Neely Tubati Alexander, LOVE BUZZ

Neely Tubati Alexander, LOVE BUZZ

Guest host Julie Chavez interviews debut author Neely Tubati-Alexander about Love Buzz, a sparkling and serendipitous rom-com about a chance romantic encounter at a Mardi Gras bachelorette party and the chaos it unleashes in the protagonist’s life. Neely talks about love at first sight, grief, mom guilt, writing as a “pantser”, finding her creative flow during COVID, and making time to write with toddlers. She also shares how she gave heart and depth to her “rom-com” and where she’s at with book number two!


Julie Chavez: Neely, thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to talk about Love Buzz. I’m so happy you’re here.

Neely Tubati-Alexander: Thank you. I’m excited to be here. I’m a fan of the podcast, so it’s fun to be on.

Julie: I’m so thrilled that you were able to join us and that I got to be the one to interview you because I was so excited when I got this book and was reading about the details. I think it was perfect for me because both my boys were born in Seattle. We lived there for nine years. I loved reading about all the details. Chamber Hill felt so real to me. Before I start emoting too much, let’s back up. Will you tell listeners a little bit about the book for us?

Neely: Love Buzz is a women’s fiction novel with strong rom-com elements about a woman named Serena who goes to a bachelorette party during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. She meets this guy on the last night of the trip. It is this serendipitous, kismet type of meeting. She has never felt the way she felt when she met him. Their interaction is cut short rather abruptly. They don’t exchange contact information or anything like that. She goes home to Seattle not knowing how to contact this guy. She decides she’s going to find him based on the short list of clues that she has based on the conversation and interaction that they did have. Along the way, she starts to unravel her life. It really is a story about self-discovery more than the romance or the guy. He’s sort of just the catalyst for all of these other things that happen within her life as a result of this change.

Julie: Wow, very good job on that description. You must have been practicing that.

Neely: Thank you. I feel like it comes out very different every time, so I don’t know.

Julie: I have to say, there is a ton of buzz around Love Buzz. I’ve seen it on so many lists. I’m so excited that it’s going to find its way. I really enjoyed it. I thought it was really well-done. We’ll talk a little bit more about specific things that I really, really thought you did well. This is your debut novel. It read so smoothly. It felt like you’re already a pro.

Neely: Thank you. That doesn’t come without a lot of edits, as you well know.

Julie: Bless those editors. What would we do without them? I’d like to start with — you used the word serendipitous when you were describing it. I was reading some of your stuff and that you were a fan of Serendipity, the movie, which I only find mildly depressing that it’s now a classic because I saw it in the theater. I am such a huge fan of that movie. I was so excited to read that.

Neely: I love that movie. It’s Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack. I think it was early ’90s, maybe early 2000s. It’s a really great conversation starter. Does love at first sight exist? How far are you willing to go to track someone down that you really don’t know much about? I’ve just always been infatuated with that idea. Is it a thing? Does it exist? It was a great opportunity to explore that.

Julie: Did you have love at first sight in your personal life?

Neely: I don’t know that I actually truly believe in love at first sight. I definitely believe that we have connections with people, romantic or otherwise, where you instantly meet someone, and you’re on the same wavelength. You have the same energy, vibe. You just immediately know this person was meant to be in your life in some capacity. I think we’ve all experienced that at one point or another and if we’re lucky, more than once. I’ve definitely had that type of interaction. The pragmatist in me and the naysayer in me says that love at first sight isn’t necessarily a thing, but there is a level of connection that can be significantly greater with certain people than with others. I’ve definitely had that.

Julie: That makes total sense. I agree. There are people that you meet, and it’s a similar sensibility, something. You think, this was meant to be. That’s such a great feeling when that happens, as opposed to the opposite, which is, let’s never talk again.

Neely: I’ve had those too.

Julie: Haven’t we all? I really enjoyed the idea behind the book. When I’m following along with Serena, I really identified with her in a lot of ways. Especially, something that you had written in some of the materials was that all that separates us from ourselves — I’m paraphrasing. Basically, what’s separating ourselves from us and the life we want to live is only a few brave decisions. Is that something that you set out to do? When you set out to write the book, did you know that you wanted it to go the way it did? I don’t want to give anything away. Did you see that as you went along?

Neely: I saw it as I went along. I’m a pantser. I don’t really outline. I know the beginning and an end of a story, but not much more beyond that. The story really started with the meet-cute. That was what I knew I wanted to write. That’s what I started with. I don’t necessarily usually write in order either. That was the starting scene. That was what I began the story with. From there, it just took on a life of its own. I sort of wrote myself into a bit of a corner. They leave, and they don’t have contact information. Are they going to be together again? At what point will they come back together again? The story really evolved into being more about Serena than it did about this love story for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because it was her story about her life and what was going on in her life beyond just this romantic encounter. I think a lot of us have these “someday” dreams or these things that we think about doing but we don’t actually vocalize or take steps to doing. The idea that you’re only a couple of decisions away, it makes things feel less daunting and less, you have to tip your world upside down to be able to achieve these types of things that you want to. I think we also sometimes wake up and look around and say, how did I get here? and not really realizing that you haven’t looked up and said, is this where I actually want to be? I love the idea of blowing everything up and starting over. What would that look like?

Julie: That’s such a good question. Was becoming a writer a “someday” dream for you?

Neely: It was. I always said I would write a book. It was a very much a “one day” type of thing. Then we have kids. Other things take priority. We get a real job. It was always something I wanted to do. Like a lot of authors, I had folders on my computer of ten thousand words here and twenty thousand words here and books that I started and never finished or ideas, but just never really gave it the attention that it needed. Then COVID hit. Like a lot of us, I found my creative flow during that time. That was the first time I sat down and finished something from start to finish. Once you finish a book for the first time — I’m curious what your thoughts are because I know you have a book coming out too early next year, which I want to hear about. Once you do it once, it’s an unlocking of, okay, I can do this. Then you have the ability to start and finish a book. You can replicate that in a way that becomes easier and more accessible than it was before you did that. That was really the turning point for me, was being able to get a book written from start to finish, regardless of whether it was any good, just being able to tell the story from start to finish.

Julie: Yes. As you said earlier, we look at a finished book, and it’s easy to think of it in that form and sort of place that in the raw sense. That is not the truth of it. It starts out as one thing. Then you have so many people that are able to help you usher it forward. You’re right. Finishing is the name of the game, even if it’s ugly and gross. It sounds like writing was a refuge for you through the pandemic. You found your creative flow. How did you carve out that time? I know you have two young kids. Even in COVID, it felt like things were just all tossed up. We were waiting for everything to resettle. How did that work for you?

Neely: It wasn’t easy. I had an online kindergartner and a toddler.

Julie: Nightmare.

Neely: Online kindergarten is not done on one’s own. It requires a lot of support. Then my husband and I were both working from home. I run a small business, so I was feeling the hit of the business in and of itself. We were all on top of each other. I started, at the end of the day, locking myself in our guest room. I started looking forward to that time. I truly viewed it as self-care time. It was the thing I was looking forward to when we were all very stressed. We had so much going on. The world was uncertain. I really started to look at it as self-care. It was the thing that I ended up looking forward to during the day. I would go in the guest room and lock the door, pretend I was at a hotel or a resort or somewhere, anywhere else, and I would write. Sometimes it happened. Sometimes it didn’t. It really was the consistency that was the momentum I needed to get past the point of just another draft and to the point of finishing something.

Julie: That’s a really lovely way to think about it. Even though, hopefully, life doesn’t feel like that now, there is something twisting the narrative to feel like writing can be self-care and that this can be something that you look forward to as opposed to dread. Sometimes there’s a lot of that. There is an element, I’m sure, of showing up and putting your butt in the chair. I think that’s a really neat way to think about it. What a gift, it sounds like, that you had a partner to wrangle the small people while you were there. Did you have a white noise machine? Did you lock the door? Did you barricade it?

Neely: I did lock the door, yes. There was a lot of, “Time for you guys to go to the park.” You find a way. I certainly realized I had circumstances and support that a lot of people don’t. I was certainly fortunate to have that, for sure.

Julie: It is nice to think about it, even if it were less chunks for other people who might be listening who are thinking about wanting to do this. Where can I carve out this space? How do I prioritize it as something I do for me, not just a “someday when”? I love hearing that. This book is really funny. I really laughed out loud at some of the lines, I will say. “She expected a life full of grand gestures and easily won orgasms,” was a favorite, and the first line of the book. So many of them were funny and quippy. You did such a good job with that. Do you like to be funny? Are you a funny person, or are you funny on the page?

Neely: That’s so funny. First of all, thank you. Humor is so subjective. You hope things will land. You hope that people will find them amusing, but you never know, especially when out of context on a page. You don’t get the delivery of someone on screen. It’s all the more challenging to have humor come across. I think it’s a lot easier to be funny on the page, though, because you can set up your own jokes. The dialogue go the way that you need it to go. Being quick-witted is not the same as being funny on a page. I’d say I’m funnier on a page more so than I am quick-witted. You have the time to really build and develop that joke versus having something on the fly come out that’s seamless. I appreciate that you found humor because, again, it’s a hard thing to sometimes have come across on the page.

Julie: You’re so right. Not knowing what the reader brings to it and what their sensibility might be, that makes sense. You’re right, you are setting up your own jokes. Gosh, that kind of control, I need more of that in regular life. We’re going to wait for this. It’s coming. It’s going to be great.

Neely: I’m really funny if I can control the entire narrative.

Julie: I think anyone would want to be friends with that sort of person. Come to dinner with me, and just be an experiment in my funniness. It’s going to be great. You also talked about how this book, in some ways, was a tribute to Seattle. What was hilarious is it probably was maybe a third of the way in that I thought — I was really confused as to whether Chamber Hill was a neighborhood I had never heard of. I thought I knew them all. I was just thinking, where is this, exactly? When I read the acknowledgments, I felt much better. I went through and figured that out because I was like, I think I’m losing it. You captured Seattle so well, and all of these little references that I think people from the Pacific Northwest will know and really enjoy. That’s where you’re originally from, right?

Neely: I am. I grew up in Seattle, in Washington in the suburbs, but I left when I was eighteen. I came to Arizona, where I live now, where I continue to live. I’ve spent, now, more of my life here than I did in the Seattle area. I never experienced it as an adult. I’ve gone back to visit. I still have family there. It’s a very different experience growing up somewhere and being an adult somewhere. I wanted to do it justice. I didn’t want it to feel like someone who had never been there, especially if I grew up there. I took all of the areas and the feelings of living in the area rather than a specific city. As I said in the acknowledgments, it wasn’t based off of multiple cities and multiples experiences. Overall, more than anything, I tried to capture the feeling of growing up in the Pacific Northwest, which I hope I did. That was why I made up the city. It was sort of an out for me to not have to not do it well, quite frankly.

Julie: That was really smart, actually. I really like that idea. You don’t have to worry about streets or where anything’s located. That was a really good hack. You heard it here first, everyone.

Neely: Good cheat.

Julie: Exactly. Set up your own jokes. Make up a city. I feel like that’s so much.

Neely: Writing for dummies, here we go.

Julie: I think you and I can cowrite it. This is going to be great. That’ll be our next thing, coauthoring.

Neely: There we go.

Julie: I wanted to ask you — this book is funny. It’s really well-paced. It was just a joy to read. I really devoured it. The thing I liked about it, though, is that it did have a lot of heart. I like when you describe it, that you’re saying it is women’s fiction, and it has those rom-com elements. I think we’re seeing more of that. There’s kind of a middle ground where readers do want a little bit more than just one of those lines. Did you know that when you started? Did you have a lane in mind where you wanted to land?

Neely: I don’t think I knew it when I started, but I definitely appreciated what it turned into. I think Emily Henry is a great example of someone in this genre who does depth so well. It’s not something that we really have historically had in the romance or women’s fiction space, more so the romance space. There’s huge opportunity for that. I think she’s a great example of that. It’s a multidimensional conversation. Women’s fiction, the genre title in and of itself is somewhat problematic because it infers that only women want to read about women. The idea that because a story is romance that there can’t be other elements and that there isn’t this total whole person that is part of this story, that’s certainly changing. We’re seeing it more and more. I liked the idea of there being romance and lighter elements, but there’s also a depth to the story. It was a challenge to try to pull off both, quite frankly, but I think the story’s better for it.

Julie: I would agree completely. I think you’re right. Our language always lags. I feel like this is one of those examples where that is true because I wouldn’t call this — it’s not fiction only for women. It’s a wonderful fiction book. It’s tough because we get stuck. Then the world of marketing, you got to sell the thing. People want to know.

Neely: The marketing component is so interesting too. It’s sort of been marketed as a romance, as a rom-com. It’s in that space. Some readers have said, this is not a romance. There are certain tropes and things that people want out of that space. Ultimately, it kind of sits on the shelf between two things. That makes it somewhat difficult to market. It’s been interesting to see how it finds its way. You have to just, at some point, trust that it’s going to find the readers that are right for it. I think my marketing team has done a great job of positioning it that way. It is interesting to see true romance readers, what their reaction is versus women’s fiction readers who maybe don’t read as much romance and seeing how it pulls those two groups together.

Julie: Totally. The romance readers of America know what they want. They are clear on that, and they’re going to let you know.

Neely: Correct. Very much so.

Julie: Do you read your reviews?

Neely: I know I’m supposed to say no, but as a debut — I have it on Goodreads. I’ve gone and looked at the things. It’s been less — I shouldn’t say it’s less about validation. It is about validation because as a debut author, you receive validation in specific ways leading up to publication. You receive it from the people that you know believe in the book. It’s your editor. It’s your agent. It’s your publisher. That’s phenomenal. They are incredibly important people to receive validation from, if not the most important people early on, but you don’t get it from the everyday reader who is going to find your book on a shelf and perhaps pick it up. Did they find it to be accessible and enjoyable and the things that you want it to be? It is the first real feel for how it’s going to be received, how it is being received. Yes, I have looked.

Julie: I’m impressed. I can’t decide. I’m sure I won’t be able to stop myself.

Neely: The lack of self-control, mostly, is the reason I have. I don’t have a good justification for doing it. My true justification is I have a lack of self-control of being able to not look.

Julie: I got to do it. I think that’s totally going to be me. It’s so true.

Neely: Are your ARCs out yet?

Julie: No. It’s been through many iterations. Hearing what you’re saying is so right. You need, in that process, to only be surrounded by those people that are on your team believing in it because it’s so tricky and rife with change and all the pieces. The idea that then it’s going to go out to other people — I haven’t decided. I wrote a memoir. I alternately am like, this was a good idea, and I think this might have been a terrible idea. We’ll find out.

Neely: Memoir would be hard because it is you. I made these people up. If you didn’t like one of them, okay. It might sting a little bit, but okay. Memoir is a whole different .

Julie: I will be calling you when this comes out and I’m on Goodreads. I’ll be like, I couldn’t stop myself.

Neely: I will say, with the reviews, you have to be capable of not letting it get in your head, not only from a self-esteem perspective, but also because it can color how you approach your next work. I’m editing book two right now. I don’t want to be thinking about reviews, if someone wanted more of this or less of this because it’s going to lead to an inauthentic experience when writing the book or when editing the book. I will say I’ve had to take a bit of a step back. Even with positive reviews, you don’t want to be influenced by what people are saying.

Julie: That makes total sense, having boundaries around that and how it works for you depending on where you are. I’ve talked to many people who say when they’re editing fiction, they don’t read a lot of fiction, so that same sort of idea that you have to protect yourself from that. It’s so true. Ultimately, we all know that not every book is going to be for every reader. Hopefully, your book finds the people it’s meant to find, just like Serendipity. It really is full circle. I did want to talk real quick before we finish about what we were circling around, which is the heart in this book. There’s a real honoring of what it is to grieve someone in your life as you move on through life and they are no longer with you. I thought you did a really beautiful job of that. Was that something that you drew on personal experience for, if I may ask?

Neely: I’m lucky enough to have both my parents still living. Serena loses her mother in the story. She’s already lost her mother. It’s reconciling that. We’ve all experienced grief in some ways. I certainly have had friends who’ve lost parents. This idea that you can’t quarrel with them anymore, it’s much easier to argue with someone who is here than to argue with the remnants of someone who is not. This idea that Serena is now going to be living a life that she knows her mom maybe wouldn’t approve of or wasn’t the direction she wanted her to go, you can’t go have it out with her. It’s just that level of disappointment that is lingering, and that’s it. This idea that grief shows up in different ways and it may take seven steps back and then leap forward in inopportune times, I think this is a great example. At least, I tried to make an example of one of those times where it could be X number of years since this happened, but it’ll leap forward in times when you either need that person or wish they were here or when you’re doing something that you think that they wouldn’t approve of. It’s not from personal experience of losing a parent. Thankfully, I haven’t gone through that. I certainly think that grief in that way is similar regardless of who it is if it’s someone close to you.

Julie: You’re so right, not only sharing the happy moments, but then also, how would they feel about what I’m doing now? That’s a really good question. Do you have someone that’s no longer with you that you wish could read this book?

Neely: Oh, gosh. I don’t know. I would say grandparents, but I had very conservative Indian grandparents who probably wouldn’t appreciate —

Julie: This wouldn’t have been their jam.

Neely: — some of the chapters in this book. Would not be their jam. I don’t know that I can say yes to that question, which makes me very fortunate.

Julie: That’s wonderful. What a gift.

Neely: I don’t think my grandparents would be the right audience.

Julie: You could show them the cover. They would love the cover, I’m sure. Very pleased. That’s a gift, for sure. Real quickly, what are you working on now? You were mentioning you’re in the edits for the second book.

Neely: Book two is in edits. I’m turning it in, hopefully, in the next couple of days. I’m at the very end of the editorial process. Probably, one more round before we go to copyedits. It is coming out in March of next year. We have a date or a general timeline for it. It leans more into the true rom-com space, so less women’s fiction, more true rom-com. I’m drafting book three, which will be, again, kind of an amalgamation of both. I like moving in and out of both spaces.

Julie: That’s so thrilling. Good for you. Have you enjoyed the second time?

Neely: Yeah. It’s a much different experience. Going through production on one and lead-up to the release while also working on another, it’s a lot. We’re moms, so we’re always torn in multiple directions. You never have singular focus no matter what. Going through your debut process, having the singular focus of just that book is really special and unique. You get to experience it all for the first time. Then going through it the second time, it’s not that you’re more jaded, but you have a better sense of how things go. In some ways, it’s easier. In some ways, it’s harder because you’re also going through the process still in a different phase for book one. It’s a very different experience than the first one.

Julie: That makes total sense. You’re right, the shiny side of the debut that’s so thrilling and wonderful, but also then to go back and do it again, easier, but maybe a little less shiny.

Neely: What about you? Are you drafting another book?

Julie: Funny enough, I just went on a podcast about all my issues, with Camille Pagán. I don’t know if you’ve ever read any of her books. She does a podcast called “You Should Write a Book.” I went on there talking about that. I have about twelve thousand words of my next project. For me, it was one step forward, one step back on edits. I thought I was done, but it turned out I wasn’t, which is everyone’s story. Now we’re close. I need to go back to it. For me, it’s been tricky because I’ve left it for too long. That allows me time to overthink. I’m a major overthinker.

Neely: It’s a real thing.

Julie: No self-control, overthinking, I feel like we’ve covered a lot here in terms of my character flaws. This is great. This is perfect. Last question for you. What does writing mean to you in your life not only for you personally, but it is something that helps you show up for your people and the people you love? How?

Neely: I love that question. Yes. It’s easy for us as moms to feel guilty. We feel guilt for everything, big or small. We’re constantly filled with guilt. I do feel guilty at times taking time for “myself” to do this and time away from the kids. My husband goes to work and then comes home, and he’s present. It’s different for me as a writer. I may be home, but locking myself in a room or not fully present because my mind is on these pages. I definitely feel the guilt of that sometimes. I also think, more than anything, my kids are seeing me pursue my dreams. Yesterday, we went to Barnes & Noble. To my surprise, my book was on the shelf early. It was the first time I saw it on a shelf. My kids were with me. They got to see that. That was a really cool experience. To the capacity in which they can understand it — my daughter, who’s five, really cares about the fact that her name is in the book and thinks that’s the coolest thing ever. That’s the extent of her interest. My son really doesn’t care. They’re getting to see me live out my dreams and be excited about things, an excitement level that I never had in my “regular job.” More than anything, I’m showing them what it’s like to pursue your dreams. That means sometimes sacrificing things and time. Ultimately, it’s worth it.

Julie: I think you’re right. I think you are definitely showing them your own brave decision in it, that you are really close. I love hearing that. I think that they will be so proud of you as they grow because they’ll understand more what it meant and what you did. You did a fantastic job. I’m so excited for this book to come out. I think people are going to love it. Congratulations. Real quick, I need you to know that I’m going to need you to open up The Flatterie because I know you said that it was something you had business plans for. I’m going to need that. I was like, I need to go here. I need this to happen.

Neely: A really funny story is that I did start building it years before this book. I’m an entrepreneur, and so I’ve had serial startup type of things. A girlfriend of mine named Amelia, this was a business idea that we had. We built a mock site. We never launched it. That’s where it came from, was this business that we had intended to launch at one point.

Julie: I know you’re doing really well as a writer and I’m very happy for you, but I also need for you to maybe work on that on the side. Deal. Thank you so much for the time today. This was a pleasure. Can’t wait to see Love Buzz on the shelves.

Neely: Thank you so much. I’m excited for your book as well.

Julie: Thanks.

Neely Tubati Alexander, LOVE BUZZ

LOVE BUZZ by Neely Tubati Alexander

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