Novelist Elisa Lorello: Late bloomer, but a quick study


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

For the many fans of novelist Elisa Lorello, the most surprising thing about her new book might be the last line of the author’s bio on the back cover: “She lives in Billings, Montana.”

Elisa Lorello has been a published author for less than a decade, but her writing career has already been surprisingly varied.

She self-published her first book, “Faking It,” and then self-published a sequel, “Ordinary World,” shortly after, in 2009. In the face of slow sales, she released both books on Kindle. Sales were still slow—until she lowered the price on them from $1.99 to 99 cents, and they caught fire.

“Faking It” shot up to No. 6 on the Kindle Bestseller List and “Ordinary World” made it into the top 25. Both were reissued by Amazon Publishing, first under the imprint AmazonEncore, and now Lake Union, which also published another sequel, “She Has Your Eyes,” in 2014.

While writing that series of books, she also co-authored a novel with her friend Sarah Girrell in 2012, published another standalone novel in 2012 and then wrote a nonfiction account of her 30-year infatuation with the band Duran Duran in 2013.

And get this: Her latest book, which will be released exclusively at Barnes & Noble stores on July 12, was commissioned by Adaptive Studios, an L.A.-based entertainment company that provided the title, “Pasta Wars,” the premise and the characters.

Lorello was born and raised on Long Island, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and taught rhetoric and composition for 12 years at North Carolina State University.

The biggest surprise for some of her readers might be the last sentence in the author’s bio on the back cover of “Pasta Wars.” It reads: “She lives in Billings, Montana.”

We thought it was high time the people in her adopted city learned more about her, her books and how she ended up in Billings. What follows is an edited transcript of an email interview:

Last Best News: Let’s start with now. A commissioned novel? How often does that happen? And what was it like to write one?

Elisa Lorello: I don’t think I had ever heard of a commissioned novel. When Adaptive contacted me in the fall of 2014, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. I draw inspiration from something I’ve either witnessed or experienced on some level. Thus, I was wary of using someone else’s story idea.

They sent me the treatment, which included the names and occupations of the two main characters, the pasta company and and the Genoa setting. I had to work with those. But I could add in my own touches and take the story in the direction I wanted, and I did. I wrote some sample chapters, sent them to Sarah Girrell (my “Why I Love Singlehood” co-author and friend), and she gave me the affirmation I was hoping for: “If I didn’t know otherwise, I’d say this was all your idea. A total Elisa Lorello novel.” Fortunately, the folks at Adaptive liked the chapters as well, and I decided to take on the challenge and have fun with the project.

Overall, it was a different experience from working with Lake Union Press, and I’m curious to see what doors, if any, it will open. I had a lot of fun writing this one. Of all my novels, I think it’s the most comedic.

LBN: And you’ve got another book coming out, too? What’s that one about?

Lorello: My next novel is called “The Do-Over.” It’s about two friends—male and female—who make a second attempt at a romance that ended before it even began. They take a road trip from Phoenix, Ariz., to Tacoma, Wash., the week of New Year’s, one year after the first attempt. It’s scheduled for release in November.

pasta warsLBN: I saw on Amazon that your books are listed under various categories, including “women’s fiction,” “romance,” “women’s adventure” and even, I think, “contemporary single.” How do you describe them, and who are your readers, generally speaking?

Lorello: I have a complicated relationship with the term “women’s fiction.” On one hand, I’m bothered that female authors and readers are placed in this category to the exclusion of men, as if all women write fiction only for women. There’s no category called “men’s fiction,” and that’s wrong. The term “chick lit” has also come to be synonymous with bubble gum pop, and is somewhat of a derogatory term. Interestingly, the female readers I’ve spoken to love the exclusivity, and they are proud to call themselves chick lit readers.

On the other hand, I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me. I presented an online class for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Spring Workshop in May, and after reading dozens of excerpts from female writers, I was delighted by the talent out there. They need to be recognized and respected.

As for my audience, they are mostly women, around my age (although I haven’t done the analytics). However, I’ve heard from plenty of male readers, especially about “Faking It” and “Ordinary World,” who’ve read and enjoyed my books. My fiancé probably never would have picked up my books had we not been friends, but he loves them as well. They’re a bit different from what he writes. Overall, I think I’m writing contemporary fiction, my subject being love relationships that explore the psychology beneath them. And I try to put in an element of comedy whenever I can, especially in the dialogue.

LBN: So, how did a Long Island girl end up in Billings, Mont.?

Lorello: Well, the universe has a sense of humor…

Seriously though, Montana was never on my radar. I’ve always been an East Coaster, for the most part. But I fell in love with Craig Lancaster, a longtime friend and a fellow Lake Union author who lives here.

When Craig’s and my feelings deepened last year, he came to New York and spent a week with me. In late June, I came to Billings to spend the summer and, as we called it, “test drive the relationship.” I was immediately welcomed into and embraced by this wonderful community of friends and writers and artists—something I’d been missing—and Craig and I knew we were in it for the long haul.

You’d think moving here would be a no-brainer, but I/we had a lot of factors to consider. Ultimately, life made the decision for us, and I officially moved here at the beginning of this year. Aside from occasionally missing the ocean and my family, I’m very happy in Billings. And not to sound like an out-of-towner, but the sky! I just can’t get enough of it here. It’s breathtaking.

LBN: Can we expect a future novel set in Montana?

Lorello: You can. I’m very superstitious when it comes to talking about novel ideas works in progress, so that’s all I’ll say.

Duran bookLBN: In response to this crass question, please tell us in the least crass way possible how you’ve done with your books. It looks like at least one of your books cracked the 100,000-sales mark, and at least two have been issued in foreign translations? Details, please!

Lorello: I’ve been very fortunate that my books have done well enough that I can keep writing full time without having to take an adjunct teaching position or any other kind of job to supplement my income. The foreign translations (to date, my first five novels have been translated into German, “Faking It” and “Ordinary World” into French, and I think “Faking It” will be in Italian soon) really boosted my income. “Faking It,” translated as “Vorgetäuscht,” went to No. 1 in the German Kindle Store for three consecutive months following its release.

I haven’t updated my sales figures in the last couple of months, but I’ve sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000-450,000 total of all titles, including translations, since publishing them. That blows my mind. By far, “Faking It” has been the most successful. I think it’s hitting close to 170,000, and that’s just the English translation. Unbelievable. I estimate 98 percent of that grand total was ebook sales.

LBN: You’ve already written one collaborative novel. Is there any possibility that you and Craig might write one together? You both got enough steady fans to make it an intriguing possibility, I should think.

Lorello: I’ll let the Magic 8 Ball answer this one: “Most likely.”

LBN: This has nothing to do with your books or Montana, but I can’t resist: I understand that your mother has taken a somewhat unconventional path in her life. Can you tell us about that?

Lorello: A devout Roman Catholic, my mother spent a 40-year career in parish ministry and, while raising seven kids, earned two master’s degrees—one in theology, the other in pastoral counseling (the second she obtained as a single parent). She eventually rose to the highest parish position a woman/the laity could hold.

Her lifelong calling, however, had always been to be a priest. I might have the details a little fuzzy here, but I think it was around the time of her 75th birthday that she heard about a group of women in Europe who had been secretly ordained by two bishops on the Danube River (the Vatican has no jurisdiction over water). More women came to be secretly ordained, including female bishops so they could continue the lineage. In time, the ordinations crossed the ocean to North America. The group is known as the Roman Catholic Women Priests (RCWP). The numbers keep growing.

In early 2012, my mother applied for admission to the RCWP, and was accepted just before her 80th birthday. She was ordained in August 2013, and currently has an in-home ministry. She officiated at the weddings of my twin brother, my niece and my cousin and she will officiate at mine. She also baptized her first great-grandchild.

Seeing her vested still makes me tear up, and it’s a powerful experience, especially as a woman, to witness an altar full of ordained women saying Mass and performing the sacrament of the Eucharist. I’ve gotten to know many of her sister priests, and they are phenomenal in terms of their education, work and service, ministries, etc. I don’t use that term (“phenomenal”) lightly or often. And unlike what I call the “institutional church,” their ministries are more inclusive, less dogmatic, yet still hold to the core of the Gospel.

Although the Vatican does not recognize these ordinations as legal in terms of canon law, the RCWP contends that they are valid because they follow the succession of St. Peter, given that they began with the two male bishops. The church has excommunicated these priests, my mother included. The women have willingly broken the canon law, citing it as an unjust law, and have fully accepted the consequences of it. They continue to be active in changing the law to allow female and married priests.

LBN: What was the best part about writing Pasta Wars?

Lorello: Learning how to make my own pasta! It’s actually pretty easy if you use the basic recipe and a pasta machine to roll out the dough. Once you learn, you’ll never want to go back to boxed. My fiancé especially loves when I make spaghetti and meatballs from scratch. And yet, there’s still a lot I need to learn in terms of technique. I have yet to try ravioli, or shapes like ziti or penne or tortellini.

LBN: Why did you want to write a memoir about being a Duran Duran fan? And how did the experience of writing a memoir differ from writing a novel?

Lorello: I remember being 14 and declaring that I would love this band for the rest of my life. And then, lo and behold, it was 30 years later—”the rest of my life” was happening, and they were still a major part of it. It was also the longest long-term relationship I’d ever had.

Those revelations were all interesting to me, and so I decided to write about my life and my relationships—be they with the band, music, writing, family, friends, romance—through the lens of a Duran Duran fan rather than a straightforward autobiography. The memoir’s title, “Friends of Mine,” is also the name of a Duran Duran song from their debut album.

The memoir experience is the same as writing a novel in that you’re using the same elements of storytelling: sensory description, dialogue, “characters” and place. I approached every chapter almost like a personal essay so that each one could stand alone. But it’s also a lot like getting naked in front of an audience. I had moments of doubt in terms of releasing it, and was concerned about how my family would feel since they’re a big part of the story. In the end, they were all supportive. I’ve been thinking about re-releasing it with some bonus chapters since so much has happened in the three years since its release, including my meeting the band.

LBN: Do you miss teaching writing in a college setting? Will you ever go back?

Lorello: I miss the students and interacting in the classroom. I don’t miss the workload or the grading, however. Maybe at some point I’ll go back for a semester. These days I’m more interested in teaching craft in terms of novel or memoir writing as opposed to academic writing. I’m exploring the possibility of doing more online classes, and setting up a workshop series in person if I can find a good location.

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