Blog Tour ~Blended Notes by Lilah Suzanne (Excerpt + Guest Post + Giveaway)
Grady Dawson’s future looks bright. He’s at the top of his country music career, has a close-knit group of friends who have become his Nashville family, and has found solid ground in his personal life as he plans his intimate, private wedding with Nico, his stylist-turned-lover, turned love of his life. It seems Grady has finally left his difficult childhood and tumultuous youth behind. That is, until his past shows up on his doorstep, news of his upcoming nuptials is leaked to the media, and his record company levels demands that challenge his integrity as an artist and as a person. The foundation of Grady’s new life begins to crumble, and fast. Will he be forced to make the ultimate choice between a private life with Nico and the public demands of his career?
Grady’s earliest memory of his mother is watching her leave. It wasn’t the first time she dropped him off at Memaw and Granddaddy’s house, and the remembered moment itself is unremarkable: He’s standing by the road; a cloud of dirt from the driveway into the trailer park lingers hazily in the air; he can see the taillights of her car lit red at the stop sign. The right one blinks a signal, the car turns, and she’s gone. Memaw came to collect him soon after, and he doesn’t recall what he did next—whatever rambunctious five-year-old boys like to do. Maybe he got on his bike and tore around the neighborhood, training wheels be damned. Or maybe he found a squirrel to harass with a makeshift slingshot of forked stick and rubber band. Maybe Memaw plunked him down in front of their old jumpy television.
Sit down for five seconds, Grady. Land’s sake! she’d say, with a look rather similar to the one Nico has when Grady comes around to the aisle where Nico is browsing for home decor. Grady had wandered off when he spotted an old gramophone on display.
“There you are.”
“Here I am,” Grady confirms, dropping a kiss onto Nico’s cheek. Nico leans into him with an easy, comfortable affection that grounds Grady, makes him feel wanted and safe. Grady takes a clear glass bottle from the shelf filled with clear glass bottles of all shapes and sizes and colors and asks, “Do we need apothecary jars?” The label on the jar reads: Green Pain Pills.
Nico takes the jar and turns, holding it up so it catches the sunlight streaming through the plate glass windows in the front of the boutique. “I mean, we don’t not need apothecary jars.” He tips his head and narrows his eyes, assessing the jar before putting it back on the shelf. Nico is determined to fill their new home with things that represent them; it’s sweet, but, for Grady, unnecessary. Nico expresses himself visually: his clothes, his hair, the elegant yet assertive way he holds himself. Of course he’d want knickknacks and furniture and art that speak to the life they’re building together. For Grady, it’s less tangible, not a particular thing he could put on a shelf. It’s two toothbrushes in the holder, the sound of a familiar car pulling into the garage, the lingering scent of Nico’s cologne in their bed, the way Nico brushes a peck to Grady’s lips before he leaves: never a goodbye, always a see you later.
“Did you find something you wanted?” Nico moves on to a display of antique paperweights. One looks like a crystal ball.
“Oh, yeah.” Grady lifts his eyebrows and quirks his lips. Nico shakes his head at that, picks up the crystal ball paperweight, and passes it slowly from hand to hand. “I knew you were going to say that and yet—”
“And yet you still asked,” Grady finishes, teasing, “Why, I think you may even like it.”
Nico hums. He puts the paperweight back. “I suppose I must, considering that I am marry—” He snaps his mouth shut, then glances around to be sure no one overheard him. They’re alone in the store, but still Nico mouths the end of that sentence: “Marrying you.”
And, lord, but does that thrill Grady to his bones, silent or spoken or acted out with charades. He’s marrying Nico, they’re getting married, he and Nico are marrying each other. Grady can tell his own smile is goofy, and Nico has one to match. In the quiet corner of this very unusual store, they can be openly giddy—for a moment.
Say it in a Song: Writing Lessons From Country Music
By Lilah Suzanne
When I started writing a book series about country musicians in Nashville, I did not expect to gain a new appreciation for the musical genre—the music, the artistry, the emotional pull of a country tune—that enriched the stories and the lives of my characters. But it wasn’t just the characters and their world that bled into my own reality; I also learned surprising things about craft and how to tell a tight, emotional story without a lot of fluff and filler. Country music is chock-full of storytelling songs, that is, lyrics that act as a narrative. A country song can tell a full, rich story in three minutes, and there is a lot any author can learn from that.
“Harper Valley PTA” (written by Tom C. Hall and famously performed by both Jeannie C. Riley and Dolly Parton) starts off with: “I want to tell you a story…” and then we’re told of a widowed mother shamed by the local small-town PTA for her short skirts and scandalous behavior, how this effects her daughter and how Ms. Johnson then lays the smack-down on the Harper Valley PTA hypocrites. An entire story arc of hook, rising action, climax, and resolution in a mere three hundred and twenty four words. Similarly, “A Boy Named Sue” tells a tale of abandonment, ridicule, and revenge. In “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” we’re told about the time a soul-snatching Satan was thwarted by some killer fiddle playing. So how is it that a song can fit a story within such a limited space? And how does that storytelling style translate to novel writing?
Keep it simple: The age old advice is still kicking around for a reason. As a story unfolds, it’s tempting to pile on the ideas. We fall in love with new minor characters, new themes emerge, backstories get more complex, one idea spawns another spawns another spawns another… But doing too much can detract from the story. Country music songs illustrate how to pick one story thread and keep with it, instead of allowing the narrative to spiral out in infinite directions. In “Harper Valley PTA” we stick with Ms. Johnson’s journey; despite the title it’s not about the members of the PTA, or even her daughter, it’s really about her.
Utilize metaphors and symbolism: Sometimes a story calls for lengthy descriptions and background exposition, but often times, using metaphors and symbolism can say a lot by saying something else. “A Boy Named Sue” tell us explicitly: “My daddy left home when I was three, didn’t leave much to ma and me.” and then uses imagery to flesh this out in only a few words: “Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze.” We can infer quite a bit about a man who left his wife and child, with only an old guitar and empty booze bottle to remember him by without spending too much time dwelling on it.
Stick to a central theme: If plot is what the story is about, theme is what your story means. “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” uses a deal with the devil motif, concerning itself with the morals and virtues of our fiddle-playing hero Johnny: By staying true to himself and his values, he defeats the devil and retains his soul. Keeping a story’s central theme in mind gives it complexity without adding more baggage to the plot.
Watch filler words: We all have our favorites that we constantly use without realizing it. I overuse “just” and in a recent editing pass it felt like I had to remove a character “hopping down” from something every other scene she was in. If you’re writing a story that needs to be told in the length of a single song, you’re going to watch those filler words. Similarly, in writing a book it’s important to pay attention the words that (just) don’t need to be there.
Portray human experiences. If a story speaks to a universal human experience, then you can count on a built-in reader response. Perhaps not everyone has been publicly shamed by a small town PTA, but we can all relate to not fitting in. We haven’t all been abandoned by a cruel father, but certainly can understand the feeling of left behind or unwanted. And maybe we haven’t actually had to battle the devil via fiddle showdown to save our mortal souls, but certainly we’ve all wrestled with moral dilemmas a time or two.
Of course I’m not a songwriter, despite creating county music singer-songwriter characters. I got help from an actual songwriter for the songs I created in the books, and it takes me quite a bit a longer than a few dozen stanzas to weave a cohesive tale. But I do think trying my hand at songwriting and immersing myself in the word of someone who does has made me a better writer. If nothing else, it helped me to think about what I’m saying, how I’m saying, and how long it takes me to get there.
Lilah Suzanne has been writing actively since the sixth grade, when a literary magazine published her essay about an uncle who lost his life to AIDS. A freelance writer from North Carolina, she spends most of her time behind a computer screen, but on the rare occasion she ventures outside she enjoys museums, libraries, live concerts, and quiet walks in the woods. Lilah is the author of the Interlude Press books Spice,Pivot and Slip, Broken Records, and Burning Tracks.
Blended Notes, the final installment of Lilah Suzanne’s the Spotlight Series will be published by Interlude Press on August 17, 2017. Connect with the author at lilahsuzanne.com; on Twitter @lilahsuzanne; and on Facebook at facebook.com/lilahsuzanne
PRAISE FOR BROKEN RECORDS SPOTLIGHT, BOOK ONE “TOP PICK! This excellent take on the celebrity-and-normal-person romance moves at a fast clip while satisfying at every turn.” —RT Book Reviews “Hollywood style meets Nashville charm in this sweet, sexy fing turned romance.” —Publishers Weekly
PRAISE FOR BURNING TRACKS SPOTLIGHT, BOOK TWO “FOUR STARS… Burning Tracks is a deeply emotional work that explores love, loss, risk and the struggles of commitment and self-sabotage. In the frst book, readers were introduced to a new love, but in this book, readers observe an established relationship. This makes Burning Tracks fundamentally different read from its predecessor, both in tone and in what’s at stake for our heroines.” —RT Book Reviews
PRAISE FOR SPICE “… Completely laugh-out-loud funny and the underlying romantic plot is the perfect backdrop for its sparkling characters, Simon and Benji, who are bound to induce a book hangover… Fresh, fun fction at its best!” —RT Book Reviews “Suzanne keeps the humor warm and the sex real.” —Publishers Weekly
PRAISE FOR PIVOT AND SLIP “4.5 stars… Balancing laughter with touching emotions, this novella is a great frst effort” —Carly’s Book Reviews Blog
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Grand Prize $25 IP Gift Card + Multi-format eBook of Blended Notes // Five winners receive Blended Notes eBook