Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Suanne Laqueur, author of The Man I Love
FQ: I have to say, I was a bit overwhelmed when I received your book for review. Before I even opened the cover, my thought was: “Good Heavens! How many pages is this book?!” Given this is your debut novel, did you opt to self-publish because that was always your intent (or did you do so because of the age-old ‘first time author’ stigma: ‘...too long...need to pair it down...’)
LAQUEUR: Ha! When I opened the box with the first proof copy, my husband said the exact same thing—“Holy cow, that’s a...that’s a book!” And I got all huffy and said, “Well what did you think I was writing?”
I set a very specific goal in November of 2013. It was the start of National Novel Writing Month and instead of starting a novel, I was going to finish one. The one whose characters had been in my head since college. I was going to finish it and put it out there. I just wanted my friends and family to see this side of me and see what kind of response it would get. And to that end, self-publishing was the best venue for my goal.
FQ: You have a tremendous command of the English language and the ability to set the words in delicious story-telling fashion. A writer writes what a writer knows. How much of Daisy’s character embodies the writer’s life?
LAQUEUR: I come from a dance and theater background so naturally those aspects all come from my own life. What I typically tell people is that The Man I Love is emotionally autobiographical. The themes of loss and emotional suppression; of disconnection and forgiveness; dealing with anxiety and depression; finding your truth...That’s all based in personal experience. It just has a different set of circumstances layered on top and its background is the theater world I grew up in.
The book actually started out being from Daisy’s point of view, with occasional breakaways to other characters. Erik only had about four chapters. It seemed the most logical to me: I’m a woman, I’d write this from the female point of view. But it wouldn’t go anywhere. I had pages and pages of material and it all seemed strangely stagnant. A lot of scenes but no dramatic action. Finally I gave it all to my friend Ami who read it. She separated out Daisy chapters and said, “These are all right.” She separated the chapters from other characters and said, “These are a distraction.” Then she handed me Erik’s four chapters and said, “This is the story.”
And she was right. Daisy couldn’t evolve until Erik turned around to face her. Which meant Erik had the evolution. It was his story.
FQ: Without too much of a spoiler, the incident on the college campus was very credible. How deeply did some of our real-life experiences in the past decade play into the inspiration to tie the event(s) into your story?
LAQUEUR: I never wanted to treat the shooting incident as a dramatic plot twist or spoiler. It’s right on the back of the book, right in the description: this is what happens. Because the shooting itself is not the focus of the novel. The shooter and his motives are touched upon only as much as necessary. The true focus is the victims—Erik and Daisy and their circle of friends, what the physical and emotional trauma of violence did to them and to their relationships. I often feel this is what gets forgotten as our society starts to “numb out” to the prevalence of gun violence. We shout about the perpetrators, shout about the weapons, shout about how it happened and how we can not make it happen again...and meanwhile the victims fade away, their lives forever changed. What happens to them?
FQ: The Man I Love characters have fantastic depth and credibility surrounding each of them no matter the size of the role he or she plays in the story. Which character did you hold a torch for most and did you have dreams about him or her that added to the depth of the character?
LAQUEUR: Erik and Daisy live in my heart, I see them everywhere. Erik, especially, as he began to unfold and grow and develop in the pages and I found it so easy to write through his eyes and get into his head. But I also have a soft spot for Will Kaeger who is so deliciously complex, and a poignant spot for David Alto who is so unpleasant but so misunderstood.
FQ: If The Man I Love should find its way to the “big screen,” what actor do you think would best suit ‘Fish’? ‘Daisy’? And why?
LAQUEUR: Jensen Ackles for Erik. No question he has the dark blond look and expression I envisioned. Daisy is a little harder because she has to be an actress who can dance. I’ve been following Misty Copeland’s rise to fame in ABT and when I see her dance, I see Daisy. Small but strong. Sculpted, not sylph-like. She’s got a sensual presence and brings to ballet a certain athleticism that makes it so fresh and exciting. Exactly how I see Daisy.
FQ: What advice would you give to a first time author who, in your opinion, has natural writing ability, yet cannot seem to break into ‘the world of writing’?
LAQUEUR: I think what should be in quotes is “break into.” The world of writing is what it is. Have I broken in? Sure. To an extent that’s been really satisfying, exciting and forfilling. Have I sold a million copies and been on Oprah? No. But my goal was to finish the book and get it out there. To first time authors I would say: set a goal. Set a realistic goal. Remember the goal. And then go get it because the platforms and resources available to writers these days are absolutely incredible. But they don’t come to you. You have to go make it happen.
FQ: Do you have a writing formula? Do you outline your book from start to finish? Do you sit down in front of the computer and just start pounding on the keys? Stream of consciousness and figure it out once the flow breaks? Or all of the above?
LAQUEUR: It’s largely stream of consciousness. It always starts with the characters. I treat them like literary paper dolls and I start making “outfits” for them by writing scenes. Fan fiction. I just fling stuff onto the paper, not worrying about whether or not it will get used. My scenes either start with dialogue or an emotion. And then I layer action and circumstances on top of that.
Oddly, The Man I Love was written from the ends in. I had scenes of Daisy and Erik meeting and being very much in love. Then I had scenes of them being estranged and starting to reconcile. The middle was a desert. I had no idea why they had broken up.
FQ: The Man I Love truly is a memory of a story. What I mean by this is it lingers on long after the last page has been read. Was there a sense of loss once you penned the last word? If so, how did you move on?
LAQUEUR: So hard to let go of your baby when it’s done. So hard to accept that it’s done and you can’t tinker around with it anymore. You have to peel your fingers off and let it go. But I love where it ended because it wasn’t all tied up in a happily-ever-after bow. It left the door open for every reader to imagine for themselves what these two lovers would do next. Including myself.
FQ: In line with Question 8, what do you do to ramp into your next story? Do you take a breather between projects to regroup? What is your tried and true remedy to detach from a project once it’s done and ‘on its way’?
LAQUEUR: Because it was my first novel I was kept very busy with marketing and promotion, learning all the tricks of that trade. And again, since I was self-published, all the hustle depended on me and no one else. So I put aside the author hat and put on my marketing hat, and for a good five months I focused on promotion. I also took a very nice trip to Europe with my husband and kids, who were so incredibly supportive while I was writing my book.
FQ: I am thrilled to read you are working on the sequel to The Man I Love. Any chance you could share a bit on its development and any indication when we can expect to see it in print?
LAQUEUR: Well here’s the story: I started to write a sequel. In fact, it was more of a prequel. I was very curious about Erik’s missing father and wondered if I could write his story. Erik’s family story. I had some ideas and I started doing a lot of research… And every now and then I’d feel a tap on my shoulder and look back to see Daisy. She wanted to say something. Wanted me to write a scene from the years she was apart from Erik. Explaining. Telling her story. The taps on my shoulder grew more and more frequent. It seemed every time I started working on the prequel, I ended up writing about Daisy.
I realized I’d finished The Man I Love loving Erik, but not 100% sure Daisy deserved forgiveness. Not fully understanding why she did what she did. And I couldn’t move on to the next thing until I let her tell her side. I thought it would be a short little novella. Instead she peeled herself open and surprised me. David peeled open. Will peeled open. John “Opie” Quillis, who was such a minor character, turned out to be an incredible hero. The story turned inside-out. And the result is my second novel, Give Me Your Answer True. The first draft is finished, it’s with my editor and with my beta readers. And I’m hoping to have it out this spring. It’s a challenge. It may be a little bit of a risk: telling essentially the same story from a different point of view. But I believe in it. I have to publish the story I believe in and not the story I think everyone wants to hear. And most of all, I feel Daisy deserves it.
FQ: If you had to pick three authors as your ‘top three,’ who would they be and in what order would they fall (and why)?
LAQUEUR: I would say Stephen King, Rumer Godden, Laurie Colwin.
I discovered Stephen King in college and I quickly realized his genius lay not in the horrific and gruesome, but in the mundane and ordinary that happened in between the scary scenes. How he created utterly ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances.
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.
These authors all made me think “I want to write this way. Make ordinary people extraordinary. Take extraordinary circumstances and show how ordinary and universal they really are. I want to write to connect. Open up my own experience to create greater understanding through a story and characters that resonate.”