I've been lucky to have the best neighbors anyone could ask for. We've lived next door for going on 18 years. In that time we've graduated 4 kids from high school, two from college (the last two aren't far behind . . . at least that's what they tell us). They've driven my younger son and me to the ER more times than I can count. We've shared meals and tears and laughs and wine.
One day, when I was at work, they noticed a bird flying around inside my house. They knew that while I didn't have a pet bird, I did have a dog and cat who were likely wreaking havoc throughout the house. Fantastic neighbors that they are, they used the spare key they have (yeah, they're that kind of neighbor), came over, rescued the bird, set it free, calmed down the animals who were supposed to be in the house, and straightened up the lamps that had been knocked over. When I got home, all was well.
I know I'm lucky. But, if I ever forget, reading Saralee Rosenberg's new book, Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead will definitely remind me!
A “For Sale” sign on your lawn is fine, unless you’re not the one who put it there. In DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD, Saralee Rosenberg’s fourth hit-home novel on Long Island, Mindy Sherman and Beth Diamond are warring next door neighbors who have zero in common, but no place to hide. Housewives have never been this desperate, or this funny.
The story begins on move-in day when Mindy notices that her new neighbor’s shed is bigger than her mother’s condo, and the vanity plate on Beth’s Lexus reads FSHNCRZY. It hardly bodes well for meaningful friendship as the Shermans are broke and Mindy’s favorite designer makes Mets t-shirts. Still, her husband, Artie, predicts that Mindy and Beth will become the next Lucy and Ethel. “In real life they hated each other,” Mindy cried. “In real life they laughed all the way to the bank,” he pointed out. “Which bank?” she asks.
Now, eight miserable years later, Mindy is still trying to compete, squeezing into jaws-of-life jeans, for in her neighborhood, thirty is the new wife. Even Artie isn’t immune. “Someone called us Shrek and Fiona!”
That someone is Beth, the ivy-league blonde next door who as resident sancti-mommy, makes Ann Coulter seem civil. It’s another day, another dilemma until Beth’s marriage becomes fodder on Facebook. Suddenly she needs to be “friended” and Mindy is the last mom standing.
For two women who have never shared a meal, it’s a hilarious balancing act as they join forces in order to keep their messy plates spinning thanks to overbearing in-laws, errant husbands, a troubled step-son, a failing business, an unplanned pregnancy and a possible relocation that would leave one of them very far from Bloomingdales.
Then, Mindy and Beth’s reality check nearly bounces on a harrowing flight when they discover a startling secret that they pray they are not too late to share.
DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD is a highly emotional, spot-on romp through bedrooms, boardrooms and backyards, making unlikely heroines out of two moms who never imagined themselves as survivors, let alone as best friends.
Here's Saralee in her own words:
1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book?
Of my four novels, DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD is the only one that was inspired by, well, me! The story is based on my first novel, ALL IN THE CARDS, which was never published, but did take a very exciting journey to Hollywood. Back in 1997, Bette Midler optioned it for a feature film (she was looking for a follow up comedy to “First Wives Club”). Exactly! Wow! First time out and it’s a homerun. Sadly, the reason you never heard of it is because ultimately, Bette and her partner couldn’t get financing or find the right screenwriter to adapt it. Bye bye Bette... Now fast forward to a few years ago. My novels, A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, CLAIRE VOYANT and FATE & MS. FORTUNE had done very well but were about single women looking for love in all the wrong places. I wanted to write about my “peeps” in the suburbs and pitched my editor on letting me rewrite ALL IN THE CARDS. She was hesitant because she wasn’t sure Avon was the right publisher for a suburban/soccer mom story with bickering neighbors. Then came “Desperate Housewives” and suddenly it was, get me suburban/soccer mom stories with bickering neighbors. Timing is everything.... So although DEAR NEIGHBOR is an incarnation of my earliest novel, it is a much richer, deeper, funnier story and is resonating with readers of all ages.
2) Are you more driven by plot or by character?
I always tell readers who ask what my new book is about that the better question is who is the book about because if the characters don't resonate for them, they'll lose interest and possibly not finish. That's why I work so hard creating three-dimensional characters who sound, look and feel real and who have their good points and bad. If readers can relate to them as they do friends and family, and if they even worry about them when they put the book down, then I know I have done my job and the reader will take the whole ride with me.
3.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?
I absolutely adored my protagonist Mindy because she was so honest and genuine and she never stopped trying to improve herself, improve her husband and her kids and improve her life. The fact that she rarely saw any signs of progress is what her made her so funny and vulnerable. But the one character that I grew to love and was challenged by was 17-year old Aaron, Artie's son from his first marriage. I drew from my experiences from when my son was that age and was one part sweet and three parts nasty. But in him I saw so much heart and intellect that needed discovering, I enjoyed peeling away the layers of the onion chapter by chapter so that readers would see his great potential too. The old adage about not judging a book by its cover is true for people as well.
3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?
I’m a crack-of- dawn morning writer maybe because my muses are busy all night and can’t wait to have me pour out what they sunk in (at least they let me go to the bathroom first). That being said, when I’m in the zone, I write morning, noon and night. I know I’m done, however, when I look up at the computer screen and I see this, “She said, hjkljkl;uiop.” Then it’s time to shut the lights. As for where I write, the majority of my work is written while chained to my computer table which is situated right smack in the middle of my master bedroom... I never thought this would be my workspace. I always fantasized about having the kind of home office that “playwright” Diane Keaton got in “Something’s Gotta Give.” - this huge, white, ocean-facing office that was stocked with floral bouquets and a breathtaking view. Perhaps one day, but for now it’s fine. I look out at my beautiful backyard and at least my commute is a breeze. Not to mention I can make it to the fridge in under thirty seconds.
4.) What's your favorite part of writing?
I am crazy about writing dialogue and would spend days working on a scene between Mindy and Beth to make sure that I got the tone, the phrasing, the timing and the subtle nuances just right. There was so much that they wanted to say to each other after eight years of making each other crazy, I just had to let it out a little at a time, like air coming out of a balloon. But the scene I loved writing the most was the one where they are in a hotel room and Beth confronts the fact that she might be pregnant. It is a funny, poignant moment where both characters reveal their greatest joys and misgivings of motherhood and I remember when I sat at my computer, the words just poured out and I had to sit still to hear every last word coming through. I realized at the end that they had just broadcast my own conflicts and vulnerabilities about being a mom and it was whoa... where did that come from?
5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?
Good question. When I first began writing fiction, I turned to many of the wonderful books that are out there to teach the craft. But the two books that became my bibles, the ones that I still refer to when I'm stuck are the stand bys for many writers, Bird By Bird by Anne LaMott and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I found so much wisdom in their words, and they gave me the courage to listen to my inner voice and trust it. Now when I'm being pulled in different directions, I just close my eyes, listen to the conversations going on in my head and miraculously, I know what to do. I thank them for that.
Finally, here's praise from Booklist: "Through a winning blend of hip and humble humor, Rosenberg simultaneously skerwers and celebrates the institution of suburban sisterhood."