March 20, 2012 at 3:24 pm , by Cherise Bathersfield
Entertainment journalist Thelma Adams’s novel Playdate, just out in paperback, explores the minefields of modern marriage with humor and sass. But Playdate is no empty romp. In addition to parenting precocious pre-teens, the protagonists—couples Lance and Darlene and Alec and Wren—are dealing with complex issues. Lance, an unemployed weatherman, is married to Darlene, a restaurateur, who maintains an inappropriate flirtation with her restaurant’s financier, Alec, who is married to Wren, a yogi, who is having an affair with Lance. Got that? If that love quadrangle weren’t dizzying enough, a fierce forest fire is menacing their comfortable upper-middle-class California enclave. We asked Adams to talk about the game plan behind Playdate.
You’ve been a film critic and entertainment writer for almost 30 years. How did that experience inform your first novel, which is about marriage and relationships?
I am a married film critic and entertainment writer with relationships. Some of which, I confess, are a little convoluted. This novel began as an idea for a screenplay: What if we melded Warren Beatty’s handsome rootless philanderer in Shampoo with Michael Keaton’s overwhelmed dad in Mr. Mom? It seemed like a funny concept. However, as it turned out, I’m a prose girl. The movie idea morphed into a novel.
With his sensitive nature and commitment to parenting, Lance is the heart and soul of the book. But he’s also having an affair. Was it hard to construct a sympathetic cheater?
Making Lance sympathetic without demonizing his wife Darlene was one of the great challenges of the book. Personally, I am the daughter of a relatively sympathetic cheater. My dad was no saint, but he was no demon either. I was a daddy’s little girl who adored her father, and growing up we had this kind of very easy, affectionate, unconditional love. And then, when I was in my early twenties, I discovered that I’d lived in a house where a pattern of infidelity on my father’s side gutted my mother. Being daddy’s little girl was suddenly a difficult position to have within the family politics. And, on top of that, when I found out about my father, I was still crying over a post-college live-in relationship with a serial cheater with whom I was crazy in love. That’s a long time ago, but fidelity, and understanding how infidelity molds a family, and a relationship, has been central to a lot of my writing. In the end, I came to understand my father, which is not exactly the same as forgiving, through my love for Lance and [his daughter] Belle. Read more
March 12, 2012 at 3:31 pm , by Ladies' Lounge
The Expats, a first novel by former book editor Chris Pavone, is an international espionage thriller that’s invited comparisons to Graham Greene, John Le Carré and Robert Ludlum. The protagonist, Kate Moore, is (as was Pavone for a time) an expat and stay-at-home parent living a typical expat life in Luxembourg. But she’s also guarding a tremendous, life-defining secret—one that slowly begins to unravel her neat routines. As she begins to uncover secrets about the people around her, she finds herself buried in layers of deceit so thick they threaten her family, her marriage and her life. This expertly crafted story will keep you guessing until the very last page.
In this guest blog, Pavone explains how a mysterious woman on a park bench inspired him to write the book. Plus, find out how to win your own copy of The Expats at the end of the post!
We stay-at-home parents had all arrived via roughly the same path: our spouses got interesting/exciting/lucrative job offers abroad, and we thought it sounded fun (or at least different). So we packed up everything we could bring, and left behind everything we couldn’t. For many of us, the latter included the jobs, the careers, the selves that we’d spent our adult lives defining. Now we had to become other people.
For all the fun of constantly traveling around Europe, and for all the newness of this adventure, it was hard for me to embrace the routine. Taking the kids to their international school, attending class-parents meetings, going to the gym or French lessons or the supermarket. Driving around a city I didn’t really know, ignoring traffic laws I didn’t entirely understand, in a language I didn’t properly speak. Looking for the things that my family needed, or wanted: underwear and raincoats, DVDs and sticker books, a vacuum cleaner and a toaster, a cordless drill and a metric measuring tape. Food that I could pack for the kids’ lunch that they wouldn’t reject.
February 21, 2012 at 11:48 am , by Cherise Bathersfield
No Cheating, No Dying is journalist Elizabeth Weil’s account of the year she devotes to making her self-described good marriage even better. Weil and her husband, Dan Duane—both writers and overachievers—submitted to couples counseling, sex therapy, group workshops and more, applying themselves to their marriage as they would to a new writing assignment, hobby or exercise regimen. But being married with two children is no two-mile swim (which the couple did from Alcatraz to San Francisco). It’s complicated. For every issue unearthed, resolved and shelved during Weil’s marital spring-cleaning, another seemed to pop up to take its place. Weil shared some insights with us about her sometimes tumultuous journey to rehab her “good enough” marriage.
Q. After nearly a decade of a marriage that was not broken, what made you decide to fix it?
A. I noticed that I was being lazy-brained about my marriage in a way that I was not about the rest of my life. I had stacks of book on how to be a good mother. I kept up with the latest research on how to stay healthy. I put a lot of effort into my friendships, my work life and staying fit. But I had an attitude about my marriage that it was either star-crossed or it wasn’t. And once I noticed that attitude, it seemed silly. So I decided to change it.
Q. How did your husband, Dan, react to your proposal?
A. With horror! I’m sort of kidding. But his first reaction, when I brought it up, was “I can’t think of anything worse.”
Q. Where did the name of the book No Cheating, No Dying come from?
A. Those were our secret vows. Of course we stood up at the altar in front of our friends and family and promised to love and care for each other for richer and for poorer, in sickness and health and all that. But privately we said to each other: no cheating, no dying. We figured our marriage could survive anything else.
Q. You refer to a lot of marriage psychology publications and self-help books. Which ones did you find particularly helpful to you as a couple? Why?
A. Stephen Mitchell’s Can Love Last? The Fate of Romance Over Time really had a huge impact on me. Mitchell argues that romance doesn’t die in marriage due to neglect. Romance dies because we kill it, on purpose, as it becomes increasingly dangerous. We are so dependent on our spouses. These days husbands and wives aren’t just lovers or financial partners. We’re also co-parents, emotional supports, best friends. We can’t bear to think of our spouses as anything less than entirely predictable. And as a result we can start to think they’re boring and unromantic. But really, we’ve just put our spouses in that box. We need to take them out again.
February 16, 2012 at 10:00 am , by Ladies' Lounge
Meredith Maran (at right) has been a working writer for more than 40 years, turning out ten nonfiction books and scores of magazine articles (including a fair share for Ladies’ Home Journal). But this week marks a brand-new milestone for the brand-new grandmother: the publication of her first novel, A Theory of Small Earthquakes. Set in the countercultures of Oberlin College in the 1980s and Berkeley, California in the late ‘90s and onward, this “deliciously messy love story” (to quote from one of the blurbs on the book’s cover) is about a protagonist, Alison, caught in a love triangle with her former (female) lover and her husband—and about the son all three of them come together to raise.
Here, Maran chats about the book with her friend and fellow novelist, Caroline Leavitt (at left), author of the New York Times and USA Today bestseller Pictures of You, as well as eight previous novels.
Caroline Leavitt: What sparked the idea for A Theory of Small Earthquakes?
Meredith Maran: A decade ago, a friend
told me a true story about such an untraditional family, whose existence required so much daily forgiveness on the part of all involved, I thought, “If only I were a novelist, that would make a great plot.”
As I watched the story unfold in real time in my friend’s real life, the itch to write it finally overcame my fear of attempting a novel. After a lifetime of writing only nonfiction, that fear was epic—and, as it turned out, well founded. The novel took two years to write, five years to rewrite, and many gnawed fingernails to sell to a publisher. And it’s been the most thrilling writing experience of my life.
CL: I love the title [a theory of small earthquakes refers to the idea that the occurrence of many earthquakes of lesser intensity offsets the possibility of a single catastrophic one]. Can you talk about it?
MM: Over the eons it took to bring this book from concept to publication, the novel had at least five working titles, starting with The Surrogate and ending with Boy Girl Boy Girl, which came in a close second. Early on, the phrase “A Theory of Small Earthquakes” came to me in a flash, and I loved it. But there were so many factors to consider, and such a big job the title had to do.
My dad was a true Mad Man—a Madison Avenue ad executive. I grew up naming products at the dinner table, so considering the impact of the title on marketing the book came naturally.
February 14, 2012 at 12:29 pm , by Ladies' Lounge
Who better to know how to heat up your Valentine’s Day than a woman whose business is romance? Romance novelist Robyn Carr (robyncarr.com) has been honored with multiple RITA awards from the Romance Writers of America and her Virgin River series (the newest installment is Redwood Bend, coming out next month) landed her on the New York Times bestseller list. Here’s Carr’s advice on how to apply the lessons of romance novels to your own love life.
1) Set the scene. If you’ve ever read a romance, you know that the sex can be pretty steamy. But rarely do the characters just start going at it and rarely do I give them a chance to get away to a quiet lodge. That’s just not how life is. But I do like to set the scene—let them flirt a little to heat things up. So how can you do that in real life? Traditional things like candles and good lighting are nice, but go the extra step and get rid of distractions. Turn off the phone. Turn off the TV. Send the kids to your mom’s house. Turn on some music so you can’t hear the garbage truck doing its weekly pick-up. (And try a faster-paced mix of tunes for a change!) Make the two of you the focus so the “scene” can happen without any interruptions. My characters are at their hottest when they’re concentrating on each other and nothing else.
2) Write your own romance story. Sometimes words are all you need. Take it from someone who spends her whole life creating romantic scenes from words alone. Take advantage of their power by sending a letter detailing your plans for Valentine’s Day (and night) to your partner. You can stick it in the mail a week before Valentine’s Day so he has a few days to imagine what’s coming. For some last minute “story-telling,” a sexy text message will work too. Just be sure no one at his office will get to his phone before he does!
February 13, 2012 at 4:41 pm , by Lauren Piro
A few weeks ago, I came across this cartoon and laughed out loud. See that second box? The one with the person excited about an evening at home, anything but barhopping or book club? That person is so me. And, like many introverts, I’ve felt bad about it more than once in my life. Like I was weird for retreating to the bathroom at parties when I just needed a break from all that merriment or too low-profile to be class president or newspaper editor because I wasn’t a “leader.” Author Susan Cain often felt like that, too, but she always suspected that it was the rest of the world—not her—that was getting it wrong. Now, her New York Times bestseller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking shines a light on introverts (whether we like it or not) and makes the case that we, too, have an important role in a world that reveres extroverts.
Recently, I chatted with Cain about the untapped power she champions in Quiet.
You think of yourself as an introvert. What has that meant in your life?
When I started practicing law, I thought my nature was going to be a disadvantage for me. But eventually, I realized I have a whole constellation of other qualities serving me well—like listening skills and preparing carefully. I wasn’t one to take over a meeting, but I was good at creating one-on-one alliances with people behind the scenes. And these skills can be very powerful. Also, at first I assumed that my personality was a function of gender—that the things I did were things a woman would do. But, then I started to look around and saw that plenty of women had different styles from me, just as plenty of men were more like me.
Are women often assumed to be introverted?
In some ways, yes, traditionally women have been expected to be quieter and more passive. So for these reasons, historically it’s been easier for a woman to be an introvert than a man. I think that’s changing now. I consider myself a strong feminist, but I do think that feminism can make things harder for female introverts, because of this model that says that you should be very bold and take the world by the horns. An introverted form of power has a very different style to it.
January 25, 2012 at 10:52 am , by Ladies' Lounge
First-time novelist and today’s guest blogger Nancy Bilyeau was a features editor at Ladies’ Home Journal for three years. Here, Bilyeau tells the story of how her new novel, The Crown, morphed from a pipe dream into a reality. Plus, find out how to win a copy of her book at the end of the post!
“I want to write a novel set in sixteenth century England.”
That’s what I told the four people sitting in a circle in a small 5th-floor apartment in the West Village seven years ago. In a “What the heck?” spirit, I’d joined a fiction workshop held every Monday night. I wasn’t sure what kind of novel I wanted to write except the century I’d place it in. I’d loved Tudor history since I was 11 years old and saw The Six Wives of Henry the Eighth with my parents. Over the years, I kept coming back to biographies and historical fiction set in the 16th century. I enjoyed the drama of the personalities, the wars and the divorces, the excitement of the Renaissance—even the fashion.
I wanted to write a woman’s story, but I felt that plenty had already been written about the queens and princesses and ladies-in-waiting. I settled on a protagonist, Joanna Stafford, who was a nun. Henry VIII destroyed the monasteries when he broke from Rome and I was drawn to that turmoil. While most Tudor historical fiction takes the side of the Reformation, I thought it would be more interesting to explore what happened to the nuns, friars and monks whose lives were upended by this sweeping transformation.
My first pages were not good and my writing group, while perfectly polite, let me know. But I kept at it. I decided to make my story a thriller, and loved nothing more than losing myself in research and plotting my story. I read everything I could find on the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the people at its center. My kind of book isn’t researched through Google: I spent hours at the New York Public Library, poring through the collections. I discovered some of the most exciting, little-known facts in books written more than a century ago. In some cases those writers had access to sources lost to us. I also started corresponding through emails with historians and curators in England. It took months for me to find out what a prisoner would eat while imprisoned in the Tower of London, but I did it! When I got a copy of a 16th century daily “meal sheet” (think mutton, mutton and more mutton), I danced around my apartment.