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Author Interview: MY LIFE AS AN EXTRA by Ruth Kaufman

From the bestselling author of the Wars of the Roses Brides series comes a humorous women's fiction novel about how to feel special even when you're not the star.


MY LIFE AS AN EXTRA

Chicagoan Marla Goldberg must rebuild her life at forty-one after an unexpected divorce. While adjusting to singlehood, trying to improve conditions at the radio station where she's an account executive and fit in with her successful family, she dips her toes into the daunting dating pool. Marla yearns to fulfill her long-held dream of being a full-time, working actor, yet can't quite believe, "Leap and the net will appear." Being a movie and TV show extra teaches her meaningful lessons, but she must learn what for her is the hardest lesson of all: how to feel special and valued when you’re not the star.

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Genre: Women's Fiction | Heat Level: 3

Q&A with RUTH KAUFMAN

What makes My Life as an Extra special or unique to you? Can you give us a little story behind the story?

Thanks for asking! MLE is special because I’ve worked as an extra on more than 70 movies and TV shows filmed in Chicago, so I know what I’m talking about. I had such a wide range of experiences, from awesome to horrible, and thought that working as an extra would make a good backdrop for a book.

Set conditions/the way extras are treated can be grueling or tiring, for what I consider low pay, yet many, like me, sign up again and again (though now I mostly do speaking roles, see #5 below). There are also a lot of rules/etiquette to follow, even more in today’s social media environment.

I’ve made some great friends during long hours on set. And I’ve crossed paths with many A-list, household name celebrities and directors, and it’s fascinating to see how they behave and work on set. Let’s just say some are a lot nicer than others. As they say, truth is often stranger than fiction (and I was an extra in that movie, too, in a scene with Dustin Hoffman and Will Farrell, though you can only see my hair.).

What story are you working on next, and what inspired it?

Up next is the sequel to MLE: My Life as a Star. Marla learns be careful what you wish for when her acting career and feelings for a hot director skyrocket. It was inspired by me wondering what happens to Marla after MLE, which doesn’t have the traditional happy ever after (HEA) ending of a true romance novel. Will she get that by the end of MLS? Stay tuned.

When I read the first scene to my Romance Writers of America® chapter (verbal and written critiques are a regular part of our meetings), the amount of laughter in the right places encouraged me to go for even more humor than in MLE. And I laughed out loud many times as Marla continues her journey. But there’s also some sadness and frustration in the persistent pursuit of our dreams and the inability to control the outcomes. I hope readers enjoy that dichotomy, too.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

I’m a pantser, meaning I write by the seat of my pants instead of plotting or writing the synopsis first. I usually see a scene in my head and go from there....who are these people, why are they doing whatever they’re doing, and what happens next and why?

“Author intrusion” is something we’re encouraged to avoid, so I do my best not to pull my characters’ puppet strings by saying, “Now the heroine will do this or say that.” I want to see each scene through her/his eyes, as if I’m watching a movie of their lives. On occasion, of course, I’ll step back and come up with an obstacle to put in their way and raise the conflict, or something won’t ring true and I’ll have to figure out why.

I think this approach helps each character react/think/speak in his/her own way and helps readers get to know and care about them.

Were there alternative endings you considered for this book? What were they and why did you change them?

Yes. In fact, MLE had a more serious ending. I knew MLS would follow, and wanted to leave Marla with as much room to find happiness as I could. And it’s not a romance, so I didn’t feel the need to make sure she was walking off into the sunset with a love interest.

But at the time, an agent would only take on the book if I changed the last chapter to make it more uplifting. I did, and that’s the ending I stuck with.

With MLS, I just couldn’t decide if I wanted a true HEA or if I wanted to stick with what I hope is a satisfying ending, but more along the lines of women’s fiction or mainstream with romantic elements than, say, contemporary romance. So...it has two endings! I hope readers appreciate that approach.

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?

I actually have another career in addition to writing, which is very fitting for MLE and the upcoming sequel. I’m an actor and voiceover talent, which makes me very sympathetic to what my main character, Marla, goes through. Perhaps some of her experiences are based on real life. Only my hairdresser knows for sure.

Like Marla, I wanted to be an actress most of my life, but feared failure, aka not earning a living. Never knowing when auditions or work will come in can be frustrating, and often others control my schedule. I also spend a lot of time preparing for and traveling to auditions when I know the chance of booking the gig is often very small. But I love performing and entertaining people.

I’ve had roles in independent feature films, web series, several videos for The Onion, national TV commercials and more. I’ve voiced dozens of commercials, hundreds of e-learning courses and even phone prompts (She can’t take your call right now....). Some auditions and bookings come from talent agents, but I also get quite a few on my own. If you’re interested, please visit www.ruthtalks.com.

THE AUTHOR

Ruth Kaufman is the author of the Wars of the Roses Brides trilogy (AT HIS COMMAND, FOLLOW YOUR HEART and THE BRIDE TOURNMENT) and MY ONCE & FUTURE LOVE. Upcoming releases include humorous women’s fiction novels MY LIFE AS AN EXTRA and MY LIFE AS A STAR, and perhaps more books with “My” in the title. Accolades include 2016 Booksellers’ Best Awards Best Historical and Best First Book winner and Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® winner. She's also an actor and voiceover talent.

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