Wednesday, July 21, 2010: Maximum Shelf: Maybe This Time

St. Martin's Press: Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie

St. Martin's Press: Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie

St. Martin's Press: Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie

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Editors' Note

Maximum Shelf: Maybe This Time

In this edition of Maximum Shelf, the monthly Shelf Awareness feature that focuses on an upcoming title that we love and believe will be a great handselling opportunity for booksellers everywhere, we present Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie. The review and interviews are by Marilyn Dahl. St. Martin's Press has helped support the issue.


Read an excerpt of Jenny Crusie's new book, Maybe This Time

Books & Authors

Jennifer Crusie Talks About Getting Her Mojo Back

It's been a while since you've written a book solo. Why did you stop? Why did you start again?

I went through menopause, and I couldn't write. I showed the first 60,000 words of my next book to my editor, and she said, "I don't think so." Then at the Maui Writer's Conference, Bob Mayer came up to me, handed me a glass of white wine, and said we should write together. I was going down for the third time, so I said yes.

It was a terrifying time. I couldn't not write. I've been doing it since 1991, and it's the way I pay the electric biil. But Bob and my other collaborators got me through it, and now I'm back to writing solo.

What are your writing habits?

Terrible. I work best late at night, but I don't have a real schedule. I spend a lot of time thinking, and don't write in chronological order. I use a white board and assemble disparate pieces. I write a lot that is discarded, especially in the first draft while I'm discovering things. I spend a lot of time rewriting, looking at structure, thinking about what the story is, what it means, and then rewriting again. I flail around for months and then pull it together at the end.

Do you bake as much as Andie? Do you dance around the room?

Not as much, but I do dance around the room, even more now because my best friend and her two young children have moved in with me--lots of music now.

Dancing is something that Andie and Alice can do together, and it's something that grounds Alice, so I used it a lot in the book. It's also a really good way to show how happy somebody is, so when Alice starts to dance in the kitchen, you know she's feeling better.

Why ghosts? Do you believe in ghosts?

I'm open. I've never had any experiences myself, but what brings me back to the possibility is what Dennis says to Andie--that there are ghost stories in every society, every place and time, so ghosts are part of our collective unconscious. But I did believe they were real in The Turn of the Screw--there are ghosts and the governess is crazy.

There had to be ghosts in my story or else it wouldn't make sense.

I love your snappy one-liners and the witty dialogue. You have a great rhythm.

Rhythm is really important, it's what makes an author's voice distinctive--the rhythm and the prose reflect the way you think and talk. It makes it more immediate. Besides, I don't know any other way to write.

The characters are stock, the situation familiar--the action even picks up on a dark and stormy night--yet you make it all new and exciting. Do you think the clichés, if you will, are like learning the box step and then improvising a few moves?

A lot of it comes from two things. First, it's a gothic novel, so you have to follow conventions that go back to The Castle of Otranto and the whole gothic tradition--you need isolation, wilderness, a castle, a governess, a distant father and threatened children. I love that genre, but it's hard to do well. Second, it's an homage to The Turn of the Screw, so the characters, setting and plot had to fit James's novel. You can't do Turn of the Screw in the sunlight, it has to be that dark and stormy night.

The Turn of the Screw is one of my favorite books; I've taught it for years, so I wanted to retell it for today. The conceit is that the house is the house from James's novel and I wanted to be sure that if you have read the book, there would be echoes, but if you haven't, it doesn't matter.

As I wrote it, the story became even more interesting to me because Andie is older than the usual gothic heroine so that changed the power dynamic. James's heroine was young and inexperienced and much of her problem was caused by her isolation; she didn't have anybody to say, "Get a grip and get out of here." Andie was the opposite; she did great on her own, but people kept showing up and un-isolated her, and their emotions roiled up the ghosts' power.

Speaking of stock situations, what is it about cleaning up a house, or mess, or kids that is so compelling?

Andie does clean things up (but she's also smart enough to hire people to do it), which is emblematic of setting the world to rights, a new world order. The housekeeper says the ghosts won't like it, and they don't, but Andie perseveres.

I love Alice and Southie. Do you have favorite characters?

Southie has the best heart, doesn't he?

Of course, I love Andie, but there's Isolde, too. She showed up from out of the blue. She just walked in; well, actually, she walked in from an appearance on Court TV. She's just so down to earth, she's there to do her job--and she's a medium. Dennis also holds a place in my heart.

Your other books have really swell dogs. How come no dog to nip at the ghosts' heels or sleep with Carter?

In this one, a dog just wouldn't fit. I did one draft where the housekeeper had a cat, but the book got so complicated that I deleted it. It already has a cast of thousands.

Your books have good endings, but not the usual off-into-the-sunset endings.

I don't necessarily write happy endings, but I always write emotionally just endings. The idea that the world is emotionally just, that the people who have done the work get rewarded, is important. The ending is not so much happy as it is stable; people have been rewarded for taking risks, and the characters we care about are safe now. They are in a relationship for the long haul. I think emotional justice is the best ending. Andie and Alice and Carter deserve that. So does North; he wakes up and changes. They all step up and are a family at the end, because they risked their lives for each other.

Now that you have your mojo back, in spades, what are you working on?

I'm writing a four-book series about one heroine, Liz Danger. The books are stand-alone mysteries, but read together they make one long romance novel. The working titles are Lavender's Blue, Rest in Pink, Peaches and Screams and Yellow Brick Roadkill. I'm having a lot of fun with them.

And I want to write Alice's story. I set Maybe This Time in 1992 so I could bring her back. She's now a lepidopterist who helps people with hauntings as a courtesy. And I want to write Nadine's (from Faking It) book, too. The working titles there are Haunting Alice and Stealing Nadine. So nothing but good times ahead.



Jennifer Crusie books now in trade paperback

Jennifer Enderlin: Spellbound

Jennifer Enderlin, vice president, associate publisher of St. Martin’s Paperbacks and executive editor of St. Martin's Press, talks about working with Jenny Crusie.

How did you first connect with Jennifer Crusie, and how has your relationship evolved?

Of all the authors I work with, Jenny Crusie is one with whom I have one of the longest-running relationships. She had been writing for Harlequin and, as often is the case, wanted to write something bigger, something out of category. It was the fall of 1995 and her agent sent me a proposal for what would become Tell Me Lies. I loved it so much I read portions of it OUT LOUD in the editorial meeting (something that is, trust me, frowned upon). We bought two books as mass market originals (we did it this way because to buy it as a hardcover would mean running the gauntlet of the hardcover acquisitions meeting. Fewer questions were asked when you bought something as a mass market paperback). I fully intended, though, to publish it as a hardcover. When the full manuscript came in, and it was every bit as good as the proposal promised, we published it as a hardcover and instantly, reviewers sat up and took notice. Here was an author who came out of romance, but who had the literary chops to be compared to the best of the best. Jenny came to our sales conference to meet our sales force and I'm not sure what they were expecting. But when she got up in front of them, and told them how to rethink their notions of novels for, by, and about women, it was thrilling. As a former academic, as someone accustomed to expressing her ideas in front of a room, she had them spellbound. To this day, people still talk about the Jenny Crusie sales conference presentation in 1997.
Which was the book that required the least amount of work, and the most? Why?

Jenny and I have a long history of working very intensively on her novels. We go through multiple drafts. She sends me what she calls her "truck draft" meaning, if she got hit by a truck, you could publish it, but there is still more work to be done. I think the book we worked the most on was Crazy for You. In fact, that book had an entire major storyline that was excised after several drafts. The book that took the least amount of work was Maybe This Time. And this surprised me, because it has taken her the longest to write and I thought she was really having problems with it. She sent me a draft (not even a truck draft) and said, "I've lost perspective. I can't tell if I'm on the right path or wrong path and I need feedback from you." This set off warning bells in my mind. I thought, "Uh oh. If she's asking that question, it must be a mess." But when I read it, I was struck dumb. It was FABULOUS. It was BEYOND a truck draft. It humbled me and made me feel practically useless as an editor because there was so little work to be done.

What has surprised you about working with Jenny? Or about her writing ?

The most surprising thing about working with Jenny is also the best thing. She is so intuitive to what I want from the editorial process. I can say to her, "I can't put my finger on it, but something is wrong with this scene." And she'll take my thoughts and go four steps beyond. She'll say, "Oh, I know why you're thinking that. It's because of X, Y and Z." And she'll nail it exactly. Or I'll say, "This character isn't working and here's an idea of how to fix her." And she'll say, "I can't do that because of this reason, but here's a better way." And what she'll suggest will be light years better than what I suggested. So, we feed off each other. Our minds work symbiotically. I've worked with her for 15 years and I hope I work with her for the next 50.



Andie Archer's Banana Bread Recipe from Maybe This Time

Here's the problem with writing a book about a woman who makes a specific recipe and everybody in the story raves about it: sooner or later, readers are going to ask for it, and saying, "Hey, it was fiction, I made it up," doesn't really satisfy them. I've done it with chocolate chip cookies (What the Lady Wants) and chicken marsala (Bet Me), failed miserably with sour cream pancakes (Agnes and the Hitman), and when I started on Andie's banana bread, I knew despair because all banana bread recipes are pretty much alike. After numerous experiments (lemon peel was not a good idea) I arrived at Andie's Banana Bread. You can knock back the chips and nuts to half a cup or even leave them out, but Alice will not be happy.

Mix together:
3 overripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
½ c. white sugar
½ c. brown sugar
½ c. yogurt

Mix together:
1½ c flour
½ t. salt
1 t. baking soda
½ t. baking powder
Fold flour mix into banana mix and add:
¾ c. mini chocolate chips
¾ c. chopped pecans

Bake at 350 in four mini loaf pans (5¾x3¼) for 45 mins. or two regular loaf pans (8x3¾) for 55 to 60 mins.




Book Brahmin: Jennifer Crusie

Jennifer Crusie is the New York Times, USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of 21 novels and one book of literary criticism, miscellaneous articles, essays, novellas and short stories, and the editor of three essay anthologies. She lives on the Ohio River where she often stares at the ceiling and counts her blessingas.

On your nightstand now:

Kleenex, yarn, crochet hook, water bottle, clipboard, pens, lamp, Jen Weiner's Fly Away Home, P.D. James's Talking About Detective Fiction.
Favorite book when you were a child:

Green As Spring by Rosemary ? (I'll have to look it up.)

Your top five eight authors in alphabetical order:

Margery Allingham
Patricia Gaffney
Michael Gilbert
Georgette Heyer
Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Terry Pratchett
Lani Diane Rich/Lucy March
Anne Stuart/Kristin Douglas

Book you've faked reading:

Moby-Dick. I was getting my masters in American Lit and I could not get through it. Several of us were drinking after class one night and we compared notes on the-classic-we-cannot-read. Somebody said, "The Scarlet Letter." Who can't read The Scarlet Letter? It's practically a novella. Moby-Dick, on the other hand, is a doorstop with fish notes.
Book you're an evangelist for:

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and the Discworld books. Everyone must read Terry Pratchett.
Book you've bought for the cover:

I can't ever remember buying a book for the cover, but I remember buying one for the title: Expecting Someone Taller.
Books that changed your life:

Getting Well Again by Carl Simonton; Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich; Crazy Time by Abigail Trafford; Half Empty, Half Full, Susan Vaughn.
Favorite line from a book:

"All right then, I'll go to hell." --Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Book[s] you most want to read again for the first time:

Terry Pratchett's Going Postal.
Georgette Heyer's The Grand Sophy.
Margery Allingham's The Tiger in the Smoke.
Michael Gilbert's The Long Journey Home.

These questions are too hard. One book? Really? How do people do that?


Maybe This Time: The Soundtrack

Music has a huge impact on my storytelling, but I've never written a book that relied as much on a soundtrack as Maybe This Time. The book takes place in 1992 so the music was crucial in rewinding my brain back 20 years. Although there are no flashbacks in the book (I am strongly anti-flashback), a lot of the music flashes back even farther to the year North and Andie were married, 1982, evoking memories and affecting actions in the present (well, in 1992).

The music from 1982 was music from Andie and North's courtship (short though that was) and marriage. Andie's theme was "Layla" by Eric Clapton (original version) because North said that was the music that had to be playing in her head when she moved. (North's theme was "Human" by the Pretenders, but I lost it when I moved the setting back to 1992 since it didn't come out until 2004.) Their song was "Somebody's Baby" by Jackson Browne, because that's what was playing when they met. And North said his first clue that Andie was going to bolt was when she kept playing "Any Day Now" by Ronnie Milsap, when he came home at night; he really hated Ronnie Milsap. All of those (except for the Milsap) show up on a mix tape that North made for Andie in '82 that includes Clapton's "I've Got a Rock 'n' Roll Heart" and "Man in Love"; North is a big Clapton fan, but, then, who isn't? Another set of music from 1982 is a mix tape that Alice plays that belonged to her dead mother: "Gloria" by Laura Branigan; "She Bop" by Cyndi Lauper; "Time After Time," also by Lauper; and "Make a Move on Me" by Olivia Newton-John. Her mother wasn't deep, but she was happy.

But in 1992, there's the music on the kitchen radio that Andie and Alice dance to while they bake, which includes "Hurt So Good" by John Mellencamp (the announcer says, "Here's an oldie,"), "I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred (Alice loves "I'm Too Sexy") and "Everything Changes" by Kathy Troccoli. Andie sings an old Disney lullaby to Alice, "Baby Mine," because it's the only one she knows, but North brings her a just-released album as a present: Clapton's Unplugged, with the acoustic "Layla" on it.  Ironically, the song "Maybe This Time" was thematically right for the book, and since it came out in '72 it was chronologically right, but it didn't work at all musically: too melancholy.  

I can't imagine writing this book without the music to put me back two decades, so I owe a debt of gratitude to all the artists who helped and inspired me. Also, it turns out that you can play "Layla" over and over and over again and never get tired of it, so a special thanks to Clapton. Maybe This Time wouldn't have been the same book without you all.




Book Review

Mandahla: Maybe This Time

Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie (St. Martin's Press, $24.99 Hardcover, 9780312303785, August 2010)

Jenny Crusie is back, just in time for summer reading, but don't wait for vacation to pick up this witty, shivery, heartwarming book. It's been six years since she penned a solo novel, and she has surpassed herself with Maybe This Time, an homage to The Turn of the Screw, featuring banana bread, chocolate chip cookies, music and sex.

The story opens with Andie Miller sitting in the reception room of her ex-husband North Archer's law office, holding on to 10 years of un-cashed alimony checks and some--okay, a lot--of unresolved rage over the way their brief marriage ended. Now she's getting married again, to Will, the anti-North, and wants to close this chapter of her life. As she waits, a lock of unruly hair falls out of her chignon, a reliable clue to her personality. North never has a hair out of place. He's still handsome--blond hair, blue-gray eyes, wire-rim glasses, straight shoulders, muscled forearms--sitting behind his massive desk, the desk where they had often... well, that's in the past, right?

North surprises her by making her an offer that's hard to refuse: for $10,000 per month he needs someone to stay with the two orphaned children of a distant cousin--North is now their guardian, and they're living with a housekeeper in an old house in the wilds of southern Ohio. They had been living there with May, their 19-year-old aunt, but she died and they've since gone through several nannies. Alice, who's eight, had a psychotic break when the last nanny tried to take her from the house, and Carter, 12, was sent to boarding school but expelled for setting fires. North needs someone to stabilize the kids, tutor them a bit, and then move them to his house in the city. When Andie protests that she's a high school English teacher, not a nanny or a therapist, he replies that she's perfect for the job because she doesn't care about the way things are supposed to be, she can handle the unexpected, and, er, the last nanny said the house was haunted. But of course that's nonsense. So Andie accepts, wanting to pay off some bills before her wedding, and leaves North wondering what crazy impulse made him offer her the job.

In the meantime, North's brother, Sullivan, whom Andie calls Southie, offers to drop in on the children to see how they're doing. The offer seems out of the blue, but he has an agenda: he's dating newswoman Kelly O'Keefe, "the little blonde with the teeth on Channel Twelve." She's heard about the haunted house, and has also, unknown to Southie, another agenda: she specializes in children in jeopardy, and thinks the two Archer children are abandoned and abused.

Others besides Southie have an opinion on both Andie's new job and her relationship with North. Flo, her mother, who's all about tarot cards and dream interpretation, has serious doubts about Andie's foray, warning she's going down a path that's filled with conflict and struggle. She tells her daughter that she's still sexually connected to North: "Those Capricorns are insatiable. Well, you know, Sea Goat." Which prompts Andie to say, "You know what I'd like for Christmas, Flo? Boundaries. You can gift me early if you'd like." Lydia, North's mother, is strong, stylish and determined. She tells North that in Andie, he picked a ballbuster, "Just like me." North replies, "I'd like to continue this conversation, but I find myself in need of a therapist."

We have the protagonists, we have the meddling family members, we have a rapacious reporter. What else is needed? An ominous setting: Archer House, a three-story, dark stone building brought over from England in the 19th century and reconstructed in a heavily wooded area, complete with battlements and a moat. Add the housekeeper, Mrs. Crumb, plump, powdered, hostile, wrapped in a faint scent of peppermint schnapps. She says Andie doesn't know this house, she's stirring things up with the ghosts, and when Andie is dismissive, Mrs. Crumb says, "You'll see they care." And the children, of course, watch this interchange warily.

Alice is a slight wisp with tangled white-blonde hair and narrowed, distrustful eyes, who wears around her neck an old strand of purple plastic pearls, an antique locket on a pink ribbon, a string of blue shells, a Walkman and a glittery bat on a black chain. Carter, all shoulder blades and elbows, brown hair flopping in his eyes, is unwaveringly quiet, with his mouth set in a hard, thin line. Carter has so much self-discipline he barely breathes; Alice, on the other hand, has none, and screams whenever something happens she doesn't like, but it's not a normal scream; there seems to be something more going on than frustration. Maybe fear.

When Andie first meets the children they're eating macaroni and cheese from a box, so she starts her reclamation project with food. She takes Alice and Carter shopping--a blue bedspread with sequins for Alice, art supplies for Carter--and buys real food. She buys them clothes. They go to Dairy Queen. She calls North about getting a contractor to fix the driveway, the kitchen, the wiring--the house is dirty and derelict, a little Gormenghast, "about as cozy as an abandoned mental hospital." She gets cable and a cleaning crew. She starts to bake--measuring and mixing smooth out her thinking, creaming butter calms her down--and she continues planning. Every now and then she senses something moving behind her, but never sees anything. At night, she hears whispers--Who do you love? Who do you want? Call him. Bring him here.--as she falls into dream-laden sleep after drinking the tea that Mrs. Crumb laces with brandy. When she wakes up her bedroom is always terribly cold.

They settle into a routine: Alice spends time looking outraged, Carter quietly reads comic books and draws, and Andie keeps working on the house, the homework and the baking. The Three O'Clock Bake becomes her time with Alice, who dances around the kitchen with Andie, belting out radio songs with fervor. After three weeks, the only problems Andie has with Alice are intractable stubbornness, occasional screaming and nightmares. Carter, as usual, is quiet and withdrawn, although he seems to be always looking over his shoulder. But this fragile stability is upset one night when Andie sees a young woman at the foot of her bed: May, the dead aunt, whom she quickly dismisses as a bad dream. Then one day in the garden she looks across the pond and sees a woman dressed in old-fashioned black and a man up on the tower of the house. Maybe she was a neighbor, maybe he was Bruce the contractor, if Bruce had started dressing funny. But the real game-changer is the arrival of Southie, Kelly and her cameraman, along with Dennis Graff, a ghost-debunking professor, because Kelly has also invited a medium to the house, in order to film a séance.

Now all we need is a dark and stormy night, and we get one. When we read, "Assuming the road doesn't wash out in the storm," and Isolde Hammersmith, the medium, arrives for the séance, we are ready for action. She has Cleopatra eyes, black Farrah hair, bright red lips (and a salty tongue), green leopard-print glasses, black stilettos, and Harold, her cranky spirit guide. When they prepare for the first séance, she lights candles and Dennis asks her what the candles do. She replies, "They make the people who put them on the table happy. Me, I don't care." So she proceeds, interrupted by the arrival in succession of Will, Flo, Lydia and, finally--the missing piece of the puzzle--North. Let the games begin. North does think it's an evil game, or a serious prank; he hires a private investigator to come to the house to figure out what's going on, so he can get the mess cleaned up and move the kids back to Columbus. Easy, now that rational thought has taken over in a house filled with wingnuts and ghosts.

We've been reading stories like this since the fourth of forever, but Jennifer Crusie takes genre conventions and expands their possibilities. The story pays respects to gothics and ghost stories, but Andie is older than the usual heroine, and resolute, even fierce--no vapors here. Many scenes are classic farce--rapidly opening and closing doors, interrupted phone conversations, sneaking into bedrooms--and Crusie excels at snappy patter, à la the screwball comedies of the '40s. It's the kind of dialogue we want to remember so we can use it later, but we'll never get the set-up we need:

"She likes you."
"She called you an idiot."
"That was ten years ago."
"That was ten minutes ago."

But why are the ghosts there? What hold do they have over Carter and Alice? And just how did their young aunt die? As these questions are answered, Crusie explores the nature of love, the essence of family and the ways that two halves make a whole. Lydia and Flo combine smarts, toughness and a loopy sort of caring. Southie is a slacker, but all gentle heart. Dennis lives in a conundrum--his disbelief in ghosts prevents him from seeing what he most wants to study--but his resolution is brilliant. North is the ultimate pragmatist, but has a nurturing soul buried under the lawyer suit. And Andie combines a can-do spirit with a tenderness that the two lost children elicit. When Andie rocks Alice out of a screaming fit, and sings "Baby Mine" over and over, her life changes.

It's a rare treat to find a book that truly makes you laugh and cry and want to share, so it's a joy to have a new Jennifer Crusie novel to savor. Maybe This Time--a ghost story about creating family and finding one's way back home--is a treasure. --Marilyn Dahl



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