A Novel Concept: Mary Carlomagno on ‘Best Friend for Hire’ (Q&A)

Today, I’m cyber-chatting with Mary Carlomagno.

Mary is the debut novelist of Best Friend for Hire (Post Hill Press)—now available. She previously wrote three non-fiction titles: Live More, Want Less: 52 Ways to Find Order in Your Life, Secrets of Simplicity, and Give It Up!: My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less. Mary is a nationally recognized spokesperson and owner of order (orderperiod.com) a company that helps busy people get organized and live more balanced lives. She has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, NBC’s Today, and National Public Radio. She was born and raised in New Jersey and currently lives there with her husband and two children.

Mary Carlomagno
Mary Carlomagno

Praise for Best Friend for Hire:

“You need only pay the price of this book to spend a few hours in the spirited and hilarious company of Jessie DeSalvo. I laughed and rooted for her all the way on her journey from dejected office drone to confident entrepreneur. Forza Jessie!”— Giulia Melucci, author of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti

“I needed this book! Within the first few paragraphs, I was laughing out loud! Jessie’s character is perfectly drawn, There’s not a female reader who won’t identify with her. As Jessie struggles to make sense for her self created foibles, she has glimmers of insight. What sounds like serious self-reflection concludes with the perfect annotation. ‘As I knew from my brief experience with self-help, the answers are always within. And most Bruce (Springsteen) songs help you recognize the difficulties.’ Best Friend for Hire is a clever and hopeful must read!”—Author Luna Saint Claire

From the publisher:

Need someone to talk to or a friend to lean on?

Call Best Friend for Hire.

I am here for you.

Jersey Girl Jessie DeSalvo has her dream job at one of New York’s top publishing companies. After ten years of hard work the day of her big promotion has arrived. Unfortunately, her company has other ideas. Instead of a corner office, Jessie is handed her pink slip.

Left with little more than her cell phone and an unusable contact list, Jessie retreats to less-than-fashionable Hoboken, New Jersey, to figure out her life—and deal with the attentions of her loving but inquisitive Italian-American family. Then she accidentally stumbles into a career as a professional best friend—by helping friends and strangers straighten out whatever is wrong with their lives. Her jobs include planning the New Jersey wedding of the year and saving a bankrupt rock club in town. Soon, things get complicated when she falls in love with the club manager—and promises an appearance by Bruce Springsteen.

In the end, Jessie realizes that not even “The Boss” can make things right—and that she needs to become her own best friend to be truly happy.

Best Friend For Hire

Now, Mary shares her novel’s origin story …

John Valeri: Best Friend for Hire is your debut novel. What inspired you to try your hand at fiction – and how would you compare the process to that of writing non-fiction?

Mary Carlomagno: I have been an avid reader since childhood with the dream of writing a book. Non-fiction came to me out of my career as a professional organizer and through that process, I learned how to convey people’s stories.  At the heart of the non-fiction books are many personal accounts and stories.  My main purpose in writing the fiction is to entertain.  Fiction is harder to write, it comes from an unknown place, while non-fiction comes from a place of expertise and knowledge.  If you ever want to feel humbled, try writing fiction…

JV: Your protagonist, Jessie DeSalvo, suffers the experience of watching a dream slip away. In what ways do you see her character as being relatable to readers – and how do you hope that her story speaks to the importance of resilience in pursuing other opportunities?

MC: Jessie is an every woman who has lessons to learn.  She had thought she was resilient and in a power position, only to have to “pivot” to something unknown.  Her journey speaks to that fear of the unknown and the genesis of creating something new.  Change is scary for most people and I wanted to de-mystify that a bit with humor.

JV: You were born and raised in New Jersey, and this book largely takes place in Hoboken. How does this setting serve the story – and in what ways did your intimate familiarity allow you to capture a true sense of atmosphere?

MC: This book is my love letter to New Jersey, a state that has taken its hits in the entertainment world.  I wanted to have New Jersey portrayed more positively and be appreciated for its uniqueness. I have never left New Jersey for more than two weeks at a time, so I think that New Jersey is deeply embedded in this story, because it is what I know.  And this story being a first person narrative, allowed me to take some liberties with my life long experience of living here and Hoboken specifically where I lived for 17 years.

JV: You use humor generously throughout the narrative. In your opinion, how does laughter enhance living – and what is the key to having it translate on the page?

MC: If you can’t laugh, you can’t succeed in the world.  I used humor in every aspect of my organizing and publishing careers and love to laugh more than anything else.  I think humor points to deeper understanding and grace in all situations.

JV: You are a well-known organizer. So … what of that expertise have you found to be most helpful in terms of plotting and promoting a novel?

MC: Discipline in writing every day. I created a ritual of writing in the morning, every morning without fail.  I liken writing and organizing to any daily routine that needs to be practiced.  Think exercise and those results.  One needs to engage every day to have any positive results.  As far as promoting the book, I am well-seasoned in media as a spokesperson and writer, the promotion part has been the most fun, especially with social media where you can direct your own messages in an instant.  And I get to talk to people every day and I love to talk!

JV: Leave us with a teaser: what comes next?

MC: While I would like to see what Jessie’s next moves are (I have some idea) I am intrigued by writing a series about an organizer and her clients.  Perhaps a mystery with an organizer at the center?

***

With thanks to Mary Carlomagno for her generosity of time and thought and to Laura Rossi, President / Laura Rossi Public Relations, for facilitating this interview.

 

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