Tuesday, August 19, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Ellie Midwood, Author

Ellie Midwood, Author
Ellie Midwood, born and raised in Moscow, Russia, brings us THE NEW YORK DOLL, a fictional account of a young woman’s experiences surviving in New York City. Although fiction, Midwood tells us that the book is intended to be a realistic account of what a young immigrant faces and how well-educated women from good families turn to exotic dancing to pay the bills. She draws on her own experiences as an immigrant in New York City—a city that she depicts as a character in the novel—to tell her story.  Although Midwood says that this is a book for adults, shekept the language very clean and there’s no strong sexual content in the book.”

Midwood is an avid fan of New York City, loves to involve her friends in conversations about current events, and lives with her boyfriend and Chihuahua in New York City. She is currently writing another novel, “The Brooklyn Boys' Tales" about the lives of one of New York’s mob families.

Don’t miss the excerpt from THE NEW YORK DOLL following her interview.

Q: How much did your real life experiences influence your writing in THE NEW YORK DOLL?

Ellie Midwood: I was originally born and raised in Moscow, Russia and right after I graduated from the foreign languages faculty in my University I came to the United States. So the first few years in this country and in New York in particular were put at the base of my book THE NEW YORK DOLL. This is my personal story that basically describes everything I had to go through within the first two years here. 

Q: Why did you write THE NEW YORK DOLL?  Did you intend to deliver a message? Or strictly entertain? Or educate?

Ellie Midwood: First of all, so many books were written on the related topic, but none of them were written by a non-resident of the United States, and that’s what makes it really stand out among the competing titles. I wanted to tell a story from an immigrant’s point of view and to show my readers how hard it is to make it here if you don’t have any papers.

And second, for me the main reason for writing this book was to make the readers understand the real reasons why even well-educated girls from good families sometimes find themselves in a gentleman’s club. Because let’s face it, mostly all the people who I was talking to prior to writing this book, especially those who have never been introduced to the night club world, have this stereotype in their head: all exotic dancers are shameless, uneducated home-wreckers who don’t know any better than to dance almost naked for money.

Well, all those people would be very surprised if I told them that I personally know so many girls who have to dance to pay tuition for their higher education. Those are the future doctors and lawyers, interior designers and fashion journalists for whom dancing is the only opportunity to pay for their dream career choice. For most of the dancers a gentleman’s club is only a phase and normally a very short one, then they move on, get their dream job, get married and have kids and nobody would even know what they used to do.

I wanted to break that stereotype for everybody.

Q: How relevant is the concept of “villain” and “hero” to telling your story?

Ellie Midwood: I’m thinking of this novel as a very realistic one, and just like in real life there are no positively good people with no flaws, and that’s the main reason why I didn’t want to create a perfectly likeable main character. She is a very sweet girl, but undergoes some changes that can make her or her choices unattractive to some readers. But at the same time, I tried to explain that in this particular situation it was the only possible option for her; Mila is just a human being with all her weaknesses and strong sides, she is just fighting for her dream and that kind of a fight has never been perfectly clean and nice for anyone. As for the villains in my story, there are only few negative characters, one of them is Mila’s aunt who is constantly trying to rob her own niece of her hard earned money and at some point takes Mila’s dog as a hostage. I would call her the only real “villain”; the rest of the negative characters are very life-like and that’s what makes this story so appealing to the readers. Some of them probably encountered similar situations (who has never been cheated on in their life like Mila was? Or who hasn’t been tricked by a real estate agent – the situation very common among New Yorkers?), and can easily relate to them. 

Q:  Why will readers care about your protagonist, Mila? How does she engage readers?

Ellie Midwood: You can’t help but to sympathize with this character, she’s so honest about everything she does and says that it makes the reader root for her and hope that everything will work out in the end. The transformation of Mila throughout the story is also very interesting: from a very good mommy’s girl with very high moral principles, who gets offended when the manager confuses her for a pole dancer instead of the waitress job she was applying for in the beginning of the story, but she gradually gets stronger, more cynical and acquires that New York street-smarts so necessary to survive in this concrete jungle. Very na├»ve and unexperienced in flirting before, Mila soon creates an alter-ego Milana, who knows how to easily manipulate customers, and soon becomes one of the most popular girls in the club. She also takes her stand when it comes to dealing with her greedy aunt, who was trying to jump on Mila’s gravy train and to get every dollar she could from her niece:

“- You know, you’ve really changed since I first met you, Mila. You were such a nice, quiet girl, with no attitude, always so polite and respectful, and I don’t like what you’ve become.

“-You don’t like that I became a self-sufficient person who can take care of herself and finally say something back, and not a foot rug that I used to be. Then yes, I’ve changed. And good for me!”

Mila’s character development due to the circumstances and the new environment she found herself in is very truthful; the readers can easily put themselves in Mila’s shoes and that’s what makes them sympathize with this character even more. She’s very, very realistic.

Q: How important was honesty and realism to THE NEW YORK DOLL?

Ellie Midwood: Even though THE NEW YORK DOLL is classified “fiction”, it’s a very realistic story, which the readers can easily relate to. That’s why for me it was very important to be as honest as I could while delivering the message to the audience.

This story is not a pretty one, but it’s very realistic; this is what happens to those illegal girls, the so-called J-1 girls (it’s a kind of a student visa for the international students) who have no choice but to start dancing in New York and New Jersey clubs to pay their bills and to create a future in this country. All of them are fighters as it requires a lot of psychological strength to get undressed for the first time in front of the whole club full of men they’ve never seen. And don’t forget, these girls come from good families, most of them are either students or already graduated from universities, and most of them have never seen a gentleman’s club from the inside before.

Most of the readers don’t know this side of this business, that’s why my goal was to depict each character and every situation as real as I could. By the way, the book is rated R due to its content (obviously it’s an adult audience oriented novel as half of the story describes a gentleman’s club), but I kept the language very clean and there’s no strong sexual content in the book: my main goal was to tell the story of hardship of an immigrant girl, not the story of a typical stripper.

Q:  How helpful is the setting of New York City to telling your story?

Ellie Midwood: I would say that New York City is one of the characters of the book: the City is the reason why Mila decides to stay in the United States as she falls in love with it right away. In the first chapters she describes New York City as someone would describe their lover, the way it makes her feel, the look, the smell, the sound; she talks about the City with such adoration that even if you’ve never been there you’ll most certainly want to visit it after reading THE NEW YORK DOLL. New York takes part in Mila’s character development: first it’s trying to break her, keeps pushing her away, but just to find out if she’s strong enough to have the honor of being called a real New Yorker. This City will break your spine if you are not ready for it, it’ll chew you up and spit you out. And Mila overcomes all the challenges on her way to prove her right to stay in her beloved city.

One more interesting detail in the book that’s probably going to appeal to a lot of readers is the description of the disaster caused by the hurricane “Sandy”. When it strikes, Mila and her best friend Mikky find themselves witnessing the terrifying consequences of “Sandy.” The day after “Sandy” hit the City, they walk on Emmons Ave in Sheepshead Bay (an area in Brooklyn surrounded by the ocean) and describe the devastation it caused as the whole area got almost completely wiped out (it took almost a year for Emmons Ave to rebuild; some stores and restaurants however are still closed). A lot of New Yorkers are still suffering from the consequences of the hurricane and I thought it would be important to raise this topic in my book, as well as the shortage of gas and food that followed “Sandy.”

Q:  Who will most benefit from or enjoy reading THE NEW YORK DOLL?

Ellie Midwood: THE NEW YORK DOLL is an adult audience oriented novel, and everyone who’s interested in stories revealing the truth about certain aspects of life or businesses will enjoy reading it. I like to compare THE NEW YORK DOLL to THE NANNY DIARIES by Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin or THE TWINS OF TRIBECA by Rachel Pine, but instead of revealing an ugly marriage and child raising problems of the Upper East Side moms or showing the real face of the movie-making business, THE NEW YORK DOLL exposes the inner world of a gentleman’s club business, it tells the story behind each character, both good and bad, it dwells on the question why the whole industry is so popular among men and why even the richest brokers of Wall Street who can afford everything, are complaining about their life and trying to find comfort in the arms of these beautiful dancers.

Q: What element to do you think is most important in creating a compelling story? Do you think it’s different across genres?

Ellie Midwood: As an eager reader, I always find the development of a character the most interesting, especially when he or she is taken from their normal environment and has to respond to new circumstances. For example in THE ALCHEMIST by one of my favorite authors Paulo Coelho the main character Santiago chasing his dream finds himself in a completely different country, the language of which he doesn’t even speak. He gets all his money stolen and doesn’t have a place to go. And nevertheless he doesn’t give up and keeps following his path. And I think a lot of people find it very inspiring. That’s why I wanted to create a similar story, with a strong character development that would be appealing to the readers. The main character Mila wouldn’t survive in New York if she would remain the person she used to be. She has to evolve, transform herself in order to fight for her dream and I hope the readers will enjoy following her transformation.

Q:  What’s next?

Ellie Midwood: I’m currently working on my second book under the working title THE BROOKLYN BOYS’ TALES, which depicts the life of several people connected to or members of one of the New York mob families. It’s very different from all the books on the related topic as it tells the real stories of real people that you won’t find in Wikipedia or in the police protocols. It’s going to have a very Brooklyn tone and accent, with a lot of real places mentioned, but all the names will be changed of course to protect the “story-tellers”. Here’s a little blurb from it:

“Some of them were away for several years; some just never got caught. A lot of controversy surrounds them: rumors, tall-tales, some of them are true, some are created by the vivid imagination of the crowd. But once a wise guy enters the room, everybody feels his presence. And even when you get too intimidated, you can’t show your fear; they have the senses of a wild animal and will tear you apart right away. Feel free to show your respect though, they like it, and if you happen to gain their trust and establish a friendly relationship with one of them through offering some free services or helping them out with something, you won’t regret it in the future. Just like in “The Godfather”, one hand always washes the other, and believe me, when you get in trouble you want that hand to be there for you.”

Q: Tell us about Ellie Midwood. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Ellie Midwood: I’m pretty much always writing, whether it’s a new project or a post for my blog (it’s also called “The New York Doll” and you can find it here: Ellieellechka.blogspot.com). I really enjoy doing restaurant reviews for my friends and also for the new hot spots that I discover in New York. Besides writing, I’m very into yoga and a healthy lifestyle and trying to be as active as I can. My best friend Vladlena and I once walked all the way from the Battery Park to Central Park; I’m really into New York City and even though I currently live in Brooklyn, I enjoy going there and finding new places. Sometimes I like being a tourist in my own city, it always inspires me and puts me in a good mood even if I’m upset or stressed out. I also love the process of the never-ending educational process for myself (I think so far I’ve been to every museum in the City, some of them I visited several times) and really enjoy reading new historical and medical articles (my grandmother is a doctor and my childhood books were replaced by medical encyclopedias). I’m very into politics as well and can’t help but to involve people into a conversation about the current events.

About Ellie Midwood

Ellie Midwood came to the United States after graduating from the faculty of foreign languages in Moscow, Russia. Her impressions from the first years in New York were put at the base of her book THE NEW YORK DOLL. Ellie is currently working on her upcoming book "The Brooklyn Boys' Tales" that depicts the lives of several powerful members of one of New York mob families. Ellie currently lives in New York with her boyfriend and their Chihuahua.

This is a story of a young girl of Russian-Jewish heritage Mila, who came to New York in search of true love and the American Dream. But after struggling to survive and keep a roof above her head, she turns to an option that she never even considered before: she becomes an exotic dancer. On her way she meets a lot of people, both good and bad, and she depicts every single one of them with incredible honesty. She falls in love with the owner of the club, the powerful Italian-American mobster R., and now they both have to fight for their bright future together.

This is the story of love and hatred, of friendship and betrayal, and everything else that takes place behind the closed doors of a gentleman's club.


“One of the myths about this business is that all strippers are whores, or gold diggers, or both combined.  Probably in certain cases you would be right, but 80% of the girls simply have temporary financial difficulties and they are hot and open-minded enough to resolve them quickly and pain free. Some of the girls are dancing to pay off their fake marriages for papers, oh well, let’s be honest, that’s the majority of the whole strip club population. That was the reason why Mikky spent three years in different clubs and now she is a happily divorced legal American citizen with a nice bank account and plans on buying an apartment in Manhattan.

“Some of the girls, however, don’t have the papers yet and that’s the only nicely paid half-legal job that they can find at the time. That’s the case of most of the Brazilian and Puerto-Rican girls who are lucky enough to have prettier faces and rounder butts than those who have to clean hotel rooms 24/7 or babysit some spoiled rotten Park Avenue toddlers.

“Some girls are paying off their tuition by giving lap dances and doing champagne rooms, since they are not that attracted to the idea of being a 30 year old lawyer with a huge debt to pay to the truly fascinating American educational system. These are mostly American girls from the lower middle class families who do this so that their daughters won’t have to.

“You know, when you think of that, I truly admire all these girls and women who actually have a very structured plan on what they want to do with their lives and what are they going to be in 3, 5, 7 years and how much it’s all going to cost. It amazes me what great accountants, managers and personal life coaches they are.”


 Twitter: @EllieMidwood

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