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Chris Linnares - psychologist, comedian and author - has little patience for the one-size-fits-all commandments and preachy tone of many life makeover manuals. Switching effortlessly among her many professional reincarnations, she has dedicated her career to offering modern women a more sensible approach to overhauling their lives.
In 1998, Chris Linnares, a psychology major in college at the time, talked an unenthusiastic manager at Sao Paulo's Radio Mundial into letting her take over the least popular evening time slot. Linnares was disenchanted with on-air psychologists who dish solutions to complete strangers on the other end of the line. She wanted to launch a different breed of self-help talk show. She named it Success Stories, and she lured her guests into counting their blessings rather than griping about what wasn't going their way. The program, which soon scored a primetime spot, defined narrow definitions of success. A divorced woman who keeps it together and raises her three children? "To me, she's a successful woman," says Linnares. "I invited normal people and made them become stars."
Three years later, she tapped into the personal stories she had coaxed out of talk-show guests and wrote a one-woman play, Divas on the Divan, which she performed to hooting Brazilian audiences. In the show, she is a frazzled woman trying to find balance on her therapist's couch. She's caught between today's competing recipes for female fulfillment: If you're single, with no romantic prospects, you're a failure (especially if you haven't reached your perfect weight). And if you're not totally self-sufficient, you're a failure, too (especially if you haven't reached your perfect weight). At the end of the play, the heroine realizes her angst has less to do with her single status and much more with her one time decision to scrap her dreams for fear of failure.
Her one woman show Divas on the Divan became a best-selling novel of the same name, a TV Show, a magazine column, and one of the best selling DVDs in Brazil. But around that time, Linnares was becoming increasingly aware that she, much like her fictional would-be diva, struggled to balance out the rival demands on modern women. In many ways, life was good. She had a post-graduate degree from a top Sao Paulo university with stints at Harvard and UCLA, and her career was right on track. "Yet, I was unhappy," she recalls. "Something was missing. I was empty inside." She had let her workaholic, cynical side take over, sneering at romantic comedies and constantly griping about men with her equally no-nonsense friends. She was afraid to admit she craved companionship.
Linnares' turning point came when she received a call from her beloved childhood nanny, Maria, who had been admitted to a hospital with severe back pain. Maria asked Linnares to stop by, but before she could fit the visit into her hectic schedule, the author got a second call. Maria had passed away.
Linnares, who took pride in being a liberated contemporary woman, realized she'd become a slave to her career. That's when she started researching the tale of Cinderella, an under-appreciated heroine who, before her prince ever sweeps her off her feet, works hard and stays upbeat.
The story sparked the idea for Cinderella on the Couch in which a mysterious underground group helps everyday people improve their lives through the study of fairytales. The book's heroine - the cynical, defeatist magazine writer, Annie, who attends the seminar as an assignment - scoffs at the notion, until she finds the group's positive message of self-love and forgiveness spicing up her professional and love lives. In the book, Linnares seamlessly blends the self-help advice with humorous twists and sizzling romance.
After the book came out in Brazil in 2004, readers started online "Cinderella" discussion groups, and the author received dozens of letters begging for contact information for the fictional underground society. And again and again, readers shared, "I hate self-help books, but I enjoyed your book as a romance."
Linnares met her husband a year after wrapping up the book and followed him to his birthplace of Fargo, North Dakota. After she moved from a tropical country to the tundra of Fargo, she faced a difficult year with the death of her father, her daughter in the ICU due to complications from her premature birth, postpartum depression, and the 50 plus pound weight gain. She overcame these difficulties through dance and was inspired to create Diva Dance, a unique brand of self-help seminar, which she is now sharing with the women of the United States. These retreats are selling out from North Dakota to Arizona. She lures unsuspecting women into dancing the salsa and samba as a way of unleashing their sultrier, more self-confident selves. "Cinderella on the Couch" was released in May 2007. Linnares states, "We have an innate ability to completely change our lives. Life may not be a fairy tale, but we all deserve a happy ending."
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