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Oh My Stars: A Novelby Lorna Landvik
Author Q & A
A Conversation with Lorna Landvik
Q: Where did you get the idea for Oh My Stars? As you write more and more books, does it get harder to come up with new ideas?
A: Oh My Stars came to me the way most of books have — by the appearance of the main characters in my head. I have no idea who they are or what they want, but my curiosity is piqued and makes me want to write to find their answers. And no; it's a shortage more of time than ideas that's a problem for me.
Q: Why did you decide to have Violet lose her arm? What does it add to the story?
A: I don't remember deciding that Violet would lose her arm, I was only writing what happened to her. Her amputation was just one more thing that handicapped her and she was able to survive and then flourish only by her sheer force of will.
Q: Violet tells her story while she's sitting in a diner. Is there a particular diner that you frequent? What makes diners so conducive to storytelling?
A: While there are coffee shops (not the latte kind, but the egg-salad sandwich kind) that I frequent here, none of them have a counter. However, whenever I travel by car, I seek out diners and truckstops. Counters are like train cars or buses; sometimes you choose to look out the window and other times you open yourself up the person next to you. It's a great opportunity for storytelling and for listening. You know that when you pay your bill and walk out, you're not going to see the person with whom you just had a deep and revealing conversation.
Q: The title Oh My Stars comes from something that the character Kjel says every morning when he wakes up. Does it represent the book in a less literal way as well?
A: There are many meanings of Oh My Stars; it is the exclamation of wonder Kjel uses and also it is how Violet eventually regards Kjel and Austin and all the people she's loved in her life. It was my mother's favorite phrase; whenever she used it, you knew it was in response to some big news.
Q: Oh My Stars is certain to make more than a few readers reach for a box of tissues. Did you shed any tears while you were writing the story?
A: Yes. I think I've cried at some point in all of my books, which can be embarrassing if I'm writing in a public place.
Q: Readers might cry a little (or a lot), but they'll also laugh out loud. How important is humor in the story.
A: It's very important in that it's such a survival mechanism, particularly for Violet and Austin. Violet's humor changes; earlier on when she's so mistreated/misunderstood, she uses humor more as a weapon than a feather, but as her life opens up, so does her sense of humor. If life is a salad, then humor is the dressing, and everyone knows a salad is always better with lots of dressing.
Q: Was it difficult to convey the atmosphere of racial prejudice prevalent in the 1930s, particularly in the South? Why would the townspeople of Pearl be accepting of an interracial relationship when so many other pales in the country would not be?
A: It wasn't so much difficult as painful; it's hard imagining that people could treat people so badly. Violet thinks the townspeople of Pearl were more accepting because she and Austin were sponsored by the Hedstrom family who were beloved figures in the community. Also their acceptance came with time and knowledge; the more they got to know Violet and Austin, the more accepting they became.
Q: What part does music play in the story? Are you a music buff?
A: Music plays a huge part in this story; it's not only what brings the main characters together, its what brings anyone who listens to them together. Yes, I'm a big fan of music. My mother sang and played the piano every day of her life and as a teenager, I was a flutist in a city-wide orchestra. Now I pound away on the piano, playing 'easy adult' books and having a grand old time. I also like to sing — I don't have a great range but I can harmonize with anyone.
Q: Did you have Elvis in mind when you created the character of Kjel?
A: No, but the more Kjel revealed himself to me, the more I recognized that he had Elvis-like qualities; the great good looks, the sex-appeal, the mischief and the unique, no-one-could-sing-this-song-the-way-I-sing-it musicianship.
Q: What can you tell us about tinnitus, the condition that causes the buzzing sound in Violet's ears?
A: I've read about the disorder and I know it's somewhat of a mystery — it can come on in response to a blast to the ear, or it can come on for no discernible reason. People might have it for days or a weeks and people can suffer for years from it. I have had very brief, passing moments of it and can imagine how I'd be driven crazy if it were a long-lasting condition.
Q: Is Oh My Stars different from your other books in any way? Any similarities?
A: Oh My Stars is the first book that's set in a time period I wasn't alive in and it is the first book in which the action doesn't take place in Minnesota. I'd like to think that all my books are different from one another (I'd be in trouble if they weren't'); I guess the big similarity in all of them is I try to write about people whose stories will mean something to the reader; people who'll bring the reader to laughter and to tears.
Q: Violet says, "Since that long-ago party on a July day swarming with flies and so much more, I have made it a point to greet each new year of mine — and of those I love — with fanfare up the ying yang>" What is the most memorable birthday you've had?
A: I think it may have been my 18th. My best friend and I had worked in a plastic spoon and fork factory the summer after we graduated high school, and spent our earnings on a trip to Europe. I remember we were staying at a Swedish youth hostel and I thought, "man, I'm eighteen!" I felt so adventurous, so cosmopolitan, yet also so young and so far from home. If I recall, we continued the celebration by taking a tour through the Tuborg beer factory in Copenhagen.
From the Hardcover edition.
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