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Posts Tagged ‘Golden State’

Reader’s Guide: A Conversation with Michelle Richmond and Dani Atkins

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Atkins_ThenandAlways

A Conversation with Michelle Richmond and Dani Atkins

Michelle Richmond is the bestselling author of The Year of Fog, No One You Know, Dream of the Blue Room, and the award-winning The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress. A native of Alabama’s Gulf Coast, she makes her home in Northern California. Her newest novel is Golden State.

Michelle Richmond: I can’t believe this is your first novel! The tension and pacing here are remarkable. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

Dani Atkins: Even as a child I was always scribbling away at short stories and poems, so I guess the dream was always there. As a young adult I wrote a few short stories and a couple of very lightweight romances.They weren’t published, and with good reason:They weren’t very good. Not that I realized that at the time, of course. There were huge gaps between my literary endeavors, where I wouldn’t write anything more challenging than the weekly shopping list. However, when my children were older I once again felt the urge to write. Then and Always was different from anything I had attempted before. When it was done I felt confident it was the best thing I’d ever written. (Of course, bearing in mind what had come before, some of my earlier shopping lists could also have claimed that title!)

MR: How did you get the inspiration for the novel?

DA: I’ve always enjoyed novels or films that keep you guessing and make you question what you believe to be true. I’m also a fan of thrillers and books with a supernatural twist. But most of all, I adore a good old-fashioned love story. Then and Always is a blend of all the genres I most enjoy reading.

MR: The novel’s ending is sure to cause discussion. Did you know how the novel was going to end when you started writing it?

DA: Yes, I did. From the moment I sat down and wrote Chapter 1 on the first page, I always knew how the final chapter of Then and Always would end. What I didn’t know—what I never seem to know when writing—is the journey the book will take me on before I get there.

MR: Did you have any hopes for what the reader might take away from the novel?

DA: I think if I had to choose just one message, it would be that you should make the most of every opportunity in life. Seize the day. Your whole world can be irrevocably changed in the blink of an eye, and if someone is important to you . . . you should tell them, because you never know when it might be too late. We’re not all lucky enough to get Rachel’s rather unique second chance.

MR: What are your writing habits?

DA: I truly don’t know if I can say I have been doing this long enough to have a normal writing routine or habits just yet. When I began, I had every good intention of making writing my nine-to-five job. I learned very quickly that it doesn’t work like that. In reality, I seem to achieve very little in the mornings and am much more productive in the mid- to late afternoon and evening. I do find that I get most of my ideas for plot and dialogue when I am walking our dog (a two-year-old border collie). He is benefitting enormously from my new routine. My husband, who now seems to have taken on all cooking duties—otherwise neither of us would eat an evening meal—sadly is not.

MR: Who are your favorite authors?

DA: I like many different genres and authors, with my personal favorites ranging from Stephen King (love him) to Sophie Kinsella (want to be her). I also enjoy many young adult titles, and am not ashamed to admit it, and loved the Between the Lines series by Tammara Webber, and the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I have recently “discovered” and am really enjoying reading the novels of Paige Toon.

MR: Are you working on something new? Can you share anything with us about your next project?

DA: My second novel is well under way. It is a powerful love story that is told from the point of view of Emma, the main character, and covers many issues, including friendship, family, loyalty, trust, and betrayal.

Stay up to date with Dani Atkins on Twitter!

Michelle Richmond’s GOLDEN STATE Playlist

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Richmond_Golden State “A breathtaking read and one I’ll not soon forget.”—Melanie Benjamin, author of The Aviator’s Wife

Golden State began with the idea for a single scene: a husband and wife at the end of their marriage, spending their final night together in a San Francisco radio station, where the husband works as a late–night deejay. As the story developed, the one thing that remained constant in my mind was the sound of the music from the radio station. Early drafts of the novel contained a number of songs that didn’t make it into the final draft. Here are the songs that, for me, capture the spirit of the novel and of the place that has become my home:

Admiral Radley, “I Heart California” California has inspired many great songs over the years, and, like “California Dreaming,” this one is a personal favorite. The product of a one–off local California indie super–group combination, comprising members of Grandaddy and Earlimart, this song is an unapologetic celebration of the true spirit of California.

Josh Rouse, “Sweetie” This one comes from Rouse’s 2007 record, Country Mouse City House. For me, the best love songs contain just a pinch of melancholy. When I picture Julie and Tom working through their complicated relationship, I always hear this song and think of Rouse’s great line “crooked couple standing side by side / Is that you? Is that me?”

Tom Petty, “California” Like Julie, Tom Petty is a transplant to California from the South. For years, his identity was intertwined with his birthplace in Gainesville, Florida, and his stories seemed to emanate from there. Listening to his albums over the years, I’ve always been interested to hear how his southern identity has slowly evolved and reconciled itself with his adopted home. With the short, direct, and brilliant “California,” from 1996, the evolution seems complete. This song is highly personal for me. Like Petty, my roots are deeply southern, but I have made my home and my adult life on the West Coast.

Norman Greenbaum, “Spirit in the Sky” Another California transplant, Greenbaum moved to California at the age of twenty–three. He wrote and recorded this classic four years later in San Francisco. A Jewish kid from Massachusetts, Greenbaum reportedly penned his fun, funky, celebratory “friend in Jesus” song in less than fifteen minutes. By some accounts, he was never really sure what the song meant. I can never figure out what it means either. I don’t know what it would’ve been like to live in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, but I imagine that the vibe was very similar to what is captured in this song.

Scorpions, “Wind of Change” Written by Klaus Meine during a trip to Russia in 1989, this song celebrated the imminent fall of the USSR. Since then, of course, it has become an anthem for
large–scale movements that topple unjust regimes. At the heart of Golden State, for me, is the idea that huge, unexpected political and social shifts often seem inconceivable and impossible until the moment they happen. More important, though, this song rocks. I dare you to listen to it without feeling inspired. Long live the Scorpions.

The Mendoza Line, “Aspect of an Old Maid” As the radio plays throughout Golden State, I wanted to establish the melancholy soundtrack of mature breakup songs. No one does a bittersweet, super–complicated breakup song like the Mendoza Line. If we lived in a world where all things were fair, the Mendoza Line’s classic album Lost in Revelry would have sold as many copies as Michael Jackson’s Thriller. This is one of their later songs, and it comes from their last disc, 30 Year Low.

Kirsty MacColl and Evan Dando, “Perfect Day” Though the Lou Reed original of this song is a classic, I’m always drawn to this version by MacColl and former Lemonhead Dando. You can find it on MacColl’s disc From Croydon to Cuba.

Steve Forbert, “Goin’ Down to Laurel” I can’t imagine anyone other than Steve Forbert being able to write a great song about Laurel, Mississippi. I first saw Forbert at Mercury Lounge in New York City, then at Maxwell’s in Hoboken (which now, sadly, is closed). Years later, I saw him play at a little church in San Francisco’s Noe Valley. Forbert has a gift for writing heartbreaking songs and delivering them with his unforgettable voice. He’s another musician with one foot in the South (he’s from Meridian, Mississippi) and one foot in the wider, urban world.

Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells, “The Copper Top” For me, this is one of the saddest songs ever written. Everything is getting older.

Dire Straits, “Telegraph Road” Lasting more than fourteen minutes, the storytelling in this song covers a span of well over a hundred years and tells the tale of a single Detroit, Michigan, road from beginning to end. When I first started writing Golden State (which was originally titled California Street), this song was on a mix disc in my car. At the time, my son, in the back seat, always wanted the volume louder, and whether we had arrived at our destination or not, we always had to sit there until the song was over. Someday I will clean out the car, and when I do, I hope to find this disc among the Tootsie Roll wrappers and lost tubes of lipstick—and in working order.

Badly Drawn Boy, “The Way Things Used to Be” Quick, obvious songs of infatuation (think early Beatles) have never done it for me. I’m always drawn to songs about long, messy, complicated relationships (isn’t that the only kind of relationship worth having?). In that category, this Badly Drawn Boy number is one of the best.

Elbow, “August and September” What can I say? I love cover songs, and this is one of my favorites. It’s a cover of the nearly–as–good original by The The, and I found it seven years ago on a Q magazine 1986 tribute disc. It’s another sad breakup song, and although it didn’t make the final edit of Golden State, it always seemed to fit in well with the sound the novel made in my head.

Graham Parker, “Anniversary” Another song celebrating a long relationship. The words are so nice and happy; why, then, does the song sound so ominous and desperate? During the early period
of writing Golden State, I had a CD in my car with a collection of Graham Parker songs, and -the mood and spirit of this one, “You Can’t Be Too Strong,” and “Haunted Episodes,” seemed to seep into the mood of the book somehow.

Johnny Cash, “Further On Up the Road” Johnny Cash singing a Bruce Springsteen song about graveyard boots and looking for a light up ahead . . . what could be better?

Lambchop, “Let’s Go Bowling” This one is from the 1994 Lambchop album with the confusing mix of two different titles—-I Hope You’re Sitting Down and Jack’s Tulips. Although the record was their debut, it appeared with a rustic, world–weary sound that made it seem like it had been around forever. The story is a nice, foggy piece about a couple on a trip to Greece, taking pictures, wandering through the ruins of their life.

Lesley Spencer, “Childhood Revisited” My husband frequently plays this song while doing the dishes. I often hear it oozing out of the kitchen, working its way downstairs to my writing room. I love instrumentals that somehow tell a story, as this one does.

Mark Mulcahy, “A Smack on the Lips” How does love happen? What’s the magic, unnamable thing that brings two people together? I was twenty–four when I met my husband. We’ve been together for most of my adult life. While my husband is definitely not Tom, and Golden State is “purely a work of fiction,” as they say, the passion and stability of a long–term partnership is something that, fortunately, I know well. If you want to tell your spouse you’d do it all over again, play this song!

The Handsome Family, “A Thousand Diamond Rings” Albuquerque’s Handsome Family seems to know a thing or two about complicated relationships. For me, this one and “So Much Wine” are classics.

Richmond Fontaine, “A Letter to the Patron Saint of Nurses” I would love this great Portland band even if we didn’t share a name. “A Letter to the Patron Saint of Nurses” is a weird one, almost spoken word. It’s a nice tribute to the importance of being able to remember the high points in a relationship, especially when you are at a low point.

Woodpigeon, “Enchantée Janvier” Canada’s Woodpigeon was an infatuation I had during the early versions of Golden State. If you’re in need of a great, uplifting song, this is it.
Tracey Thorn, “Sister Winter” This is a pretty cover of the lesser–known Sufjan Stevens not–exactly–happy Christmas song.

Billy Idol, “Sweet Sixteen” I fell head over heels for Billy Idol as a fifteen–year–old girl in Alabama. My bedroom was pretty much wallpapered with pictures of him. It was like running into an old crush when, quite by accident, he walked into Golden State. This song goes a bit further than his others—-it’s catchy and hummable, yes, but also sad, with an indescribable vein of melancholy weaving its way through. For years, I thought this song was about a guy who’s in love with a sixteen-year-old girl. Only recently did I come to realize that this is a song about the long haul, about a man who has loved the same woman for a very long time, and who now feels the threat of losing her.

Giveaway Opportunity: GOLDEN STATE by Michelle Richmond

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Richmond_Golden State “A breathtaking read and one I’ll not soon forget.”—Melanie Benjamin, author of The Aviator’s Wife

Perfect for fans of Jodi Picoult, Jacquelyn Mitchard, and Anna Quindlen, Golden State is a powerful, mesmerizing new novel that explores the intricacies of marriage, family, and the profound moments that shape our lives.

Doctor Julie Walker has just signed her divorce papers when she receives news that her younger sister, Heather, has gone into labor. Though theirs is a strained relationship, Julie sets out for the hospital to be at her sister’s side—no easy task since the streets of San Francisco are filled with tension and strife. Today is also the day that Julie will find herself at the epicenter of a violent standoff in which she is forced to examine both the promising and the painful parts of her past—her Southern childhood; her romance with her husband, Tom; her estrangement from Heather; and the shattering incident that led to her greatest heartbreak.

Infused with emotional depth and poignancy, Golden State takes readers on a journey over the course of a single, unforgettable day—through an extraordinary landscape of love, loss, and hope.

“This is the kind of book you want to read slowly, but instead you read it in a mad rush to find out where this incredibly talented writer is taking you.”—Ann Packer, author of Swim Back to Me

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Reader’s Guide: GOLDEN STATE by Michelle Richmond

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Richmond_Golden State “A breathtaking read and one I’ll not soon forget.”—Melanie Benjamin, author of The Aviator’s Wife

“I haven’t read such a gripping, bittersweet, moving novel in ages. Golden State sweeps you up, whisks you away, and doesn’t let you go till the very end. Michelle Richmond, author of the unforgettable The Year of Fog, does it again.”—Tatiana de Rosnay, author of Sarah’s Key

Questions and Topics for Discussion:

1. The author uses an unconventional timeline to tell her story, moving back and forth between past, present, and earlier that morning. What elements does this add to the reading experience? How would the experience have changed had the author used a strictly linear approach?

2. How are music and lyrics important throughout the story? What does the incessancy of Tom’s voice on the radio mean to Julie?

3. Describe how Heather and Julie’s relationship changes. What are the most influential moments? If you were Julie, would you have been able to forgive Heather?

4. On page 148, Julie questions her and Tom’s relationship by saying, “Without a child, are we even a family?” Ethan undoubtedly transforms Julie and Tom’s life, but does he prove that children are necessary to have a real family?

5. On page 80, Julie wonders, “Between a marriage one chooses and a blood relation one doesn’t, shouldn’t marriage be the more powerful bond?” Does Julie find an answer to this question? Which do you think is the stronger bond?

6. What does Julie’s mother represent? Why are Julie’s memories of Mississippi and her childhood so important? Why might she reflect on them during the stress of the hostage situation?

7. The characters in Golden State grapple with the idea of things either happening for a reason or happening due to cause and effect. Julie spends most of the novel defending the latter, but which do you believe in? Why?

8. Explain Dennis and Julie’s relationship. How is it possible that Julie could feel remorse for Dennis in the midst of a hostage crisis?

9. Throughout the novel, Julie views her life as a series of beginnings and endings, rather than a continuum of learning and growing. Does this mindset hurt or help her? Does her attitude change by the end of the novel? Through which interpretation do you view your life?

10. The author leaves certain questions unanswered at the close of the story. If you were to write a sequel, how would you tie up the novel’s loose ends?

11. On page 94, Tom says, “We become so used to the way things are . . . we can’t imagine things being any other way.” What does he mean by this? How does the premise of Golden State encourage readers to imagine the impossible?

12. Of all the themes in the novel—-forgiveness, family, belief, patriotism, identity, etc.—-which was the most relevant to you? Why?

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