BEHIND THE WRITING
by Lorna Landvik
I'm often asked which book is my favorite and I have the same answer as many writers: My books are like my kids and I can't choose a favorite. (If I did, I'd be a bad mother.) So from a writerly/motherly stand point, let me introduce my books to you, why I think they're special and why you would like them, too.
PATTY JANE'S HOUSE OF CURL is my first novel and my memories of its conception and delivery are the sharpest. (Would I ever finish it? Would I ever find a publisher?) Set in Minneapolis (which contrary to many reviewers, is not a small town, but a fairly large city), and beginning in the mid-fifties, it's about one scrappy sister (Patty Jane) starting a beauty salon to support herself and her baby daughter after she's abandoned by her husband Thor. Helped by her Norwegian mother-in-law and her sister Harriet, who plays the harp and shouts out "dance break!" for the customers musical entertainment, Patty Jane carves out an unconventional, satisfying life for her herself,her family, and the denizens of the House of Curl (which turns into much more than a salon). I got a letter once from a reader who told me, "I'm a cancer survivor and I've decided if the cancer ever came back, I'd want to spend my last days at the House of Curl." Man, that made my day.
YOUR OASIS ON FLAME LAKE is about a guy who runs a nightclub in his basement. Dick Lindstrom is a genial man who loves his wife, his daughters, and the opportunity to get on stage and perform Weird-Al-Yankovitch-type songs on his keyboard. This book is narrated in five different voices; two men, two women, and a twelve-year-old girl. People often ask me how I can write in a man's voice and I say, "It's easyI just put on some old underwear, start scratching myself and yell at my spouse to make me a sandwich."
If my books are my children, then THE TALL PINE POLKA is the kid who would have ended up in rehab. It's kinda wild, kinda brash. Hollywood comes to the small northern Minnesota town of Tall Pine and mayhem ensues. Fenny Ness, who runs her deceased parents' bait and craft shop suddenly finds herself a leading lady, a position she's not thrilled about; preferring to spend her time with her friends at the Cup O'Delight, the local coffee shop. The cast of characters include a lesbian couple, Frau Katte and Miss Penk, Pete the shoe repairman who secretly makes exquisite shoes for Lee O'Leary, the rotund owner of the coffee shop and his unrequited love, and Big Bill, half native Hawaiian and half native American who loves music, Fenny, and candy of all kinds.
I never like to write about myself or real people, but my experiences in L.A. performing stand-up comedy and going out on auditions did color THE TALL PINE POLKA as well as WELCOME TO THE GREAT MYSTERIOUS, whose heroine is a Broadway diva called upon to help her twin sister back in suburban Minneapolis. Geneva Jordan is vain and self-centered and wants to say a loud "NO!" to her sister's request to take care of her son Rich who is a l3 year old boy with Down Syndrome. The Great Mysterious refers to a book Geneva finds that she and her sister had made as kids, asking their relatives to answer life's big questions. Many readers have told me they've started their own Great Mysterious books and ask me if I have one of my own. While I would have love to have a record of my family's responses to questions like, "What is true love?," I've been too lazy to start up a book of my own.
ANGRY HOUSEWIVES EATING BON BONS was inspired by my many visits to book clubs. I wanted to write about a group of women whose monthly book discussions blossomed into deep friendship and all that entails. (Birth, divorce, death, pot-smoking while discussing, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but were afraid to ask.) This book spans a couple of decades; starting in the swinging sixties (yay hotpants!) and ending in the 1990s. I've visited many bookclubs who've discussed this book and a common question they ask each other is "Which character did you most identify with?" It's funny how many of them say Audrey, who's the neighborhood sex symbol.
OH MY STARS is my newest baby. Set in the Depression (the Great Depression, not my own personal one), it's about Violet Mathers, a character who is handicapped in many ways but ultimately conquers what she always thought was unconquerable. It's the first book that isn't set in the state of Minnesota and it's about love, friendship, acceptance and the beginnings of rock n' roll. My older daughter, who's a very discerning reader (when she was in eighth grade, she told me I was "no F. Scott Fitzgerald" says this is her favorite of my books.
I'm embarrassed to say this; but I can't recall the exact time and place Joe, Kristi and Darva of THE VIEW FROM MOUNT JOY came into my head. Usually a book begins for me with the appearance of the main characters in my head and usually, I can remember where I was or what I was doing when they made their appearance. Not so for t his book. If I were a more careful chronicler, if I kept a journal or if I had a better memory (really, my powers of recall couldn't activate a night light) I could tell you this, but the genesis for this book will just have to go mysteriously unexplained.
Although...the story does start as Joe's about to begin his senior year and his story mirrors mine in that we're the same age. I've said before I don't like to write about my real life (it's always more fun for me to make it up) but I did enjoy writing about the early seventies and its shag haircuts (you bet I had one), platform shoes, music (ahh...slow dancing to "Stairway to Heaven" and "Color My World") and its general still-sorta-hippie-ish aura. I also enjoyed taking Joe through the years up to the present, and having him confront the big questions that we all ask ourselves and stumble toward answering.
I love Joe - he's a good man and I'm especially partial to good men. He's not afraid to show his emotions, a quality I find most good men have. It wasn't hard to write as a male (I hope I've succeeded) - I'm of the belief that men and women are more alike than they are different. Kristi too was a lot of fun to write - man, is she diabolical! - but underneath her narcissism and ruthlessness, I think you'll find...more narcissism and ruthlessness. Just kidding - you don't act (entirely) like her without being motivated by pain and hurt.
A male reporter who interviewed me said he thought the book was about loyalty and although I never set out with 'themes' in mind, I agree with him in that Joe is certainly loyal - to family and friends and the sense of what is right.
I think the world's in a lot of trouble right now and I also think it's people like Joe - those who love with open hearts and try to help others - who will make it better.