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Today Sheryl Sorrentino is visiting The Pearly Droplets to talk about herself the individual, the writer, and also to discuss her book, and other things. Please give her a warm welcome by commenting below.
My name (actually a pseudonym) is Sheryl Sorrentino. I have no formal training as a writer, unless you consider nearly twenty-five years drafting legal documents 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 law has given me a healthy respect for the power of the written word, and an awe for verbal creativity and clarity.
As a teenager, I first attempted to write the story that would someday become my first novel, Later With Myself: The Misadventures of Millie Moskowitz. Since then, I have fine-tuned my writing skills through years of reading, paying attention to grammatical detail, and painstakingly nurturing my love of a well-told story. I reside in the California Bay Area with my husband and 12-year-old daughter. At the moment, my only “hobbies” are fiction writing and reading. I no longer have time for my other hobbies, which once included crocheting, crossword puzzles, ice skating, singing, and salsa dancing.
I didn’t choose the path of “writer;” I was simply overtaken by a desire to express myself more authentically by writing in a different way. As a successful real estate lawyer and mom, it has been challenging to incorporate my newfound “calling” into my life. 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.
About My Writing
I am still fine-tuning my writer’s voice. For my entire adult life, my professional identity has centered around the law—first as a legal secretary, then as a paralegal, and finally, as an attorney. I focused virtually all my effort on achieving financial stability while distancing myself from a toxic family of origin, the same family I fictionally (but more-or-less accurately) depicted in my first novel. Later With Myself was not so much a story I wrote as the story that rewrote me—by illuminating my sad childhood under new light. Unbeknownst to me, I had been driven practically my whole life by subconscious forces—shame, guilt, fear—to hide and distance myself from others. And while I had always wanted to write and publish the story of my adolescent pregnancy and its legal and psychological aftermath, 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.
It took awhile, but my father’s death was my “game-changer.” I began writing Later With Myself in earnest in 2009. My first challenge was choosing a structure: First person or third? Memoir or fiction? After some soul-searching, I decided I didn’t want to publish a memoir. For one thing, I did not wish to publicize my personal history in such a “tell-all” way; for another, critical pieces of my story were missing, since many of the original players were deceased, inaccessible or unknown to me. Autobiographical fiction allowed me to fill in those gaps with common sense and creative conjecture, without “outing” anyone still living—in particular, the five grown men who had taken sexual advantage of me as a child. It also preserved the privacy of my brothers, my husband, and my daughter.
Nonetheless, writing Later With Myself was a difficult emotional exercise on many levels. Although the process proved cathartic and enlightening, it was extremely painful to revisit my childhood, and even more terrifying “taking it public.” After releasing my first novel, I wanted to try something different. So I immediately wrote An Unexpected Exile. A combination chick-lit/sociopolitical exposé (think “Fifty Shades of Green Card”), AUE explores what happens when a sexually-repressed “Jewish American Princess” becomes romantically involved with a philandering Nicaraguan “Casanova” who is battling his own demons in the aftermath of the Sandinista-contra war. The result is a riotous culture clash that invites readers to examine the fine line between ardor and abuse, and our collective, blind adherence to conventional American belief systems.
My third novel, The Floater, is the one I wish to showcase in this guest blog. I chose The Floater because I consider it my finest work with the widest commercial appeal. I make no secret of the fact that my first novel is based on my pitiful adolescent search for parental love in all the wrong places. And while I bear little outward resemblance to Risa Weinberg (the beleaguered protagonist in my second novel),
I—like many women—have done some dumb things in a misguided pursuit of passionate romance. I view all three of my creations like children (and like children, I love them equally-yet-differently). The Floater is where I really “came into my own” as a writer.
Norma Reyes (the title character) is my first female protagonist to successfully embark on a mature, healthy relationship with a man. Seeking professional advancement in middle age against tremendous socioeconomic odds, Norma is also trying to come to terms with personal issues that have prevented her from finding true happiness (a process many—if not most—adults must go through at some point in life). I can relate to my Puerto Rican heroine both as a woman and a professional. Though unlike Norma, I did not face racial or
national origin discrimination in my own career, I repeatedly witnessed them in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I enjoyed writing The Floater as a means of shedding light on the problems many so-called minorities still confront in our supposedly merit-based society, as well as the psychological obstacles faced by women of all races in searching for a meaningful, lasting relationship.
But while I am Norma’s biggest champion, I am Oscar Peterson’s biggest fan. Norma’s African-American boyfriend and ally, Oscar is by far my favorite character in this novel. He’s just a regular guy, a bit rough around the edges, perhaps. But he’s caring, perceptive, loving, and devoted. He cannot be bothered with long courtships; has no time for games; and is too old for role
-play masquerading as “romance.” Which is why he pushes back at Norma when her emotional limitations cause her to behave foolishly or contrary to her own best interests.
Titles, Influences, Reviews and Other Tidbits
Unlike my first two novels where I tortured myself and tried on titles like a series of bad interview outfits before finally choosing, I donned my third novel “The Floater” before I even began writing it. I initially conceived The Floater as a series of vignettes about a group of A-hole attorneys at a large law firm, whose common thread was a hapless rotating secretary assigned to each of them week to week. Instead, I wound up writing a powerful story about a strong woman facing employment discrimination during a down economy, whose darkest hour is upended by the healing force of an unforeseen love.
I have been influenced by too many authors to name just one or two, but my misfit-attorney mindset has shaped my writing more surely than any author could. Professional training taught me to be precise with language (and get used to seeing my work covered in redlining!); personal maladjustment compelled me to observe people carefully and choose my words wisely.
My readers have been overwhelmingly positive where reviews are concerned (though I wish I would get more of them!). One reader did give Later With Myself two stars, calling it “quite a contrived story.” Other reviewers have accused Oscar Peterson of being “a hothead,” “overly aggressive,” and “insensitive.” That rather hurt, to be honest, because Oscar has so completely captured my heart. He’s an honest, outspoken, everyday guy—a straight-shooter who says what he thinks and feels; and so, he’ll let you know if he gets mad once in awhile.
Negative comments may sting, but writers must develop a thick skin. Each review—even a lukewarm one—is a blessing. It tells us that someone out there cares enough to take time to write about our books. Even the “haters” have their place on this literary landscape. I’ll know I’ve truly arrived when I attract a few of these mean-spirited souls. After all, one must become successful to deserve detractors!
Summary and Excerpt
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, 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 so she can support her elderly mother while subsidizing her welfare-collecting, drug abusing younger sister and her kids and grandkids.
But after successfully completing a summer clerkship at one of New York City’s most prestigious firms, Norma’s plans 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 supposedly imposes a hiring freeze on new attorneys.
Only when Oscar, the firm’s copy room supervisor, hands Norma a “smoking gun”—an incriminating, tell-all memo, authored by Jonathan Shemke admitting to age and national origin discrimination in the firm’s decision not to hire Norma as a junior attorney—does she find the inner strength she needs to battle the firm for her rights while facing the invisible scars left behind from a troubled childhood.
CHAPTER 13: INSUBORDINATION
“Norma? Would you come in here a minute?”
Norma had been staring at her monitor for the past hour, unable to concentrate on anything glaring back at her from the computer screen, her vision blurred with rage. She hadn’t slept a wink after arriving home from her dinner with Oscar. She had spent the night reading and re-reading Jonathan’s infamous memo until she could recite his words by heart. By morning, she was resolved: She had to face the situation head-on, and her first order of business was to contact the EEOC. She desperately wanted to log onto the agency’s website, but didn’t dare do it with Jon sitting a few feet away. When he called her name, she grabbed a yellow pad and marched into his office.
“Did you see my note?” he snapped.
“No,” Norma lied, sitting down.
“I left a Post-It on your chair, along with instructions for you to take a crack at drafting an opinion letter.”
“I didn’t see any Post-It note.” Norma insisted.
Jonathan cleared his throat. “Well, you need to be more careful from now on, Norma. There was important vendor information on that message. I met with a most ‘energetic’ salesperson last night, if you get my meaning. Make a note of it for future reference.”
Norma thought of him enjoying a night of adulterous bliss with an anonymous stranger, while she lay awake battling feelings of fury and gloom. Norma smirked without answering, recalling how she had crumpled the blue, three-by-five-inch paper and “energetically” tossed it into the sink before grinding it up in the disposal.
Jonathan cleared his throat again. “Well, enough of that. I called you in here to check on the status of your Sarbanes-Oxley research. I need it for that legal opinion I have to issue, with your help, of course. How are you coming along with it?”
“I haven’t finished.”
“Oh. Well, Norma, I’ll have to ask you to step it up a few notches. I need to issue the opinion for a big IPO that’s closing in two weeks. Can I expect the memo on my desk before you leave tonight?”
“That’s not possible.”
“You can do it, Norma. I have every confidence in you.”
“That’s not what I meant. It’s impossible because I won’t be doing any more legal research for you. Not until you offer me an associate position.”
“You know I can’t do that, Norma. I already told you, the firm won’t allow me to extend an offer to a New York Law School graduate. Of the night program, no less,” he added, under his breath. “But once you prove your mettle, I’ll go to the mat for you on that contract position.”
“I’ve already proven my mettle—twice. If the firm had no intention of hiring a night student from New York Law School, then why’d you waste my time bringing me on as a summer associate in the first place, huh? To make the firm look good?”
Jonathan leaned back in his chair, obviously thrown by her flippant attitude. “Like I told you, that was an unfortunate error.”
“Yeah, whatever. Let’s pretend I believe you,” Norma, now on a roll, pushed forward. “That doesn’t change the fact that I’ve demonstrated my ability to do the job, probably better than the other first-year associates. Those kids just fresh out of law school don’t know anything more than I do, despite all their fancy credentials. So either make me a legitimate offer right now, or I won’t be doing any more unpaid legal work!” Norma shook in her skin. She hadn’t planned on giving that speech, and quite frankly didn’t know where it had come from.
To Get Your Copy
The Floater is available exclusively through amazon.com and its extended network of sellers. (Go to thefloater.biz to link to the Amazon product page.)
Connect With Sheryl Sorrentino on the Web:
Invite Sheryl Sorrentino to speak at your book club.
Hear Sheryl discussing her latest novel, The Floater, with Cyrus Webb on Conversations Live!/Blog Talk Radio
Read Sheryl’s recent feature interview in Houston Style Magazine
To schedule a public reading, book signing, or simply drop Sheryl a line: firstname.lastname@example.org