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August 2008 - Britney Porter
Not a cookbook, rather a fictional novel about three over-achieving Asian-American girlfriends, Off the Menu will debut in bookstores this August. The book will appeal to single women in their 20s and 30s who are harboring their dreams and ambitions because of social, parental or work-related pressures.
Ever since Hercules Huang, Whitney Lee, and Audrey Henley graduated valedictorians from Houston’s Loyola Academy 10 years ago, they’ve kept in touch over wine and dinner. However, for fear of failing in each other’s eyes, the girls gloss up their not-so-perfect jobs and families until a weekend getaway in Austin when secrets are revealed.
Whitney, for example, would rather sing her heart out onstage than be caged in a law firm office bogged down by paperwork, an irritable boss, and the pressure to make partner. If her parents knew she sang at local nightclubs, they’d disown her. Hercules has a nasty cursing habit – that’s no secret – but the owner and chef of Dragonfly can’t scorch her fears of opening a second restaurant, especially when her unemployed father offers no help. Then there’s Audrey, a teacher who is deep into her dissertation and wants to become an English professor. An adopted daughter of a Texas billionaire, Audrey is happily in love but when her less-than-wealthy boyfriend proposes, her parents disapprove.
“Off the Menu represents doing something outside the four corners of someone’s plan for you,” said Plano author Christine Son. “It’s about people who stick within the confines of what’s offered versus people who want to be different, or do something their parents don’t want them to do, or something they didn’t think they could do.”
If Christine knew in college that she could pen a story worthy for Penguin Books, she would have majored in creative writing. But, because her friends were pre-med, Christine’s competitive nature persuaded her to major in biology at the University of Texas at Austin. “What a ridiculous way to approach college!” she admitted.
Christine was accepted into the University of Texas Medical Branch but didn’t attend. “I went through what a lot of people go through when you turn 21, which is this crises of existence. I thought, What in the world do I want to do with my life?”
She made the switch to law and today, the 32-year-old professional is working as a JCPenny in-house counsel doing litigation. Why the switch? “My parents always said, ‘You are so difficult because everything has to have an argument. You ought to be a lawyer.’
“It’s nice a dovetail to writing because a lot of the legal practice is writing,” she continued. “Law makes you look at things from a thousand different angles. I think that’s why there are so many lawyers who are closet writers. After this book, many of my friends said, ‘This is so great that you’ve done this; it makes me feel like I can do it, too.’ ”
Today, Christine is an inspiration, but after graduating from Duke University and landing a five-year stint at a law firm, she turned into a depressed, borderline alcoholic who spent her time telling others what a depressed, borderline alcoholic she had become. It was time to begin a new chapter in her life; it was time for Christine to crank out a novel ... except she hadn’t taken an English class since high school.
The aspiring author bought a slew of books, including Getting Your Book Published For Dummies, and scoured the Internet for a legit agent. Like Whitney in Off the Menu, Christine didn’t tell her friends or family about her passion; only her husband Michael knew. “And that was just because he’s in the same house and was wondering why I was going crazy,” Christine laughed. “I was living this secret life. I thought, There’s such a high rate of failure; I am not telling a soul that I’m doing this.
“I think a lot of people don’t pursue their dreams because they fear public failure,” she continued, “especially when you’re very ambitious and have excelled at everything. A lot of [the hesitation] is, What if I don’t do well? Everyone’s going to feel sorry for me and look at me with those sad, pitiful eyes and go, ‘Oh poor thing, to have a dream dashed!’” said Christine overly dramatic for humor.
She didn’t always want to be a writer. Growing up in Houston, Christine’s first childhood aspiration was to be a farmer – a pig farmer. “I was absolutely obsessed with pigs,” she laughed. “My mom would say, ‘If you want to be a pig farmer what about a pig doctor, or a veterinarian?’ And then that became, ‘Well, what about a doctor working with people?’ ”
When writing transformed from a hobby to a possible profession, Mom’s response was, “Oh honey, you should just write prescriptions or legal briefs,’ ” according to Christine.
“My parents were very supportive but my mom was probably thinking, ‘I don’t want my child living in destitution!’” Christine expressed. “I think that is a lot of parents’ fears, whether their child wants to be an artist, or dancer ... parents worry that their child won’t be financially secure, even though they do support them.”
Family and friends were supportive when Christine revealed her secret. “I don’t know why I was so surprised. When you internalize something so much it becomes bigger than it really is,” she said.
Eventually, Whitney, Hercules, and Audrey in Off the Menu open up and encourage each other to pursue their dreams; surprisingly, not all of the girls end up with a man. Said Christine, “Your dream doesn’t have to be a relationship; your dream doesn’t have to be a profession. It could be anything.”
For more information on Christine Son or Off the Menu, visit www.christineson.com. To meet the author, visit the Barnes and Noble on Northwest Highway in Dallas on Friday, August 15 at 7 p.m.
Excerpt from Off the Menu page 32
She sighed heavily and closed her eyes. Frankly, had she been living anywhere but Houston, away from her parents’ influence, and away from the bubble of mature achievements the Valedictorians inhabited, she might have had the courage to pursue her music full time. In her dream world, she would have already gone after a recording contract or founded her own label with as much dogged ambition as she had focused on her studies. But here, she was tethered to their rigid expectations, and to her own, acutely bound by the umbilical cord of vicarious and self-driven ambitions. She was exactly what everyone had aspired her to be, and as much as she recognized and loathed the stunted, boxed-in quality of her own notion of success, she also didn’t feel that she had the wherewithal to break out of it.
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