Monday, December 17, 2012

An Interview and Review of The Floater with Author Sheryl Sorrentino

 
 

 

All 46-year-old Norma Reyes wanted was to shatter the glass ceiling and become a well-paid professional. Despite being raised in a poor, Puerto Rican household (the eldest daughter of an unfeeling mother and a lecherous father), Norma manages to put herself through law school in middle-age, confident that once she earns her law degree, she'll land a job at a top-tier law firm and be able to support her elderly mother while subsidizing her welfare-collecting, drug abusing younger sister, 22-year-old autistic nephew, and 19-year-old niece (herself the single-mother of two young children).  But after successfully completing a summer clerkship at one of New York City’s most prestigious firms, Norma’s plans for career advancement are derailed by The Great Recession. Rather than receive the glamorous, $160,000-per-year associate position she expected from Robertson, Levine and Shemke, Norma is instead offered a consolation prize as a floating secretary when the firm imposes a hiring freeze on new attorneys.  Norma is grateful to have landed any job in such a brutal economy, but gets a bitter taste of just how thankless and demeaning it is to be a “floater”: She’s shuffled from desk to desk; ordered around like a trained seal; and forced not only to order lunch for stuck-up attorneys half her age, but serve it to them as well. When Norma is reassigned to Jonathan Shemke, the firm’s managing partner, she hopes he’s summoned her to work as his law clerk (a position she held the previous summer). But even that modest ambition is squelched when it turns out Jon merely needed to replace his disgruntled secretary. Norma’s luck seemingly changes for the better when she meets Oscar, the copy room supervisor. Despite her misgivings about this African American divorcé—his unremarkable job, ex-wife and teenage daughters, Norma finds herself instantly drawn to him. But no sooner do they declare their feelings for one another than Oscar hands Norma a “smoking gun”: An incriminating, tell-all memo, authored by Jonathan, admitting to age and national origin discrimination in the firm’s decision not to hire Norma as a junior attorney. Despite this latest setback, Norma must find the inner strength she needs to battle the firm for her rights, while her increasingly intimate connection to Oscar forces her to face invisible scars left behind from her own troubled childhood.

About the Author

A practicing attorney by day,Sheryl Sorrentino is the author of two previous indie titles: Later With Myself: The Misadventures of Millie Moskowitz (a women’s fiction work that recounts a twelve-year-old girl’s devastating adolescent pregnancy), and An
Unexpected Exile (which takes readers on a relentless, romantic ride with Risa, a 29-year old Jewish fashion merchandiser, and Arturo, her charismatic Sandinista pursuer). She is a Goodreads Author and regular blogger
 
(http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5047869.Sheryl_Sorrentino/blog) who lives in the California Bay Area with her husband and daughter.
 
Visit Sheryl Sorrentino's website at www.sherylsorrentino.com, or her Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/sheryl.sorrentino. 
 
Sheryl Sorrentino
The Floater
 
How did you start out your writing career?
 
Although I first attempted as a teenager to write the story that would someday become Later With Myself: The Misadventures of Millie Moskowitz, I began writing my first novel in earnest in 2009, a few years after my father died. I always wanted to write and publish the story of my adolescent pregnancy (by a 24-year-old Black man when I was twelve) and its legal and psychological aftermath. But I’d I felt silenced and censored while my father was still alive. After he passed away in 2005, I learned a few things about his life—well-preserved secrets he took with him to the grave—that gave me the courage to finally tell my story.
 
What did you learn while writing this book?
 
I always do plenty of Internet research before putting forth ostensibly factual premises in my books, and my third novel, The Floater, is no exception. As a practicing solo attorney, I have long wondered why I encounter so few “minorities” at the big law firms I often deal with as opposing counsel. In doing research for The Floater, my suspicion was validated: Discrimination in the legal field is still a huge problem. This, in my opinion, is largely due to the many specious barriers to entry. For example, most large firms limit their recruitment efforts to Ivy League schools. Add to this the fact that there is still an “old (white) boys’ network” at play in the legal profession with regard to both hiring and mentoring, and it is no wonder so few minority attorneys get hired by big firms, much less climb the ladder to become partners.
 
In case readers are interested, here are some facts and statistics from the American Bar Association’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity, and the National Association for Legal Professionals:
 
        Legal employers' heavy reliance on the so-called "box credentials," such as law school rank, class rank, law review membership, and clerkships, disadvantage minority students in initial employment decisions, as well as in the distribution of opportunities for on-the-job training essential for advancement in the profession.
 
        Law firm attrition rates for minority women are higher than for any other group.
12.1 percent of minority women leave their firms within the first year of practice and over 75 percent leave within the first five years. Although women make up a growing percentage of minority lawyers (44 percent in 2000), minority women are almost completely excluded from top private sector jobs.
 
        Nationally, minority representation among partners is only 4.4 percent in the nation's largest 250 law firms. Since 1999, national minority representation among partners has increased only 0.7 percent.
        According to the NALP 2011-2012 Directory of Legal Employers, 29% of the offices/firms reported no minority partners, and 57% reported no minority women partners.  Both of these figures are higher at the largest firms. Likewise, over 17% of offices/firms have no minority associates.
Although The Floater is page-turning, multicultural legal fiction (replete with romance and intrigue), it also “outs” the legal profession for its woeful diversity track record.
 
 
What did you hope to accomplish with this book?
 
In writing The Floater, I wanted to capitalize on my legal background to craft a compelling, marketable story that would raise awareness about the stubborn racial imbalance in the legal profession, showcase my abilities as a fiction writer, and open doors for potential sales to clients and professional contacts. But on a more personal level, I wanted to introduce a female protagonist (title character, Norma Reyes) who successfully embarks on a mature, healthy relationship with a man despite her emotional roadblocks, while featuring a Black male character (Norma’s boyfriend and ally, Oscar Peterson, Jr.) who’s just a regular guy who is honest, outspoken, a bit rough around the edges, perhaps, but nonetheless caring, perceptive, and devoted to his family and the woman he loves. Black men take such a beating in the media (and in society); I wanted to use this opportunity to present a positive image of a Black male character who could capture women’s hearts. But ladies, take note: Oscar cannot be bothered with long courtships, games, or role-play masquerading as “romance.” He’s a straight-shooter who says what he thinks and feels, and will even let you know when he gets mad once in awhile. A woman’s got to be strong to hold her own with a man like Oscar Peterson.
 
 
What came first with this story, the characters or the plot? Why?
 
The characters definitely came first—the attorney characters in any case.  I initially conceived The Floater as a series of vignettes about a group of A-hole lawyers at a large law firm, whose common thread was a hapless rotating secretary assigned to work for each of them from week to week. Instead, I wound up writing a powerful story about a strong, Puerto Rican woman who’s facing employment discrimination during a down economy, but whose darkest hour is about to be upended by the love of a good man.
 
 
What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
 
Not to split hairs, but as a self-published author three times over, I still don’t really consider myself “published.” Anyone can do what I did; there are no barriers to entry into the self-publishing world.
 
That said, probably what surprised me most is how difficult it is to get noticed and sell books. With the advent of self-publishing, anyone can bring a book to market with very little effort. As a result, many—if not most—self-published books are insufficiently or not at all edited, and simply not market-ready. Yet hundreds—if not thousands—of these sloppy offerings glut the marketplace and turn readers off to self-published authors as a group.
 
I came into the self-publishing arena a year-and-a-half ago pie-eyed and innocent. I thought I would be one of the lucky few whose books would stand out from the crowd and magically take off like wildfire. In reality, I’m still trying to ignite the spark. Measuring the ratio of effort to results, selling books has been the most difficult and frustrating undertaking I’ve ever attempted—even harder than putting myself through college and law school. I don’t believe this is due to any lack of talent or professionalism on my part; it is simply the reality of tossing my titles into an already oversaturated self-publisher’s market that’s experiencing extreme growing pains alongside a more traditional publishing industry that’s hanging on for dear life.
 
 
What aspect of writing do you love the best, and which do you hate the most?
 
As I intimated in my response to the last question, I hate the marketing, hands down. Don’t get me wrong—I love interacting with readers. What I hate is having to hawk myself on Facebook and Twitter with postings that practically shout, “Look at me! Over here! Please, please, look at me!” I am just not comfortable begging for attention like a schoolyard kid trying to get picked for a softball lineup. I realize we’re all doing the same thing—jumping up and down flailing our arms, too busy to notice that no one actually gets chosen. And yet, online postings are de rigueur for anyone trying to make it as an author, and they have led me to some valuable connections with bloggers and reviewers—Read It All Book Reviews among them! So marketing is a price I willingly pay to nudge my books onto readers’ laps.
 
My favorite part of writing is the slow-simmer of editing my work once I’ve gotten the basic story down. After about three or four rounds of editing, the ideas start ricocheting around in my brain like popcorn. This can be rather unsettling if I am trying to cook dinner or concentrate on my “day job.” But when I can luxuriate in front of the computer and indulge my passion, I feel like a painter adding stroke after colorful stroke to my canvas. When I see my baby coming alive—thriving and gaining color with every new scene and turn of phrase, inspiration floods my entire being and flows straight onto the page. I love playing with words, really feeling and smelling them. I love fine-tuning my language so it sounds crisp and tight. This is what I love doing most, and where I truly shine. To borrow the term coined by Ken Robinson (author of The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything), this is my element, and I can sit for hours losing all sense of time pleasurably immersed in it.
 
 
How do you conquer writers block?
 
I never really experience what I’d consider “writer’s block,” maybe because I have so little time to write. I am a full-time attorney and mom, so my only writing time is between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. each day. I’ve got to make every second count! True, with all three of my manuscripts (and now a fourth in its embryonic stage), there came a period after completing the first few chapters when I thought my story was stupid and I lost interest for awhile. But after a few months' gestation, I always get back into it and the words begin to flow again.  
 
I think some people get "writer's block" at this early stage because they try to do more than simply get a first draft down on paper. Finishing a manuscript is only the beginning; the real work comes later, with endless rounds of editing. (With that, if you are patient and willing to really work toward excellence, you will see a kind of beauty emerge as your novel takes shape.) But too many people get bogged down trying to produce a perfect first draft—they get sidetracked by the polishing before they’ve even done the prep work.
 
 
What books are on your to read list?
 
I’ve currently got 81 books on my “to-read” list. At the moment, I am reading (and loving) The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. I just finished (and likewise loved) The Meaning of Consuelo by Judith Ortiz Coffer and Gold by Chris Cleave.
 
Next in line: The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; The Butterfly Garden: Surviving Childhood on the Run with One of America’s Most Wanted by Chip St. Clair; and The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.
 
Has having a writing career always been your dream?
 
No. I didn’t choose a career as a writer; after nearly 25 years practicing law, I was simply overtaken by a desire to express myself more authentically by writing in a different way. I have no formal training as an author, unless you consider all those years spent drafting legal documents to constitute a “writing background.” In my line of work, the placement of a comma or the nuance of a single word can sink or save a client. And so the practice of law has given me a healthy respect for the power of the written word, and an awe for verbal creativity and clarity.  I yearn to write full-time, but with a family to support, I see little chance (short of a miracle) of that happening any time soon.
 
Can you give us one do and one don’t for those aspiring to be a writer?
 
Do get the best editing help you can afford. Then watch what he or she does, and learn from it. Toward that end, invest in a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style and check out “Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing” (http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/).   
 
Don’t go into this business expecting superstardom, much less to be able to earn a living at it. I don’t mean to sound negative or squelch anyone’s dreams, but the reality is that truly successful authors are few and far between (and extremely lucky). If you start out with your expectations realistic and well-placed, you won’t be disappointed or discouraged while you’re stuck in traffic on this impossibly slow, overcrowded road we’re all on (and you will genuinely appreciate whenever you make an inch of progress).
 
My advice to anyone starting out in this business is to keep (or get) a stable day job so you can pay your bills and budget a bit of money for marketing. Plan on spending more to promote your books than you will ever see from sales for a long while. Concentrate on becoming the best writer you can be, and when you are sure your work is ready for prime-time, focus on getting it read and recommended by the right people—bloggers, reviewers, media types, and anyone else with influence and connections.
 
 
What is your writing process? How do you feed your writing muse?
 
I don’t map out my manuscripts chapter-by-chapter like many writers do; I prefer to let the story unfold as I go. I'm usually only a scene or two ahead in my mind. For some, outlining the entire book beforehand is critical. For me, it stifles the natural evolution of my project. Once I’ve got the basic story structure in place, the editing process begins—endless rounds of fertile fine-tuning that I find immensely enjoyable.
 
I don’t need much of anything to feed the muse; if you live life with your eyes open, topics for story plots and blogs abound in everyday life. I’ve had so many interesting experiences in my 50+ years on earth, and have so much to say about them, I think rather than feed my writing muse, I need to put her on a diet!
 
 
Within the next five years what stage do you expect to be in your career?
 
Which one—my legal career, or my writing career? (LOL.) I’d like nothing better than to retire from the law in five years and earn millions from my writing. But a more realistic—if still lofty—goal would be to have a decent following of about 5,000 to 10,000 loyal readers; have received positive acclaim by “respectable” sources like The Midwest Book Review or Publisher’s Weekly; see steady sales each month; and have garnered some notice by mainstream media. Will any or all of this happen? Only time will tell.
 
When you're not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
 
Between my “real” career, my physical fitness regimen, and my home and family, I have no spare time. As a full-time lawyer and mother of a twelve-year-old, it has been challenging to incorporate my newfound “calling” into my life, so my only two “hobbies” are fiction writing and reading/reviewing. I no longer have time for the other hobbies I used to enjoy, which at one time or another included crocheting, crossword puzzles, ice skating, singing, and salsa dancing.
 
What do you do to interact with your readers?
 
Mainly, I “friend” and message my readers on Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter. Aside from that, I love talking face-to-face about my books and my journey as a writer (and am “off and running” whenever an opening presents itself). And I love appearing at book clubs, signings and readings in my area.  Booksellers, bloggers, and bookworms should feel free email me at sherylsorrentino@sbcglobal.net about anything and everything.
 
 
Can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?
 
My fourth novel-in-progress is called Stage Daughter. It’s about a frustrated single mom who never realized her dream of becoming an actress, and so is pressuring her middle-school-aged daughter to follow in her unfulfilled footsteps. Like my first three books, Stage Daughter will be multicultural fiction, this time featuring a possibly mixed-race protagonist named Rhonda, and a Middle Eastern man (the absentee, biological father of Rhonda’s daughter, Razia) who is coping with an unhappy arranged marriage.
 
How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)
 
        Learn more about me by visiting my website at http://.sherylsorrentino.com.
 
        “Friend” Sheryl Sorrentino on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/sheryl.sorrentino. 
 
Follow Sheryl Sorrentino on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SherylSorrentin.
 
Sign up to receive notice of my weekly blog posts on Goodreads:  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5047869.Sheryl_Sorrentino/blog. Feel free to leave a comment!
 
 
Rating 5 Stars
 
What makes an average novel great? For me the novel has to do three things: be authentic, powerful and vibrant, and a well developed plot. The Floater does just that. Norma Reyes is middle aged and working hard to make more than a difference in society. Just like the rest of us Norma is faced with more than a few obstacles and hurdles to overcome. You'll find yourself cheering, laughing, and at times even crying as the Norma becomes a classic modern day character like so many of us.  Sorrentino is a smart and edgy writer that knows how to evoke emotions from readers. With a well developed plot, enigmatic characters, and strong message I guarantee you'll love the Floater just as much as I did.