Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of five novels: The Joke’s on Me, Drawing Breath, Don’t Tell Anyone, Sliding Past Vertical, and Playing Charlie Cool. When not hanging out with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she enjoys baseball, cooking, reading, and helping aspiring novelists as a contributing writer and editor for IndiesUnlimited.com. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley.
Hello, Laurie! Thank you for chatting with me today about your B.R.A.G. Medallion book, Don’t Tell Anyone. First tell me about how you discovered indieBRAG and what has your experience been like with self-publishing.
Hi, Stephanie! I’m grateful to be aboard today and so excited that Don’t Tell Anyone is an indieBRAG honoree. I discovered indieBRAG when my friend and fellow Indies Unlimited contributor Martin Crosbie had his first novel, My Temporary Life, selected. Since I kind of stalk him and do everything that he does (kidding!) I decided to submit one of my books. Then I had the pleasure of meeting the founders of indieBRAG at the Self-Publishing Book Expo in New York. They gave a terrific presentation about what readers respond to when choosing a book. It really stuck with me. Writing fiction is fulfilling and wonderful work, but finding a connection with readers makes all those hours in my little room worthwhile. As a self-published author, I get to see that on the front lines. I like the control self-publishing offers me: the topics I write about, the publishing platforms. If I’m not reaching readers, I am free to try something new: change my pricing, find a new category, or a new place where readers can stumble across my work. The ground is constantly shifting. It’s a challenge, but it’s also energizing to learn new things, connect with other supportive authors, and discover something that works.
Please tell me about your book.
In Don’t Tell Anyone, a family already steeped in sibling rivalry and old grudges is thrown another curve: their matriarch, Estelle Trager, has a terminal illness. If not for its accidental discovery, she would have taken the secret to her grave. Now her two sons and her daughter-in-law are scrambling to do what they think is best for Estelle, even though it’s sometimes not what she wants. Can they keep their own lives together long enough to help Estelle with hers?
Could you please share an excerpt from your story?
Happy to! This comes toward the beginning of the book: Estelle had found the first lump by accident on the morning of Adam’s wedding.
The night before, Charlie had given her a pill and she’d overslept. She’d rushed through her makeup, painting on eyebrows and coloring her cheeks. She’d been zipping herself into her dress, but it didn’t sit right in the bosom. As she slipped it this way and that and adjusted her bra, she felt something hard and uneven in her right breast, like the end of a chicken bone. She thought about all those medical shows, the books she’d read, and the women she’d known who’d gone through such things. They compared the size of their tumors to food: a pea, an orange, a grapefruit. This lump was nothing that familiar and nothing that round. This was like a knuckle, a dagger, a hand grenade. She sat on the edge of the bed and smoked three cigarettes in a row. The phone rang twice and each time she just sat on her damask spread and smoked.
The first time the answering machine picked up, the caller didn’t leave a message. That was Adam. Adam didn’t leave messages.
The second time it was Charlie. “Hi, Mom. Just seeing when you want me to pick you up.”
This is meshugge, she thought. People do this every day. People got married. Other people dressed up and traveled for hours to see the bride and groom recite their vows and step on the wine glass. They ate fancy food and slipped checks into the groom’s pockets. They smiled, wished them well, gossiped about the in-laws, and debated the couple’s chances in the car on the way home.
Estelle didn’t know about that Liza. There was something wrong with the way she was raised by her father, like a boy. Adam needed a woman. But she seemed like a smart girl, a practical girl. Estelle hoped to God Liza was smart enough to figure out how to make the marriage work. The phone rang again.
If she didn’t answer, the boys would think something was wrong and rush over. She couldn’t tell them, not on Adam’s wedding day. Whatever her opinions about Liza, Adam seemed happy. She wouldn’t make this the day he found out the time bomb went off. It was Charlie, asking how she’d slept. Fine.
She’d slept fine. “Your father,” she said, “may he rest in peace, he couldn’t drop dead on the golf course like everybody else? He couldn’t go quietly in his sleep? No, he had to have a massive coronary in the middle of synagogue on Yom Kippur and make the newspapers and scar the entire community for life.”
“I’m sure he didn’t do it on purpose, Mom. Although if you have to go, it might as well be memorable.”
“Adam could have gotten married anywhere. A catering hall. Or that beautiful park on the river. But no, he had to pick Temple Beth Make-the-rest-of-your-mother’s-hair-fall-out.”
“You need more Valium?”
Estelle lit another cigarette. “Bring the bottle.”
Fantastic! Looking forward to reading your story! What was Estelle’s childhood like and does this in any way affect the decisions she makes in adulthood?
Estelle Trager was raised in a conservative Jewish household in New York in the 1940s. Growing up on the back end of the Great Depression and a war that required many sacrifices, most children were taught to be grateful for what they had and to shut up about it. A common refrain (this is what I hear from my family, at least) was that it always could be worse, and that children were starving in Israel, so consider yourself lucky. Parents sometimes spoke Yiddish in the house when they didn’t want the children to understand what they were saying. The expectation for most girls in that subculture was, upon graduating from high school, marriage and babies would quickly follow, and that would become the focus of your life. Essentially Estelle is taught to never put herself first. This is one of the reasons she chooses to conceal her breast cancer as an adult: She doesn’t want anyone to fuss on her account. She’d also watched her grandmother and her mother die from the disease, in a time when treatment was like taking an atom bomb to an ant, and she doesn’t want to put her own children through the same pain she suffered.
What was Estelle’s young married life in New York’s outer boroughs in the 1950s and 1960s like? And why did you choose the New York boroughs as the setting for those periods.
Because of my family history, it was a setting that was almost mythical in my eyes. It seemed natural to put Estelle in an apartment in the Bronx. She lived near her parents and in-laws; everything she needed was in the neighborhood. It seemed to me a crystalline bit of time, before families began moving out of the city into suburbs and relative isolation. Her husband had a blue-collar job, didn’t make enough money, spent too much time playing cards with his friends, and was not around much for the boys. But Estelle had been taught to make do, to put up with it (at least in public), because according to her upbringing, that’s the bargain you make when you get married.
Please tell me a little about her children.
Adam, a stockbroker, is her first-born. In Estelle’s tradition, the first-born son often gets more attention. This ground to a halt when Adam was five, because Estelle got pregnant with Charlie, her second son, and Estelle’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Nearly every afternoon, Estelle would leave Adam with a sitter and go cook for her parents. Charlie was Estelle’s sunny salvation, her miracle baby who brightened her mother’s days and Estelle’s own grief. Adam grew from a sulky child to a quick-tempered and petulant man while Charlie, now a television producer, was and continues to be her golden boy. Even Adam’s wife likes Charlie better sometimes. Estelle struggles with the guilt that she does not love her two sons equally. As adults, the sibling rivalry between Adam and Charlie is an undercurrent that gets stronger in Estelle’s presence and comes to a head when she becomes ill.
If there is any message in this story for a reader to grasp, what would it be?
I don’t like to start writing with a message in mind. But I did want to explore why Estelle chose to conceal her condition from her family. That led to themes about personal choice in treatment and end-of-life decisions. And the effects those choices have on all members of a family.
How long did it take for you to write your story and were there any challenges?
I wrote the first draft in a month as a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) project, although the story had been burning inside me for a while. Subsequent drafts took longer, because I wanted to get the medical details right and flesh out the characters and their motivations and conflicts. My biggest challenge came as I was wrapping up the final proofread—the marketing. I had a mini panic attack: How do I position a novel about cancer in a world of inspirational memoirs of cancer journeys? Who will read this? After a lot of deep breathing and some good advice, I focused on the family. That first and foremost this is a family story, something a lot of people can connect to, rather than “a story about cancer.”
What genre does this story fall under and what do you like most about writing in the genre?
It usually falls under contemporary fiction or women’s fiction. I love writing contemporary because today’s problems are so complex, and we’re trying to do our best with what we have. I like to see how other people handle difficult situations. Maybe they’ll do a better job than I have with some of them.
What are some of the things readers have said about your book?
I’ve heard from several readers who appreciate the compassion and humor the characters have lent to the story. Some readers are either survivors themselves or have lost loved ones to cancer and they can relate to the perspectives from all sides. Some like the fact that I’m addressing “the elephant in the room” as one reader put it, that we’re opening up the discussion about end-of-life decisions. Several have called it a page-turner and could not put it down once they started reading. And many of them adored Charlie so much that I gave him two books of his own.
How much time do you spend a week writing and do you work with an outline?
Writing time varies, but averages five to ten hours a week. I just finished a year of experimenting with a modified type of outline, and in the end, it began to weigh on me. I may go back to some hybrid of that at some point, but for my own work right now, I prefer to sink into the characters and find the story organically.
As a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer, what advice would you give to writers who are about to self-publish their work?
Above everything, I’d suggest they focus on quality. Put out as a good a product as you can. That means a professional-looking cover, polished writing that has gone through as many drafts as it needs, attention to editing and proofreading, appropriate formatting for e-book and print, and a compelling description. You do not have to do this alone. Even though it’s “self-publishing,” you can still gather a support team that can help you in many ways, from getting a fresh pair of eyes on your writing to asking if your cover design speaks to the readers you want, as well as what marketing and promotion venues have worked for other authors. We’re all out there; just ask us.
Where can readers buy your book?
Don’t Tell Anyone is available from most major online retailers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, and Smashwords. Amazon
Thank you, Laurie! It has been a pleasure chatting with you! Thank you, Stephanie! It’s been fun, and thank you for your support and work with indieBRAG.
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Laurie Boris, who is the author of, Don’t Tell Anyone, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Don’t Tell Anyone, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.