Monday, February 23, 2015

Naomi Elana Zener talks about Deathbed Dimes, being a slave to the Muse, Satirical Mama, and so much more

Naomi Elana Zener writes satire and fiction on her hilarious blog, Satirical Mama  Her vociferous blogging has been read and appreciated by industry bigwigs such as Giller Prize winner Dr. Vincent Lam and New York Times best-selling author and journalist Paula Froelich. Now, she has her debut novel out, Deathbed Dimes, about greed, litigation, love, and so much more. Thanks fo rbeing here, Naomi!

 I always want to know what sparked the writing of a book. What sparked yours?

The initial spark was that it was a bucket list item. Also, I wanted to write a novel about the massive intergenerational wealth transfer that is set to befall the Gen Xers as the Baby Boomers pass on that will inevitably result in an upswing in estate litigation battles. Greed permeates life and becomes worse when the Grim Reaper comes to visit. I studied Estates law both in law school and during my Master of Laws, and I was fascinated by the truth being stranger than fiction aspects of the lengths people will go to in order to get their piece of the estate pie. I highly recommend that people read estate litigation cases, which span a huge range of examples of how people will fight over money, no matter how much or how little is at stake.

As I developed the idea, I was inspired to address the inequities and misogyny women lawyers face trying to climb the partnership ladder (or, the stairs to the c-suite if practising law in-house), the struggle women endure to strive for work-life balance when working in a male dominated profession—the concept of having it all: love, marriage, and the corner office with a compensation package to match those of men, and guardianship issues children are forced to contend with as their parents age and lose their capacity to manage both their personal and financial affairs. People are fascinated by greed, wealth, and celebrity, so knowing this, I made Hollywood the backdrop for my satirical story.

What kind of writer are you? Do you outline or just wait for that pesky Muse?

I most certainly outline, but I’m also a slave to the Muse. My Muse is a fickle lover in that it doesn’t always strike at the most convenient times. I can be hit by inspiration when I’m driving (and we never text ourselves or take notes while behind the wheel while sitting at a red light), in the midst of a family frenzied moment, or possibly even in the middle of a fight with the husband—can you imagine me telling mine: “Excuse me, but we have to take a time out so I can make some notes (inspired by this argument) for my work in progress. Hold that ‘go f*#k yourself” for an hour, ok?” Needless to say, it’s far more convenient when my Muse waits patiently for me to be ready to write.

I imagine your background as an entertainment lawyer gave you lots of material. Did you have to do any additional research, and if so, what?

I did a ton of legal research for this book. My novel is a Helen Fielding-meets-John Grisham mash up commercial story. Regarding the entertainment/Hollywood aspects, they came from a few parts research and a few parts personal experiences.
The legal procedural aspects of the story involves a major lawsuit over a billion dollar estate that highlights how people will go to battle for other people’s money. There are also a few subplots involving parental incapacity and guardianship issues. I poured over cases I’d studied in law school and matters I’d read about in the paper. Everything in my book is fictional, but the legal matters are a composite of cases that have actually transpired. Truth is stranger than fiction, especially in the arena of estate litigation, which made it easy for me to write a story about it.

A lot of readers have commented on the depth of your characters (to me, character is king.) How do you go about building a character?

Character is king! Or, queen since I have many strong female characters in my novel. Any character will be boring unless they’re real. They can be over the top or as quiet as a church mouse. You can love them, hate them, want to kill them, or want to marry them (as I did in the case of Luke Brandon in Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic books), but unless there is a sense of reality, the characters won’t be able to carry the story. And, a story is only as good as the characters who tell it for you. What makes them real for me as a writer is if they hold a trait, likeable or not, in common with someone I know.

The manner in which I build every character I write is to include a little piece of myself, or someone I know, in their overall personality. Sometimes they’re caricatures of people I know, or at the very least they share traits with people I know. I live my life by the motto “I’m not mean. I’m just honest!” so it’s typical of my personality and writing style to use what I think of others to build characters based upon my honest observations of them. I joke that I have a superpower: I can make anyone immortal. Be nice, or piss me off, and you can live forever in my fiction.

What surprised you in writing this book?

That I could in fact write a novel. It was a bucket list item, and I didn’t know if I could accomplish it. I had no problem with the research or creating characters—I’ve always had a fertile imagination, or so my teachers advised my parents on my report cards—but I had no idea if I could weave my ideas together to create a compelling and entertaining read. A read that people would relish from cover to cover, laughing out loud in between.

You write the blog Satirical Mama--how do you also have time to write?

Thank you for asking about my satirical short fiction blog, I started it in 2012 after I discovered that I had a bemused, often snarky, possibly wannabe Joan Rivers-esque little writer living in my brain—one that exploded and required an outlet. I’d begun to view the world so differently, and like great writers before me and my contemporary peers, all of whom I respect and admire greatly, I started to write satire in the grand tradition of calling out hypocrisy and injustice as I saw it unfolding. One of my earliest pieces was a comment on an Orthodox Jewish rabbinical decree (and I’m Jewish) that held if women couldn’t get pregnant and refused to give their husbands a get—a religious divorce—then the husband could legally have a “kosher concubine.” There was no quid pro quo for women in this decree. So, when the shoe was on the other foot orthodox Jewish women buttercups saddled with an impotent, sterile husband simply had to suck it up. As a feminist and Jewish woman, this enraged me. So, Kosher Pickles was born: a story about a speed-dating agency for Orthodox Jewish women in search of a kosher ‘mancubine’ to help them get pregnant.  Most recently, after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and the news that Oxford University Press had allegedly advised its authors not to write about or depict pigs in their stories, so as not to offend Muslim and Jewish readers and to ensure that those books would have a wide audience, I wrote #JeSuisCochon, which was my take on the importance of upholding freedom of speech.

As for finding time to write for my blog, and work on my novels, I find time whenever I can steal it. I have a family and I’m a practising entertainment attorney, so I don’t have a lot of spare time. I have little to no desire to ferret time away from my domestic life, but once the house is quiet and everyone is asleep who needs to be, is usually the best time for me to write. But, if the mood strikes me when I’m riding shotgun in the car driven by my husband, or waiting at the doctor’s office, or sneaking off for a visit to the lavatory, I do my best to jot down notes so my aging brain doesn’t forget them when the time is right to write a new piece. Blame the Muse.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

I’m absolutely in love with the characters in my new novel, Platinum Palms, a group of wonderful geriatric women raising a baby in secret in a luxurious retirement community. I’m enthralled by their lives and escapades, and they are keeping me up at night. I need to find a new agent to represent both it and all of my work, so that too is keeping me busy.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

Who do I want to play the characters in Deathbed Dimes, in either its movie or TV series adaptation?

Given the dearth of great stories and roles for women, I think Deathbed Dimes is ripe for adaptation for either the silver or small screen. I play around with ideas of actresses and actors for each role for the day when Hollywood comes calling. I could see anyone from Kat Dennings or Mila Kunis bringing Joely to life, with Bernadette Peters or Megan Mullally making an excelling Sylvia. I’m still toying with ideas for Coco, Joely’s best friend. Stephen Amell or Chris Evans would be great for the role of Chip, whereas Sam Worthington is my frontrunner for Ethan. To me, Armand is Jeff Goldblum and Antonia is Gina Gershon. As for Blake, I really envision a Robert Downey Jr.-type in the role. And, for Janice, Tracey Ulman would be perfect. This is a living, breathing list that changes often, so don’t hold me to any of my current casting choices—who knows what I’ll be thinking if and when I get the call (fingers crossed) that Deathbed Dimes will become a TV series or feature film.

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