Congratulations to Chris A! She won an ebook from Laina Villeneuve.
Author Laina Villeneuve is with us today to celebrate the release of her third book, Such Happiness As This, available now from Bella Books.
She’s also giving away an ebook copy. Want to enter the drawing? Leave a comment down there and I’ll draw a winner on Friday, 27 NOV 2015. That’s Black Friday for all you bargain shoppers living in the US.
by Laina Villeneuve
My third book, Such Happiness As This was released by Bella books in October. In the Acknowledgements, I thanked both of my parents, my dad for the music and my mom for the title. This writing thing I do so often feels like magic. In this book, I gave Grace’s character the cello only to get her practicing at the home of her love interest, Robyn. I’m no expert on music, but my dad is, so I called him and talked about music in a way I’ve never talked with him before.
I told him my character was angry, and I needed a piece of music for her to be practicing. He’s the one that said she should play “The Swan” from The Carnival of the Animals, and we had long conversations about what the cellist is trying to accomplish with the piece. I watched Yo-Yo Ma perform it over and over listening for what my dad described. I studied how a piece of music could repair someone’s mood, or as my wife and I describe it, smooth down the prickles.
I am a person of prickles. Sometimes when I apologize to my wife after a particularly difficult day, she’ll say it’s okay, that my prickles didn’t poke her. I have learned to become more aware of what spikes my prickles, and it’s often tied to what Father Boyle calls the overactive disapproval gland. In his book Tattoos on the Heart, he describes the disappointment we often feel in ourselves as something we project onto God. As a Unitarian Universalist, I am not typically thinking of what God thinks about me, but I do worry about what others think, and with my highly overactive disapproval gland, I figure that those around me, my parents and colleagues (both writing and teaching) must be as critical of me as I am of myself.
Grace would never waste her time worrying about what others think. Robyn would like to say she doesn’t but has spent a long time feeling pressured to be someone she is not. In one scene, she listens to Grace play and then describe “The Swan” and says it is just like Hans Christian Andersen’s story, “The Ugly Duckling” when the duckling spends a winter swimming in circles trying to keep the pond from freezing around him. He feels the pressure of society to be something he is not, but he is so confident about who he is that he won’t bend to the cat’s idea that he should just purr or the hen’s idea that he should just lay eggs.
It was that scene that had me searching through Andersen’s story for a title. I found several maybes but none that spoke to me. I called my mom and ran each maybe by her, and she agreed that it was a good idea and said she’d have a look at the text. I woke up to her proposal of Such Happiness as This in my inbox, the turn of phrase from a different translation.
One would think that for someone so worried about what the world thinks, a writing career might not be the healthiest mental decision. And yet the characters I write are so much more grounded than I am, and I can’t help but think that it’s healthy for me to spend time in their mind-space instead of my own. The product, too, is satisfying. When the magic of writing pulls a thread tight through what I’ve created, I feel seen, and I feel proud as the swan that graces the cover of this book. I remember Alice Walker’s idea that we write to heal ourselves, and this book brings me a few steps closer.
But not so much that I don’t have more writing to do.
When I look at all that I have, I cannot help but see how very much I have that makes me happy: a wife of ten years, three spunky children and a wonderful home in Southern California where early morning walks with our little white dog give me the opportunity to see the sunrise on the San Gabriel Mountains. I’m also grateful to be a professor of English at the local community college where I’m lucky to teach Children’s Lit which helped with Such Happiness as This as well as the novel I’m about to finish. I’m hoping my mom has found the right title.
Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/lainavilleneuve