Monday, June 21, 2021

TBR: Mona at Sea by Elizabeth Gonzalez James

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe.


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?


Mona at Sea is a dark comedy about Mona Mireles, a Millennial overachiever who has lost her Wall Street job during the Great Recession, and has to figure out what she’s going to do with the rest of her life. And once she figures that out, will she be brave enough to go after it?


Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?


My favorite character I think is Mona’s brother, Danny, whose grades, shall we say, have always tended toward the left side of the bell curve. But what he lacks in intellect he more than makes up for in emotional intelligence…most of the time. He’s a senior in college and the president of his fraternity, and I really loved crafting a frat boy who wasn’t an ugly caricature, who was actually a wonderful person.   


I had a lot of trouble nailing down Mona’s mother and figuring out what her big, psychic wound was. Maybe that’s because, when I started writing this book, I had only been a mom for a few months, and now I’m ten years into it. Maybe I didn’t know enough about being a human while also being a mother, and how we’re basically supposed to stop being a human once we have kids, and become this ideal. But I think I did eventually figure out that Mona’s mom feels unloved and invisible, and hopefully that comes through in the story. 


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


Oh jeez, there were a lot! I’ll just say briefly that it was a very long road to publication, and I’m very grateful that after many years of trying to find a publisher, my book has finally found a home. Shout out to all small presses everywhere. They’re doing the Lord’s work.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


It’s an oldie but a goodie: To paraphrase Henry James, a writer should try to be a person upon whom nothing is lost. This is good advice for everyone, not just for writers. To me it means taking everything in, all five senses plus your whole heart and mind, and putting that into your work.


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


I was surprised to find out how funny Mona is, and how incapable she is of avoiding public scenes. I think I’m sort of funny, but Mona is hilarious, and she definitely says some things I would never voice out loud. I’m also pathologically averse to making scenes in public. I’m positively Victorian in that regard, and so it was funny to see Mona steering into that constantly. It was surprising to see her character take on a life of her own.


Who is your ideal reader?


I think my ideal reader is someone who has an open heart and comes to books without judgement. Mona as a character is not going to appeal to everyone. She’s spoiled, sarcastic, morose, self-centered, and histrionic, which are traits that may not endear her to every reader. But I think Mona is sympathetic and ultimately relatable, as long as readers come to the novel knowing that it is a story about growth and someone undergoing an emotional journey. 


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)


This is a tough one since Mona is just out of college, incorrigibly lazy, and would not likely cook anything more difficult than pasta. But I will share one favorite recipe that is delicious and takes only 30 seconds to make.


The world’s laziest quesadilla:




1 flour tortilla (I prefer Trader Joe’s Truly Handmade Flour Tortillas)

1 mozzarella string cheese




Lay a paper towel down in a microwave. Place the flour tortilla on top of the paper towel. Place cheese stick (unwrapped) in the center of the tortilla. Microwave for 20-30 seconds. Roll up your quesadilla in the paper towel, making sure to spread melted cheese around evenly, and enjoy!  














DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.