Released by Gorsky Press, October 24, 2016:
In the three generations since Bob Boland’s family settled into the tired townhouse in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Bob lives, real locals – the guys who deliver the mail, plow the driveways and fix the burners — have been crowded out by urban tree-huggers and uppity intellectuals with designer dogs. On Bob’s street, they’ve launched a movement to save an antique Japanese maple from a condo developer while nagging him to trim the sun-blocking trees in his own back yard. A sarcastic, jazz-loving radio technician working the night shift and stuck in the past, Bob just wants silence by day so he can sleep, and status quo in his routine.
When romance buds with two very different women – one from the familiar though evolving world of radio, the other a sophisticated Harvard dance professor – Bob is forced to reconcile the comfort of stagnation with the inevitability of change.
There’s a lot of “truthiness” in this book. It’s almost painfully real. I kept wondering if this is what my life would be like in 15 years. Except I’m the opposite of an unmarried man without children, but his thoughts, his woes and complaints were very familiar to me. One might go so far as to call this moving. Or even relatable. Although it sounds like a bummer, Everyone Loves You Back is anything but. Slightly on the dry side, with a healthy dose of hilarity, this story of a man without a plan trying to find his way to some sort of contentment is one I’d recommend for any fans of contemporary literature. We don’t usually think of mid-life crises as being so subtle, but I felt this was a more realistic portrayal of what it would be like to be unattached and hopelessly romantic, yet lost and curmudgeonly at the same time. Bob was an idealist who became a cynic and in the end, I think most of us make that transition at some point in time, some earlier and some much later than others. Read on for a bit more from the author on the unique publishing process this book was born from, and much more.
Thanks to the author for answering a few questions for Mama Reads’ fans and readers!
“Everyone Loves You Back” is your first novel, but you’re no stranger to writing for a large audience. Can you tell us how you approached this work and if it was very different from your online essays and public radio pieces?
When I was interviewing for my current job at The World, the show producer, whom I knew from a previous job asked, “What have you been up to all these years?” And I said, “Writing a novel.” “Really?” she said. “I can’t imagine anything more different than what we do here!”
Radio is dominated by the clock. Everything is about deadlines and speed. You have to write fast, edit fast, think fast. Which was why I got into it in the first place. It was exhilarating. I got so much done. I felt uncharacteristically productive! And going live was like putting on a play every day!
Writing a novel was so different; it took me 5 years to write it. I had to find the motivation and focus within myself. There was no external pressure or reward. No one cared if I ever finished, except my writing group. And it felt like the ending was always 75 pages away. I used to imagine the ending as a beach ball bobbing in the water, and every time I swam toward it, it floated farther away.
When the novel was finally done, I had to go back and rewrite it. In radio, no matter how much a perfectionist you are, you have to let go and put it out there. I remember fussing with my radio mixes until late into the night and one of my coworkers scolding me. “Cronin,” he said, “you’re polishing a turd!”
In terms of writing for a large audience, radio is a very intimate medium, and you never think about how many people are listening. You get the feeling it’s just you, your colleagues, and whoever is in the studio at the moment. It’s hard to imagine an audience. Like with Car Talk, who can think about 4 million people?
Similarly with Everyone Loves You Back, I am just getting used to the idea of it having an audience, taking on a life of its own. It’s amazing and wonderful. For so many years, my fiction has been a secret, between me, my writing group, and my computer.
I recently read that your book was published through an intriguing partnership with Gorsky Press and The Publishing House class at CSU Channel Islands and would love to know more about how this worked, and how this differs from traditional publishing methods.
I can’t really compare it to traditional publishing because this is my first time out. But I can guess at how radically different it was. Everything with Gorsky Press and The Publishing House class happened fast, because they adhere to the semester schedule. I found out I won the contest in January and had my book in hand at the beginning of May! The class spent the first semester reading and selecting manuscripts, and the second semester turning the winning manuscript into a book.
And what a pleasant surprise it was that a group of college students chose my book, a love story with three middle-aged protagonists! Working with the class and Sean Carswell, the professor/editor of Gorsky Press, was a pleasure. The students were thoughtful, careful, and really engaged readers. I was so impressed with them and encouraged for the future. They asked really good, provocative questions. And Sean is a great editor, with a light touch, but a sure touch.
An unexpected benefit of working with Sean and his class is that I had a dozen strong advocates, who had lived with my book for a year and were very invested in the outcome. The students worked on every aspect of the process: editing, design, marketing, publicity, social media. One of the truly surreal moments was when I got a friend request on Facebook from my main character, Bob Boland! I wish they’d had a program like the Publishing Course when I was in school. I might not have wasted so many years studying electrical engineering.
It’s ironic. I spent 5 years writing the book, 9 months looking for an agent, 3 years trying to break into traditional publishing. And I finally get the book accepted and it moves at the speed of radio!
How did your experience on Car Talk filter into your novel, if at all?
I wrote most of it while I was working at Car Talk, but it’s really not about Car Talk. It takes me much longer than that to process experience. I was really mining my entire career in radio and my life in Cambridge up to that point.
One thing that I expect did filter in though was that at Car Talk I was surrounded by men, and working on a show that had a very male perspective. And there I was writing a book in which the main character was a man. That was a big challenge for me and I think working at Car Talk helped.
Do you find that people have a hard time taking you seriously once they learn that much of your writing is humorous in nature, or do they generally realize you are just naturally witty?
I think writing in a humorous vein is a double-edged sword. Some people dismiss you for not being serious or deep; others dismiss you for not being funny enough! You can’t win. But that is just my outlook on the world; it’s how I survive this crazy life, by standing back, being sarcastic, trying to laugh at myself and others. I know that humor can be a scrim between myself and experience, and that it sometimes takes me out of the moment. But I love to laugh. Some of the happiest moments of my life have been sitting around laughing with family and friends.
Also, some of my all-time favorite writers are both funny and serious. Richard Ford, Vladimir Nabokov, Jane Austen, Barbara Pym, Martin Amis, Geoffrey Eugenides. I would argue that humor and serious writing are not mutually exclusive. One thing I learned at Car Talk: trying to write funny material is not for the faint of heart!
If you had to choose a co-host for a new talk show, who would you choose and why are they your pick?
What an interesting question. I should probably choose someone who would complement me, someone organized and efficient, businesslike. But that’s not who comes to mind. I’d try to enlist some contemporary writers, like Maria Semple, the novelist of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? or Alexandra Petri, who has been writing some hilarious pieces for the Washington Post.
What’s next on the agenda, or do you like to keep it a mystery?
I’m writing a second novel but it’s a little too soon to talk about it. I’m superstitious! But I can tell you this: it’s not told in the voice of a man.
Louie Cronin, author of the novel Everyone Loves You Back, is a writer, radio producer and audio engineer. For ten years she served as NPR’s “Car Talk” traffic cop, producing the show and ensuring that every call was entertaining. A graduate of Boston University’s Masters program in Creative Writing and a past winner of the Ivan Gold Fiction Fellowship from the Writers’ Room of Boston, Louie has had her fiction and essays published in Compass Rose, The Princeton Arts Review, Long Island Newsday, The Boston Globe Magazine, and on PRI.org. Her short stories have been finalists for both Glimmer Train and New Millennium Writings awards. Louie has been awarded residencies at the Ragdale Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Arts, and the Vermont Studio Center. Currently she works as a technical director for PRI’s The World and lives in Boston with her husband, the sculptor James Wright.
Visit her website for more information.