Cynthia Ellingsen for years had a secret. When the Lexington woman lived in Los Angeles, trying to make it as an actress — going on auditions, waiting tables — she was secretly writing.
She said she found herself "just watching people and thinking about their stories all of the time."
Slowly, she started putting them on paper. Her first success came after a roommate discovered her writing and the two collaborated on a screenplay, "The Proposal before there was the The Proposal," she said, referencing the 2009 Sandra Bullock-Ryan Reynolds romantic comedy. Some three years later that project is still in development, she says.
But that taste of success prompted Ellingsen to pursue writing with more purpose. When she moved to Lexington after marrying native Ryan Ellingsen, writing became part of her everyday routine.
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Characters who had been in the back of her mind for years took form on the page, and that eventually became her first novel, The Whole Package (Berkley, $15), which comes out Tuesday.
Her experience in the service industry helped color the book, which is the tale of three middle-age gal pals who decide to create a Hooters-like establishment for women.
"I just knew it was fun and something women would love," she said.
Although there are famous writer's woes of shopping, shopping, shopping a book with no luck, Ellingsen's tale is the opposite. When she felt she was ready to pitch the book, she Googled the top 10 editors and sent them each an e-mail with five pages as a tease.
"I figured go big or go home," said Ellingsen, 34. "Within three days there was an offer.
"Yes, I was standing in my kitchen and I cried."
At its heart, the book is a story of the complications and comfort of having lifelong friends: Jackie, the widow with a bohemian soul and no money left in the bank; Cheryl, the take-charge corporate shark who finds herself without a job; and Doris, the stay-at-home mom whose husband, inspired by the movie Wild Hogs, takes off across the country on a motorcycle.
Dan Lazar, a literary agent with Writer's House, helped Ellingsen fine-tune her work.
"He was instrumental in keeping the humor of the hook balanced with the importance of the friendship," she said. "He encouraged me to share more of the backstory with the friends and to really develop what it was that kept these women friends for so many years."
He was "the most perfect, right person ever" to work on the project, she said.
Funny, fiercely loyal and each a little bit naughty in their own way, the three women of The Whole Package are inspired by women in Ellingsen's life
Like her characters, who put everything on the line for their dream, Ellingsen has grand aspirations for her work.
"I hope everyone in the world reads it," she said, with a grin. "I hope everyone in Lexington buys a copy and tells all their friends about it."
Ellingsen, who has kept her day job in marketing, is working on her second novel but declines to reveal too much. It isn't about Lexington, though. She says she doesn't know her adopted hometown well enough yet do to it justice. But, she said, who can say what the future holds? "You never know how things are going to work out," she said, especially when you share a secret.