Monday, June 20, 2022

Suzanne Mattaboni Interview - Once in a Lifetime

Photo Content from Suzanne Mattaboni

Suzanne Mattaboni is a Pushcart-nominated fiction writer, blogger, essayist, corporate PR consultant, and a member of the Newsweek Expert Forum. A former community service reporter for Newsday, her work has been published in Seventeen, The Huffington Post, Mysterious Ways,, 50 Word Stories, Dark Dossier, Motherwell, Turtle, The Best of LA Parent, & Her short fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in anthologies including “Chicken Soup for the Soul – Miraculous Messages from Heaven,” “Pizza Parties and Poltergeist,” “Little Demon Digest,” “Running Wild Anthology of Stories,” “What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Relationship Like This?” and “2017 Stories Through the Ages.” She was the editor of the Writes of Passage GLVWG 2021 anthology. One of her short stories was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She was recently named a "Woman of Influence" by Lehigh Valley Business magazine. Suzanne has two talented children, one hysterically fun husband, and two ever-ravenous cats.

Greatest thing you learned at school.
I learned a lot of great academic stuff at college, but what I learned most was to depend on myself and pave my own way in the world, which is invaluable. College for me was one long moment of Mary Tyler Moore tossing her hat in the air with joy, thinking, “You’re gonna make it after all!” I made some of the best friends I ever had at that time. We learned a ton from each other.

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I was four or five. I used to practice being a talk show host in front of the radiator cover in my apartment, because it had this curved cut-out that looked like the proscenium of a stage. So I was always picturing myself interviewing someone or telling the world some kind of fascinating story, if not literally performing it for people. I was writing before I could write.

I used to cast all the kids in my neighborhood in little plays and musical numbers (they usually chickened out), or I’d act out long, involved storylines with Barbie dolls where Barbie and Skipper were a single mom and daughter with a tough road ahead. I’d act it out in installments, like it was an ongoing saga. I have notebooks going back to 2nd grade in my basement with song lyrics in them, and crude attempts at writing music.

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
My all-time favorite book is Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. Read it—time will stop for you. An ancient, deposed Eurasian king and a doomed, sexy Indian widow decide they’re going to run away together. She creates a dreamy-smelling potion that stops them from aging, so they skip through thousands of years of history, all crazy in love, fooling townspeople, living adventures, and having amazing sex.

I adore those irreverent, warped novels from guys like Douglas Adams (The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy), Kurt Vonnegut (Cat’s Cradle); and Robbins, who could sustain a whole book about a girl who dreams she’s living in a pack of cigarettes. The ‘70s were an insane time for literature.

Outside my genre? I really don’t read historical fiction, but The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was beautiful. And I’m not a teenager, but I loved Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. I also have an affinity for cyberpunk-y writers like Harlan Ellison and Philip K. Dick. I recall a story Ellison wrote from the sixties where a villain drops thousands of jellybeans onto a city to cause havoc. That’s just brilliant. And Dick wrote the novel that became “Blade Runner,” which is the world’s greatest movie.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
It’s hugely rewarding talking to people like you in interviews, especially hearing someone quote lines of the book back to me. It’s this surreal feeling of someone being in your head and knowing how you think, because you had that thought and committed it to paper, and then threw it out there into the world. Now it belongs to someone else.

Also, one really cool thing that happened lately: I got a DM on social media saying, “I’m looking for an author who wrote a poem called ‘Someone’ in Seventeen magazine. Is that you? I saved your poem in a memory box and just found it.” Yeah, that was me. Except that poem was published in the 1980s, when I was in high school. Somebody remembered it. I got an IM from a woman a few years ago who said she bought a Utopia album at a vintage record store, and a clip of that same poem fell out of the record jacket. At the time, girls—strangers—sent me letters saying stuff like “The poem meant so much to me, I put in on my mirror.” The effect that you can have on people as a writer is truly a phenomenal thing, if you’re willing to lay your heart on the line. I hope Once in a Lifetime has as much impact.

If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?
The Bible. What a bestseller! No, I’m only kidding.

Maybe A Clockwork Orange? What a masterpiece, although the violence is sickening (but necessary in this story). Or how about The Great Gatsby?

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
A successful career as a corporate PR person. But that’s financing my fiction marketing budget!

Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes?
All of them change my life.

Can you tell us when you started ONCE IN A LIFETIME, how that came about?
Once in a Lifetime is loosely based on things I went through as a young person, although events and people are amalgamated and exaggerated and such for effect. I’ve had the basis for a few scenes that would become Once in a Lifetime sketched-out in spiral notebooks for years. But I think I officially sat down and started putting it together in 2018. I had a first draft in about seven months, but went through a lot of revisions and pitching and such. When you’re diving into the Beta read/pitch process, you get so much conflicting advice that your brain swirls. So, I changed a bunch of things—and then ended up reverting some of it back to the way it was in the earlier versions anyway. Yet other things found their way in that created those perfect “Why didn’t I think of that before?” moments of revelation.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
The fluidity of them, how they change when you don’t even realize it, as you write them. And how sometimes other people read things into them that you never intended, and it actually fits the story.

Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from ONCE IN A LIFETIME
Our main character Jessica finds herself very conflicted over men. After a steamy, late-night make-out session with hot new post-punk guitar player boyfriend, Jess gets a drunken, love-sick call from her brilliantly weird ex-boyfriend Drew, who asks her why the universe is here. Still coming down from the guilty high of having someone else’s hands all over her, she frustratedly blurts out, “Because it’s got no place else to go!”

Late night calls with Drew get further interrupted by Jessica’s vulnerable roommate Kimmer, who stumbles into their apartment sopping wet one night, in a pair of tennis sneakers that have mysteriously turned green. Turns out Kimmer’s Svengali-like date drove his Jeep into the nearby Delaware River on a dare—with Kimmer in tow. After considerable tears and damp hugs on the pull-out sofa that Jess and Kimmer both use as a bed, Jess jokingly tells Kimmer, “You get the wet spot.”

At the restaurant where Jess is desperately trying to earn enough tips to fund a semester in London, chaos is always the first item served. She becomes friends with a bartender colleague named Tye who doubles as a drag queen. At a private party that devolves into a drunken brawl, Tye emerges from a back room modeling a spiral-curled wig, a sparkly Goddess gown slit-up-to-there, and Lucite platforms—just in time for rowdy guests to start throwing stoneware coffee cups across the dining room. Tye (a former Marine) barrel-rolls Jessica behind the bar, shielding her from flying crockery. “My nose is stuffed into the fake bosom of a seven-foot-tall guy in a spiral perm and a sequined dress,” Jess says to herself. “Thank God.” Tye proceeds to bounce the intoxicated diners out of the restaurant in full Queen regalia.

As Jess’ relationship with Whit the bass guitarist begins to strain, he mistakenly wonders if she’s using him as a summer boy-toy. He also asks how she became so … skilled… at certain activities they enthusiastically indulge in. During a romp on his futon, she sets him straight:

“Finding the right guy,” she says, “is like finding the right pair of shoes. You don’t need to own a ton of shoes to know a great pair when you see one. But once you find them, you want to wear them. All the time. Because they make you feel fabulous.”

“Are you using me for sex, Jessica?” Whit asks.

“You don’t understand,” she says. “With shoes, it’s not so much that you love the walking.” She lets tendrils of her hair slide against the side of his jaw. “It’s that you love the shoes.”

What is the first job you have had?
I was a day camp junior counselor. It was the best job ever. I wish I could do it professionally. Although I spent a lot of time yucking it up with the other counselors, which was a requisite of the vocation. You lived for your breaks, after-hours parties, and staff softball games.

Best date you've ever had?
I grew up on Long Island, so a couple of great dates involved the beach, including one mostly spent with my future husband’s tongue in my ear. That was a really good date. Although one guy cooked me a lobster (it started out live), cheesy bread, and Little Neck clams then took me for a ride on his motorcycle. Sometimes the best dates, you don’t really even make a “date,” you just come upon an opportunity to take off with that guy that you’ve been flirting with forever, and you do something spontaneous, like maybe partying under the giant iconic Iguana sculpture on the roof of the Lone Star CafĂ© in Manhattan, or eating French fries together at 3:00 in the morning at Primanti’s in the strip district in Pittsburgh.

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
Have any of my PR clients emailed me yet?

What is your most memorable travel experience?
You should read my short stories for these kinds of rantings. I once jumped on a ferry from England to France to meet some friends when I was doing a semester abroad. On the boat, I met a team of Ultimate Frisbee players on their way to a tournament, who had a BIG thermos of rum and coke. They noticed me because I was wearing an American football jersey, and they were fans. When we got off the boat, they started tossing the Frisbee back and forth over commuters’ heads on the transit platform. Drunk. We started hanging out together after that, once we all got back to London. At my dorm, they were known as “Suzanne’s Frisbee team.”

What's your most missed memory?
Even with all the fun things I tried to do in my life, like traveling and clubbing, singing on stage, writing, the whole thing … you know what moments I would go back to and stay in if I could? The years of being a young mom with my kids. My most comforting memories are with my family when my kids were cute little munchkins, us all piled up on the couch, watching “Mulan” and “Toy Story” together for the bazillionth time. I didn’t have to train for that, or study or interview. You don’t have to have the right clothes or the most advanced equipment or the coolest car to have moments like that. You just have to love each other. As corny as that sounds, it’s the freaking best.

Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?
I don’t know about hardly knew, but here’s a situation that unsettled me. My daughter once decided to be “campaign manager” for her friend down the street who was running for elementary school president. Let’s call the girl Dorothy. Unfortunately, Dorothy came from a family that was troubled, with a mom who didn’t pay much attention to her kids, to the point where it was common knowledge within the school administration.

One day my daughter came to me all upset, because the school said Dorothy couldn’t run for president. I went to the principal to ask why. He said the student body president needed to have a parent that would be involved in school activities, and it was well known that Dorothy’s mother was trouble.

I was shocked. I said, “Are you kidding? Here’s this girl with a rough home life who’s stepping up to be a leader, and you want to take that away from her?” What if that could change her life? I promised that if Dorothy won, I would do all the parental things they would need her mom to do, like a proxy.

So they let her run.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
I’ve already made this choice; see the “First Love” section.

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
Every stupid thing I didn’t get done that day.

First Love?
I grew up in a not-so-great school district, in a neighborhood on the district border. The street right behind my house was in a different, more upscale district. We stayed away from those kids; they were the “others” from the Shoreham School District. But when I was 15, I got invited to a 17th birthday bash for a guy who lived on the other street.

I dipped my finger into the icing of the sheet cake that guy had set out on his pool table, because I was really just a kid, and I had a sweet tooth. That guy grabbed my hand before I could get it to my mouth, and he licked the icing off my finger. I’ll never forget: Blondie’s “One Way or Another” was playing in the background.

I fell so hard. And it was for a guy who had lived around the corner from me since I was seven, but I had never met before.

Wait, maybe there’s a story there…

In reality, it didn’t work out so well. Once the summer was over, he went back to the girl he had been dating in the nicer district. I could barely look at another guy for most of tenth grade.

What event in your life would make a good movie?
I can’t tell you that, because I hope to be writing it at some point! It’s enough that I gave away the meet-cute with the birthday cake on the pool table already. [© Suzanne Mattaboni 2022]

What is one unique thing you are afraid of?
Poverty. I always feel like I’m one mistake away from being homeless, even now with a stable, long-term career. I grew up in a tenuous financial environment. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over feeling like any minute that could come back to claim me. That’s why I’m a workaholic, I think.

Sweetbitter meets Bridget Jones in a John Hughes movie, Once in a Lifetime plays against a vibrant 1980s background of everything from slam dancers and rubber jelly shoes to social anarchy and AIDS.

“I’ve waited long enough for my life to happen. I want to be neck-deep in something that keeps me up all night. Something so cool I’ll be petrified and sick to my stomach at the mere thought of it. I want to absolutely fry in inspiration, then capture it in oils and charcoals and bits of broken glass, in a piece of art that oozes magic and fear and possibility. I want to find a city. An adventure. A song. Something. To hell with the American Dream. I want a reason to kick and scream.” ― Jessica Addentro, 1980s waitress, artist, and aspiring multimedia sensation

In 1984, punk is rampant. Andy Warhol rules. And 20-year-old art student Jessica is sick of all the excitement going on without her. Hungry for the life she’s convinced is just beyond her fingertips, she sets her sights on an avant-garde study abroad program in London she can’t afford. Meanwhile, hometown boyfriend Drew wants to see other people if he’s not exciting enough to keep her stateside.

Jess and her buddies rent a beat-up apartment, trolling new wave clubs and waitressing double shifts in New Hope, PA, a cool and artsy restaurant town on the river, to scrounge-up tuition money. Then Jess meets Whit, a steamy daredevil guitarist who crawls through her window and makes her head spin like a record. The girls deal with cheating waiters, mystics, a military drag queen buddy, a Svengali bouncer, and the specter of AIDs. Before long, Jess has to decide if the men in her life will leave her as damaged as her cracked-glass mosaic art projects―and whether they’ll stand in the way of her dream semester in post-punk London.

You can purchase Once in a Lifetime at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you SUZANNE MATTABONI for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Once in a Lifetime by Suzanne Mattaboni.