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Sunday, December 09, 2018

Author Elyssa Friedland reading from her book, Love and Miss Communication, with Debbie Kaplan, interviewer, seated next to her. (Credit: Sharon Mark Cohen)

Elyssa Friedland signing copies of her debut novel. (Credit: Sharon Mark Cohen)

Who isn’t too busy these days? The Internet was supposed to make life easier. But, listening to Elyssa Friedland talk about the journey to write and publish her first novel, Love and Miss Communication, at the Sisterhood of Etz Chaim book party in her native Livingston on June 9, highlighted the downside of social media.

The 400-page paperback page turner, published by William Morrow, tells the story of Evie, a high-powered attorney who, at 34, gave up the Internet for a year when her computer broke. Friedland describes her debut book as a realistic portrayal of female friendship, filled with jealousy and insecurity, which naturally surface when one friend is succeeding at work, but not dating. Interested in how social media is changing our lives, the author wanted the main character’s journey to go a certain way if she gave up the Internet.

After bountiful hors d’oeuvres to get the party started, the conversation was moved to the event room, decorated by Friedland’s mom, with her help. Centerpieces of brightly colored flowers adorned tables covered with green clothes. Scattered about for all the guests were give-away hardcover notepads trimmed in various colors, a picture of the author’s premiere book on the cover.

Shelley Folk, Etz Chaim member and mother of the author, not only decorated the room, but welcomed everyone, telling them her own mother taught her to let others brag about your children. Yet, she couldn’t help but say that she knew from a young age that her daughter, a lawyer, who worked for three years in a high-powered New York law firm, would be a writer. In 2nd grade the teacher at Solomon Schechter school called to have her come in to discuss the story the child had written titled, “The Girl with the Strawberry Hair.”

Sisterhood co-president Frema Sobel introduced Friedland, valedictorian of her 1999 high school class at Solomon Schechter in West Orange, graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School, noting she had summer internships at Modern Bride and New York Magazine. Debbie Kaplan, sisterhood member who sat with Friedland for the interview, cautioned the audience, “this evening will have you think about social media and the impact on our lives.”

Thanking her mother, to whom the book is dedicated, Friedland read a short excerpt from her newly published novel. Commenting on how important family is to her, she said that she was inspired by the refusal of a colleague of her husband to meet someone for coffee without seeing their picture first. That, coupled with her five-year college reunion, where her broad circle of maybe 100 friends had turned to 600, made her realize that blind dates and reunions are out.

With no outline, she jotted notes and had her mother read the subsequent manuscript five times before turning it over to her best friend from college to give it a whirl. Still, she tasted rejection when she sent the book to five literary agents before being picked up and signed. Reminding the audience of the difficulty Rowling had getting Harry Potter off the ground, she noted it was harder to find an agent than a publisher. While finding a publisher was easy, there were rewrites involved as the publisher wanted more tension in the pages.

Using places she knows best, such as Yale and Columbia, she set them as place holders when she started writing the book a few years ago, but ended up keeping them. The work, a composite of people she knows, is not an autobiography. She made a point of emphasizing that she wanted strong family values in the book.

Friedland ended her “Q & A” by saying that there is an advantage with social media for keeping in touch with people, which leads to an irony. She eyed the audience of about 75, saying that everyone should go on Facebook and recommend picking up her book for summer reading. Typical of the wit in her writing, she laughed when she quipped, “It’s a cheap way to reach people.”

At the book signing, Friedland commented that she knows nothing about publishing, so she never thought about self-publishing. During the conversation, she mentioned the steep learning curve involved in picking up the language of the publishing business and said that her whole family is along for the ride.

Now in book promotion mode, she is overwhelmed by 150 emails a day and the thought of a nationwide book tour. Wife and mother of three, living in New York City, she gave some tips to help with the habitual addiction, as she called it, making an impact by advising people to wean off social media. Some of her suggestions included putting the phone on silent, keeping it in a different room, and making a rule not to have it out at a meal. As for Friedland, she puts it away an hour before bed.

Admitting that it is hard to find the time, Friedland is starting her next novel. While her children are at day camp, she plans to allot two hours a day to writing.

After the conversation, while texting before heading out, Jeanne Waxman, sisterhood board member at Etz Chaim, commented, “Everybody should give up social media.”

Sobel’s daughter Elke, an educator, was in the audience. She thought “the message and point of view is real and relatable. The book can relate to a wide variety of people even though it is about a 30-something.”

Simply stated, Kaplan added she is “excited now to finish the book.”

By Sharon Mark Cohen