ranked in the Top 500 in the Kindle Store and the reviews keep coming in. I’m hearing things like “I can’t put it down!”
I had a lot of help getting the word out, and I want to say thanks with a giveaway. There will be three prizes total:
Winners will be announced on Thursday, September 7.
To enter, click here, enter your email address, and that’s it! Everyone who enters gets a FREE feng shui bagua map.A bagua map is a tool used in the practice of Western feng shui.
To use the map:
Have fun with this! You can map out your entire home, an entire floor, or even just one room. I even organized my desk using the map!
For some fun tips, you can go to this site.
Share with your friends! Tell them to go to elisalorello.com to enter the drawing and receive their FREE map.
Thanks, and good luck!
I made a series of four videos in which I discuss my new novel, Big Skye Littleton. In Part 1, I talk about the main character, Skye Littleton. In Part 2, I talk about what I believe the book's main theme to be.
Parts 3 and 4 will be up next week. Enjoy!
(Thanks to my brother, Mike, for his original music and editing!)
Great news! Big Skye Littleton, my eighth novel, will be officially released on August 22. Meanwhile, I've received some advanced copies of the audiobook version, and narrator Rachel Fulginiti did such a terrific job that I want to share it with you.
All you have to do is sign the form below and you will automatically be entered to win. If you've already signed up for my mailing list, then you're already entered! The drawing will be closed on Monday, July 24. Two winners--one for the MP-3 version and one for the CD version--will be announced on Tuesday, July, 25.
Skye Littleton said goodbye to her job, her best friend, and her home in Rhode Island to start over in Billings, Montana, with Vance Sandler, a gorgeous guy she met online. On her cross-country flight, Skye shares her happy story with her seatmate, Harvey Wright, a Billings resident who knows Vance—and his reputation for heartbreak. Harvey’s infuriating advice to Skye? Go home.
Lorrine T. asks: Hi Elisa- I've always wondered what it takes for a working, successful writer to get to that place of focus where you can be productive. I’ve heard some use music, and some create a special writer’s space. What helps you get to that place?
Elisa answers: That’s a great question, Lorrine. I think every author would answer this differently. My greatest weakness has always been poor time management skills, so focus and productivity is something I occasionally struggle with, especially in the last two years when so many life changes have happened. When I was single, I had more or less a set routine that focused predominantly on my work. Now I have spousal responsibilities that include helping to care for my father-in-law, a bigger household, and pets. We also have a side business now, so I’m not solely writing books anymore.
When it comes to writing, I need to avoid procrastination. That means finding the discipline to stay off social media and make writing the priority.
Space is important too. My husband and I each have a room in the basement for our offices. However, lately I’ve been ending up in other places in the house, like my bedroom, or I go to the library, where I can stare out the window. I feel a little guilty about that, given that I’ve got a perfectly good office space! I think the room needs a couch so it feels more like a studio and less like a formal office (although it’s painted tangerine—not many formal offices are tangerine). I need a more comfortable desk chair too. Both are on my wish list.
When writing, I need relative quiet. I don’t like to write with music or TV in the background. Writing in a coffee shop is different; for some reason, I’m able to tune out that white noise, although if the place is too loud or busy, then I’m unable to concentrate.
If I’m in the drafting stage of a novel, I set a word count goal and do my best to meet it. If I’m in the revision stage, I usually work on a couple of chapters per day, depending on how problematic the writing is. If I’m in the editing stage, then I set a page count goal. If I’m struggling in any of those areas, I either go for a long walk or drive, or take a shower for as long as the hot water holds out. All three of those things will help me get unstuck or recharge my battery.
I tend to work in 45- or 60-minute time blocks with frequent breaks. My husband and I are increasingly busy with additional projects and responsibilities, so we try to connect and touch base throughout the day whenever we can. Sometimes we’ll go for a walk. Sometimes we’ll have lunch. Sometimes we’ll take a nap. Sometimes we just pop in on each other and say hello. It’s very important to us that we maintain connection no matter what, for the sake of our relationship as well as our work.
Craig and I read our books to each other. Usually at night, in bed, before we turn out the lights.
Dare I say, there are few things more romantic or intimate.
This is not an act of hubris—it’s not like this takes place every night, like some sort of pat-yourself-on-the-back-ritual. What I mean is that rather than showing each other our works in progress, near completion, in manuscript form, we wait until the finished product: a book we can hold and touch and smell. And then one of us proceeds to read to the other, usually a chapter or two per night. When it gets really good, we beg for another.
The most recent was Craig’s novel, Julep Street, which launches today.
Throughout my life, I had given considerable thought to the qualities I wanted to attract in a love relationship. I’d write them in lists—some detailed, some general—and more often than not, three items appeared in each one: funny; best friend; same profession.
I can’t tell you how many people frowned upon that last one, back when I was foolish enough to share such things. “You don’t want that,” they’d say. (A lot of people took it upon themselves to tell me what I didn’t want. Every last one of them was wrong.) Mind you, a potential lover or spouse with a different career wasn’t necessarily a deal-breaker; but I instinctively knew that it meant something to me, although I never could put my finger on what.
Sometimes it still astounds me how Craig ticked off just about every item on those lists, especially the top three. And I was right about the shared profession. We are able to do what we love without being in direct competition with one another. We are able to talk about and listen to each other’s workdays without the conversation being obligatory. We support each other. We serve as sounding boards for each other. We contribute complementary talents. We know where the other person is coming from.
I still can’t tell you why that’s so important to me, but I can tell you that as a partner and spouse, I feel more at home with Craig than I have with anyone else I have ever dated. And it’s not that I sought sameness; on the contrary, our writing styles vary, our process and approach varies, and sometimes even our opinions about the publishing business vary. But at night, when the book is open, and I am hearing him read the words he wrote, tell the story he crafted, I fall in love all over again. And he with me when the words and voice and story are mine.
David O. asks: I love books, read all the time, but I’ve never reread a book. Even if I absolutely loved it. Have you ever reread any books and how did it differ the second or third time if you have done it?
Elisa answers: This is a great question. I am a creature of habit, so there are certain books and/or authors I’ll repeatedly read. I read all of Judy Blume’s books over and over when I was a kid, and have reread a few of them as adults and still love them. My sister read S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders in school, and loved it so much that she read it to my twin brother and me; I, in turn, loved and read it incessantly throughout my adolescence. There were books I slogged through in junior high and high school--Animal Farm, A Christmas Carol, for example—that I reread in my thirties with a much deeper understanding and appreciation (A Christmas Carol is a yearly tradition now, especially to pass the time when I'm traveling). I’ve read Richard Russo’s Straight Man a couple of times and laugh just as much.
And the more I reread Nora Ephron’s Heartburn, the more I am fascinated by just how good it is. I didn’t have that appreciation for it the first time.
I read John Taylor’s In the Pleasure Groove once and then listened to it on audiobook. (I mean, come on—who wouldn’t want to be read to by John Taylor?) And I loved my husband’s The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter so much I read that one twice in a span of months—once when he sent me an advanced copy for me to offer an endorsement (this was well before we got involved; I think it’s still on the Amazon product page, but it’s lost its value completely) and again when the book launched. I read it again the following year. It’s still my favorite of his books, which kind of surprises me. I’m sure if I reread it now, it will take on even more meaning since it’s set in Billings and I know the city so well now.
There’s also Stephen King’s On Writing, which I occasionally reread just as a refresher or battery charger for my own writing.
But to specifically answer your question, the second or third reading experience varies with each book. As I mentioned, sometimes I develop a deeper appreciation for the writing or the story, or notice something about a character I hadn’t previously. Sometimes the entertainment factor is exactly as enjoyable, like watching a favorite movie or TV series repeatedly. I can’t recall any book I’ve reread where I thought, That wasn’t as good as I remembered.
Books I would like to reread in the near future:
Steve Healy’s How I Became a Famous Novelist
Richard Russo’s Straight Man (yes, again)
Karen Booth’s Bring Me Back
Marien Keyes’ The Other Side of the Story
And, believe it or not, one of my own books--Adulation. That one has been on my mind lately for some reason. The problem with rereading my own books is that I constantly find something I wish I'd worded better.
But I have such a long To Be Read list that I’m not sure I’ll get to any of them any time soon. (So many books, so little time…) It’s a good problem to have.
Have you reread a book? If so, tell me about it in the Comments!
In addition to the A Year With Nora Ephron series and other blog topics, I'm starting a new feature called Ask the Author in which I answer one or two questions per week submitted by readers.
Ellen D asks: What’s your go-to snack when writing?
Elisa answers: In a word, chocolate. It’s always some form, like a Ghiradelli’s square or Dove bite (and there’s almost always a stash of either), or a more guilty pleasure like a Reese’s peanut butter cup, which I don’t stock in the house. When I’m itching to bake I’ll make something like chocolate chip muffins from scratch, or I’ll fix myself a grilled Nutella and banana sandwich with cinnamon.
My other go-to writing snack is Pop Tarts, although the newer flavors are so over-the-top sweet and fake that they’re losing their appeal. Despite the way I go on and on about them, it will probably surprise many that I don’t regularly stock up on them. That said, I lost count of how many boxes of Pop Tarts I received as wedding presents, especially red velvet! I even took a box on my honeymoon.
Got a question? Ask me!
It’s possible I just kinda sorta met my soulmate. My Nora Ephron soulmate, that is.
I don’t remember exactly when Amazon alerted me to Linda Yellin’s What Nora Knew (other than it was earlier this year), but I had downloaded a sample on my Kindle and figured I would get to it at some point during my Year With Nora Ephron.
I got to it this past weekend. Especially after I saw it on sale for a buck-99.
Here's the product description:
Molly Hallberg is a thirty-nine-year-old divorced writer living in New York City who wants her own column, a Wikipedia entry, and to never end up in her family’s Long Island upholstery business. For the past four years Molly’s been on staff for an online magazine, covering all the wacky assignments. She’s snuck vibrators through security scanners, speed-dated undercover, danced with Rockettes, and posed nude for a Soho art studio.
Yellin knew her audience—I could have sworn she’d written it for me personally. In fact, I found myself wishing I had written it. And any book that has me wishing I’d written it is what makes writing such a challenge and reading so pleasurable. (That’s not the only criteria, but it certainly makes things interesting.) It wasn’t simply the subject matter—although let’s face it: I might not have picked up the book in the first place, much less noticed it—but the writing itself. Molly had a distinct voice. The story hit all its pulse points. And it was smart. Amusing. Romantic. Yellin captured the New York and Hamptons scene I had failed to capture in Faking It. She captured the wittiness I love. And there were little Nora Ephron Easter Eggs hidden all over the place.
Even if I had tried to write that book, I wouldn’t have succeeded. But it at least makes me want to try. Not to write that book, but one that Linda Yellin would like.
I couldn’t find much about Yellin other than her website—she doesn’t seem to have a social media presence—but her previous two books are now on my reading list. And if anyone reading this happens to know her, tell her I’d like to meet her on the observation deck of the Empire State Building sometime. Preferably in October. I just love New York in the fall.
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.