Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest, Lara Reznik author of The Girl From Guyland, The M&M Boys and her most recent novel, Bagels & Salsa.
Norm: Good day Lara and thanks for participating in our interview.
Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background.
Lara: I grew up on Long Island and at eighteen-years-old, in a state of rebellion, drove cross country in a Kharman Ghia to attend the University of New Mexico where I studied under esteemed authors Rudolfo Anaya (Bless Me, Ultima) and the late Tony Hillerman.
After college, I worked various jobs but ended up working in the I.T. field for over twenty-five years. In 1978, I married and continued to write books and screenplays while raising three boys and working full time. After the breakout success of The Girl From Long Guyland in 2012, I retired from my day job to write full time. The M&M Boys followed in 2015, and Bagels & Salsa in 2018.
Norm: How did you get started in writing? Why do you write and what keeps you going? As a follow up, do you have a theme, message, or goal for your books?
Lara: I discovered books were a great way to journey into a world of exciting new places and learn about other people from a very young age. At six years old I tried my hand at writing one of my own. Most of my childhood I kept diaries and wrote poems, essays and short stories. In college, I studied creative writing and wrote three novels and three screenplays in the 80s and 90s.
I’m basically a shy person and feel much more comfortable expressing myself in writing than in person. For me, writing is second nature.
As far as a message or underlying theme in my novels, it can be summed up by a line in a Kirkus review I received for The Girl From Long Guyland. “While effective as a page-turner, the novel also tells a timeless, universal tale of a woman’s journey toward self-acceptance.”
Norm: What do you think most characterizes your writing?
Lara: While my novels cross genres, the thread that connects them is that they are set in the 60s and 70s when baby boomers were coming of age. But they are not limited to people of my generation. If you’re a millennial and are interested in what it was like for your parents growing up during that very colorful time, you’ll like my books too. I’ve had a surprising number of Amazon reviewers who have said just that.
Norm: Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process.
Lara: This is a thought provoking question, Norm.
After four decades as an author, I’ve discovered the method that works best for me is somewhere in between writing by the seat of my pants and creating complex outlines and deep analysis. It works something like this:
Novel idea: generally comes from current news, or a historical event, an incident from my own life, or someone else’s life.
Research: I gather all types of research on the time period, the setting, and develop sketches for each character including many details of their lives.
Outline: I create a series of scenes with very short synopses of the plot in each one.
Technique: I utilize Dwight Swain’s Technique of the Selling Writer which breaks each chapter into “scenes” and “sequels.” Each scene consists of real time action including action and dialog, the protagonist’s goal and conflict. The scene is followed bya “sequel” that includes the character’s reaction, dilemma and response to the action. I try to end each chapter with some type of disaster, or call it a “hook,” to keep readers engaged.
When I’ve completed the first draft, I submit it to my critique group for peer review. Inevitably, this results in revising ideas, developmental editing, and rewriting. Then I have my “editing team,” a group of fellow authors and English teachers to copy edit the manuscript. Last but not least, I hire a professional proofreader for the final polish.
Norm: What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive?
Lara: The most useful and the most destructive experiences I’ve had learning the craft of writing have been receiving critique. I’ve been part of different writer groups for many years. For the most part, these groups have been an invaluable tool to improving my writing. As a writer, you tend to be myopic and often miss plot inconsistencies, clichés, character flaws, etc. While sometimes painful, it’s much better for a fellow writer to find glitches in an early draft of your book, then later to have a reviewer point them out in an editorial, or receive a negative customer review on Amazon. It’s very important to find the right fit. When a critique group is working well, it’s like “group think.” Four minds can brainstorm ideas that one person would never come to on their own.
On the negative side, I’ve seen writers be downright vicious, discouraging and insulting to other authors. When I began writing my first novel, I enrolled in a graduate level class. Most of the students were accomplished writers who’d been studying the craft for years. I remember riding home on my bicycle with tears streaming down my cheeks whenever my writing had been critiqued. I nearly dropped out of the class and probably would have if the professor, Rudolfo Anaya, hadn’t taken me aside and told me to he saw a lot of potential in my work. The experience gave me a tough skin which later helped when I began sending out query letters to agents and received a lot of rejections. It also served to remind me to always be kind and empathetic when reviewing other authors.
Norm: Many people have the skills and drive to write a book, but failure to market and sell the book the right way is probably what keep a lot of people from finding success. Can you give us 2-3 strategies that have been effective for you in promoting your books?
Lara: I’ve had the most success marketing my e-books. I plan coordinated promotions that include:
1. Joining Kindle Direct Publishing and utilizing their free promotion as a marketing tool. While there’s a lot of controversy about offering e-books free, I’ve found it’s a great way to generate a lot of buzz by getting thousands of books into the hands of readers and garnering hundreds of Amazon customer reviews.
2. I coordinate a free Amazon promotion with numerous media ads on sites like Free Kindle Books and Tips and FreeBooksy with the ultimate goal of obtaining a BookBub ad. BookBub is the gold standard of sites to advertise on, but it is very difficult to get accepted.
3. In addition to buying media advertising, I use all my social media accounts.
Norm: What motivated you to write Bagels & Salsa and how much of the story is based on your own life? As a follow up, is there much of you in the character of Laila?
Lara: Bagels &Salsa evolved from a screenplay I wrote in 2001 that was a finalist in Writer’s Digest, TV Writer, and Southwest Writers contests. Since numerous fans of my bestselling psychological thriller, The Girl From Long Guyland, wanted to learn more about the relationship of Laila, the Jewish protagonist, and Eduardo, her Hispanic husband, I adapted the semi-autobiographical screenplay into Laila and Eduardo’s love story.
As far as your question about how much is autobiographical, I can best answer it this way. Like Laila, I’m a Jewish girl from Long Island who married a Hispanic man from rural New Mexico.
Generally, I’m intrigued by an event or circumstance in my life and then say, “what if.” What if a Son of Sam copycat stalked me across the country? What if my future mother-in-law cooked up a plan to send me packing and reunite her son with his high school sweetheart?
Bottom line, many of the characters are based on real people that have been exaggerated to make them more interesting. The plot, on the other hand, develops by creating a world based mostly on fictitious events.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing this book and what did you enjoy most about writing it?
Lara: The hardest part of writing Bagels & Salsa was infusing the story with funny scenarios. While there’s some humor in my other novels, this one might best be described as a dramedy. I had no idea if readers would get my jokes. I have a new-born respect for stand-up comedians who take the risk of getting booed or heckled every time they perform.
Norm: What purpose do you believe your story serves and what matters to you about the story?
Lara: Bottom line, I hope my readers are entertained. On a more thematic level, I’d like readers to think about the importance of embracing religious, ethnic and cultural differences which have historically been at the core of so much conflict, hatred and war in the world.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your books?
Lara: The paperback or e-book can be found:
Norm: What is next for Lara Reznik?
Lara: I’m currently writing another psychological thriller, Dance of Deception, based on a real-life murder mystery. Truth is stranger than fiction and I couldn’t make up a more fascinating plot or create more devious characters than the true story of a Manson-like con man; his jealous mistress, a professed alien queen; and a salt-of the-earth soccer dad, surrounding the mysterious disappearance of a beautiful Japanese bank teller.
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your books, but nobody has?
Lara: Great question, Norm. No one has really asked me about whether there are similar books to Bagels & Salsa.
The theme of star-crossed lovers from different ethnic, political, or religious backgrounds is an age-old story that begins with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. There appear to be more movies than contemporary books dealing with multicultural families. They fall into the category of tragedy or comedy/dramedy.
Tragedies: West Side Story, Loving (the story of couple arrested for their interracial marriage in 1960s Virginia).
Comedies: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and the recent movie The Big Sick (about a Pakistani-American man who falls in love with a girl from Chicago)
With globalization multicultural families are more common than ever. Even the British monarchy is dealing with the challenge of welcoming someone of a different ethnic, racial, and social background into their esteemed family. There’s currently a TV movie in the works about their story.
Norm: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. It's been an absolute pleasure to meet with you and read your work.