Author Q&A: Heidi Mastrogiovanni- Lala Pettibone's Act 2.
Lala Pettibone, a forty-something widow whose outrageous antics befit women half her age, has been imagining her sexy boss, Gerard, is as smitten with her as she is with him. Enter Gerard’s fabulous girlfriend from Paris.
Lala Pettibone's Act Two is a wonderfully hilarious, second coming-of-age novel. Bridget Jones has absolutely nothing on Lala in the Late-Bloomer-With-Maybe-Lots-of-Potential Department. Kirkus Reviews says, "Lala’s zest for life, love of rescue dogs, and solid friendships will keep readers engaged." We had the honor of interviewing the delightful, Heidi Mastrogiovanni, about the great loves in her life-Animals, words, family- and what to expect in the second Lala novel!
AJ: One of our favorite things about your book is the message that age is just a number. It is never too late to experience adventure and embrace big changes. What was a significant experience from your own life that motivated you to create Lala’s story?
HM: Two smaller anecdotes immediately come to mind: Several years ago, I was sitting in my allergist’s office and the nurse was updating my profile information. After noting my height and weight, etc., she said, “And how old are you?” Without thinking (so I wasn’t consciously lying), I said, “I’m thirty-two.” And then I realized what I had just said, and corrected myself: “No, I’m not!” I was, in fact, in my mid-40s. It’s just that the number 32 was the first one that popped into my mind. Because I felt 32…or 22…or 42…or whatever those ages feel like. What struck me about that moment is that, no matter what the number is, I feel like me. And a conversation with my mother reinforced that lovely thought. On her 85th birthday, I called to congratulate her. My mother always started just about every sentence—be it a statement or a question—with the exclamation “Oh.” So, on her birthday, I said, “Mom, eighty-five! That’s amazing!” And her response was, “Oh. But I don’t feel eighty-five.” The clear and meaningful message I got was that she felt like herself, and the actual number was irrelevant. However, the most significant experience from my life mirrors an event in Lala’s, and it was indeed a big part of the inspiration to create her story. Like Lala, I was widowed at an early age. My first husband died when I was 41. Everything in my life changed. The future I expected to live was gone. Two-and-a-half years after my first husband died, I met my second husband, Tom. The threads that had to come together for us to be in the same place at the same time are, to me, nothing short of miraculous. I got married again when I was 48… to a man 10 years younger than I am. After my first husband died, I had to create a new life, and the profound and painful lessons of his illness and passing have made that new life rich with more meaning, more appreciation and gratitude, and more of a sense of adventure and possibility. Creating Lala’s Act Two is a significant and joyous part of my own Act Two.
AJ: What was your favorite moment for Lala during her rebirth?
HM: My favorite moment has to be when Lala hurts her leg by running at too high an incline on the treadmill. And then, while she’s recovering, her face rebels and breaks out on an epic scale. What I love about those difficult moments is that Lala gets through the trauma and really does come out stronger as a result. And of course I have to giggle while Lala is applying industrial-grade spackle to cover her blemishes, because we’ve all been there…
AJ: We love that Lala adopts so many older dogs and loves them so hard in their final years! This is something that really reflects you. Tell us a little bit about your work with animal rescue and welfare, and your own 3 lovely pups.
HM: I’m so thrilled that you asked! I have always loved talking about animals. We got a dog when I was seven, and he died when I was twenty-three. He was like my baby brother. That was it for me; I was never going to be without a pet in the family. When I met my first husband, Dennis, he had a fabulous, grumpy old cat he had adopted from the ASPCA in New York City. The cat’s name was Mr. Joe, and he was hugely irritated that I had joined the family and was diverting attention from his beloved Dennis. I managed to wriggle my way into his heart by taking over the duty of putting food in his bowl. After just a few weeks, I found out that I was violently allergic to cats. My allergist told me that we would “have to get rid of the cat.” While I was relating the story of my visit, before I had the chance to say of course I told the allergist that we would never “get rid” of our cat, Dennis jumped in and said, “Well, that’s not going to happen. He was here first.” And that loyalty on Dennis’s part only made me love him more. He had made a commitment to Mr. Joe, and he was going to honor it. I got allergy shots and I used inhalers and Mr. Joe had to get a bath once a month, and we lived together very happily for many years. The same thing happened when I met Tom. I had three cats (Dennis and I had adopted them together when we moved to Los Angeles), and Tom, as it turns out, is allergic to cats. His allergist gave him the speech about having to get rid of the cats. Tom told him that he was not going to give his new girlfriend an ultimatum about it being him or the cats, because he knew what she would choose. Tom did what he had to in order to be able to live with my cats. I had always done some volunteering for animal welfare causes and organizations in New York, but it was after Dennis died that working to defend the voiceless became one of the most significant aspects of my life. Volunteering helped to distract me from the grief of losing my husband. I became a board member of Forgotten Animals of Los Angeles, a grassroots rescue organization founded by a close friend of mine. I also became a board member of the California chapter of the League of Humane Voters. When you become a part of the animal welfare community, you get on a lot of mailing lists. In 2005, I was one of a long list of people who got an e-mail that begged for a foster home for an elderly beagle. I wrote back to say that we would foster the dog. Two weeks later, I picked her up from the veterinarian’s office where she had been being treated. The moment I saw her, a voice in my mind said, “That’s my dog.” There was no thought of fostering her. She was ours, instantly. Eunice Petunia and I had a profound connection. She had severe arthritis, and we did everything we could to make her comfortable. Even with her advanced age and her medical issues, she was the most cheerful creature of any species that I have ever met. We had three wonderful years with her before she passed away. And that was it for me. I came to realize that adopting senior animals is my calling. The three we have now are all at least 13 or 14 years old. They are such sweet little angels. We got two of them, Chester (a.k.a. Chessie) and Maggie (a.k.a. Magpie), from Beagles and Buddies, a wonderful no-kill shelter in Southern California. Our Chihuahua, Squeaks (a.k.a. Sir Squeaks-A-Lot), was inherited from my father-in-law. Tom and I just adore them. I feel very strongly that children and animals need and deserve our kindness and our respect and our protection. They are defenseless, and it is up to us to defend them. And, really, there is no feeling better than the feeling one gets from helping those who are vulnerable. So I truly believe that, in animal rescue, you always get much more than you give.
AJ: You focus a lot on Lala’s love of words and language. What is your all-time favorite word? HM: That is an excellent and difficult question. It’s so hard to pick one! May I stall for time by adding that my favorite words in French are “pamplemousse” (grapefruit) and “pneu” (tire, the noun -- pronounced “puh-noo”)… Okay, in English… Wait, let me just add that in German, my favorite word has to be Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän. I’m serious; that’s a German word. I love that the German language mashes words together that English would leave as separate words and makes the longest words you can even imagine. P.S. It means “Danube steamship company captain.” Okay, yes, so, in English… My all-time favorite word in English is “kindness.” I also really like the word “gingerly,” because it always sounds to me like you’re doing something with the spicy energy and abandon of ginger, when it actually means just the opposite. “Gambol” is also a really good word… It is VERY hard to pick just one!
AJ: Can you give us a little tease on what we can expect for Lala’s future adventures? HM: I would be delighted to! In the next segment of Lala’s adventures, there will be a meeting at Sony Pictures, a film shoot in Paris, a flirtation with a British movie star, and a trip to Kleinfeld in Manhattan to buy a wedding gown during an appearance on Say Yes to the Dress. Also, Lala will be chased by a goat in a French farmyard and will bump into her old boss, Gerard, at the Musée d'Orsay.