Cynthia Ellingsen’s delightful debut novel The Whole Package delivers a powerful punch of humor when three female friends decide to pool their collective talents and open The Whole Package-the world’s first restaurant staffed exclusively by very attractive men.
Cynthia very kindly agreed to answer a few questions and provide a book club menu for a group’s discussion of The Whole Package. Cynthia is daeandwrite’s first guest blogger and I can’t thank her enough for joining in the fun.
daeandwrite: Although externally the “battle of the sexes” seems to be a key to the plot, The Whole Package actually centers around three friends with history, secrets and perhaps one or two axes to grind. I often find that the battle between men and women is often less stressful than that between women friends. How important was it to you to depict both and how do you think the battles inform or influence one another?
Cynthia: The Whole Package is about three best friends who open a restaurant staffed by scantily clad men, in response to Hooters. In my opinion, it’s completely bizarre that a restaurant like Hooters exists, so I wanted to turn the tables on the concept. As a result, I had a lot of fun depicting the battle of the sexes between men and women. Many of the conflicts that take place between the women happen due to differing opinions on the topic. For example, Doris finds it sexist and hurtful to audition and judge the men trying out for The Whole Package, while Cheryl feels the auditions are more than fair payback for how men set standards for women every day.
daeandwrite: I really loved your restaurant concept. I’ve been talking for years about starting a “Peckers” franchise using a nasally, well-endowed woodpecker as the corporate logo and featuring lots of hot dogs and wieners. What sort of comments do you get from women readers? And how about the men? Has anyone taken your idea and run with it?
Cynthia: Ha! It seems that countless women have thought about opening a restaurant like The Whole Package – and yes, they have also named their version brilliant monikers such as “Peckers”. In general, most men are vaguely uncomfortable with the idea…I wonder why? As for taking the idea and running with it, I’ve read of one or two similar restaurants that opened in real life but they didn’t last long.
daeandwrite: Cheryl, Doris and Jackie have known each other since high school. They grew up, parted and now in their forties, have returned to their hometown of Schaumburg, Illinois. Do people change? Have they or do they find in themselves pretty much the same girls they always have been?
Cynthia: I think everyone has a pretty specific personality from the day they are born. That said, I enjoyed playing around with the idea of how life changes people on the surface, but not at the core. For example, Doris was a fun, mischievous girl in high school who becomes a frustrated housewife hooked on Xanax. But she reverts back to her true self around the friends who knew her back when. Also, she gets revenge on someone in the book by regressing back to a ridiculous revenge tactic she probably would have used in high school!
daeandwrite: The Whole Package is written in third-person but the narrative switches viewpoints between the women. Did you ever long for the allure of first-person? How did you decide on this format?
Cynthia: My first two novels are both written in this style. I’m a huge fan of the late Maeve Binchy and she often tells stories in third-person, so that’s coming from her influence. In the novel I’m working on now, I’m writing from first person and it’s a whole new experience.
daeandwrite: The Whole Package was your debut novel and a rousing success. How has your life changed? Do you have future plans for The Whole Package?
Cynthia: The most exciting thing about the success of The Whole Package was its success overseas! It was a bestseller in Italy, so I have fantasies that the Italians will pour me extra wine and give me more pizza the next time I visit. But in reality, nothing much has changed. I still spend too much time alone, talking to imaginary people and telling stories… but maybe things have changed, because I now feel comfortable doing that.
daeandwrite: Tell readers about your next book, Marriage Matters, and give us a preview of what you may be doing next.
Cynthia: Marriage Matters is hilarious and a lot of fun. It’s about a mother, daughter and grandmother who decide to share a wedding. It just came out in mass-market, so grab your copy today and definitely let me know what you think.
daeandwrite: OK. It’s fantasy book club time. When I host my book club discussion of The Whole Package, what food should I serve that is inspired by the book? Do you have any favorite recipes you’d like to share? What music (DISCO! comes to mind) should we listen to? Do you have any actors/actresses in mind for Doris, Jackie and Cheryl?
Cynthia: Food: I would definitely suggest serving some of the food the women serve when they are auditioning the chef – there’s a whole assortment of items in there. Perhaps do a spinach salad, lamb chops, pumpkin ravioli and – of course – tiramisu for dessert! Or the crème brulee Cheryl shares with Andy at their sexy date at Blackburn.
Recipes: Step One: Turn on fan. Step Two: Open door. Step Three: Stand by with fire extinguisher. (Obviously, I can’t cook.)
Music: Disco?! Hilarious. I was thinking more cheesy eighties music. Like, Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun ... One of my favorite visuals is on opening night, when one of the dancers starts snapping his fingers like Patrick Swayze in that big group scene from Dirty Dancing.
Actresses: When I first wrote The Whole Package, I wrote it with an older generation of actresses in mind. Jackie: Goldie Hawn, Cheryl: Tea Leoni and Doris: Kathy Bates. Since that is so ingrained in my head, I’m not sure who I would cast real-time. I could tell you in a flash for Marriage Matters… but you’ll just have to wait until next time.
daeandwrite: What are you reading?
Cynthia: Julie James, Anne Fortier, Wendy Wax, Karen White. Also, works in progress from the girls in my writing group – Jennifer Mattox, Frankie Finley and Stephanie Parkin. Recommendation to any potential writers – find a writer’s group! Not only does it hold you accountable for producing work, the right group can create an invaluable support system.
daeandwrite: Are you in a book club?
Cynthia: Yes, I’m in a wonderful book club at Good Shepherd church. The books lean more to the literary side of things and I look forward to the discussions. If left to my own devices, I would read light-hearted fiction, so it’s nice to be introduced to multi-layered works.
daeandwrite: Thank you so much Cynthia Ellingsen. Will you come back and guest blog on Marriage Matters?
***Woody Woodpecker by