Monday, April 16, 2012

Exceeding Expectations By Lisa April Smith

Today, as part of her Virtual Book Tour, we have the pleasure of hosting Lisa April Smith, who is promoting her new book Exceeding Expectations.

Author: Lisa April Smith
Publisher: Self
Date of publication: December 2011

It’s 1961 and Palm Beach socialite, irresistible rascal and devoted father Jack Morgan encounters genuine danger while staging his suicide to shield his beloved daughters from disgrace. Next, meet his daughter Charlotte (Charlie), an over-indulged 23 year-old struggling to cope with the traumatizing loss of her beloved father, her sister’s resulting mental breakdown and the discovery that she’s suddenly penniless. Fortunately Raul, an admiring young attorney, appears to offer assistance. As terrified as she is about daily survival, Charlie soon realizes that she has to learn what drove her father to kill himself. With Raul’s much needed ego-bolstering, the drive of necessity and unforeseen determination, Charlie finds a practical use for her annoyingly lean 5’ 11” frame. In time, this career finances her hard-wrought independence, her sister’s costly treatment and an emotional eye-opening journey to Paris.

Jumping back in time to romantic pre-WWII Paris, readers meet young Alan Fitzpatrick – aka Jack Morgan – lack-luster artist and expert lover and the bewitching girl who will become the mother of his children. Not even Charlie’s relentless detective work will uncover all Jack’s secrets, but in a fireworks of surprise endings, she discovers all that she needs to know and more:  disturbing truths about her father, her own unique talent, crimes great and small and a diabolical villain.  

My Take:
I couldn't put this book down.  I will admit that I wasn't sure if I was going to like it when I first started it.  
But once I got past the second page, I had to know what was going to happen next.  Why did Jack stage his suicide and how could he leave his family?  "Charlie" and her sister Amelia suddenly find themselves penniless and facing life on the streets.  When they find out their father probably killed himself, Charlie decides to try to figure out why.  The story alternates between the 60's (now) and the late 30s to early 40s (then).  As Charlie discovers clues about her father and her own history, the reader travels back to the late 30s in France and finds out the real story.  I liked how the story flowed.  The transitions were smooth and well timed.

I really liked Charlie.  On the surface she looks like a spoiled, privileged socialite.  Deep down, she is a strong, loving woman who will do anything to take care of the ones she loved.  Even if it means getting a job. I liked that while she has led a privileged life, she wasn't naive and clueless.  I loved her and Raul together. I  was hoping she could get past her own worries about what society would think of her being with a Cuban man find her "Happily Ever After".  

Exceeding Expectations is a well written, engaging mystery. While it isn't a traditional whodunit, there are a lot of twists that make it that much more intriguing. There is also a really sweet romance to round out the story.  The epilogue leaves a big cliffhanger and I can't wait to read Paradise Misplaced when it comes out.  Pick this one up, you won't be sorry!

Lisa kindly agreed to answer a few questions. Welcome, Lisa.   

A:  Thank you for inviting me, Kari. Great to be here. 
Q. Let’s start with a fun question. Tell us 10 things about yourself that fans might find interesting or surprising?

A. Gladly.
1. I make jewelry but refuse to sell it. I like what I make too much to part with it. (Occasionally, I give a piece to a very good friend.)

2. I enjoy watching documentaries, “30 Rock,” and “American Pickers.”  

3. I don’t need a time machine, black hole or a crack in the universe to step back in time. A visit to any museum, historic mansion, or dig site that has art or artifacts from the past will transport me. When I can’t get to one of the above, and I desperately need a break from the frantic Age of Instant Access, an antique store will do.      

4. I’m impossibly impatient. For example, besides the news, I record all TV programs I want to see so that I can condense a 60 minute episode into 30. (Which does not disturb my husband whose tastes differ from mine, and who does his viewing in another room. Having things in common in marriage is highly overrated.)

5. I’m fascinated by all facets of crime, criminals and deviant behavior.
6. I’m a volunteer tutor at an after school program for disadvantaged kids.

7. I love watching lightning and listening to thunder but only when I’m safe and dry.

8. I’m equally parts left and right brained, a condition I share with the late Oliva Goldsmith, author of First Wives Club. When I worked at IBM it troubled me not to be primarily left brained, like most of my geek colleagues. Goldsmith’s must-read primer for novelists, The Bestseller, assured me that the condition was ideal for writing fiction. The creative right side provides the original characters and plot, while the practical left side organizes, evaluates and bullies the right side into endless editing.  

9. I grow orchids in front of my house and cactus inside. Many varieties of cactus, with their asymmetrical shapes and twisted limbs, resemble modern sculpture.

10. As a kid, I was so impressed that my mother could whistle through her fingers that I practiced and practiced until I could do it. My daughter is the 3rd generation of women in our family that accomplish this awesome feat. Sad to say, to date, her daughter shows no interest in maintaining the family tradition. 

Q. That was fun. I’m so glad I asked.  Now for a serious one, did you always want to be a writer?

A. I always knew that I could write because I never received less than “A’s” on essays and term papers. And I do remember, when I was in elementary school, daydreaming about characters and inventing elaborate plots, but at twelve grownup responsibilities forced me to focus on the practical. Fortunately, I found time to read – non-fiction to feed my hungry curiosity and fiction for escape and solace. But it wasn’t until my children were grown that the need to write fiction resurfaced, abruptly, with the impact of a tsunami.
Q. Is the enforced solitude of writing ever a problem for you?

A. The minute I get into the book I’m currently working on, I’m not alone. I’m not even at my desk. I’m with my characters, wherever they happen to be. Which is not to say that I prefer fiction to reality – a dangerous thing to do. I make a point of staying current on what’s happening in the world via television and topical articles in magazines and newspapers.

Q. What particularly pleases you about writing fiction? 

A. The creative experience. I’ve always envied painters, sculptors, composers. Imagine applying oil to canvas and fashioning a masterpiece. Imagine hearing wonderful music in your head that hasn’t been heard before. Imagine turning a shapeless lump of clay, or block of stone, into an object that produces emotions in viewers. Writing is an art too. With words as their sole tool, authors weave them into stories and place invented people into invented problematic situations. If the author is truly skillful, she not only entertains, she touches, transports and meaningfully moves readers. That’s a powerful and addicting drug. 

Q. Where do you get your inspiration?

A. My books are generally inspired by media coverage of events and people that I find intriguing. In 1998, Florida television and newspapers were reporting a story of a local Palm Beach socialite (ironically named Fagan) arrested for kidnapping his daughters eighteen years earlier, when they were 2 and 5 years old. The primary reason that it had taken eighteen years to find Fagan was that he had successfully reinvented himself. As William S. Martin, a handsome widower with two young daughters and no apparent means of support, Fagan had met and married a wealthy Palm Beach widow. After their divorce, another affluent woman agreed to wed and maintain his family’s plush lifestyle.

Neighbors, friends and the teachers at the girls’ tony private school all described him as “likeable,” “charming” and “devoted father.” Throughout his arrest and subsequent proceedings, his loyal third wife steadfastly stood by him, as did both daughters. Perhaps what most surprised people who followed the case was that the girls’ mother, a research scientist teaching at the University of Virginia, through the media and her attorney, repeatedly begged her daughters to meet with her and they refused. To my knowledge, that continues to this day.

As I was following the case I found myself thinking that there was an even juicier story behind this headline-grabber and set out to create one. I began with a few core facts. A man with an invented name and history, twice married to wealthy widows, living in Palm Beach, playground of the mega-rich and famous, and involved in a crime. Two adoring daughters unaware of their true identities. Over time my imagination happily supplied the rest. A townhouse off Fifth Avenue. A sprawling estate in Virginia. Romantic Paris in the years prior to WWII. A riveting past for Jack Morgan: skilled lover, lack-luster artist and irresistible rascal. A full-blown range of challenges and hard-wrought triumphs for his traumatized daughter Charlotte (Charlie). 

Q. If Exceeding Expectations was made into movie, have you given any thought as to casting?

A. That’s a question often put to me at book events. I can see George Clooney as Jack Morgan at fifty. He has the looks and sex appeal, plus the talent to play the needed serious and comic sides of Jack Morgan. The problem is, what actor could make viewers believe that he’s George Clooney at twenty-five and thirty? Maybe false eyelashes would help. Deborah Previte, the Bookish Dame, thinks Andy Garcia is a Raul Francesco clone. I’d love to hear suggestions from readers. As for my tall, thin heroine Charlie, I see a young Gwyneth Paltrow playing her. Sadly, I don’t know how to turn back time in real life.     

Q. I've heard that Exceeding Expectations has a sequel. Can you tell us the title and when it's going to be available?

A. The title is Paradise Misplaced (another playful reference to an iconic book). I can’t say with certainty when it’s going to be available. I suggest fans check my website for the latest information. The one thing I can say about it with certainty is, “I promise a page-turner fun ride.”  

About the author:

Author Lisa April Smith lives with her husband, He-Who-Wishes-to-Remain-Anonymous, inEternal Playland, Florida, a delightful spot just off I-95. Ms. Smith describes Eternal Playland as"a little piece of level heaven with occasional dampness, where the bugs are plentiful but respectful, and even the smallest strip mall contains at least one pizza place and a nail salon."

Before discovering a passion for writing, Ms. Smith sold plumbing and heating, antiques, taught ballroom dancing, tutored, modeled, designed software and managed projects for IBM. She returned to college multiple times to study anthropology, sociology and computer science, in which she holds degrees, as well as psychology, archeology, literature, history and art. Combine those widely diverse interests with a love of travel and a gift for writing page-turners and it’s easy to understand one reviewer’s unbridled praise for Exceeding Expectations, “She (Ms. Smith) has a brilliance for conveying characters, and the intellectual capacity to place them in historical settings that sparkle with glamorous detail . . . that make it fun to read . . . ” But it takes much more than lush settings, an eye for detail and a love of history to write a page-turner. Read what another reviewer said about Exceeding Expectations: “Lisa April Smith . . . has woven an intriguingly rich tapestry of delightful well-developed characters into a perfectly balanced plot bursting with riveting mystery, crimes of the petty and the horrible sort, suspenseful twists, and romantic tension complete with love scenes that sizzle and pop. . . Clearly, this author has, and wishes to share with her readers, what the French call joie de vivre  – not simply the joy of life – but an all-encompassing appreciation for every facet of life.”

For more about Lisa, her books, and upcoming projects visit her website:
Lisa April Smith can be contacted at WriteLisa(at)LisaAprilSmith(dot)com  

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