I am very excited today to bring you a preview of The Man I Love by Suanne Laqueur. I received a kind and gracious email from Suanne a few weeks back asking me if I would be interested in reviewing her self-published book. After reading the great reviews on Goodreads I decided I would give it a try and I am so glad I did. I invite you to read a brief summary of the book, look at the trailer, and read a Q&A with Suanne about the book and her writing process. On Wednesday I will be posting my full review along with a giveaway of the book.
The Man I Love Book Spotlight:
“You never got over her. You just left.”
As a college freshman, he is drawn to the world of theater but prefers backstage to center stage. The moment he lays eyes on a beautiful, accomplished dancer named Daisy Bianco, his atoms rearrange themselves and he is drawn into a romance both youthfully passionate and maturely soulful. It is a love story seemingly without end. But when a disturbed friend brings a gun into the theater, the story is forever changed. Six lives are lost and Daisy is left seriously injured, her professional dreams shattered.
Traumatized by the experience, the lovers spiral into depression and drug use until a shocking act of betrayal destroys their relationship. To survive, Erik must leave school and disconnect from all he loves. He buries his heartbreak and puts the past behind. Or so he believes.
As he moves into adulthood, Erik comes to grips with his role in the shooting, and slowly heals the most wounded parts of his soul. But the unresolved grief for Daisy continues to shape his dreams at night. Once those dreams were haunted by blood and gunfire. Now they are haunted by the refrain of a Gershwin song and a single question: is leaving always the end of loving?
Watch this amazing book trailer for The Man I Love:
About The Author:
Suanne Laqueur graduated from Alfred University with a double major in dance and theater. She taught at the Carol Bierman School of Ballet Arts in Croton-on-Hudson for ten years. An avid reader, cook and gardener, she has been blogging at http://www.eatsreadsthinks since 2010. Suanne lives in Westchester County, New York with her husband and two children. The Man I Love is her first novel. You can connect with Suanne on her website: http://www.suannelaqueur.com/.
1. As well as a writer, you are an avid reader. Do you have a favorite author and has he or she influenced your work?
Trying to pick favorites of anything stresses me out. But if I had to narrow it down to two influential authors, I would say Laurie Colwin and Rumer Godden. When I read Godden’s In This House of Brede, I was amazed at how she was able to create well over two dozen characters and make each one unique and vibrant and alive. And I loved her attention to detail when it came to settings and surroundings. Colwin’s Family Happiness blew me away with its thoughtfulness and depth of emotion regarding a sort of taboo subject—this very ordinary woman found herself having a love affair and struggling with emotions she didn’t have names for. I found myself thinking, “I want to write this way. Make ordinary people extraordinary. Take extraordinary circumstances and show how ordinary and universal they really are.”
The circumstances of The Man I Love certainly start out ordinary: what begins as a passionate love story takes an unexpected turn, and becomes an intense journey of loss, heart break and recovery. The novel was written from the outside in. In other words, I had the story of Erik and Daisy meeting in college, which I wrote when I myself was in college. Then in my thirties, I started writing the story of Erik and Daisy in their adulthood, when they are apart. Not just apart but estranged. Something had destroyed them. I had no idea what. I had nothing in the middle. Truly I had no story. It was just a bunch of scenes. Like I had these literary paper dolls and I played with them, writing self-indulgent fan fiction.
2. You’ve been writing about Daisy and Erik that long?
I have. They are a little younger than me but I’ve known them since I was sophomore in college. Erik has always been Erik. His last name was Lindstrom and he was a football player. It’s only fairly recently that I crafted him into a technical theater guy. I wanted to do a cute play on the Swedish Fish candy so I whimsically changed his surname to Fiskare. But out of that silly little decision emerged huge aspects of his character. His necklace. His nickname. His identity. David’s teasing “Fishy, fishy in the brook.” None of that existed when he was Erik Lindstrom.
Likewise Daisy went through a lot of name changes. She started out as Jeannie. Then she changed to Julie. But my daughter’s name is Julie and I had a really tough time working with that name. So I needed something new and I threw around a whole lot of names until I got the idea of Erik having a tattoo on his wrist, and from out of there came Daisy, and from there her real name Margeurite.
3. So how did you eventually find the middle? How did the story come to be?
Someone from my past came back into my life, twenty years after we had gone through a terrible experience and then completely disconnected afterward. I was completely unprepared for the emotional whirlwind that came with resolving this event from my youth. I went into a bad depression and I didn’t understand what was happening to me. But working it out in therapy I came to realize that disconnecting from pain doesn’t end it. Maybe it hides but it’s never gone. It’s there waiting for you when you tear open that boarded-up door. Often with more power than it had before. You have to feel it—even twenty years later—or it will never leave you.
I immediately knew this was the story I wanted to write. Needed to write. Both to channel it away from me in a positive way, but also because I suspected this kind of experience is universal and I wanted to connect with others through it. I wanted to write a story about the effect of trauma. And not limited to trauma from a shooting or an accident or war—I wanted to write about emotional trauma. Abandonment. Loss. Heartbreak. Particularly emotional trauma that goes unresolved. Grief that’s left un-grieved. And that’s where one of the taglines for the novel comes from: “You never got over her. You just left.”
Once I had the emotional crux of the story in place, I was able to layer the circumstances on top and think about what exactly had happened to Erik and Daisy.
4. And when did you decide to make that a shooting?
I wish I had paid more attention to this aspect of it. I can’t put my finger on exactly when but the seeds of the storyline were born when I came across a YouTube video of Viviana Durante and Robert LaFosse. In it they are dancing the pas de deux “The Man I Love” from George Balanchine’s ballet Who Cares? Robert is blond and handsome and nothing like I picture Will Kaeger looking. However, Viviana is petite and dark-haired and just an exquisite dancer. I watched her in this video and she seemed to embody Daisy right away. And certainly the chemistry she has with Robert evokes the relationship Daisy has with her partner Will.
Anyway, I was watching the video one day and I came to the part where Viviana does this very difficult lift on Robert’s shoulder. And you can see, right around the 4:04 mark, that she overshoots the jump and she teeters on his shoulder. It’s this precarious three seconds where you can see Robert discreetly adjusting his weight and getting her back on balance. And something just popped in my head. I thought, something happens here. I don’t remember exactly when that thought coalesced into she gets shot but it did and I had my story. Soon after, I wrote the NPR Radio segment, creating the anniversary of a shooting incident at the fictitious Lancaster University, sketching out what had happened.
5. What was it like, as a woman, to write from the male perspective?
Originally the novel started out from Daisy’s point of view. It made sense to me: as a woman, to write her story. Why wouldn’t I? I kept writing and writing Daisy but the material seemed strangely stagnant. I’d write chapters and scenes from her adult life and yet nothing was happening. I tried adding in some chapters from other points of view, just to make it interesting, including a few scenes from Erik’s perspective. I didn’t know what I was doing, I still didn’t know what the story was. I took the whole mess and put it in the lap of my friend Ami. And she came back with Daisy’s chapters separated, saying “These are all right.” Then she grouped the chapters from other characters and her feedback was, “These are a distraction.” Finally she indicated the few chapters from Erik’s point of view and said, “This. This is your story.”
I was like Are you kidding me? Write from his point of view? But then I realized Ami was right. It wasn’t Daisy’s story at all. It was Erik’s. He had the evolution. He chose to leave and he eventually chooses to go back. And the choosing, the deciding to decide—that is the story. Once I had him in my mind, it was very easy to write from his eyes. It felt very natural to tell his tale. It was fascinating to watch him emerge off the page, take on life and embark on this incredible journey.
6. It’s also been said that, to many authors, characters will come to “take on a life of their own.” Have you experienced this while writing? Of your characters, do you have a favorite? Did you have any surprises while writing this character? Can you explain how you came to create him?
I love this question and a perfect example from The Man I Love is the character of James Dow, the shooter. He did not exist until a few months before publishing. In fact, in early versions, there were two shooters, not one. And the scene itself was only alluded to, treated as a vague flashback. My editor insisted I had to write the scene and the aftermath. Then my husband convinced me to have only one assailant because when you have two, you have a conspiracy, and that becomes the focus of the story.
So before I could write the action, I needed to think about who the assailant was and his motive. My first attempt was a disaster. I hated it. It sounded completely ghostwritten. Contrived and faked. James was a total cookie cutter paper doll. Flat. Just a convenient villain. I made him a jerk because I figured he had to be and I absolutely hated the entire section of the novel. I sent it to my editor and then snatched it all back again.
I went into a retreat. For three weeks I sat with my notebook and pen and just scribbled stream of consciousness about who I thought James was and what drove him to do what he did. Even if I didn’t end up using all this backstory in the finished novel, I needed to know what it was. It was difficult because I had this pre-conceived set of circumstances I needed to retro-fit him into. But I couldn’t stuff him into a jacket that didn’t fit. I had to follow him into the wardrobe department, see what jacket he picked out himself, and then follow him around and write down what he did.
It was a very stressful three weeks but also exhilarating. I’m glad I paid attention to the process, trusted myself and let it play out because in the end, the section turned out to be some of my best writing.
7. A lot of your readers are clamoring for a sequel to The Man I Love. Is that in the cards?
I don’t think I’m quite done with the universe of characters within The Man I Love. But I don’t think a sequel is next up. Rather I seem to be working on a prequel. I’ve started to climb up Erik’s family tree and I’m find out some interesting things. Not only about his mysteriously absent father but even further back through the generations. He comes from a long line of men who went to war—real or personal—and came back changed. The necklace he wears was not passed down as one intact object but rather it was accumulated over the years. I want to write this story. Erik will be there but only as a little boy. And then of course I have all that unused material from Daisy’s point of view. Plus scenes I’ve been jotting down having to do with Erik and Daisy in the next phase of their life. I know I’m not done yet. I’m just getting started…
Thanks so much to Suanne for sharing this great book with me and agreeing to a Q&A.