Heidi Mastrogiovanni talks about LaLa Petitbone’s Act Two and why it’s never too late to start again.
1. Tell us more about Lala Pettibone’s Act Two.
Absolutely! It’s a romantic comedy, which is a genre I always love, on the page and on the screen. I wanted to make it a story about relationships and transformation – which is what I always look for in the books and the movies that I read and watch. And I also love and need stories that have a hopeful ending – which I sought to bring to Lala’s story.
I love the comedy part of storytelling. I share a birthday with P.G. Wodehouse (and Nietzsche, who is not necessarily known for being a laugh-riot…), and I hope that Lala’s story brings a fraction of the amusement to readers that Wodehouse’s work has brought to me.
Lala’s story is about finding happiness after experiencing great sadness. It’s about starting a new life, a new second act.
2. Where did you get the inspiration for the characters?
Well, I’m very much like Lala, so at the risk of sounding self-absorbed, a lot of the inspiration for her character comes from my values and characteristics. Just about everyone in the book is based on someone I know well or on a person I have observed, however briefly, in my life.
Auntie Geraldine is very much based on my aunt, who is also one of my best friends.
Terrence is very much like my late husband, Dennis (Terrence was his middle name). And other than the fact that my dear husband Tom is not only not a veterinarian, he’s not very scientifically inclined (he’s a musician), Lala’s David is very much like my Tom.
Oh, and Lala’s dogs are very much based on the dogs that I have had and now have – seniors, rescued, precious beyond measure, and spoiled – which is exactly what they deserve to be!
3. Is the book in any way based on your own experiences or is it all fiction?
A lot of the book is very autobiographical. Lala and I have had several similar major life experiences, and we have similar priorities in life. We’re both writers, and we’re both rescuers of senior dogs. And we’re both diminutive in stature and we both overuse ellipses in our writing!
Of course much of her adventures are not shared in my own experiences, and as such are completely creations of imagination. I like a balance of writing what you know and then elevating and expanding from that base.
4. What was the hardest part of Lala Pettibone’s Act Two to write?
That’s such a great question. It was hard for me to write about Lala discovering that two of the men she had pinned some serious hopes on – first Gerard and then James – had girlfriends. We’ve all been disappointed in love, and so revisiting those feelings via Lala’s experiences was poignant and a little bit painful.
Thank goodness for a nice bottle of white wine in the refrigerator to enjoy after an especially vivid writing session!
5. What message do you want readers to take away from your novels?
The theme that I come back to again and again in my writing, and Lala’s story is certainly an example of this, is that it’s never too late to begin again.
I also want readers to take away the message that the world is a much better place when there is more kindness and more generosity, to others (including animals) and to yourself.
6. What does your average writing day look like?
I have what I suspect is a very strange writing day. Through trying many different schedules, I have found that this is what works best for me.
My optimal writing time is between 6:00 p.m. or so and midnight. I work on answering emails and writing blog posts and social media marketing in the afternoon, and then I do my actual creative writing in the evening.
And I almost feel silly admitting where I do my writing…
I take my laptop off the desk in my office, and I carry it to the couch in the living room. The television is on low in the background, and our three senior dogs are asleep on the couch next to me or in their beds on the floor next to the couch.
I sit on the couch and I rest my laptop on the portable desk my husband got me, and that’s where I am at my most joyous and productive. Go figure!
7. If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Yikes, just one piece? Okay…this is tough…
I would have to say that the most important piece of advice I wish that I had gotten when I was starting out as an author is that it is vital to learn as much as you can about what makes writing memorable and enjoyable and successful before you send out your work to agents and publishers. Take classes that come highly recommended, read books about writing that come highly recommended, and read works in your favorite genre all the time … and while you’re reading those books that you love, pay special attention to what it is in the books that makes you love them, and then strive to put those qualities in your own work (and make sure that those qualities are expressed in your work in your own voice … no one else will have a writer’s voice quite like yours; embrace and celebrate that).
As a corollary to that, I have to add that it’s very important to elevate your work to its highest possible level before you send it out into the world. Find a group of writers whose work you admire and whom you trust as individuals. Send them your manuscript after you have made it the best you possibly can on your own, and ask them for their honest feedback. And then listen to their feedback and use it to make your manuscript even better.
I think I may have tried to sneak in more than one piece of advice under a big umbrella of advice about learning and elevating!
8. What is a great book you’ve read recently that you would recommend to others?
I have been binge-reading (I first saw that phrase on my publisher’s website, and I absolutely love it!) all of the Australian writer Liane Moriarty’s books, and I highly recommend them all. They are such page-turners, and they explore relationships in a way that I find entirely engaging and enlightening. Of her seven currently published novels, I might recommend Big Little Lies first, but you can’t go wrong with any of her work.
9. What is one thing about you your readers would be surprised to know?
That’s a great question! I’ve been thinking about my answer, and I keep coming up with things about me that are in the book, because Lala and I are so similar in so many ways.
My readers might be surprised to know that I’ve got a terrible fear of heights… If I’m riding an escalator that’s very steep, I have to concentrate on not freaking out. And on my honeymoon I couldn’t bring myself to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower! (I do plan to force myself to get up there next time my husband and I are in Paris…)
And I’m terrible with turbulence on a flight. I know, intellectually, that turbulence is no problem (a friend of mine has a brother who is a pilot, and he has assured me again and again that pilots know when there will be turbulence and that the plane is always safe), but I get so panicked when the plane is shaking. If I’m traveling alone, I’ve been known to turn to the stranger in the seat next to mine and say, “Excuse me, would you mind if I grasp your hand until it hurts and whimper into your shoulder?”
If you see me on your next flight, it might not be a good idea to sit next to me…
Oh, and I just got back from the gym after writing those paragraphs above, and I thought of another thing! It’s a bit of a confession…
I’m very old-fashioned in many aspects relating to books and to writing. For example, it drives me crazy that our gorgeous English language evolves. To me, evolving means that something that was once wrong is now considered acceptable because we got too lazy to correct ourselves.
Also, I am a champion of the Oxford comma, and I will entertain no opposing opinions about it…
I love the feeling of holding a book. But I was away from home for six weeks last summer, and I bought a Kindle… And now I absolutely ADORE my Kindle! I don’t think of it as something that should replace a book. NOTHING can ever replace books. But I really like a Kindle and a book as complementary venues for reading.
And here’s my shameful confession: A few years ago, and I’m still not sure why, I stopped reading for months at a time. That’s a terrible thing for a writer to do. I didn’t grow up in a family of readers. It was my second grade teacher, Miss Bonardi, who gave me the great and lifelong gift of a love of reading. I have been a voracious reader ever since then. Until that bizarre period of time when I suddenly and inexplicably stopped reading.
And I am here to say that my Kindle has proven to be a safety net against that ever happening again. I now have physical books and I have books on my Kindle and I am happy and grateful to say that I finish reading one book and immediately pick up another to begin reading. That, to me, is heavenly for a writer and a reader.
10. What are your plans for the future?
I’m currently working on the sequel to Lala’s first book, and I’m having a lot of fun with that. I’m planning to travel to promote Lala Pettibone’s Act Two, and I’m looking forward to doing readings and to visiting with book clubs around the country, in person and online.
I just got back from attending the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute in Minneapolis with my publisher, and I had such a great time meeting booksellers and writers, so I’m looking forward to attending more gatherings devoted to the joy of books.
And I’m looking forward to continuing my volunteer work to help animals. And to reading and savoring favorite authors and to discovering new authors that I love.
Lala Pettibone, a forty-something widow whose outrageous antics befit women half her age, has been imagining her sexy boss Gerard is as smitten with her as she is with him. Enter Gerard’s fabulous girlfriend from Paris.
After spending the rest of the day drinking wine straight from the bottle, Lala attends the monthly meeting of her Greenwich Village co-op, where the residents are informed that a toxic wasteland in the building’s basement requires everyone to pony up forty-grand by the end of the week.
Lala very reluctantly decides to sublet her apartment and make a bundle while visiting her Auntie Geraldine in Los Angeles. But good things come her way in sunny California, including inspiration to finish writing an uproarious novel based on her own ridiculous adventures.
Lala Pettibone’s Act Two is a wonderfully hilarious, second-coming-of-age-novel. Bridget Jones has absolutely nothing on Lala in the Late-Bloomer-With-Maybe-Lots-of-Potential-Department.
Heidi Mastrogiovanni is a dedicated animal welfare advocate who lives in Los Angeles with her musician husband and their three rescued senior dogs. She loves to read, hike, travel, and do a classic spit-take whenever something is really funny. Heidi is a graduate of Wesleyan University and was chosen as one of ScreenwritingU’s 15 Most Recommended Screenwriters of 2013.