Elna Baker is attractive, engaging and looking for love in New York City. If you're thinking typical, think again: She's also a writer, a hilarious stand-up comic and a solo performer who specializes in storytelling. Oh, and she's a practicing Mormon. That means no sex. So Elna Baker is a 28-year-old virgin living in the big city, and that would mean she is not typical. There are more details of her life that make her interesting and as one friend stated, those facts have made it so that "Elna had to write a memoir." Without giving too much away, let's just say she grew up in Seattle, Madrid and London. She's visited her parents in Siberia, where they resided until recently and where her dad worked in a Titanium factor (until Boeing transferred him to China). If you're not intrigued by this point, I should mention that she's the first half-Mexican Mormon I've had the pleasure of speaking with.
In her 2009 best-selling memoir The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance (Penguin Group), Elna talks candidly and humorously about faith, family, losing 80 pounds, waking up beautiful and searching for Mr. Right -- at every wrong turn. I spoke with the author a year later about her book, what it means to be a single Mormon in Manhattan, and how life has changed since Halloween Dance hit stores.
SHW: Let's start with the dedication page to your family: You warn them about "F" bombs ahead. You're extremely close with your family, so what was their reaction to your Sex in the City -- minus the sex -- tome?
EB: I pushed the limit and I was afraid of some of the family's reactions, but even my grandma thought it was hilarious. I thought for sure she would open and not finish it. My immediate family was very supportive. We did a fake Mormon dance at the book launch event and my mom made plenty of jelly casseroles (a Mormon thing!). That was definitely her way of supporting me!
SHW: Are you still single? What about your sister who was your roommate and partner in crime as a single Mormon in NYC?
EB: I'm still single after having recently ended a relationship. My sister got married in May and it wasn't to a Mormon but a Turkish Muslim! He got baptized and converted for her.
SHW: Your struggles in the Mormon dating scene, where everyone seems to know (or know of) one another, reminded me of when I was single and in the Modern Orthodox Jewish dating scene. I also have some wild and unbelievable stories from that time, so I laughed and could relate to yours! Do you think that someone worldly enough is out there in the Mormon scene for Elna Baker? What type of guy would he be? Before you answer, let me share this excerpt from the book:
"My life is a constant balance between saying no to substances, sex, porn, and Starbucks, and saying yes to adventure. I am a Mormon in New York.
A Mormon in New York seeking another Mormon in New York.
Which brings me back to the beginning: The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance. Me, in the corner by myself, with too many cookies and a notebook. To make matters worse, I just witnessed a 35-year-old man -- definitely a virgin -- dressed in a duck costume doing the electric slide."
EB: I've come to learn as I'm getting older (I'll be 29 in 3 weeks) that there is a balancing act between religion and relationships/dating. There's a balance between compromising some of your initial hopes and not "settling." I'm still dreaming big and I believe in finding someone that meets most of those expectations and makes me happy. Things are possible, though some things are subject to compromise.
SHW: (Spoiler Alert) You fall in love with an atheist in the book, and you should know, readers who I've spoken with fell in love with the atheist and were rooting for you both due to the incredible chemistry you shared. We've got to know: Has he read the memoir and has he been in touch?
EB: Before I published the memoir, I sent him a draft. He called me after he read it and said that he really enjoyed it, highlighting certain parts, and that it was funny. I was half-heartedly waiting for that "and...I love you too," but I didn't get that. That was the moment I got over him. I had met him when he was 28 and I was 23 and now that I'm 28, what I would be cool with is so different than what I was cool with at 23. At times I was just happy to have a guy who liked me (and that's something you see in the book). It's always about timing.
SHW: The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance is an actual annual event and something you dread due to the cheesiness, that obvious feeling that you're there to be paired off for marriage while wearing a humiliating costume (though your own costumes and mishaps will have readers in stitches). Have you been back to the event that inspired the title? If so, were you the star of the dance?
EB: No (laugh), I was not the star at all, but I did go back in 2009! I was walking out of the subway and passed the Barnes and Nobles next door. In the window was the book displayed with the name of the dance. It had just been published in hard copy earlier that month so it wasn't known at the dance yet, but it was different going that year. I felt strength from having put my voice out there. There is a whole division of young Mormons who are questioning their faith and aren't encouraged to voice that. My book was the first to do so and people were drawn to me and grateful that I shared my story.
In LA, there is a similar Halloween dance that has been held for years. They renamed it after the book came out so it now has the same title.
SHW: What would your advice be to the single women of Manhattan who are looking for a soul mate of their faith? How do you keep the faith when it seems like it would be easier to expand your options?
EB: I believe that there are more women than men out there who are strong, interesting and of a high caliber so it's really important to put yourself out there so you can meet lots of people. But also, don't think that just because you're in a limited dating pool you need to accept something that's not really what you want. If you think of the whole world, everyone who is out there, it's possible to find someone who really meets your expectations and someone whose expectations you will meet.
Since the book was published, I am definitely more confident about being able to express what I want or don't want. The guys that I have dated have been respectful of my religious history, my culture, what I come from.
SHW: In Halloween Dance you are always questioning your faith, wondering if Mormonism makes any sense, and while some would say questioning is what keeps our connection to God, others say "Come on already! Decide if you want to be Mormon or not." You go back and forth in the book. How do you feel that has impacted your faith and what would you say to the naysayers who question your questioning?
EB: In Mormonism, you're told if you have too many doubts you need to correct the aspect of your life that's not righteous. I'm always questioning Mormonism and I don't want to give too much away to readers, but currently I'm asking the same questions about my faith that I was asking myself in the book, just from a different angle.
SHW: Hmm..interesting. a "different" angle...I can only hope that means there will be a sequel to The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance and aptly titled as well!
You can watch Elna discuss her book in this video http://youtu.be/BogilVYcvCs