Excerpted from Cosmopolitan Girls by Charlotte Burley and Lyah Beth LeFlore. Copyright © 2004 by Charlotte Burley and Lyah Beth LeFlore. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
In conversation with Charlotte Burley and Lyah LeFlore:
Black Ink: How did you become a writing team?
Charlotte Burley: Lyah and I were a writer-producer team in the beginning. Lyah optioned my first screenplay. In the process of trying to get the film produced, there were lots of late-night meetings and long lunches. One afternoon after a meeting, we met up with two other girlfriends for a late lunch and cocktails. Over drinks we began to share each of our personal “male” dramas. We found the afternoon so enlightening and therapeutic that we decided our session should be put in book form.
Lyah LeFlore: Absoutely! That afternoon of Cosmopolitans and Conversation sparked the start of something great! We felt it was high time the story of the single, never-been-married, thirty-something African American woman be told by two women who had been in the trenches and survived. More important, as African American women who were small-town girls who moved to New York City in our early twenties, we knew we could give the writing an even bigger spin.
BI: And how did you write the novel together?
CB: Since Lyah lives in L.A. and I live in New Jersey, we had to use just about every means of communication to complete the book. We had meetings by phone, exchanged lots of E-mail attachments, faxed, and when the manuscript got too big, we began shipping the printed pages or the disks to each other via FedEx.
LL: I think we actually have stock in FedEx now! It was great and the creation of our partnership is quite unique. Conceptually, we decided before we ever put pen to paper exactly who the “Cosmopolitan Girls” were. We created each lead protagonist initially in dialogue. I had been keeping a journal for years of my personal life experiences from the time I graduated college and came to New York City. Lindsay’s foundation is rooted in those writings. Once we breathed life into “Lindsay” and “Charlie,” Charlotte and I worked independently on the respective character’s chapters, and then melded the work together. It was an incredible experience, because, amazingly, as distinctive our individual voices and styles are as writers, the writing was practically seamless.
BI: What inspired you to write Cosmopolitan Girls?
CB: That afternoon hanging out with “the girls” was a big inspiration. Having another woman’s ear to not only listen and support you, but also being there for her as she shares her experiences, makes you feel really good. We want every woman to know that in the end we’re all the same.
LL: Love of self, self-acceptance, self-pride, an appreciation and fascination of women–all women, particularly African American women–and of course men, glorious men! The good, the bad, and the beauty of relationships was the drive for our novel. We wanted women to stand up and be proud in the name of love.
BI: So who exactly are the Cosmopolitan Girls? Are they based on people you know?
CB: Yes, Cosmopolitan Girls are women we know personally: our mothers, sisters, and best friends. They’re also the great women we see on TV, read about in papers and/or magazines. And of course there’s a little bit of our own personalities in the characters.
LL: A Cosmopolitan Girl can be nineteen or ninty. She is flawed, fierce, fearless, and fabulous.
BI: At the heart of this high-spirited novel is the “Cosmo Girl Code of Arms.” Could you tell us more about the pivotal role this invention plays in the main characters’ lives?
CB: The Cosmo Code of Arms is really a girl’s conscience. It’s the part of the mind that tends to be hardheaded, because of fear or insecurity or shame. So you need that best girlfriend and the rules to remind you to do the “Right Thing.” Honestly, every woman knows, deep down, right from wrong, but sometimes we bury it so deep that it’s hard for good old common sense and clear-thinking to resurface. That’s where the Code of Arms comes in. It’s a tool to help dig up the courage we women already possess.
LL: The invention of the code is pivotal because it really is the jumping-off place for the bond Lindsay and Charlie ultimately develop. Yes, they get a little crazy when they are implementing the Code of Arms, but they also get a wake-up call when they see things spinning out of control, and get themselves back on track. You know that exiled island where we want a situation to be something and we go right along operating through rose-tinted and glitter-sprinkled glasses, as opposed to dealing in reality. But everyone knows you can’t keep a good WO-man down!
BI: Do you have to be a big-city reader to enjoy the highs and lows of Lindsay and Charlie?
LL: There is a Cosmopolitan Girl in every woman. It doesn’t matter if you live in a small town or a bustling metropolis. If you’ve ever fallen in or out of love, triumphed over adversity, or worked hard for the money, this book is for you!
1. Lindsay appears to have it all together with a great job and a fabulous social life. Why is she so strong and together when it comes to taking care of business, but allows her emotions to take her off her game?
2. During Charlie's "pity party" at the beginning of the book she says she "tossed her goals to the side and put other people's happiness first". What happens when you toss your goals to the side?
3. In "Prince Charming" Lindsay and Robert share an awkward moment where they connect before Troy enters. What if Troy hadn't interrupted, do you think Lindsay would've pursued Robert's subtle invitation? What do you think the implications would've been if she had gotten involved with her boss? In examining corporate America, is there a double standard when it comes to women dating in the workplace?
4. When Lindsay and Charlie meet, it's the classic case of each one thinking the other's grass is greener. However, they discover they are two sides of the same coin. How do they reveal their similarities and differences?
5. Lindsay is flooded with opinions and advice from her sisters, her "girls" Tara and Judy, and her newfound friend, Charlie. Discuss their differences of opinions. Do you think Lindsay deserved a second chance?
6. Lindsay and Charlie devise the Cosmo Code of Arms, proving that strength is in numbers, and becoming hell-bent on getting "pay back". However, their vengeful tactics, disguised as fun-filled missions, lead to unexpected consequences. What are those consequences? When is enough is enough? Do you recall if you or a friend has ever allowed a situation in a relationship to go too far?
7. Charlie's own problems cause her to encourage Lindsay not to go down without a good fight after Troy breaks up with her. Why doesn't she have the same fighting spirit when it comes to dealing with Michael?
8. Discuss Charlie's attitude toward friendships with other women prior to meeting Lindsay. Do you know any women who have shut themselves off to friendships with other women?
9. Spirituality plays a big part in Lindsay and Charlie's lives. Recount and discuss the chapters that reveal various eye-opening moments in the story for both Lindsay and Charlie that ultimately led each woman to rediscover and renew her own spirituality and step out on faith. How important is your spirituality in your personal and professional life?
10. Charlie has a penchant for being judgmental when it comes to her mother, who she describes as a "doormat to men". Her motto is "a man has never and will never define me." What does it take for women to wake up and smell the coffee?
11. Lindsay plays into Robert's philosophy that "one should avoid excessive socializing." She never mixes the business Lindsay with the social Lindsay. Why is she intimidated by his calls? How do you balance your professional life with your social life?
12. Charlie makes reference to the sacrifices she's made to make her relationship with Michael work. She says it was a "price she was willing to pay." Were all these sacrifices worth saving the relationship? Have you ever had friends who dated a man with children from a previous relationship? Did they encounter or experience the strain of "baby momma drama?"
13. Charlie's self-inflicted writer's block, and her denial about her crumbling relationship with Michael has caused her to give up on her dreams and she's fallen into a "safe rut." How does this happen and why?
14. What does Lindsay mean when she describes the feeling she had after dinner with Tara and Judy as "vacant"? Do you have in people in your life who are "sitting with yesterday?"
15. New York City is sexy, electric, and the center of the fashion, cultural, and social universe. Explore and discuss the "Big Apple" as the backdrop for the story, and how it becomes a character itself. What is its significance in Lindsay and Charlie lives? Their friendship?
16. In "Food For Thought" Charlie raises the point that women "have to fight so much that we get confused and start fighting each other". Do you agree or disagree? Lindsay also proclaims that women have to "stop killing each other's spirits." What does this mean to you? Discuss creating a "girl's club" of your own. What would you do? Finally, Lindsay describes she and Charlie's heart to heart as an "excavation of the minds." Create your own archeological excavation of the minds within your group and discuss women developing mutual support systems and working together.
17. In "Emancipation Night" Lindsay and Charlie's new mission is to put yourself first and never settle on your happiness. Discuss the growing pains both women endured. What does it mean to be fierce, fabulous and fearless?
18. The birth of the Cosmo Code of Arms gives Lindsay and Charlie a marvelous new manifesto. Devise and discuss your own Cosmo Code of Arms.