This latest novel by Francine LaSala (Rita Hayworth’s Shoes) is a page turner and head spinner. I started reading The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything and foolishly thought I could figure out the journey that Mina Clark was on. Not so fast. As Bette Davis proclaimed in All about Eve, “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
Q. So, Ms. Wordsmith, you have just published your second novel, The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything. How does it feel? All of us novelist wannabes would like to know what to expect when we finally write our books and get them published. And please feel free to share the highs along with the lows. Some of us can take it.
It feels pretty freaking good actually. I highly recommend it, but roller coaster highs and lows for sure. Some days everything comes together. Some days nothing comes together. Some days you have all the time in the world and no inspiration (but you end up with loads of clean laundry!) and other days you’re overflowing with inspiration but you have no time. (I wrote one of the most poignant moments of GIRL waiting for my older daughter in the car at the bus stop, with the little one asleep in the back seat. By the time I was finished I was emotionally destroyed, crying my eyes out as I took my daughter off the bus. (Honestly, I have no idea why they released her to me.) Dorothy Parker once said: “I hate writing. I love having written.” And I really do revel in the accomplishment. Even weeks after I hand in a book, it’s still unwinding and swirling around in my brain. I suppose good reviews are highs! Bad reviews not so much. But it’s all part of the fun of putting yourself out there.
Q. How did you come up with the premise for The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything? When you start to work on a new book, do you work with an outline or do you let your cast of characters find their places in your story?
My books are always character driven. They all start with a bunch of people stalking me in my head (“I see head people!”), and then these people eventually start talking to each other. It’s pretty much what they start saying to each other that generally informs the story. Of course there is another side to it. I often launch from life, I suppose trying to make lemons into lemonade. Rita Hayworth’s Shoes was inspired by a long-forgotten broken heart and the eventual meeting of my husband, who was not at all who I had expected for me–and thank God for that! The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything was born in the trenches of what happens to freelancers when the economy sours (no one pays them!) but I suppose also how being a mother of young children makes you feel displaced and a little out of your mind. Any mother who says she’s never woken up in the morning and wondered how she got here or how did this become her life is lying. It’s a beautiful gift, and I have no regrets about it, but motherhood definitely makes you forget who you were–an unintentional layer to my book that just kind of wove itself into the fabric though.
Q. Can you give our readers a quick synopsis about your new book? I was trying to do that myself, but there is so much going on and so many people showing up that I would love to hear your take on The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything. Part of me is afraid of saying too much and I want them all to go through the maze I just went through.
Sure! This is the story of a woman who feels out of place in her suburban housewife life. Not helping the situation is a terrible case of amnesia sparked by an event most everyone believes is best she forget. In addition to feeling displaced, however, Mina feels out of control of her life. Everyone seems to steamroll her–from nasty creditors who call incessantly to her three-year-old daughter who terrorizes everyone and everything, to her husband who travels for business to her overly controlling Home Owner’s Association, and then some. When she ends up (unwittingly) with a gold crown after a visit to the dentist, though, everything changes. She makes a new friend, Char-a’tee Pryce, and a long-lost uncle pops back into her life. Suddenly she feels empowered to take back the reins. Except she’s also kind of crazy so everything may not actually be as it seems…
Q. Was it fun to take your protagonist, Mina Clark, and leave her without any memory? Have you ever experienced any form of amnesia?
My amnesia, yes. Please see above (motherhood = amnesia / mental illness / brain damage). Now Mina’s amnesia… Fun? Oh lord no. It was torturous and complicated. I do not recommend anyone write into their book a protagonist who has amnesia and is also on the brink of losing it completely. There are so many areas you have to keep intentionally gray. You have to be careful of what everyone says and does at all times. There isn’t a word or action in GIRL that isn’t completely deliberate. I’m sure there are still things that don’t quite add up…but hey, that’s what happened with LOST, right? And no one cared that everything didn’t all add up there…right? Right!? (Gulp.)
Q. You have created quite an eclectic group of characters and some come off as trustworthy and loyal, and yet on the next page, you begin to feel some fear for Mina because of their actions. Where did these people come from? I am always curious to see if they are family members or close friends that you are having issues with. And yes, putting them in your book would make for some colorful discussions around the Thanksgiving table this year. Can I be invited?
You are always invited to Thanksgiving at my house! But it will not be as colorful as the book. Really it depends on whether someone decides to spike the apple cider. So no, these aren’t really people in my life. Like most of my characters, I steal slivers of people I know and reconstitute them into characters (sounds pretty ghoulish, right?). So Alex speaks with a Russian accent, which I took from a friend who lives in my condo complex. Kooky Harriet is a harried, exaggerated frenzy of about six or seven mothers I know, including (especially!) me. Emma is the embodiment of naughty-and-nice things my own kids have done, and a very nice elderly woman actually does live across the path from me (but she’s ninety-three). I really did enjoy writing Char’a-tee. I have no idea where she comes from, but if I ever found her in my life, we’d surely be besties. Zander Randalls was also especially fun to create. I do hope readers enjoy my wacky cast as much as I enjoyed bringing them to life!
Q. And what does Mina have against mums? Not the English mothers, but the flowers.
I laughed the other night when you told me you hadn’t finished the book because you got more than halfway through and nearly went blind (my all-time favorite endorsement, BTW). Without giving anything away, consider the mums yet another symbol of Mina’s oppression (like any good “mum”!). They exist in her yard against her will. As her whole life pretty much feels like it happens against her will, the mums are sort of a manageable target.
Q. Now that you have two books published, which one is your favorite? Or is it the book yet to be written that gets you excited?
That’s like asking me who my favorite child is. Easy: the daughter! (Ha, well they’re both girls.) In all seriousness, I love them both equally but different. (How’s that for political?) RITA is so whimsical; GIRL is so kooky and dark… I could never choose one over the other. I actually wrote a blog post about this very thing. Can I share a link to it here? It was called Books Are Like Babies – Sort Of. (http://clippingsintheshed.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/books-are-like-babies-sort-of/)
Q. Last question – how will you celebrate when your new book The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything is out there for all to read? You deserve it and I need a couple of Advils because the ride had a lot of fast turns, but I really enjoyed it.
I hope to celebrate the publication by securing a HUGE film option! But, if that doesn’t come through… I think I may start listening to the new voices starting to whisper around in my head and start creating something for them to do. In any case, thanks so much, Elizabeth! I promise to get you a hardcopy soon so you can finish the book without risking blindness.
Buy Francine’s latest book, The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything: Amazon
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