Good morning, everyone! Today I am interviewing Patti Liszkay from the Indie Eden Book Club on her romantic comedy novel, Equal and Opposite Reactions. It is about two divorced people who find that they have a lot more things (and people) in common than they expected. Let’s see what Patti has to say about her book, and about her life as a writer.
Welcome to the blog, Patti! Let’s start with an important question: Which typical author interview question do you hate the most?
About the only question I dread is apparently an important one, always asked by interviewers and the first one every potential agent or publisher wants an answer to before they’ll even look at your manuscript: Who’s your target audience? That question – along with its corollaries, Who did you write your novel for? Who will your novel appeal to? And why? – is the worst for me. Now, it’s an easy enough question to answer, I suppose, if your novel fits into a specific genre, as all novels are supposed to. Then you can answer the question with, “Well, my target audience is people who like a romance,” because your novel is a romance, or “I wrote my novel for people who like historical fiction,” because that’s what your novel is, or “My book will appeal to teens who like young adult science fiction,” etc.
But I feel like my novel, though it’s categorized as a romantic comedy, doesn’t quite fit that category or any category I know the name of; hence whenever I’m asked the above question I find I can’t answer it without feeling like I have a whole lot of ‘splaining to do besides just calling it a romantic comedy.
Ooops! I was planning to ask you that later on… In the meantime, can you give us a short description of your book?
Sure. Equal and Opposite Reactions is, okay, a “romantic comedy” of errors ― lots and lots of errors ― set in working-class Northeast Philadelphia where I grew up and told in the urban voices I heard growing up there. The story tells of the chain of events that unwinds when Sally Miller, a newly-divorced, financially and emotionally struggling young mother and Silvio Jablonski, a broken hearted plumber who shows up to fix Sally’s toilet, learn to their shock that they have something strangely in common. This discovery both pulls them into a relationship and leads them down a rabbit hole that causes their lives to become entwined with a constellation of characters around the Philadelphia area including Sally’s over-extended, real-estate-managing ex-husband, Silvio’s seductive, sexually manipulative ex-wife, a shady South Philadelphia salvage yard operator, a desperate young family of undocumented Nicaraguan immigrants and the African American lawyer who becomes their advocate. The story covers issues of divorce, including the financial and child custody struggles, the challenges of blended families, the legal system, the anger, and the healing. It also covers timely immigration issues as Sally and Silvio struggle over how to follow their consciences and their hearts when faced with the ethical and personal dilemmas that swirl around their befriending of the young undocumented couple who are also struggling to make a better life for their American-born child.
Okay, now for the dreaded question. Who is your target audience for this novel? What do you think will appeal to them about your book?
Ackk! I knew it was coming! (Sigh) Okay: I’d say women for sure, because the story has to do with a young struggling single mother and there is the romantic aspect. But there are also several story lines unspooling throughout the novel that involve a lot of different characters: city characters, quirky characters, gay characters, straight characters, white characters, characters of color, nice characters, not-so-nice characters. And there’s also a lot of sex in the mix, and, you know, people like sex, so hopefully that would widen the reader pool. And despite the heavy issues covered, divorce, child custody, immigration, sexual manipulation, it is a comedy at heart, if not always a light-hearted one. So hopefully anybody who likes a good laugh, or likes a good cry, or likes to laugh ‘til they cry ― or anyone who likes a lot of Philly flavor, which the book also has ― will find Equal and Opposite Reactions appealing.
Great answer! That wasn’t so bad, was it? :P Is there any famous author that inspires you, or that you admire?
Well, I love Phillip Roth and William Styron and Tom Wolf – one reader told me that my writing style in Equal and Opposite Reactions reminds them of Tom Wolf’s style. (Maybe Tom Wolf in kindergarten). And nobody can create a character that tugs at your heart like Anne Tyler. And you know whose work is great and has always really inspired me in the craft of writing? W.S. Gilbert, who wrote the words to the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. His use of the English language is so witty and ingenious that one could get a great education on the clever use of words just by listening to Gilbert and Sullivan. (Which I do. A lot).
When you write a book, do you plan out everything beforehand, or do you let the story follow its own course?
I’d say that I start out with a general idea, a beginning and an ending, at least. As I start getting more ideas I like to make a flow chart and a time line. And I know how I want the story to develop and what I want the characters to say. But then as I start writing, the story starts going its own way and the characters won’t say or do what I want then to, so then, yes, I do capitulate and let the story and the characters follow their own courses. Weird, isn’t it, how when you’re writing your mind can take over your mind?
That’s one of the things I love most about writing. :) So, how did your book come to be published? What was your journey to publication like? Did you get a lot of rejection letters before you finally saw your name in print?
Equal and Opposite Reactions started out as a short story ― I used to write short stories for magazines back when commercial magazines used to publish more short stories than they do these days ― anyway, it started out as a short story I wrote for First For Women called “He Looked Nothing Like Prince Charming.” A couple of years later, when I was in my playwriting phase, I expanded the story of “He Looked Nothing Like Prince Charming” and wrote it into a play that I called “Equal and Opposite Reactions” which I submitted to many producers, all of whom rejected it. But then one producer, who also rejected it, wrote back, “This is a really good story but there are too many children and too many set changes. Staging would be difficult.” That was like a “Bingo!” moment for me that my play was meant to be a novel. So I took a few years writing Equal and Opposite Reactions into a novel. In truth it took almost as long to get the book published as it did to write it. It’s not so much that I received a lot of rejections as that I received no response at all from most of the agents and publishers I submitted to. I submitted Equal and Opposite Reactions to almost fifty agents or publishers before it was accepted for publication by “Black Rose Writers.”
That is quite a journey! Did you pick up any tips for writers along the way?
Oodles. First, my advice to fledging writers is to absolutely subscribe to the “Writer’s Digest,” a monthly magazine full of advice on the craft of writing, how and where to submit, plus interesting writer interviews and pieces on the writing life. It also lists writers’ contests and events and sponsors its own contests as well.
Another piece of advice: The latest edition of “The Writer’s Market” should be every writer’s bible on where to submit manuscripts. This book, published yearly by Writer’s Digest, lists all the reputable literary agents, book and magazine publishers and also lists writing contests around the country. Or if one writes a specific genre, one could rather buy one of the “Writer’s Market” genre books, such as “Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market,” which is the one I buy, “Poet’s Market,” “Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market,” etc. But do check out the “Writer’s Market” series. It’s the only submission guide you want.
And one more very important piece of advice: Writers, once your manuscript is finished, post it on “authors.me.” This free-of-charge site is a sort of a headhunter site from which many agents and publishers, such as my publisher Black Rose Writing, prefer to select their submissions for publication. Some agents and publishers require that all submissions to them be made through “authors.me.” Even though submitting through “authors.me” is kind of like applying to an Ivy League college ― there are pages and pages of required writing samples ― by being required to write out coherent and polished essays including a synopsis, biography, one’s writing history, the sources of one’s inspiration, one’s favorite line of the book, one’s favorite character, etc, the essays one writes to sell their book to agents and publishers through “authors.me” will be helpful down the road when one needs synopses and blurbs to market one’s book to the public.
That is a lot of really great advice. Thank you so much for sharing with us, Patti!
About the Author
Set in working-class Northeast Philadelphia and told in urban voices, Equal And Opposite Reactions is a romantic comedy about the chain of events that follows when Sally Miller, a newly divorced, financially struggling young mother and Silvio Jablonski, a broken-hearted plumber who shows up to fix Sally’s toilet, learn to their shock that they have something strangely in common.
Their discovery both pulls them into a relationship and leads them down a rabbit hole that causes their lives to become entwined with a constellation of characters including Sally’s over-extended, real-estate-managing ex-husband, Silvio’s seductive, sexually manipulative ex-wife, a shady South Philadelphia salvage yard operator, a desperate young family of illegal immigrants and a socially-conscious African-American lawyer who becomes their advocate.
But will the volatile chemistry of human emotions bond Sally and Silvio in love, or tear them apart?