With a short story already published in Living Legacies: A Collection of Inspirational Contemporary Jewish Women, Neiss-Arbess is busy promoting her book Me and My So-Called Friends (Love & Lifestyle, 2015).
Aimed at tweens, young teens and their families, the novel tells a story of a teen girl struggling with backstabbing friends, embarrassing situations and peer pressure. She talks about her novel’s perennially popular topic and her writing process from her home in Toronto.
What did you study at Concordia?
SNA: “Communication studies — I switched from a major to specialization due to my desire to learn as much as I could from the program.
My favourite courses were scriptwriting and advanced scriptwriting with Michael Donovan [former lecturer, BA 81]. I really enjoyed those courses because it pushed my creative skills and I learned that I had a talent for dialogue and writing stories.”
What did you do once you graduated?
SNA: “I worked in retail advertising right after I graduated from Concordia. After a year, I realized that I needed some computer skills, so I went to Algonquin College in Ottawa for two years to study advertising. After that, I worked for some small advertising shops and then was hired at Sears as a copywriter.
Once I had my son, I wanted to spend more time with him and I also wanted to write. I had a story brewing in my head for many years and I had to get it out. I decided to create my own office at my neighbourhood coffee shop. I actually mirrored that from Michael Donovan, who used to write his screenplays near his home in Dollard-des-Ormeaux [Que.] at the Dunkin’ Donuts.”
Tell us about your writing process.
SNA: “I began writing three times a week, two hours at a time. I didn’t want to do it every day because I was afraid I would get writer’s block.
There were days when I wrote five pages and there were days when I wrote seven pages and there were days when I didn’t write at all. It just wasn’t coming out. And that was okay because I knew the next time I’d come in, I’d write more. And that’s what happened.
The first draft took nine months. Initially, I did try to publish the book at a traditional publisher. I only tried about 10 publishers and I got rejected from everybody, which was of course a demoralizing experience; but looking back, it wasn’t meant to be at the time.
I decided to put away my book on the shelf and work on other projects. I also had my third child. After several years, I felt it was time to visit my manuscript again. I was psychologically ready. I hadn’t looked at it in a long time, and I changed as a person and so did the story.”
How did you get the book published?