Shelly Bell is an up and coming author of ‘A Year to Remember’, a brilliant story following a woman through the ups and downs of finding a mate, exploring and testing friendships, and dealing with an eating disorder at the same time. It is an inspiring read, and we have the author with us today to talk a bit more about her book. Welcome, Shelly!
So first of all, what inspired you to write “A Year to Remember”?
I don’t want to sound like a religious nut, but I believe my Higher Power wanted me to write it. I was working on another book when the idea for A Year to Remember downloaded in my head as my family and I drove to the movie theater. And that’s what happened. The scenes, main character names, title, came to me at once like a downloaded movie. I skipped the film and wrote the outline in the lobby. Three months later, I had a completed manuscript.
When I was turning thirty, I decided I needed to do anything and everything to find a husband. My friends and I used all the techniques Sara used to find a husband. I used to say our dates were so bad, I should write a book about them and eight years later I did.
Wow – your story writing came together so well! Would you tell us a bit more about your protagonist in the novel, Sara Friedman then? What gives her drive and determination?
I’d say at the beginning, Sara doesn’t have much drive. She’s sitting on the sidelines, waiting for her life to begin. Her vow to meet and marry her soul mate within the year propels her to change. She wants happiness and she thinks she’ll find it if she gets married. Her inner worth is tied into her success in finding a man to marry within the year. What she doesn’t realize is that loving someone doesn’t necessarily make him your soul mate and marriage isn’t necessarily the way to happiness.
While I think she cares for her best friend, Missy, she’s allowing her to make all her decisions for her. That’s where she gets her drive and determination in the first part of the book. They have a co-dependent relationship and Missy is a natural caretaker.
Through her evolution, Sara gains the drive to be a better friend, better psychologist, better sister, better daughter, and better girlfriend. I think she’s much more likeable at the end of the book because she’s no longer self-absorbed.
I just love books where the characters grow deeply and make changes for the better. Your story also has many Jewish events and references. How does Judaism have a special significance to the character and her family and friends in this novel?
Judaism isn’t just a religion; it’s a culture, too, and that culture affects Sara in ways she never imagined. From the pressure to get married, to her weight, to her Jewish holiday dinners, Judaism is a huge part of Sara’s life, but she’s only aware of it in terms that she’s expected to try and marry Jewish and that she’s supposed to attend services on the high holidays. Still, she’s missing that spiritual component, which she inevitably comes to find. When she dates Caleb, who’s Catholic, it’s a wakeup call for her. Until then, she’d never realized how much her religion factored into her daily life.
And it’s something that many stories don’t tend to include, as well as more difficult issues. Why then did you decide to have the main character tackle an eating disorder in the book?
I am a recovering compulsive overeater and I’ve met hundreds of women and men who struggle every day with it. I was tired of reading books where the protagonist lost weight, got a boyfriend, and lived happily-ever-after. It doesn’t work that way for a lot of people. Yes, some people just need to use their willpower and stop eating Twinkies, but many of us can’t stop. I equate it with alcohol. While some people are heavy drinkers, they can quit whenever they want. Others can’t stop no matter how hard they try because they’re alcoholics. The Twelve Step programs have given many alcoholics a different way to live. They also have Twelve Step programs for food addicts. As I say in the book, it’s not a diet and it’s not about losing (or gaining, for some) weight. Weight is merely a symptom of a disorder, and while you can bandage the symptom temporarily, the disorder itself needs to be addressed.
In the book, Sara is forced to take a hard look at her life and admit she’s an addict. Her behaviors and attitudes, including the jealousy she feels towards her brother, is part of her addiction. Once she starts working the Twelve Steps, she’s able to access her true feelings and make tough decisions which she couldn’t have previously made for herself.
Thank you for so candidly sharing these experiences. I always find that I connect to women’s fiction because the events, scenarios or characters are relatable to my life. What about you? Let’s do a little fill in the blanks. “To me, women’s fiction is ______ and ______ because _______”.
“To me, women’s fiction is inspirational and empowering because it’s about real issues which women face”. When I read women’s fiction, I expect to learn something about myself and I try to write it with that in mind. What lesson can my reader walk away with when she finishes the book?
What lessons indeed! Will your book be available in print? If so when and where can it be purchased?
The book will be available July 20, 2012 through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Soul Mate Publishing.
Very cool! Additionally, are you doing any upcoming book signings?
I’m signing at the Romance Writers of American Literacy Signing on Wednesday, July 25th in Anaheim, California at the Anaheim Convention Center from 5-8pm.
Readers, if you are in the Anaheim area on July 25, check out Shelly’s signing! I’ve heard that you are part of the Jewish Book Network. Can you tell us a bit more about that and what it involves?
It’s a service provided by the Jewish Book Council which organizes tours for more than two-hundred authors each year. I’m hoping to have the opportunity to tour North America, attending Jewish book fairs, festivals, and programs, to speak about our society’s preoccupation with food and weight and how we can change it. At the same time, I’ll be promoting my book and selling copies of it.
For those readers who can’t get to your signing or meet with you during the book network, do you have upcoming book club chats? How can a book club request a session with you?
I am meeting with a couple of local book clubs to discuss the book, as well as doing some online chats through the Jewish Book Network. I’d love to do a book club chat, either through something like Google Plus, where we can actually see each other, or through a chat room. Just send me an email.
Excellent! I hope book clubs across the country take advantage. Now your main character in A Year to Remember, Sara Friedman, gives an embarrassing speech at her brother’s wedding. Have you ever heard a ‘slip of the tongue’ speech at a wedding (or any other event)?
Like Sara’s, my younger brother got married before me. At the rehearsal dinner, I gave a speech and I’d meant to say I wasn’t jealous, but I had a Freudian slip and revealed the truth; I was jealous. Everyone laughed and I tried to pretend it didn’t bother me, but it was very embarrassing. It stayed with me for a long time. I feel like this book put it to rest for me.
There seems to be moments like that at every wedding; I’m sure you are not the only one! In terms of other authors, what were your favorite books growing up?
I started reading at three years old and I’ve been an avid reader ever since. In elementary school, I enjoyed the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and Nancy Drew. I started reading romance in middle school. At first, it was Sweet Valley High, young adult category contemporary, and young adult category paranormal romance, but I graduated to adult romance pretty early. In law school, I’d spend my Sundays studying for eight hours then I’d pick up a book for fun.
Oh, we definitely had similar tastes in books as kids! Can we get a taste of what is to come from you in the future?
I’ve finished my first paranormal romance about a guardian angel and a vigilante. I’m hoping to find a home for it this year and I anticipate it will be a seven book series. I’m also starting the first book in a planned women’s fiction trilogy. I’m very excited about both series.
I’m working on Missy’s story (Sara’s best friend) and I’d like to post it for free on my website. It would be a few scenes that will fill in the blanks about the time she and Sara spent apart and will also contain a couple of scenes from A Year to Remember, but from Missy’s point of view. I like the idea that two people can walk away from the same conversation with two entirely different views on what happened.
I’ll be on the lookout in the future for these stories! Now if you were marooned on an island, what 5 things would you bring with you?
My computer, a solar charger, a satellite Wi-Fi connection, and my husband to get it all working! Oh, and my kids!
It definitely seems you like to be connected to the world – at least your online book club chats would go on if you were ever stuck on an island. Shelly, is there anything else that you’d like to mention?
I wrote A Year to Remember so that food addicts could learn that there’s another way to live and help is available. For more information about compulsive overeating, visit www.oa.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also email me through my website, at www.shellybellbooks.com.
Thank you so much for your time; it was great learning more about you and your release. Readers, pick up a copy of ‘A Year to Remember’ today!