Pop Goes the Culture Breakfast At Tiffany’s Club

writingSometimes I get together with my writerly-type friends and we talk about writing advice we’ve been given. You non-writerly types have probably heard the cliché “write what you know.” There’s also the gem “write the book you want to read.”

I admit there are times adhere to one or both of those little pearls of ‘wisdom’ without noticing–until someone points it out to me. For instance, pop culture, I’m full of it, and so are my books. My novels are chock full of pop culture references to songs, TV shows, movies, books, public and fictional figures.  The characters I write, William Murphy from Next to You in particular, are all jam-packed and bursting wiNextToYou_V1_FINAL Round3-Harlequin1920_1920x3022th pop culture goodness. I write books that way because that’s what I know.

Of course I didn’t realise this was what I did until my publisher said I was “The smart-talking, quip-cracking, pop-culture addicted author” that I really noticed my books are chock-full of pop culture references.

It seems I can’t help myself. I cram pop culture into my books because pop culture is sorta ingrained in my life.  I bet it’s ingrained in your life too. Pop culture is familiar, everyday. Some see it as superficial, consumerist, and silly, but it’s the mainstream and has been since the last part of the 20th century. Pop culture has an impact, whether you want it to or not.

The interesting thing about pop culture is how it crosses generations. Things that were hot and popular in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s–from rock and roll, Elvis, Leave it to Beaver, The Beatles, John Lennon, Hippies, Woodstock, Vietnam, I Dream of Jeannie, Watergate, The Brady Bunch, Charlie’s Angles, Punk, Disco, “Greed is Good,” Thatcherism, The Simpsons, Reaganism, Grunge, multiculturalism, Tiananmen Square and on and on, have had a cultural impact. Those people, moments, movements, TV shows and music have become part of western culture daily life, instantly recognisable, even if one wasn’t alive when those things came into being.

I’m from a generation sliver between Baby Boomers and GenX, a generation that someone, way back in 2004, referred to as ‘Cuspers.’ I don’t quite identify with either generation (See here and here for more on Cuspers), but being in between two generations means I am privy the pop cultural influences of both, and perhaps this is why William Murphy enjoys TV shows Baby Boomers watched AND has such an unshakable love for 60s and 70s Bubblegum pop music. This is what I know.

TigerbeatThe sad thing of it is, that no matter how I wrote about what I knew, no matter that I wrote a book I wanted to read, I couldn’t figure out a way to make Will a fan of reading Tiger Beat magazine.

Next to You is available for pre-order now and hits stores on 25 July!

I Can See Clearly Now: Next to You and How Come You Did That?

Here’s the question I’ve been asked the most about my upcoming release Next to You:

“Why an a hero with albinism, Sandra?”LittleWill

My answer? Contact lenses and an old friend.

I wear hard contact lenses and I have a very fair-skinned dear friend who wore an eye patch when he was a kid. That’s him over there.

Yeah, yeah, how cute and all, but what’s that kid got to do with a hero with albinism?

Know how what you see isn’t always what you get, and how looks are deceiving, and that love is blind? I’m myopic (near sighted or shortsighted if you prefer). I also have astigmatism plus, being middle aged, presbyopia. Soft contacts won’t correct my crappy vision. A soft lens won’t sit properly because my astigmatism is too severe. Glasses don’t even give me great distance acuity. Rigid contacts, however, correct my vision quite nicely. Fortunately, rigid gas permeable contacts are a special order item that last a long time, Unfortunately they’re not cheap. The thing is, NextToYou_V1_Round3-Harlequin1920_1920x3022twelve years ago, when I wrote Next to You, which was then titled A Simple Overexposure (if you read the book you’ll pick where I got that title), I needed new contacts, and it was getting difficult to find an optometrist to fit them and keep the cost under $400.

Being such a tightwad back then, I went online to find companies that manufactured hard contacts, so I could purchase them directly—cheaper than I could from my $400 a pair optometrist. What happened during my search for cheaper is that I came across an article discussing hard contact lenses and vision correction in people with albinism. The article mentioned the use of an eye patch for amblyopia and strabismic amblyopia. Immediately, I thought of that fair-skinned, eye-patch-wearing kid up there, my dear friend, whose name happens to be Will—or The Dread Pirate Will, as he asked to be called in return for letting me use his photo in this post.

lens

maikel_nai via StoolsFair / CC BY

After some fond memories of Will, ones that involved us fake sumo wrestling and going to Monty Python film festivals, I found myself nerding out, reading more about vision conditions like strabismus and nystagmus–eye conditions people with albinism often have.

Then, I nerded out even more and began reading more and more about albinism, about the myths, the stigmatisation, and the stereotypes so often associated with the condition. In a bizarre way the stigmatisation and stereotypes reminded me of the way women of a certain age are stigmatised and stereotyped. I thought how stereotypes are, at their very root, a vision problem that can’t be corrected with contacts or an eye patch.

Suddenly, I had this image of middle-aged man with albinism; it was William Murphy, the suit-wearing, bubble-gum pop-loving hero of Next to You, and I knew there was more to this Will than meets the eye.

Five minutes after seeing Will’s image, I saw Caroline, a middle-aged, introverted, movie-loving  heroine who isn’t exactly what she seems—because what you see isn’t always what you get, looks are deceiving, and love is blind.

Kind of like me without my contacts or glasses.

 

Next to You is out 25 July. You can preorder it now, from all the usual places:

Amazon, iTunes, GooglePlay All Romance

The Soundtrack of A Fictional Life

William Murphy never sees It comingA mix tape, a playlist, a soundtrack whatever you call it, why can’t books have soundtracks for sale like movies? 

Because kids,  compiling a soundtrack for a movie is something of a copyright, A&R big money nightmare. For books to have a companion soundtrack would be a copyright, A&R ginormous money acid trip hallucination beyond the comprehension of mortals.

Despite that, from the very first book I ever wrote (the one that will never see the light of day) to A Basic Renovation, For Your Eyes Only (originally titled And She Was–a title I think was better–but marketing didn’t think so and what do I know about marketing?) and Driving in Neutral, every book I write has a soundtrack. Most authors I know listen to music when they write. Music can be inspiring or set the mood for a scene. Characters might have their own theme song. Some characters might even have an entire theme soundtrack, which is the case with Next to You, my upcoming July release.

The music for Next to You is so vital to the story, to the character of William Murphy. Music, Bubblegum pop and Super Sounds of the Seventies is what makes Will Will, –just like movies are what makes his new next door neighbour Caroline Jones Caroline Jones, but more about Caroline in future posts.

In the words of Barry Manilow (yes, I am quoting Barry Manilow), I am music and I write the sooooooongs, but really I am writer and I write the characters who listen to the sooooooongs, and the character I wrote listens to the songs (although he doesn’t listen to Barry Manilow) that make him the man he is.

Here then is some of what William Murphy listens to.   Next to You3coverAnd seeing as all of these songs (and many more) are in my  music library, you can be assured these are also songs I listen to. You can listen to the Next to You Soundtrack here on William Murphy’s YouTube Channel

Tell me, would you buy a book’s soundtrack the same way you’d buy a film soundtrack?

When A Character is Born of the Fruit of Bubblegum Pop

All it took was one song from my music library and there he was, big, very fair, naked, standing in the shower shaving–and singing The Partridge Family’s I Woke Up in Love This Morning.

I saw him so clearly. Everything I needed to know about William Murphy was contained in two minutes and 38 seconds of a well-crafted but manufactured sugar-sweet bit of Bubblegum pop genius.

That moment doesn’t explain William’s albinism except that’s how I saw him and his very essence came down to a love of expensive suits and hook-driven, upbeat, teenybopper tunes from the 60s and 70s. And I knew I had to set him against the backdrop of a romance. That romance is Next to You and it comes out in July.

You might ask ‘What is Bubblegum pop, Sandra?’ or say, ‘Wait, I thought you said you were all about Powerpop, Sandra.

To answer the latter:  I am all about Powerpop, which isn’t as sweet (or saccharine) as Bubblegum pop, but William Murphy is all about Bubblegum pop.

Yeah, okay, great. But what is Bubblegum pop?William Murphy never sees It coming

Prepare for a music history lesson:

Intrinsically catchy, sunny, and targeted at a preteen audience –rather than middle aged men–Bubblegum Pop was simple and melodic, the music and lightweight lyrics often about happiness, love, and candy. With repetitive hooks, simple harmonies and simple chords, Bubblegum was often manufactured, created by record producers who hired session musicians—like Andy Kim and Ron Dante, to play and sing the songs.

Often considered to be contrived and production-driven, Bubblegum groups were often given fake names to present the illusion that they were a ‘real band’—The Partridge Family and the Archies, for example. Some groups like The Monkees were real musicians brought together by producers, but played as real band. Occasionally a single artist would provide vocals for several groups, such as Ron Dante’s lead vocals for The Archies (some of you might remember The Archies cartoon) and The Cuff Links. Other artists like David Cassidy (who went on to later solo fame) and Shirley Jones appeared on The Partridge Family television series, and provided vocals for the eponymous musical act, while supported by session musicians.

Most Bubblegum bands were one-hit wonders, however, Bubblegum has a left long legacy of songs reflect the upbeat, catchy simplicity of the music and memorable titles such as Sugar Sugar, Yummy Yummy Yummy, Hanky Panky, Dizzy, Mony Mony, I Think I love You, and memorable acts like The Ohio Express, Tommy James and the Shondells, The Partridge Family, The Monkees, The Osmonds, The Jackson 5, The Bay City Rollers, The Sweet and so many more.

William is simple, upbeat, sweet — naturally I have a playlist for Next to You–and it’s full of William Murphy’s beloved Bubblegum pop tunes.

I bet you’re dying to know what’s on it.

By the way, THIS is Ron Dante, who gave a marvellous voice to cartoon Archie Andrews’s lead vocals. And what a totally bitchin’ sunny and catchy song it is. I bet you’ll hum it all day.