February 15, 2010

3Q with Lori Lansens (Contest!)

Thank you guys so much for your fasci-freakin-ating responses to the query posed in my last blog. I’ve been on the phone almost constantly with Karen as new comments appeared. We’ve been reading them aloud to each other talking about this stuff while drinking too much wine I shouldn’t be having anyway. Oops. Stupid delicious red vibrant empty perfect calories.

Happy Presidents Day, and in honor of GW and the boys, I have a really superb and open and thoughtful interview with the amazing Lori Lansens. I am a big, big, big fan of hers----her second novel, THE GIRLS, rocked my little red boat back and forth all happy in the water, but I think I like the new one ever better. Her writing is just freakin’ luminous, and I loved Mary and was enthralled as she journeyed across North America, starving for an imagined life that never quite came to her. I found the experience of watching her shrink and at the same time grow into herself to be so gorgeous and ultimately so hopeful.


If you want the THE WIFE’S TALE and you do, her publicist is ever so sweetly offering two. Yes, I see you quailing as it does, of course, mean you have to take your chances with that capricious buttmunch, Mister Random Number Generator over at Random.Org. You have until Thursday, February 18th at midnight EST to throw your hat into his slavering-crocodile-filled, random ring by leaving a comment. As always, the complete rules are stolen from Mir’s shoplicious bargain hunting site, Want Not

JJ: Your main character seems to be nothing like you. How do you inhabit shoes different from your own?

LL: The protagonist of my first novel RUSH HOME ROAD is an elderly black woman. In my second novel, THE GIRLS, the characters are conjoined twin sisters. Mary Gooch is the morbidly obese heroine of my latest, THE WIFE’S TALE. On the surface, the only thing I have in common with any of them is that I am, like Mary, in my forties but these disparate characters have given voice to my interests and preoccupations and defined different stages in my life. All three books are set in fictional Baldoon County inspired by the landscape where I was born and raised in southwestern Ontario near the border to Detroit, Michigan. In the first book I drew on the rich history of the place – a hunting and fishing ground for the neutral Indians, a terminus on the underground railroad, a hotspot for bootlegging during prohibition – to tell the story of Addy Shadd, a descendant of fugitive slaves who helped settle the area.

With my second novel, THE GIRLS, I explored the nature of identity, inspired by the birth of my two children with whom I felt an inextricable physical and emotional bond. In my most recent book, THE WIFE’S TALE, I wanted to examine the struggle of a morbidly obese woman approaching her middle ages, not because I’m morbidly obese, but because I understand hunger and the feeling of being out of control.

The overweight female character has been with me since I began to write decades ago. I’m not overweight but I feel keenly the struggle of my fellows. It’s impossible to ignore the epidemic of obesity and where twenty or even ten years ago a woman weighing three-hundred pounds (as Mary Gooch does) would have been rare we see her now with increasing frequency. We work with her. She’s our Aunt, our cousin.

I joke that I’m a method writer, meaning that I inhabit the characters that I write about. Or do they inhabit me? It’s a way to describe empathy. When I was writing RUSH HOME ROAD I had the sense that old Addy Shadd had taken over the keyboard and was writing the story down like it was a memory instead of a creation. With the conjoined twin sisters I had to leave one’s fictional reality in order to find the voice of the other. Mary Gooch and I had some junk food binges together. I lost my appetite when she did and suffered heart palpitations (did hers come first or did mine?) for the duration of the writing process.

JJ: How important is the setting?

LL: Baldoon County serves as a character in RUSH HOME ROAD. Addy Shadd’s response to her journey, which included a perilous boat trip to America then back to Canada, was dependant on the setting. I’d been writing that book in my head for many years before I wrote the first sentence and so much of it was inspired by history and the memories of my youth.

In THE GIRLS I stayed in Baldoon County, a small town called Leaford, because I wanted to find the humanity in the conjoined sister’s situation and didn’t want to present them as freaks, or for them to perceive themselves that way. In small town Leaford where they live and work they’re just THE GIRLS. Had they lived in a large city they would have seen themselves mirrored in the eyes of strangers everyday and I believe they would have grown up very differently. The rural setting was important because the twins, for all their restrictions, find freedom and peace and beauty in the fields surrounding their rundown farmhouse and rely on nature for their spirituality.

I resisted the lure of Baldoon County when I set off to write THE WIFE’S TALE but it kept pulling me back. I was most interested in writing an extreme character – so overweight, and so sheltered, her life so small while she so large, that the small town setting was all that felt right. I considered creating a neighboring town but the fact was that I first saw Mary in my fragmented writer’s imagination, waving from a window in a farmhouse near where THE GIRLS used to sit together on a bridge over a creek. Leaford was the place where Mary and I both felt most comfortable, which heightened the drama of eventually having to leave.

JJ: Describe your journey as a writer.

LL: I started writing in my early twenties and published my first short story – a love story between an obese young woman and an elderly man – in The Wascana Review. The eleven dollars I received as payment for the story bought my young husband and I a six pack of beer and the sweetest victory either of us can remember. I received only an impressive stack of rejection letters for the next six stories I sent out and decided to shift my focus to writing for the stage. I wrote some terrible plays, veered off into acting for a year or so, returned to my typewriter and wrote my first screenplay, South of Wawa, which was made into a film by a Canadian company. More screenplays followed, dozens in fact, most of which were never made into films. For a few years my husband and I made films together but I found writing screenplays unsatisfying and craved a more direct connection with the audience. I tried my hand at being a film auteur and together with my husband attempted to produce a movie based on my original screenplay that I would also direct. Years of frustration followed, a number of false starts, deals that went sour. When finally it was time to let the film go my husband suggested I sit down to write the novel I’d been talking about for years. That novel was my first, RUSH HOME ROAD.

I worked on the story for a year and a half, most of that time while I was pregnant with my first child and without telling a soul what I was writing about. I didn’t know what to do with it when I finished the 500 page tome. I had no connections in the book world and learned from a reference book at the library that I should first look for an agent. I didn’t read the part about most unsolicited manuscripts being sent back and only learned what a slush pile was when a prominent agent called me to say that she had retrieved the ms from the top of hers and invited me in to meet. That begins the charmed part of my journey as a writer although I don’t discount the years of struggle and uncertainty. The book was sold at auction in Canada and the US and made foreign sales before there was an edited manuscript. My second novel, THE GIRLS, was chosen by the Richard and Judy Book Club in the UK, Britain’s version of Oprah. I’ve been tremendously fortunate.

The thing that I struggle with most as a writer is the thing that challenges all working mothers – balance. It’s important to me to be the one who takes my children to and from school and the one who ferries them to sporting events but all of that cuts in to an already short writing day short. I’ve missed field trips for deadlines and deadlines for field trips and I frequently worry that I’ve shortchanged either my children or my work. I know I’ve shortchanged my husband and friends. The focus and obsession that it takes to commit to a character and story for a year, or years, causes deficits in other areas. I know one writer who finds it difficult to be in public during the novel writing phase. She says she walks around with a blank stare she calls “writer’s face” and can’t hear people talk for all the white noise of her characters shuffling around in her brain. I think I have writer’s face too. I know I have writer’s hair. Still, how lucky I am to have the opportunity to sit alone in a room all day making up stories to share, even if I do have to set my alarm so that my children aren’t left at school.

Posted by joshilyn at February 15, 2010 8:11 AM

I love how you began writing. Varied areas but you eventually made it. I started writing my first book ten years ago. I finished two chapters in one day and haven't touched it since. I think it's because I can't get in and STAY in my characters heads. I'm always changing channels so I can tune into somebody elses drama. It's probably why I am a technical writer for my job. :)

Posted by: Billie at February 15, 2010 8:54 AM

Yes, please. Sign me up.

Posted by: Jan in Norman, OK at February 15, 2010 9:18 AM

Please can I have one, RNG? Pretty please with sugar and a cherry on top?

Posted by: Megs at February 15, 2010 9:41 AM

Ooh, sounds like a book I should be reading. Please pick me, RNG!

Posted by: Becky at February 15, 2010 10:08 AM

I'm interested!

Posted by: Robin at February 15, 2010 10:13 AM

Yes, please!

Posted by: Suzan at February 15, 2010 10:15 AM

oh. my. god. I LOVED The Girls. LOVED. I am so interested (although I'll be buying it if I am not lucky enough to win). Thanks, and thanks for the interview!

Posted by: babelbabe at February 15, 2010 10:18 AM

I hate RNG, but I just don't know how to quit...I WANT the book!

Posted by: Kathy at February 15, 2010 10:46 AM

I think that book would be an excellent birthday gift to myself. Yes please.

Posted by: Avallia at February 15, 2010 11:34 AM

I am looking forward to reading it!

Posted by: Chris at February 15, 2010 11:42 AM

Glorious cover, great interview. Lori's work sounds fascinating, and I love the idea of "Writer's hair." I think I have it too, even though I don't write enough these days.

Posted by: redzils at February 15, 2010 11:43 AM

I'm going to keep trying, even if I never win. Because you know such wonderful authors who write such wonderful books! And who knows, maybe someday...

Posted by: Julie G at February 15, 2010 11:58 AM

Thanks for introducing me to a new author - now I want to read all 3 of her books. A free copy of the new one would be fantastic!

Posted by: Laura F at February 15, 2010 12:10 PM

would LOVE to read this! Thanks for the contest!

Posted by: Anna Marie at February 15, 2010 12:27 PM

Hi there, RNG. Remember me? No? Well, let's get to know each other. We'll start with you picking me to receive this book (which sounds great, BTW). :)

Posted by: Kitty at February 15, 2010 12:33 PM

I really enjoyed The Girls, and I'd like to read the new one.

Posted by: RockyCat at February 15, 2010 1:07 PM

I definitely want to read this book. Please RNG pick me!

Posted by: Theresa at February 15, 2010 1:34 PM

If the RNG picks me, I will call it pretty and skinny and lovely and I will buy it presents and ice cream and shower all my love on it.

Posted by: Dani Moore at February 15, 2010 1:35 PM

I definitely want to read this book. Please RNG - pick me!

Posted by: Theresa at February 15, 2010 1:36 PM

Sounds great!

Posted by: Lori at February 15, 2010 1:52 PM

Oh, Capricious Buttmunch, you are so pretty. And your...mane? ...ruff? is so shiny and silky. Oh, please, Capricious Buttmunch, pick me!

And, Joss, it is flattering that you discussed the comments...including mine? Mine? I am not even a writer! The last (and only) time I was published was in my high school newspaper, and it was a poem. Called "If You Were Driving Down the Road."

Posted by: JMixx at February 15, 2010 2:00 PM

The books each sound interesting to me. I love hearing about new writers to check out.

(I am so not scared of the buttmunch. I have no luck in real life, but somehow I eat online book contests for breakfast.)

Posted by: Jess at February 15, 2010 2:22 PM

There seems to be some duplication going on. How will RNG cope with that? It hardly matters. I was in a drawing with 3 other people on Thursday and STILL didn't win. But it's worth a try.

Posted by: Diane (TT) at February 15, 2010 2:25 PM

I'm definitely going to have to check out some of her other books. Her characters sound fascinating, and I'm always in the mood to read about fascinating people! :)

Posted by: jess at February 15, 2010 3:35 PM

Me too!

Posted by: Catherine at February 15, 2010 4:10 PM

these sound great!

Posted by: Jenn at February 15, 2010 4:16 PM

I am just a leeeetle suspicious of so many accidental double-posts. But that's just me. Cynical and not afraid to point it out. Or maybe it's just jealousy because I didn't think of it first. :-)

Posted by: Julia at February 15, 2010 4:46 PM

Oooohh. Those sound like good books. I will definitely be checking them out.

Posted by: Jill W. at February 15, 2010 5:00 PM

pUT MY name on the list

Posted by: Glory Words at February 15, 2010 5:01 PM

These sound like great books - thanks for the chance to win one!!

Posted by: Pamela L at February 15, 2010 5:09 PM

Yes please.

Posted by: Emily at February 15, 2010 5:59 PM

The cover alone would make me pick this book up!

Posted by: Allison at February 15, 2010 6:19 PM

Pick me! :)

Posted by: Rachel at February 15, 2010 7:09 PM

Taking off my hat and tossing it in (avert your gaze, you do not want to see the writer's hair!)

Posted by: PattiH at February 15, 2010 7:23 PM

Looks like a great book! Please count me in.

Posted by: Katie B at February 15, 2010 7:34 PM

Random Number Generator hates me, but I keep hoping it will change its mind.

Pick me!

Posted by: Linda Sherwood at February 15, 2010 8:01 PM

If this book was not so enticing I definitely would not be subjecting myself to the capricious moods of the RNG! Can't resist, count me in for one more round of RNG rejection.

Posted by: Jody Brown at February 15, 2010 8:07 PM

Taking my chances on winning a good book! Enjoyed the interview.

Posted by: Mary Beth Bishop at February 15, 2010 8:31 PM

Random generate me!

Posted by: cheryl at February 15, 2010 9:43 PM

sounds wonderful

Posted by: Katie at February 15, 2010 9:45 PM

me please....

Posted by: jean at February 16, 2010 12:03 AM

An excellent addition to the writer's face is the notebook in tow. I entitle each and every one of mine "literary barf" -- a title that allows me to be very very unimaginative...terrible, never see the light of day material is allowed, which coincidentally makes way for the brilliant almost every time. I take said notebook to bars and when I get a moment alone, take it out. Let the "writer's face" slip on and go to town. I like to look up after 5 minutes and count how many people are giving me the stink eye.

Oh, and evil number rat fink. Pick me, will you?

Posted by: Suzanne at February 16, 2010 2:07 AM

A free book is always fine . . though I may have to hide the dustjacket. I don't like seeing bare feet, I think they all look gnarly except, of course, for my darling daughter's little feet.

Posted by: Brigitte at February 16, 2010 6:43 AM

How do you find all these fascinating authors? I'd never heard of Lori Lansens before today, but I can tell you that now I want to read all 3 of her books! Oh RNG you lovely thing, please choose me for I am worthy, given how hard it is for me to get new books.

Posted by: edj at February 16, 2010 7:39 AM

Oh, pretty please can I win? We're buried in snow and I need a good read to keep me sane!

Posted by: Keene at February 16, 2010 8:54 AM

oh this sounds fabulous! I lovelovelove new-to-me authors!

Posted by: Rikk at February 16, 2010 9:42 AM

oh this sounds fabulous! I lovelovelove new-to-me authors!

Posted by: Rikk at February 16, 2010 9:45 AM

The RNG is a grizzly beast, vile and unscrupled in all his ways.

Unless he picks me.

Posted by: Chris of the Woodwork at February 16, 2010 10:08 AM

Me please please please.

Posted by: Kaye at February 16, 2010 10:45 AM

I have read both of her previous novels, and LOVED them! RNG you are so pretty!

Posted by: Cristin at February 16, 2010 11:47 AM

The Girls was wonderful. I'd love to read the new one. Gods of Random, I will make a sacrifice to your altars as my pleas have thus far gone unheeded.

Posted by: jess h at February 16, 2010 12:39 PM

Oh please, for the love of gawd, pick me. Home alone with 2 sick kids on school vacation, a puppy, and a husband who is on a business trip for the week. Plus snow is coming. I need a pick me up!

Posted by: liz at February 16, 2010 1:00 PM

Would love to read this one. Thanks!

Posted by: susanvl at February 16, 2010 1:28 PM

Ooh... yes, please!

Posted by: Aimee at February 16, 2010 3:29 PM

I don't know if you ship to Russia, and the RNG probably hates me, as numbers and I generally don't get along. But. I can provide a non-Russian address if I happen to win this lottery. ;-)

All three stories are intriguing! I particularly liked hearing about how you figure out setting. It's something I sometimes struggle with in my own writing, and I've found that sometimes I have to just let my characters settle down where they want to.

It was also inspirational to read about your long journey and the fantastic success that eventually marched back home behind the Seven Dwarves at the end of the long, long day. Hooray!

Posted by: Asea at February 16, 2010 3:37 PM

Loved this interview, and the way choosing a setting was described. Also thought the reference to "writing face" was both humorous and accurate.
Would love to get one of those books!

Posted by: Mainon at February 16, 2010 4:26 PM

maybe the butt munch will pick me. it probably won't, but I won't give up trying

Posted by: Michelle M. at February 16, 2010 7:51 PM

Sigh. I don't know WHY I bother, but still I must. Please pick me, pretty pretty please. :)

Posted by: Terri at February 16, 2010 7:55 PM

Well, since I MUST go buy Lori's first two books now, I might as well have the full set, right? PLEASE??

Posted by: buffi at February 16, 2010 10:49 PM

I would love this book!

Posted by: Melody at February 17, 2010 6:17 AM

Pick me! I love learning about new authors to read...

Posted by: Carol at February 17, 2010 8:47 AM

I always love Joshilyn's recommendations and would love to read Ms. Larsen's book as well. Please consider this my entry to the contest!!

Posted by: Alicia at February 17, 2010 10:10 AM

Sounds lovely!

Posted by: 5elementknitr at February 17, 2010 10:28 AM

I haven't read yet but this sounds wonderful! I'd love a copy.

Posted by: Keri at February 17, 2010 10:52 AM


I'm looking forward to reading The Wife's Tale. Excellent interview.

Posted by: Peggy at February 17, 2010 12:22 PM

Oh, RNG, please pick me!

Posted by: Lesha at February 17, 2010 2:39 PM

Please pick me! I'm a Louisiana girl stuck in New Hampshire ... in my second year now! I need great escapes!

Posted by: Lablues8 at February 17, 2010 2:46 PM

glad to see that i'm not the only one setting an alarm to pick up the kids at school.....
i would love your book....

Posted by: dramamama at February 17, 2010 2:54 PM

Pick me, pick me!

Posted by: RandomRanter at February 17, 2010 3:48 PM

I have read and enjoyed every book you have recommended. Can't wait to read these two either!

Posted by: Shannon at February 17, 2010 8:16 PM

Would be great to have a chance to try this book!

Posted by: Jeninlb at February 17, 2010 8:44 PM

Snow, more snow, and even more snow in the forecast. A new book to curl up with is just what I need right about now!

Posted by: Valarie at February 17, 2010 9:03 PM

Since this was posted on my birthday, I can only assume that the RNG will respect that and choose me! Because I'd love to read this!

Posted by: Allison at February 18, 2010 4:44 AM

I must read this book since the character & I have the same last name (an unusual one at that). Thanks

Posted by: Becky Gooch at February 18, 2010 7:15 AM

I want it! I want it1

Posted by: Kim at February 18, 2010 10:36 AM

I would love to win a copy of this book!

Posted by: Nadine at February 18, 2010 12:46 PM

Please RNG, pick me!

Posted by: Gina at February 18, 2010 3:43 PM

Sounds like another wonderful book. How could it not be with your putting it here. Love ya Joss... I'm counting down the days till I can meet Rose.

Posted by: Linda j at February 18, 2010 4:13 PM

Yay. Please toss my hat in the ring.

Posted by: hope101 at February 18, 2010 5:30 PM

Need a good new read!

Posted by: Julie at February 18, 2010 5:32 PM

Please put me in the running, o forgetful one. Thanks.

Posted by: Wanda Vaughn at February 18, 2010 6:55 PM

Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!

Posted by: GrandeMocha at February 19, 2010 10:04 AM

I'll throw my hat in the ring! I need something to put on top of Glenn Beck on my nightstand. He's looking at me funny.

Posted by: tuney at February 19, 2010 2:46 PM

O.M.G - how did I read this and not throw my hat into the ring?!?

Dear lovely RNG - I'm on a roll of goodness this week. Please cap it with one more good thing!

Posted by: Mit at February 19, 2010 4:09 PM

I would love to get a copy of this book; it sounds awesome. Even if I do have serious problems with the cover of a book about an obese woman featuring those skinny, muscular legs. What is IN the water those publishers drink?

Posted by: TC at February 19, 2010 6:25 PM