My dear friend Lani Diane Rich's new book will be out February 5th, and it's simply beautiful. Lani and I and a small group of friends have been in this writing thing together since nearly the very beginning of our publishing careers, and it's so important to have people you can turn to in the hard times -- and share news with in the good times. She's good people, and this is an amazing book. I thought I'd interview her for my blog and tempt you to check out her book. If you like funny, intelligent, heart-warming women's fiction, you'll love A LITTLE RAY OF SUNSHINE.
Alyssa: A LITTLE RAY OF SUNSHINE is a departure for you – you’re known for madcap comedy and snarky, fast-paced women’s fiction. But this book is deeper, quieter, and simply lovely. What made you want to move in this direction?
Lani: You know, it's funny, because a few people have seen it as a departure, and I didn't notice! I think it's just a matter of giving the story what it needs. I've always had emotion in my books, but usually used it to flavor the funny. Here I swapped that balance, because that's what this story needed. I had a good time, too, really swinging for the fences with the emotion and not holding back.
Alyssa: No spoilers, of course, but what will surprise readers to learn about EJ as the book progresses?
Lani: That she's not near as tough as she seems. In the opening, EJ has really shut herself off to people, and is in no hurry to reconnect. As the story progresses, she's gradually forced to face everything she'd run away from, and I had a great time writing that transformation.
Alyssa: The theme of mothers and daughters is one you often explore in your books, in myriad intriguing ways. What is it about this often-fraught relationship that fascinates you?
Lani: I think all family relationships fascinate me, but this one especially because it's about women at different stages in their lives, and how those stages conflict. I love writing women past the age of fifty who are still vibrant and flawed and struggling and dangerous and conflicted, and I love writing the daughter who watches this woman in horror and thinks, "How am I going to sit across the table from that?" There are so many levels of subtlety in female relationships, but the mother-daughter relationship is the most fraught with landmines and just fun to write.
Alyssa: What do you WISH someone would ask you about A LITTLE RAY OF SUNSHINE?
Lani: I wish they'd ask about the jokes. I thought, when I went into it, that using jokes as a way for EJ to communicate with Luke was such a great idea - so much opportunity for subtext and humor, and it showed how hard it was for her to be straightforward when it came to what was really important to her. I still like that element, but I didn't realize how hard writing the jokes would be! For the rough draft, I used placeholder jokes just to see if it worked, but when I got to the final draft - because I'm not a fan of stealing someone else's work and it's impossible to find and properly attribute the original writer of a joke - I had to write them myself. I spent a lot of time studying jokes, learning structure, thinking, trying them out on friends. I thought that because I'm a funny girl, writing jokes would be easy, but in order to be good, jokes have to do a lot of heavy lifting in very few words, and it's hard! I want someone to ask me about that so that the next time they hear a good joke, they realize that someone worked hard on that and got no credit and probably no pay. It's an art form, seriously, and it should be appreciated! I finally had to have EJ acknowledge that the jokes she loved best were the bad ones, because I couldn't make them as good as I wanted them!
Alyssa: Okay, this is totally frivolous, but what movie have you seen lately that you love? What movie have you seen lately that I can add to my much-updated WORST MOVIES IN THE WORLD list?
Lani: Oh, man, I don't see a lot of movies; I'm a TV girl, myself. I have gotten into documentaries lately. I really enjoyed Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?, a doc about a female truck driver in her seventies who bought a $5 painting at a thrift store and forensically proved it was by Jackson Pollock, but the snooty art community came back with, "What are zees fingerprints! Zis is art, not science!" They actually found an acknowledged and provenanced piece by Jackson Pollack with paint dribbles that matched up to her painting, as if he had done them both at the same time, side by side. And still, the art community turned up their noses to her. The woman was offered millions of dollars for it, but she won't sell the piece until the art community admits it's Jackson Pollock, and they never will. I think this movie is great for writers to watch, because the characters are so strong, and what they want is so clear. It's a real-life example of what stories need in order to work; it's just fabulous.
Now for your Worst Movies list... hmmm. I can't think of any off the top of my head. Like I said, I don't see many movies!
Be sure to pop by Lani's website and check out the excerpt for A LITTLE RAY OF SUNSHINE - you'll be glad you did!!