Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Author: Lian Dolan Interview and Giveaway!

I'd like to welcome Lian Dolan to the blog today to celebrate and promote the most recent publication from Prospect Park Books, Elizabeth the First Wife. Be sure to stick around until the end to get the chance to win a copy!

Welcome to Books à la Mode, Lian! Let's get this interview started.

Will you please share a brief bio with us?

Lian Dolan is a writer, producer, talk show host, podcast pioneer, social media consultant, and author. She currently writes and produces the weekly podcast and blog The Chaos Chronicles, a humorous look at modern motherhood. She is also a regular weekly contributor to as a parenting expert. A decade ago, Lian created Satellite Sisters, an award-winning radio talk show, blog and website with her four real sisters. From 2000 to 2009, Satellite Sisters won eight Gracie Allen Awards for Excellence in Women's Media and enjoyed a nationwide audience of a million listeners a week. Lian is also the co-author of Satellite Sisters' UnCommon Senses, published in 2001 by Riverhead (sales to date: 75,000). Her writing has appeared in many national magazines, including regular columns in O, The Oprah Magazine and Working Mother and essays in such anthologies as Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul. TV appearances have included The Today Show, CBS Sunday Morning and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She is a popular speaker for groups and corporations, always using humor as hook.

Tell us a bit more about your newest release.

Publisher: Prospect Park Books
Release Date: 26 April 2013 (first edition)
Page Count: 280

Elizabeth Lancaster, an English professor at Pasadena City College, finds her perfectly dull but perfectly orchestrated life upended one summer by three men: her movie-star ex-husband, a charming political operative, and William Shakespeare. Until now, she’d been content living in the shadow of her high-profile and highly accomplished family. Then her college boyfriend and one-time husband of seventeen months, A-list action star FX Fahey, shows up with a job offer that she can’t resist, and Elizabeth’s life suddenly gets a whole lot more interesting. She’s off to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for the summer to make sure FX doesn’t humiliate himself in an avant-garde production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

As she did so skillfully with her first novel, Helen of Pasadena, which spent more than a year on the Los Angeles Times-bestseller list, Lian Dolan spins a lively, smart, and very funny tale of a woman reinventing her life in unexpected ways.
In your first book,Helen of Pasadena, your protagonist was a woman roughly your age, with a teenage son about the age of one of your sons. She even majored in the same thing in college that you did. But Elizabeth Lancaster is younger, single, childless, and a Shakespeare professor. Was it more of a challenge to write her?

Actually, it was more a lot more fun to write Elizabeth than Helen. With Helen, there were so many obvious parallels to my life that I really had to work to make it clear she wasn’t me. (I thought I’d done a fine job, but I can’t tell you how many people have called me “Helen” since the book has come out. Or introduced me by saying, “This is Helen of Pasadena!” Um, no.)

Elizabeth’s the cool, slightly cynical single gal that I’d like to think I would have been had I not gotten married and if I had a PhD. I had a fantastic Shakespeare professor in college who literally brought the material to life with her passion and sometimes brought us to tears with her lectures. Elizabeth is an homage to her, but she comes with more emotional baggage and a funkier wardrobe than my former professor.

One similarity you have to Elizabeth is being the youngest of the family—in her case, a highly accomplished family, and in your case, a very large family, also with its share of accomplishments. How has being a youngest shaped you as a writer?

When you’re the youngest in a big family—or probably any family—you end up observing more than contributing for years of your life. No one wants to talk to the youngest or hear what you have to say at the dinner table. So I spent a lot of years listening, laughing, and making copious mental notes about people, behavior, and conversations—all very helpful for a writer. Also, you have plenty of “lives” to borrow material from. Was that funny story about the bad date mine? Or my big sister’s? Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter who went on the bad date—I can still use it in my writing.

That's something I can't relate to directly because I'm a firstborn, but it's interesting to see how that could affect a writer by shaping perspective. How challenging was it to write about Shakespeare, the most influential literary figure of all time?

Very. The more I researched for the book, the more I realized I didn’t know jack about Shakespeare. At first, I thought I’d weave some Shakespearean mystery into the plot, something to do with the writing of A Midsummer's Night Dream and the noble family for whom it was written. But after dipping into my research, it became very clear that there were lots and lots of serious Shakespeare scholars and ten times more enthusiasts who would bust me if I didn’t get the research exactly right. That reality was sobering! That’s why I decided that Elizabeth’s research for her book would have a pop-culture slant and be more accessible and fun than arcane. That was a critical decision in the creation of Elizabeth’s character and the plot. As a writer, I felt inspired when I decided to go in that direction.

Readers, click "Read more" to learn about Lian's connection to Shakespeare, some essential themes from Elizabeth the First Wife, and why the author chose Pasadena as her setting. You also don't want to miss the great giveaway at the end!

I find it fascinating how that's how Elizabeth's character came about! Is there a Shakespearean heroine you most identify with?

Before I wrote the book, I probably would have said Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing, just because she is fabulous and easy to like—the Elizabeth Bennet of the canon. But doing the research on all the Righteous Role Models made me appreciate so many more of the female characters for various reasons/ Juliet was one tough teenager. Cleopatra worked it. Portia made a feminist statement in an age when those didn’t come easily. There’s a lot to admire in almost all the women of Shakespeare, especially when viewed through the perspective of time.

Now that you mention it, you're absolutely right. Shakespeare created some pretty extraordinary women. Elizabeth Lancaster sticks to her career guns and doesn’t do what her mother wants her to do. Is this an essential message for you?

One of the themes I wanted to explore in Elizabeth the First Wife was the idea of breaking free of your family’s expectations and being your own person. (That’s definitely the baby of the family in me!) But I’ve observed in my own life and the lives of others that being your own person is not that easy, even as you slide into midlife. And ironically, it can be even harder to carve out an adult identity if you have a close family where you can get stuck, never really evolving from the role you played when you were twelve.

In Elizabeth Lancaster, I wanted to explore a woman sticking up to not only her mother, but really her whole family, who have plenty of ideas of how she should be living, what she should be doing, how she should be dressing. The Lancasters are purposefully an intimidating bunch, high-profile and high-powered, making it even tougher for Elizabeth to strike out on a new path. Plus, she is stuck romantically at age twenty-three, when she got totally burned, so that’s not helping her forward momentum. The book focuses on Elizabeth, in her mid-thirties, defining who she is and finally making choices as she sees fit, not to please her family.

And I do feel that finding a professional path is critical for women to establish their adult identities. We have a lot of roles we play in society or in a family—wife, mother, sister, aunt, caretaker—and by definition those roles rely on others in our family. But in our professional lives, we get to create our own persona. Be who we really are when our mother isn’t watching. I think that’s important in a woman’s self-identity.

I'm impressed by how you have such clear-cut messages with your newest book. Elizabeth's mid-thirties development is one I would love to get to follow. Once again, Pasadena serves as a major setting and theme. Has your vision of Pasadena evolved since writing Helen of Pasadena? Can we expect to see you escaping to Ashland any time soon?

I know so much more now about Pasadena than I did when I wrote Helen of Pasadena. Wow, since that book came out, lifelong Pasadenans have dished the dirt on all kinds of scandals and local lore. I won’t be walking away from Pasadena anytime soon, because there’s too much good stuff to mine and great cultural institutions to explore. But I did like bringing in another locale. It keeps my writing fresh and provides a comparative setting for Pasadena, which is steeped in tradition. The next book will be Pasadena and somewhere in Europe, because I can write the trip off as research, right?

That being said, Ashland is an amazing town with a wonderful spirit and a creative soul. I’d love to find my own little Sage Cottage there one day.

Loving the evocative settings you choose! Finally, Helen Fairchild swoons over the manly forearms on the sexy archaeologist. Elizabeth Lancaster swoons over the manly forearms on the sexy political operative. Is it safe to say you have a thing for masculine forearms?

Guilty as charged. Forearms are revealing. I think as a gender, women have focused on men’s backsides and abs for too long. Six-packs don’t tell us anything except that the guy spends a lot of time in the gym and probably doesn’t eat pasta. A man’s forearms say a lot about his life choices. Are they tanned and muscular? Then the guy must get outside and move dirt around, figuratively or literally. Are they pale and slim? Too much time in the office! Could be dull. There’s a story in every forearm, and all you need is for the guy to roll up his sleeve to get a good look.

You crack me up! Where can you be found on the web?

Website | Blog Twitter Goodreads 

It was a delight getting to know you today, Lian! Your books sound divine, and I loved learning more about them! Thank you so much for joining us, and good luck with your future endeavors.


Thanks to the marvelous folks at Wunderkind PR, Books à la Mode is giving away two print copies of Elizabeth the First Wife—yay!! To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter form below.
For extra entries, leave me a comment about Elizabeth the First Wifeyour favorite contemporary book setting, large familiesShakespearean heroines, and/or following your dreams.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Rules and Disclosure:
Giveaway ends 29 May 2013 at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US/CAN readers only. Sorry, rest of the world! Check out my sidebar for giveaways that are open internationally!
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their prizes will be forfeited.
Although I do select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤ Plus you get extra entries! ;)
Good luck!