Joseph F. Berenato
Hammonton native Anderson writes novel
On April 19, Hammonton native Lauren Esposito Anderson celebrated the paperback release of her first novel, Recruited.
According to the synopsis by the publisher, Recruited follows Olivia Gesso, who “skydives into a recruiting job with Kava Tech—a hip start-up where twenty-somethings binge drink, gamble and code their way to luxury cars and fat bonuses.”
“It’s almost hard to remember how she got there. No one would have expected an eco-warrior hellbent on saving the seeds of an extinct tree to find her way into this silicon jungle, serving as high-heeled bait for geeky coders. But student debt and desperation drive Olivia farther from her life-changing work on a remote Indian Ocean island than she ever thought possible. Now she’s lost in a fast-paced, high-stakes ‘Brotopia,’ where hot recruiters make sure the country’s best techies get anything they want to sign on the dotted line. Still, Olivia risks it all—including her heart—to be a company star and get what she is after. But having gone from eco-warrior to dot-com fly girl, perhaps a little too easily, means dealing with some seriously irrational expectations. With the investors grabbing her ‘assets’ and the star candidate holding out for more than just money, Olivia must decide how far she’ll go to bring an extinct tree back to life,” the synopsis reads.
Anderson said that her experiences following her graduation from Hammonton High School in 1994 helped to provide fodder for the novel.
“I went to Princeton, and I studied ecology and evolutionary biology. I graduated at the height of the tech boom and, although it had nothing to do with my major, I took a job in human resources for a tech start-up in Austin, Texas ... It was sort of this liberal oasis of Texas, where all of this entrepreneurial, digital and high tech stuff was happening. I was really young, and it was really exciting, and I worked there for about a year and a half,” Anderson told The Gazette.
After working for that company, Anderson worked as a conservationist for the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation.
“I worked on the island of Rodrigues; Mauritius is this tiny little island out in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and then Rodrigues is like an hour plane ride from that. It’s smack in between Madagascar and Australia, in the middle of the Ocean. I worked there for about a year,” Anderson said.
Anderson then returned to high-tech recruiting, but this time “because I needed money to go to grad school.”
“I went to grad school at Johns Hopkins in D.C., and I studied international relations and economics, because I knew I wanted a career that was internationally focused. From there, I worked for Google for a little bit—just as a consultant—and I eventually got myself into a career with the U.N., which is really what I wanted to do. I’ve worked within and with the U.N. family of organizations since about 2006,” Anderson said.
Anderson said that her varied career paths have led her on “a wild ride.”
“The focus of the U.N. was sustainable development, and that kind of brought the economics in, the biodiversity background, the social issues—it brings it together under one overarching umbrella of helping countries or focusing on development. That’s how my career tied in all those weird things that I did, which were really disparate,” Anderson said.
These experiences laid the groundwork for what eventually became Recruited, though Anderson—who is the writer on staff for her work with the U.N.—had “no idea how to write fiction.”
“I read a lot of self-help books, because I had no idea what I was doing ... I wanted to write a formulaic romance; I wanted to entertain myself, essentially. This was a hobby, and I was having fun. Not like a Harlequin novel, but the romance formula that sells blockbusters: it’s usually a beautiful girl who lacks confidence and falls in love with a megalomaniac man, and only she has the power to heal him,” Anderson said.
Anderson said that Stephen King’s On Writing provided her with the necessary advice and direction.
“One of the things it said was to write what you know ... I thought, my God, I know the perfect setting where the power dynamic lends to this type of story: the tech boom, where all these companies were started and run by young men. If there was a power dynamic, it’s that the men were in the ownership, and the women—if they worked there—by and large worked in human resources. I thought, there’s your setting. I’ve seen this. I’ve lived this. This was perfect. I know this setting,” Anderson said.
Anderson was quick to note, however, that Recruited is “by no means a memoir.”
“It’s fiction. The setting I knew, but the characters are made up entirely ... One of the books I read said to throw your character off a cliff, so when I started doing that, it was so much fun. I took my main character and I threw her out of a plane. I threw her into debt. I threw her into drugs. I threw her into a terrible relationship with said megalomaniac. I threw her all over the place, but, when I started doing that, that’s when I realized that I had something more to say than just formulaic romance. I wanted to know why these things were happening to this character. What about this setting lends itself to these things happening to this character?” Anderson said.
The exploration of those questions, Anderson said, led Recruited to have “two really strong messages.”
“One of them is on the environmental arena. The book is loaded with environmental metaphor, and it’s got this theme that nature is hope. Repeatedly throughout the novel—and this is where I had so much fun using all my biology education and experience—it uses nature and it uses environment and it uses biological metaphor to set the thinking of the characters, deepen the characters. The moral goal that’s driving the protagonist is an environmental mission,” Anderson said.
The second one, Anderson said, is that “workplace sexism and stereotypes in the workplace are dangerous.”
“The book discusses that, but it does so by satirizing the ‘90s. It’s ridiculous, it’s comedic, but I think that, because it’s light, it opens up the door for anybody to participate in the conversation. Comedy allows people to come together and talk—and feel more comfortable talking—so, while the book deals with some heavy issues, it does so lightly ... It touches on these issues, it brings them into the conversation, but it doesn’t tell readers what to think. It’s meant to entertain more than it is to instruct,” Anderson said.
Anderson said that Recruited has several Hammonton connections, the first being the main character, Olivia Gesso.
“Hammonton, my beloved hometown, has a very close connection with the village of Gesso in Sicily. Many people from Hammonton have family or relatives or originated from that area. I thought it would be wonderful to give a salute to my hometown by naming my character after the town,” Anderson said.
Anderson said that she also started writing the novel at Flyers’ Gymnastics Academy.
“I was a Flyers’ gymnast when I was young, and my daughter was a gymnast until we moved out of town. They had the grace to have the most amazing, comfortable leather couch, where you could sit and watch for two hours your 4-year-old fall off balance beams. There were these other mothers, also with my daughter’s class, and we would sit on the couch, and I would ask them questions ... I started writing the novel on this couch, and that’s a big credit in the acknowledgements: the Flyers’ couch moms. There are a couple of people from Hammonton who might find themselves in the credits,” Anderson said.
Recruited is being published through Stormbird Press, which Anderson said is an offshoot of Wild Migration, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that deals with migratory species conversation.
“The reason I heard about them is because, through my work at the U.N., I followed this NGO, because one of the U.N. conventions is the Convention on Migratory Species. For a while, I tracked the work of that convention. I saw when this press came out, and I wrote them. I said that I had this book; the book was only an idea, or maybe it was partly written, and I introduced the novel to them. They loved it,” Anderson said.
Anderson said that the publisher, which is located on Kangaroo Island, Australia, focuses on eco-literature.
“They try to print books that have positive messages for the environment, and that’s how I fit in with them ... Their operation is small, and I think I might be on the shelves in Australia, but I don’t think they have any big relationships with book distributors in the U.S. You’ll be able to get it on Amazon and all those other places, though,” Anderson said.
Anderson said that writing Recruited was “a lot of fun.”
“I encourage people to write, because I think it’s a wonderful way to escape and to think, and to cope with everything going on around you—no matter what that is,” Anderson said.
For more information, visit stormbirdpress.com/book/recruited/.