Guest Blog Post: Leaping Into Fiction by Mary Carlomagno

I am standing at the annual fundraiser for my children’s elementary school.  The band is playing a cover version of Walk like an Egyptian by the Bangles.  An enthusiastic mom drags me to the dance floor, saying that this song was “so popular” when she was in elementary school.  Now, I am no mathematician, but I quickly realize that I was in college when she was born.  Sure, there have been other signs that I am the “old mom” in this group.  One need only scroll Facebook to see the Happy 30th Birthday messages to the other parents in your community.  Or look around at school pickup to notice that you have more in common with the spry 60-year old grandparents than your fellow moms.  Last week, rock bottom came when a friend asked me to pick up her son from school so that she could visit her grandfather in the hospital.  Last time I saw my grandfather, Reagan was president.  In my community, I am not the norm.

There have been other areas of my life where I was late to the party, to so to speak, not just motherhood.   In 2005, after sixteen years in book publishing, I was sideswiped by a layoff.  I thought I would become a publisher drinking mint juleps with Richard Ford well into my golden years.  But life has other plans.  I was 37, single and unemployed.  Besides my job, my major accomplishment was a well- curated wardrobe.  I knew something had to change.   So, I started in my wheelhouse, my closet, I began purging the multiple unwearable outfits I bought at sample sales and returned the duplicative items I purchased from Banana Republic.  One need only look at the price tag on a Kate Spade bag collection to realize that the overspending needed to stop. Soon, I was in the closet of all my friends sorting through all their misguided purchases.  My company order was born out of my experience and commitment to help even the most challenged shopaholics.  Change was something I was getting comfortable with.

Just one year before the layoff, I had made adjustments to put my other excessive habits in order.  Over the course of a year, I eliminated a bad monthly habit, important things like coffee, alcohol, multitasking and chocolate.  My first non-fiction book Give it Up! My Year of Learning to Live Better which chronicles this journey landed me on the Today show.  One year after that experiment, I had successfully made the leap from corporate executive to entrepreneur, writing prescriptive articles about how to store your sweaters and kick your shoe addiction.  Like most of us, telling someone what to do, rather than doing it yourself is much easier.  Any good therapist will tell you that.  The demand for organizing increased and soon, two more non-fiction books followed and I became a spokesperson for major brands like Clorox, Success Rice and Post It Notes.  I was in a new safety zone of my own creation, a well-ordered industry of one.  For ten years, I kept the pace.

This is the part of the story where the narrator throws the reader a curve. Brace yourself, the tidy organizer has a dark secret.  Deep in my filing drawer was the first draft of my novel.  I was so afraid of this project that I published two other books, got married and had two kids just to avoid facing it.  Well, that is not exactly how it happened, but that does sound dramatic!  Here is how it actually happened.  After I wrote Give It Up, I wrote the first draft of Best Friend for Hire and was immediately so frightened by the concept of publishing fiction that I filed it in a drawer for ten years.

Instead, I signed a contract with Chronicle Books to write Secrets of Simplicity which explores the simplicity movement with easy to follow exercises. Somehow, this four-color illustrated book was picked up by Oprah’s producers and in 2009 shortly after the birth of my first son, I was flown out to Chicago to appear on her program.  I will never forget when the call came in from Harpo Productions, I was so obsessed with nursing my son that I did not budge when the caller ID announced “Call from Harpo Productions.” My husband yelled “Pick up the phone, Oprah is calling!”  Motherhood scared me more than anything else, even Oprah.

In Secrets of Simplicity, I write about the beloved deity Hanuman, the “monkey king,” who is best known for aiding Lord Rama in rescuing his wife, Sita, from Imprisonment.  As the legend goes, the Emperor Ravana abducted Sita and was holding her on the southern shore of India, across a great ocean, making rescue nearly impossible.  Hanuman was charged with the rescue mission, but he questioned whether he would be able to cross the ocean.  He mustered his nerve and took his leap of faith.  The universe rewarded him with magical powers, enlarging his body to a mammoth size, and he was able to reach the shore, rescue the princess and unite the lovers.   This parable shows that confidence in the action of leaping can often lead to unforeseen rewards.

It was time to start taking my own advice.  In 2010, after the birth of my daughter, we moved out of Hoboken to the suburbs.  Maybe, I was getting comfortable with the idea of leaping?  After a summer of rewriting and writing, I had the novel in shape to present to my publisher Post Hill Press. Best Friend for Hire is the culmination of my experiences; it tells the story of an Italian American New Jersey native who makes her fortune in the city, focused entirely on her career until she loses her job.  Once she loses her job, she finds her life.  Sound familiar?  Writing fiction later, like motherhood has been the journey of my lifetime and at 49, I might just be getting started.

Mary Carlomagno, a later mom, is a bestselling author, organizer, speaker and spokesperson specializing in helping individuals and groups embrace simplicity in everyday life. She is one of the nation’s leading experts on organizing and a frequent contributor on national television, radio and print.  She has been featured on the The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, CBS News, in Redbook, Real Simple, Design NJ and Woman’s Day and been interviewed on National Public Radio, the Joan Hamburg Show, and Martha Stewart Living.

  1. One Response to “Guest Blog Post: Leaping Into Fiction by Mary Carlomagno”

  2. Mary: Bravo to you for taking this exciting creative leap! Can’t wait to read this book!

    By Andrea Santo Felcone on Jun 20, 2017