Saturday, November 30, 2013

Featured Author: Lou Aronica

Lou Aronica was here on November 1st to talk about his book Differential Equations, and I'm happy to have him back as my guest today to talk about his newest release, Flash and Dazzle, published by The Story Plant.

About the book:

What happens when everything you thought was true changes all at once? What happens when each relationship that means anything to you suddenly becomes far more real than you ever thought it would be? What happens when every moment becomes invaluable as all of them pass far too quickly?

Flash and Dazzle is the story of two friends who have known the best of times who develop a true taste for life during the worst of times. It is the story of the friends and lovers who enter their orbit, some for a long time and some only for a moment. It is the story of legacies, burdens, and the kinds of secrets that are only revealed when there’s nothing left to tell.

It is a funny, moving, deeply honest novel that will inspire you to call everyone you care about and thank everyone you know for what they’ve given you.

Interview with Lou Aronica

Lou, several of your books are bestsellers. How long have you been writing, and how did you start?

I’ve been writing professionally for ten years now. Before that, I did a great deal of thinking about writing, but never quite committed to it. When it actually happened, it happened in a sideways fashion. I sold The Forever Year to Tor based on a lengthy proposal with the understanding that I would hire a writer to write the actual manuscript. When it came time to do that though, I realized that I was much too close to the story to let anyone else write it. I remember being absolutely terrified when I realized that I had to actually create the novel rather than simply creating the idea for the novel. It took me days to get the first words down because the entire process seemed so daunting. I’d been around books professionally for more than twenty years at that point, but it wasn’t until that moment that I fully appreciated the effort required to write an entire novel.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I’m also the publisher of The Story Plant, the imprint that is publishing Flash and Dazzle. The Story Plant publishes about thirty-five new books every year, and Flash and Dazzle just happens to be one of them. I’m a bit self-conscious about it, if you want to know the truth. When I presented this book to our distributor, I started by saying, “This book is awful, but the author is one of the company’s principals so we had no choice.”

I started my career on the business side of publishing. I was Deputy Publisher of Bantam Books and then Publisher of Berkley and Avon. I’ve always loved the book business, and I’m very excited about the opportunities created by digital publishing.

These days, I split my time fairly evenly between writing and The Story Plant. We’ve put together a great team of authors and publishing professionals at The Story Plant, but I also greatly value the time I can spend alone writing.

It sounds like you have the best of both worlds. How did you create the plot for Flash and Dazzle?

The entire plot for Flash and Dazzle came to me while I was at the playground with my daughter. Before that, I only knew that I wanted to write a novel about male best friends. Then, while I was pushing her on the swings, the situation – a couple of successful guys in their late twenties living the dream in Manhattan, whose understanding of friendship changes completely when one of them gets sick – popped into my head. I had all of the major plot points in place by the time we left the playground that day.

How do you get to know your characters?

I spend a tremendous amount of time developing my characters before I start writing. Much of the process involves asking myself lots of questions about them that have absolutely nothing to do with the story. When I get to the point when I can easily answer these irrelevant questions, I know I’ve formed the characters well in my head. To me, as far as fiction is concerned, everything starts with the characters. If I can make them real to readers, then readers will connect with the story. If I can’t, it’s going to be very difficult to keep readers engaged.

Which character did you most enjoy writing?

My favorite character in this novel is Eric Dazman, the best friend of the narrator. Eric is goofy and loose, but also supremely competent and caring. I love that combination. Eric is also carrying a very heavy burden that he doesn’t want to impose on anyone else, which made him endlessly interesting to write about.

Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.

My favorite scene happens about halfway into the novel when Rich, the narrator, and Eric tell each other stories – revealing stories – that neither has heard from the other before. There’s a combination of surprise and disappointment in this scene, disappointment at the realization that Rich and Eric don’t know each other nearly as well as they thought. To me, that’s the fulcrum point for the novel and I think an apt representation of what “best friendship” is often like for men.

What song would you pick to go with your book?

When I wrote this book, I had a rotation of songs playing in my head. They would just sort of “switch on” while I was writing. I’ve found this happens very often when I’m writing. I’m every easily suggestible when it comes to music. Someone will say something to me and a song with a similar lyric will be playing in my head the rest of the day. Lines that I write often prompt songs for me as well.

Ultimately, the song that best captures the spirit of this novel is Ben Folds’ “There’s Always Someone Cooler Than You.” There’s a great break in that song that goes: Life is wonderful/Life is beautiful/We’re all children of/One big universe/So you don’t have to be a chump. In many ways, that’s the core message of Flash and Dazzle.

I had the opportunity to see Ben Folds in concert this past summer. That is a great song. Okay...suppose you’re given the day off, and you can do anything but write. What would you do?

That’s easy. I would go to a great walking town (someplace like Essex, Connecticut or Nyack, New York, assuming that I only had one day and had to stay nearby) with my family. We’d have great music playing on the drive there, then explore the shops, get lunch at one of the fine local restaurants, explore some more shops, get coffee from an indie coffee house, explore some more shops, and then stop somewhere for a snack for the kids. I would abstain...or not.

What would your dream office look like?

It would have a wraparound window with a view of Mt. Etna. This would require the office to be in Taormina. Really, just about any office in Taormina would be a dream scenario for me.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I have no shortage of hobbies. I love cooking and try to make dinner for my family every night. I’m a huge music fan and an amateur songwriter with a recording setup in my basement. I’m also a sports (especially baseball) and pop culture junkie. I love reading, but I tend to do very little reading during my off time because I do so much reading during the day.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m writing a major nonfiction book on education with Sir Ken Robinson. Sir Ken was knighted in the UK for his contributions to education, so this book is going to be a very important statement. I’m noodling with the ideas for another novel as well as a collection of novellas.

Other books by Lou Aronica

Excerpt from Flash and Dazzle

     It wouldn’t be fair to call Daz a slug. After all, he had been a third team all-conference striker in college, and he was still slim and fleet. However, getting him out of his apartment in the morning had always been a considerable task. There was the ringing the doorbell seven times before going in with my key part. There was the don’t you remember we have that meeting at 9:30 part. There was the I really don’t give a shit what your hair looks like part. Then there were the inevitable battles with toothpaste choices (Daz was the only person I ever met who kept multiple flavors of toothpaste in his bathroom), Cap’n Crunch (the only thing he deigned to eat for breakfast), and Power Rangers (which appeared on ABC Family at 8:30 every morning and from which Daz took surprising delight for someone his age.)

    On most days, by the time I got to his place to pick him up, I’d already read the relevant sections of the Times and the Journal and surfed three or four entertainment, media and business sites on the web. About a year ago, it finally dawned on me that I could sleep fifteen minutes later in the morning if I brought my bagel and coffee with me so I could have breakfast while I waited for Daz to get ready. On certain days I thought it might be smart to bring a lunch as well.

    It was this way from our first days in the City. The only difference at the beginning was that we were in the same apartment and Daz sometimes dragged himself out of bed earlier if I made enough noise or if I did something like flick water on his face after my shower. . . 

    “Who do we have a meeting with this morning? He said, coming out of the bathroom with a toothbrush in his mouth. He had different colored toothbrushes for the different flavors. The gray brush meant fennel.

    “It’s just us.”

    “Us? Like you and me?” He returned to the bathroom to spit.

    “And Michelle and Carnie and Brad and Chess.”

    “Sounds like the meeting we had at Terminal 5 last night.”

    We’d all gone there to see Beam, an incredible British trance rock band.

    “Except this time we’re going to have a serious business conversation and it won’t look as cool if your head lolls back and forth.”

    “And what will we be talking about again?” He asked this question from his bedroom, where he was almost certainly trying to decide if it was a red flannel shirt day or a blue flannel shirt day.

    “The Koreans.”

    “Motorcycles, right?” he said, sticking his face out the door.

    “Cars. Affordable luxury for twenty-somethings.”

    “Twenty-somethings want luxury?”

    “They do if it’s affordable.”

    “That’s why you’re the word guy and I’m the picture guy. I wouldn’t have a clue how to pitch this.”

    “Good thing I’m around then, huh?”

    He disappeared back into the bathroom, meaning we were somewhere between eight and fifteen minutes of departure time, assuming I kept him away from the Power Rangers . . .

    “I mentioned that the meeting was today and not in August, right?” I said, my voice vibrating from the thumping my back was receiving.

    “I’m done,” he said, walking over to stand in front of me in blue flannel. “Just a quick one-on-one with the Cap’n and we’ll be out of here.”

    I turned off the chair and got up. Daz opened the box of cereal and poured it directly into his mouth. “Let’s go,” he said, taking a swig from a milk carton and grabbing his keys.

    I gathered my stuff and we made our way out the door. Daz locked the two deadbolts and my eye fell on his keychain – a plastic hot dog that he’d burned with a cigarette lighter in honor of our first (and only) camping trip. He’d toted that thing around for the last ten years.

    “I think Michelle and I had a little thing last night,” he said as we walked out onto Broadway to begin our search for a cab.

    I laughed. “I was with the two of you the entire time. You didn’t have a thing.”

    “No, I think we might have. It was an eye thing.”

    “An eye thing as in she saw you and said hi?”

    “Don’t be a schmuck. I can tell the difference, you know. I think she kinda likes me.”

    “Daz, everyone kinda likes you. See that woman who just stepped in front of us to steal our cab? I’ll bet she likes you. You’re a likable guy. I just wouldn’t get my hopes up about Michelle if I were you.”

    “She came to my office just to see my drawings the other day. She’s never done that before.”

    “Daz, reachable goals, remember? Reachable goals.”

    “I think you might be surprised here.”

    “Surprised wouldn’t begin to describe it. Stunned speechless maybe. Or shocked to the point where I needed a defibrillator.”

    He regarded me sternly. “Why do you think I couldn’t get a woman like Michelle?”

    “Did I say that?”

    “Pretty much exactly that.”

    “You’re misunderstanding me. I’m speaking specifically about Michelle. A woman like Michelle – you know, gorgeous, smart, clever, burgeoning career – you could get a woman like that. Anytime you wanted, probably.”

    “But not Michelle specifically. Translation, please.”

    “A translation isn’t necessary. Right now, the only thing that’s important is that we find some way to get the hell downtown.”

    Eventually we took a gypsy cab, one of those out-of-town car services that roamed around the City skimming off fares from Yellow cabs during rush hours. I hated doing this – I was very loyal to my city – but at 9:05 on a weekday, it really was the best we could do.

    “If we left earlier, we wouldn’t be riding in a fifteen-year-old Impala right now, you know,” I said.

    “If we left later, we wouldn’t be doing this either.”

    “You know, it’s a good thing you’re an artistic genius. Otherwise you’d be working at Burger King. No, you’d lose your job at Burger King because you’d always be showing up late. Then you’d be out on the street collecting bottles to exchange for cheap liquor.”

    “Never happen.”

    “You don’t think so?”

    “Nope. Cause you’d be around to drag my ass out of bed so I could keep my job making French fries.”

    “Don’t be so sure.”

    “Of course you would.”

    Yeah, of course I would. If I could be relied upon for anything, it would be making sure that Daz got to work at a reasonable hour. Beyond that, as it turns out, I was lacking in an entire suite of skills best friends were supposed to have. However, he would never be homeless as long as I was around.

    We rode in silence for a couple of minutes, bucking and stopping every eight seconds or so as traffic dictated. Then something caught Daz’s eye and he pulled out the sketch-pad he always carried in his backpack and started drawing.

    “What are you doing?”

    “That jogger we passed gave me an idea.”

    I hadn’t even noticed a jogger. “An idea for what?”

    “For the Space Available campaign.”

    Space Available was a custom-built closet company whose account we recently acquired. How a jogger related to this escaped me.

    “Let me see,” I said, leaning toward him in the seat.

    He pulled the sketchpad back. “Not yet.” He smiles over at me. “I want to show it to Michelle first.”

    “She’ll never love you like I love you, Daz.”

    “There’s another thing we can all be thankful for.”

    He drew for a big longer, and while I knew there was a very good chance this brainstorm of his wouldn’t produce anything – so many of our ideas didn’t – I was curious. I tried to angle my eyes over without appearing too obvious, but Daz was doing a great job of blocking my view. Finally, he closed the sketchbook and returned it to his backpack, glancing out at the street as though there was nothing to this.

    “Traffic’s a bitch today,” he said. “We really should have left earlier. You gotta get on the beam, Flaccid.”

About the author:

Lou Aronica is the author of the USA Today bestseller The Forever Year and the national bestseller Blue. He also collaborated on the New York Times nonfiction bestsellers The Element and Finding Your Element (both with Ken Robinson) and the national bestseller The Culture Code (with Clotaire Rapaille). Aronica is a long-term book publishing veteran. He is President and Publisher of the independent publishing house The Story Plant.

Connect with Lou:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads |

Buy the book:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple | IndieBound