Jill Smolinski, Author Interview and Book Giveaway

Tonight our book club had the privilege of speaking to Jill Smolinski, author of The Next Thing On My List, reviewed HERE. Jill was warm and funny, and she patiently answered all of our questions.  We had a great time talking with her!  And is it just me, or does she look a lot like Courtney Thorne Smith?  Anyway, she generously offered to send a book to be given away here at Books on the Brain (BOTB) and agreed to answer a few questions about her best-selling book, which just recently came out in paperback.

BOTB:  Where did the idea for The Next Thing on My List come from? 

JS:  I knew I wanted to write about a woman doing a “life list” ever since I started one of my own before my 40th birthday.  I set out to write a story about a woman who was doing a list that she herself had come up with, but as June developed as a character, I knew she’d never really do a list of her own.  She was too passive about life.  It would take something really big to force her out of her rut, which is how the idea of her trying to complete someone else’s list came about.

BOTB: Were any of the characters or events based on real people or situations?

JS:  June’s job at the rideshare agency is based on a job I used to do – running carpool programs in Los Angeles.  A few of the characters started out very loosely based on people I know, but as I progressed, they took on personalities of their own.  Strangely enough, sometimes they’d do or say things that surprised me!

BOTB: You started your own Life List on your blog, with a twist-trying something new each day for a year. What was your experience with the list?  Did it change your outlook on life? 

JS:  It was harder than I expected to come up with something new to do every day – but that’s part of what made it such an incredible experience.  I did little things (like trying new foods or treating myself to a bubble bath) and things that scared me (holding a snake) and things I’ve always meant to get around to doing (get my ears pierced).  Like a lot of people, I have a tendency to put off things I really want to do because of all the things I “have” to do – this made me put a priority on getting more out of everyday life.

BOTB: Are you a list maker in every day life (to-do lists)?  How important is it, do you think, to write down your goals, big and small?   To set deadlines for your goals, the way Marissa did?  To try new things? 

JS:  I’m a big believer in writing down goals.  It takes something from being a mere idea and makes it concrete.  I’ve talked to so many people who’ve done life lists since my book came out, and I’ve learned that it’s the ones who’ve put their dreams in writing who tend to be actually making them happen.

BOTB:  I read that TNTOML was picked up by NewLine to be adapted to film.  Congratulations!  How did you feel when you got the news?  Can you tell us anything about when the movie might be coming out?    

JS:  I couldn’t be more thrilled about the movie – especially since it’s being produced by Wendy Finerman, who did Devil Wears Prada.  It’s in the screenwriting phase now so it’s still in the very early stages.

BOTB: Are you a member of a book club?  

JS:  Yes, for 18 years now!   It’s great because when you’ve finished reading a really good book, you’re dying to talk about it, so this gives me a chance to do that.  I also often call in to book clubs that have read my novels – I love talking to readers & also learning how other book clubs do things.

BOTB:  What is the message you’d like readers to take away from The Next Thing on My List?

JS:  At the risk of sounding corny – live life to the fullest every day.  Amazing things can happen.

**For a chance to win a copy of The Next Thing On My List, leave a comment on this post by May 15th!**

Review: The Next Thing On My List by Jill Smolinski

June Parker is an ordinary person who doesn’t strive for much.  At 34 she is a writer for LA Rideshare with an obnoxious boss and a relationship that’s hanging on by a thread.  When Marissa, an acquaintance and passenger in June’s car, dies in a freak accident, June finds a list Marissa made of 20 things she wanted to accomplish before her 25th birthday.  While visiting Marissa’s grave, June meets Marissa’s brother and comes up with an idea- with 18 tasks left to complete and just months before the deadline, she decides to finish the list in Marissa’s memory.

The accident occurs before the book begins, so the events and details of Marissa’s death are minimized, making this a surprisingly lighthearted and charming story.  June feels bad about the accident, of course, but she isn’t suffering from depression or saddled with crushing guilt, perhaps because she barely knew Marissa and the accident was not her fault. 

Initially it doesn’t seem possible that the underachieving June will finish the list by the deadline, but we root for her as she checks off each entry, from simple things like “Throw away the bathroom scale” to active things like “Run a 5K” to more meaningful goals such as “Change someone’s life”.  As she gets closer to completion, her own life undergoes a transformation.  She begins to take risks and soon becomes empowered, gaining respect at work and in her personal life. 

I was charmed by The Next Thing On My List.  There’s plenty of humor and a great story that makes you contemplate things you’d like to accomplish in your own life.  Breezy and fun, it’s the perfect choice for summer reading.  Book clubs will enjoy writing their own life lists and sharing them with each other, which is exactly what my book club did tonight!

Here are some thoughts from other people in my book club:

From Maggie:  I really liked this book.  I found myself laughing out loud and found this to be an easy read.  I have actually loaned it to one of my co-workers. What I like about the book was here is a person who believes that she is living an ordinary life doing ordinary things then when challenged with a list realizes that she is someone who is and can do extraordinary things.  An extraordinary person can be defined in many different ways depending on people’s perceptions. And most of all it was a fun read – great story line – and the story just flowed and made me want to keep reading.  

From Diane:  On a scale of 1-5 (5 being best), I give this book a 4.5.  It was fun and different.  I didn’t want to put it down, because I wanted to read what was going to happen next.  I was delightfully surprised that the author chose to surprise the reader with the endings for the adoption and June’s love interest – at least it kept me guessing – and for finding the mysterious Buddy Finch.  A fun, light read that I would recommend to a friend.  A good poolside/summer read. 

From Orchid:  The Next Thing On My List was a light and fun read.  It’s exactly what I needed to take my mind off of work and stress. The idea of June having to complete someone else’s goals was a very clever spin. I tried to imagine myself completing someone else’s list. June is completing this list for Marissa who died in the car accident etc. (she had met her at a Weight Watchers meeting, not a close friend or relative-?????). I could not understand why June was convinced that she was responsible for Marissa’s death. This part did not make any sense to me.  I was never fully convinced that anyone would try so hard to complete someone else’s list. Nevertheless, I was completely entertained by June’s little adventures as she tried to accomplish everything on the list by Marissa’s 25th Birthday.

You can find author Jill Smolinski’s website HERE.  It includes tips on how to make your own life list!

Jill’s Life List Blog is HERE  

Read my interview with Jill Smolinski and leave a comment by May 15th for a chance to win a copy of The Next Thing on My List!

The Sunday Salon: The Weekend in Books

We’re having another scorching hot weekend here in Southern California, but the heat (hovering around 90) wasn’t enough to keep me away from the 13th Annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA.  The festival is a huge special event that brings writers, publishers, book sellers and readers together.  We visited dozens of booths and it was all very exciting for me.  Authors are like Rock Stars in my world.  Not so much for my kids, though, who did a lot of complaining about the heat while spooning frozen lemonade into their mouths and soaking their feet in the big fountain on the quad.  I should have left the whiners at home!

We talked to Lori Nelson, author of a delightful book for girls called Hillary’s Big Business Adventure , about a 5th grader from Baltimore who has all kinds of entrepreneurial ideas.  This was right up my kids’ alley as they are Lemonade Stand Queens and are always dreaming up new ways to make cash.  My 5th grader actually has brochures and business cards made up for a business idea she has.  The book was written for kids a bit younger than mine, though, so I didn’t buy it, but 4-8 year olds would love it.  The illustrations are outstanding.

We also had a celebrity sighting.  Marilu Henner was at the Borders booth signing her new book Total Health Makeover.  She looked cute in a spring dress and sun hat and laughed when my husband called out, “We loved you on The Apprentice!”

Of the many panels and workshops at the festival there were three I’d hoped to attend, but we got there just in time for the first only to discover it was way on the other side of the sprawling campus.  The other 2 were happening at 2:30 and 4, but by 1pm we were melting in the heat and couldn’t take any more.  We all agreed it was time to leave.

I was excited to find a signed first edition of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin in my mailbox when I got home, sent to me by the author himself!  I look forward to starting it today.  Josh is going to do a guest post for me in the next few days about book clubs, and I’ll be giving away a copy of his book, so keep an eye out for that.  Matrimony is also the May selection for the online book club at Every Day I Write The Book Blog.  You might be able to score a copy of it over there if you hurry!  They are (were?) giving them away to those who want to participate in the discussion.

Last night we had a neighborhood BBQ to attend.  Our friends across the street recently hired an au pair from Brazil to care for their 3 year old twins for the next year. A new Brazilian au pair is a great excuse to party, I always say! 

By the time we came home at 8:30 I was so pooped from being out in the heat all day that I didn’t feel like reading (or maybe it was the massive amounts of bbq’d meat and the 3 beers I consumed that made me feel couch potato-ish).  Luckily Juno arrived in my mailbox from Netflix this weekend, so I popped it into the dvd player, not expecting too much, but I loved it! I laughed, I cried, I marveled at Ellen Page’s talent, her range of emotions, her character’s extensive and colorful vocabulary.  It is smart, funny, touching.  If you haven’t seen it, I insist you go check it out right now!  Or later.  Whatever works.  But do it!  You won’t regret it.

Ok, back to books.  I just gobbled up The Next Thing On My List by Jill Smolinski for my book club.  It’s a breezy whirlwind of a book, quick and light and fun, but also thought provoking.  June Parker gives an acquaintance, Marissa, a ride home one night after a Weight Watchers meeting.  They get in a crash on the freeway and Marissa dies.  Later June comes across a list in Marissa’s purse of 20 things she wanted to do before she turned 25.  There are large and small items on the list, ranging from “kiss a stranger” to “change someone’s life”.  The book is about June’s mission to finish the list for Marissa.  My book club is meeting on May 4th to discuss TNTOML, and the author has graciously agreed to join us by speaker phone.  I’ve asked everyone to bring their own list of 5 things they’d like to do before their next big birthday, but now I’m having trouble coming up with 5 things for my own list!   I keep reminding myself that they don’t need to be profound, just something new, but it’s not easy.  What would be on your list?    

Have a beautiful Sunday!