Tuesday, October 1, 2013

One on One with Author Sheryl Sorrentino of Stage Daughter

Every unmarried woman fears unwanted pregnancy (just as every married man dreads discovering he fathered an unknown child). Sonya Schoenberg dreamed of someday becoming a famous actress—until a hapless, one-time tryst with a Muslim man landed her the lifetime role of single mother.

Sonya tries to keep her dream alive by enrolling her “stage daughter,” Razia, in a competitive performing arts school. But Raz prefers drawing to drama and has no problem defying her mom to get what she wants. While Sonya struggles to keep a tenuous hold over rebellious Raz, the precocious pre-teen stubbornly sets her sights on locating her biological father and transforming this “sperm donor” into a doting dad. Meanwhile, Aziz (the father of two in an arranged marriage) follows a script all his own trying to convert his newfound daughter to Islam

A daughter's determination, a mother's mistrust, and a father's faith collide in this witty and powerful story of healing, forgiveness, and family. 

Introduce yourself.

My literary pseudonym is Sheryl Sorrentino. I am a full-time real estate lawyer by day and author of “Real Fiction for Real Women”™ under cover of darkness. I write and self-publish culturally-inclusive women’s fiction that deals with socially-significant issues and struggles affecting authentic, real-world characters. 

I have written four novels (all available in paperback and Kindle format through Amazon and other online booksellers): 

Later with Myself: The Misadventures of Millie Moskowitz, the story of twelve-year-old Millie Moskowitz and her dysfunctional family. Raised by a depressed, ineffectual mother and a tyrannical, racist father, she becomes pregnant by a grown man twice her age in a misguided search for love and attention; 

An Unexpected Exile, a romantic romp that exposes the subtleties of domestic abuse when a 29-year old conservative fashion merchandiser (Risa Weinberg) becomes unexpectedly smitten with a charismatic Nicaraguan immigrant (who also happens to be a fervent Sandinista insurgent); 

The Floater, an eye-opening tale about a 46-year-old Puerto Rican career-climber (Norma Reyes) whose hard-won law degree lands her in a den of employment discrimination and professional betrayal; and 

Stage Daughter, a page-turning exposé of single-motherhood, blended families, and religious intolerance told in the alternating voices of a biracial single mom (Sonya Schoenberg); her rebellious, illegitimate pre-teen daughter (Razia); and Raz’s unwitting Muslim “sperm donor” dad (Aziz). 

What do you want the reader to learn about the characters?

The main thing I would like readers to take away from these characters is that you cannot judge people by their external “trappings”—whether these be looks, ethnic background, socioeconomic or income bracket, or any of the other myriad superficialities we use to measure where a person “stacks up” on our worthiness meters. We really need to start looking beyond these things to simpler but far more meaningful human qualities like a person’s honesty, transparency, integrity, “energy,” and reliability—even if they see the world quite differently from ourselves. 

 What is the most important message you want the reader to learn?

That it’s always a bad idea to evaluate others based on our own neuroses and limitations. The world needs more people who live life with their hearts and minds open to those who are “different” and to the possibility of finding friendships in unlikely places. 

How will the reader be changed or moved from reading your work? 

It is my hope that readers take away three important messages from this lighthearted little story: 

#1 Whatever your religious persuasion (or lack thereof), if you believe in a Higher Power or some form of intelligent design for the universe, then you cannot believe that so many different types of people were put on this earth to kill one another. We have to assume that we are here to enrich one another; and toward that end, it is our responsibility as humans to accept and learn about others with openness and respect so we can share our neighborhoods, nations, and planet in peace. 

#2 No matter how different we think we are, there are more human commonalities than differences among various racial and ethnic groups. (Even Sonya and Aziz—two extremely different people ethnically, culturally, and socioeconomically—can still relate to one another at the level of being parents when they seem to have so little else in common.)

#3 No matter how many members of a particular racial or cultural group have done horrible, unforgiveable things, not all people in that group are guilty of those sins. Members of virtually all ethnic, racial, and cultural groups have committed atrocities against fellow humans. As easily as you can jump to conclusions about a given individual based on nothing more than what you heard on the news, you can just as easily choose to assume the exact opposite when you meet someone—that he or she is a good and worthy person going about their business just like you. 

What came first, the characters or the idea?

In my author interview for The Floater, I answered that the characters came first. With Stage Daughter, it was the story idea. I started out wanting to write a story with my daughter (who had just turned twelve) to stay connected to her during a challenging period in our relationship. I envisioned us telling a head-butting story about a mom and her twelve-year-old daughter in their alternating voices. Well, she quickly tired of the exercise after writing just one brief (if brilliant) chapter. As I continued on my own, the idea for exploring anti-Muslim hostilities in the aftermath of 9-11 led me to weave in a Middle Eastern character as the previously-absent dad and to make the single mom an adopted woman of mixed African American and Jewish heritage. 

What made you pursue a writing a career?

I really cannot claim to have a “writing career” as my law practice is what pays the bills; for me, writing is more a compulsive “calling.” I dream of someday retiring from the practice of law, moving to the country with my husband, and devoting myself full-time to my creative passion. Hopefully by then, I will have an established following eagerly awaiting my latest release (and publishers beating a path down the dirt road to my door)! By writing and self-publishing my work in the meantime, I am both planting seeds and cultivating a tool for creative self-expression.

How often do you write?

I wake up at 3:00 a.m. each day to write for a few hours before the crack of dawn. It is not an easy routine or one that I can recommend to others, but I am a morning person by nature and writing fuels me, so it works.

When you're not writing, what do you like to do?

Writing and reading consume what little free time I have. As a self-employed attorney (as well as a wife and mom), I don’t have much time for hobbies between my “day job,” eating right and exercising to keep fit, and spending time with my family. I once enjoyed crocheting, crosswords and cryptograms, ice skating, and singing, but I have abandoned those pastimes in favor of waking up early to write and reading whenever I find a spare moment. 

What are some of your favorite authors and books?

My absolute favorite author at the moment is Khaled Hosseini (author of The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed). “Runners up” include Thrity Umrigar (e.g. The Space Between Us; The World We Found), Lionel Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin; A Perfectly Good Family), Jodi Picoult (My Sister’s Keeper; Sing You Home), Wally Lamb (She’s Come Undone; I Know this Much is True), Jhumpa Lahiri (The Namesake; Interpreter of Maladies), Lisa Genova (Still Alice; Left Neglected), Chris Cleave (Little Bee; Gold), T.C. Boyle (San Miguel; The Tortilla Curtain), and too many others to name (not to mention those yet to be discovered)! 

What inspires you to write?

I was driven to write my first novel, Later with Myself: The Misadventures of Millie Moskowitz, because I had always wanted to tell the story of how my life went so terribly awry when I turned twelve. I wasn’t able to do it while my father was alive, as it would have created an irrevocable rift in our already fragile relationship. After he died, I found the “missing pieces” of a family history I hadn’t been privy to before. That prompted me to finally write and self-publish my mind-boggling tale as autobiographical fiction. In the process, I discovered my love of writing which, from that day forward, has become an unstoppable force in my life.  

How do you feed your muse?

She doesn’t need feeding, really. Each of my novels just came naturally from a combination of life events and observations; each one felt inspired and self-fulfilling in its own right. At this juncture, however, I am debating whether to embark on a fifth novel or focus on different avenues for sharing my work with a wider audience (such as blogging or writing reviews). Crafting novels is intensely absorbing and inherently rewarding, but self-publishing and marketing them can feel like a futile uphill battle. My “muse” is looking for a signal as to what path I should take next. That said, I am fully prepared for a “lightning bolt” of inspiration to set me working on another story at any moment!

What books are on your shelf to read?

I need to put my virtual “To Read” shelf on a diet! Books land on my Goodreads shelf far more easily than they get checked off, which is why it now contains 177 titles and more selections are being relegated to the “Started-but-Didn’t-Finish” pile. I just completed The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison; I am in the middle of Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver; and I just started Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.

What would be your best advice to aspiring writers?

Naturally, any advice I have to offer is based on my own experience, and everyone’s experience will be somewhat different. With that caveat in mind, my advice is threefold: 

First and foremost, become the best writer you can be. Before anyone can call himself or herself a “writer,” we must learn to write well and express ourselves concisely, because sadly, many self-published books hit the market in an unpolished state. So find an affordable editor and pay attention to what they do. Enlist as many beta readers as you can and solicit their feedback before taking your work public—and preferably not your closest friends and family (whose job it is to stroke and support you), but honest, objective people who love to read. Read widely yourself, and learn from other skilled writers by joining a writers’ group, taking a course, or reading articles and blogs about grammar, syntax, and structure. Whatever method works for you, make honing your skills a joyful learning experience and a personal priority. 

(For some terrific advice about getting your book ready for self-publishing, check out: http://www.compulsionreads.com/blog/am-i-ready-to-self-publish-my-book/.)

Second, don’t neglect your day job, because you need to pay your bills as you carve a niche in this highly competitive field. Also, you will need a modest budget for promoting yourself and your “brand” (once you figure out what that is), and a steady income can help subsidize your creative endeavors. Plan to spend more money marketing your books than you will see from royalties for years to come.

Third, don’t enter this game expecting instant success. Superstardom may befall a few extremely lucky souls, but it is about as rare as winning the lottery (just as landing a major recording contract, a place on a major league sports team, or a starring role in a major motion picture is as unlikely for the uninitiated in those fields as randomly picking a winning lottery number). Set out with realistic expectations and a desire to write for the sheer love of the craft. In this way, you will be encouraged by whatever modest signs of success you encounter along the way, rather than disappointed if your book doesn’t immediately “go viral.” 

(For a fresh perspective on what constitutes “success” in the self-publishing biz, check out: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2013/08/14/successful-self-publishing/?utm_source=August+2013+Newsletter&utm_campaign=August+Newsletter&utm_medium=email) 

With the publishing in industry constantly changing, what keeps you personally motivated to stay in the industry?

I took on a personal challenge to be successful at something besides the practice of law. Don’t get me wrong—I am grateful to have achieved my goal of becoming an attorney and to have embarked on that path at a time when success in the legal field was far more predictable than it is today. Nonetheless, my workdays are spent engaged in analytical, financial and business matters to the exclusion of creative expression. Now that my stubborn “muse” has reared her beautiful head, she is an irrepressible force that wants to be seen and heard.  

What's next for you?

I will be marketing and promoting Stage Daughter (available through Amazon at http://stagedaughter.com) for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, I am staying open to ideas for a fifth novel while remaining on the lookout for opportunities to showcase my work and make the most of my writing skills. 

How can readers get in contact with you?

Visit my website at http://sherylsorrentino.com. “Friend” me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/sheryl.sorrentino. Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SherylSorrentin. Sign up to receive notice of my blog posts on Goodreads  (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5047869.Sheryl_Sorrentino/blog). 
Email me at sherylsorrentino@sbcglobal.net. 

I’d love to hear from you!

Sheryl Sorrentino is the literary pseudonym of Myra S. Mitzman, a successful business and real estate attorney who conceived and wrote her first novel, Later With Myself: The Misadventures of Millie Moskowitz, after her father died and his well-kept family secret shed new light on shocking events that had haunted her from childhood.

Immediately after launching this captivating and painfully "memoir-esque" autobiographical fiction work, Sheryl penned An Unexpected Exile, fast-paced women's fiction that exposes the psychological inner workings of Risa Weinberg, its 29-year-old protagonist whose capitalist guilt and sexual bewilderment all but derail her purported personal and professional aspirations (a uniquely female phenomenon with which Sheryl is all too familiar).

With her August 2012 launch of her third novel, The Floater, Sheryl offered readers a controversial-yet-sensitive story about a mature female protagonist (Norma Reyes) who takes on the private demons and occupational hazards threatening her prospects for happiness. Called "The Rocky of Legal Dramas" by New York Times best-selling author Ken Morris, The Floater proves that, while justice may be hard to come by, there's always equal opportunity to succeed in love.

Through her edgy, pull-no-punches writing style, Sheryl has forged a unique subgenre of women's fiction that she calls, "Real Fiction for Real Women™"-socially-significant, culturally-inclusive stories of women's real-life struggles presented in a compelling, intimate, and always entertaining voice. Sheryl's fourth novel, Stage Daughter, continues the trend with a thought-provoking story featuring a biracial/bisexual mom, a traditional Muslim dad, and their illegitimate pre-teen daughter--three highly diverse but inextricably connected characters grappling with single-motherhood, adolescent rebellion, blended families, and religious intolerance.

Sheryl Sorrentino lives in the California Bay Area with her husband and daughter. 

Review 4 out of 5 stars

When asked to review Stage Daughter by the author, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Being familiar with the artist previous work The Floater left a good feeling in my gut that Stage Daughter would be nothing more than exceptional. Sorrentino has the power and ability to paint a vivid image of such relate able yet flawed characters that make them so authentic and original in every way imaginable. Once an aspiring actress Sonya wants the best for her daughter Razia but her way of delivering the message may come off the wrong way. Pushing her daughter away. Then there's Aziz, Razia dad whom wasn't given the chance to be the best dad possible, yet he begins to face his own battles. Razia, is as talented as she is beautiful but she has to choose to either follow her heart or do as her mother expects. Sorrentino doesn't shy away from the tough choices that make us face our own realities. Although the pacing was a bit slow the message and churning emotions will make you proud to have read this book. Sorrentino is one author on the rise to watch and Stage Daughter sets her apart from the rest. Go get your copy today!!