An Interview With Libertas

Conducted July 2004

Charlotte Haslam talks to the Lori L Lake, author of Gun Shy and Under the Gun, about her latest – and very different book – Different Dress.

Libertas: Different Dress is a complete change from your previous three books – Gun Shy, Under The Gun, Ricochet In Time. It gives the reader a real insight into touring with a band, how people do and do not get on. It highlights the tantrums, the arguments, the loves!

Lori L. Lake: Yes, you’re right that it’s a change, Charlotte. I like to work with different themes, times, places, and characters, and I think you will see more of that in my future novels. For instance, some of the novel projects I have been working on take place in World War II Poland/Germany, Medieval England, and post-apocalyptic America.

It also travels through a variety of emotions – excitement, disappointment, joy, fulfilment, rejection, happiness, jealousy, satisfaction and ultimately love; and I think when reading the story we can all see a little of ourselves in Kip, Jaime and Lacey. We can all probably relate to more than one of the heartaches, trials and tribulations that the three women encounter along the way. I was glad to read early on in the story that you decided not to make Kip a wallflower when it comes to standing up to Lacey. I suppose when someone does become as famous as Lacey, then others can become star struck - but not in Kip’s case.

There is a fair amount of my partner in Kip’s personality. Diane is a rather no-nonsense person who never gets star struck. She is also a math teacher. Neither Diane nor the character would ever put up with too much guff.

Libertas: The majority of my questions relate more about the background, design and putting together of your new book, rather than the story, because I feel it would be a shame to discuss parts of it, as I think the reader needs to travel their own journey through your book, as I did, and let the story unfold for themselves…

Jaime Esperanza is the central character. How did you develop her character - did you expect that when she was finished she would be a qualified electrician, assistant production manager as well as a talented musician?

When I write a novel, I tend to develop the character as I go along writing the first draft, then I expand and deepen in the later revisions. When I start, I usually have a picture in my mind of how that character looks and moves and how she generally operates. I also usually know her job, but other ways that she would function – her quirks, her fears, her pain – these all come out as I work through the first draft. I did know from the beginning that Jaime would be a sort of Jill-of-all-Trades on the tour, but some of the rest of her personality and back story came out as I wrote.

Libertas: Kip Galvin, is a singer and songwriter (regular job, school teacher). I see from your biography at the end of the book, that you play the guitar yourself. Is there a little of you in Kip Galvin and do you write your own songs? If you don’t then you should, as some of the lyrics in the book are wonderful. In particular “Wyoming” a song written by Kip but made famous by Lacey, has great lyrics – ever thought of putting that to music?

I think there’s a little bit of me in every character I write—even the villains. Kip is near and dear to my heart. She has strengths and wisdom I wish I had!

When I was 11, I taught myself to play guitar on an old Sears Roebuck plastic model. I never learned to read music, but I’ve been writing song lyrics and putting them to music off and on for years. And of course I grew up wanting to be a folk singer, but I really don’t have enough talent for it. I have done some coffee shop and very small venue work with my friend Kristen, who records as Hydraulic Woman. She wrote the song “Go,” which you can find on her CD, “Glad Game.” But other than those lyrics, I wrote all the rest of the lyrics in the book. I’d like to see Kristen put “Wyoming” to music. I haven’t done it yet.

Libertas: Kip has a favourite guitar that she has called Isabelle. Have you ever given any of your instruments a name and if so why?

A lot of the inanimate objects in my world are named! Right now I drive a Toyota van named My Gal Sal, and my banjo is named Bingo. My high-end guitar is called Debby Gibson, my old high school guitar is Yamahaha, and I have a 12-string that I call Kitty. For me, things I use like cars and musical instruments take on their own personality. I guess that’s taking things to extremes, but it’s one of my weird quirks.

Libertas: Lacey Leigh is also an established singer; does she write the majority of the material herself? She is also such a Prima Donna and a drunk! Is she based on anyone we know?

I envisioned Lacey Leigh Jaxon as a woman with an incredible voice who got some breaks singing with bands. I didn’t see her as a songwriter, but as someone others wrote for and guided. She started out with a huge drive to succeed and break out of a tough existence, and she did it using that terrific voice. But along the way, she fell victim to the pains of her past. She uses booze and other people to assuage her emptiness. In my life, I have run into many people like Lacey. She’s not based upon anyone in particular, but as I have talked to readers, it seems that most of them know at least one person like her, someone who can be charming and delightful, but who is also a self-destructive user tending to leave a wake of broken hearts and bad feelings.

Libertas: Jaime’s mother was an alcoholic. When it comes to Jaime and Lacey, do you think Jaime only wants to protect Lacey because she couldn’t prevent her mother dying or does Jaime actually love Lacey?

At the outset of the book, Jaime really does think she loves Lacey—and in her own way, she does. She sees who Lacey could be, if the talented singer could only clean up her act. So, I think Jaime is in love with the best self that she thinks Lacey could be, not with who Lacey actually is. And yes, I think Jaime’s relationship with her mother plays into all of it. She does, indeed, want to protect and help Lacey to make up for what happened to her mother. It’s that whole codependent thing that drinkers and the people who love them can so readily fall into. To people who haven’t ever been around alcoholics, it seems rather cuckoo…but if you know a little about how alcoholics operate, it does make sense.

Libertas: Do you have first hand knowledge about the backstage fixings and what goes into setting up a stage?

Initially I did a lot of Internet and library research on this topic. I’ve also been to plenty of concerts and seen some of the stage work from the front row, but it’s not the same as going backstage during the “load in,” set up, and “load out.” Author Sue Beck from Atlanta introduced me to the Indigo Girls’ guitar tech Lisa “Sulli” Sullivan, and Sulli let me come backstage at a concert in February, 2003, so I could see how it all works. It was fascinating and allowed me to add that extra touch of accuracy to the story. I am also grateful to Sulli for reading the manuscript in mid-2003 and telling me where I was off-base. She gave me good insight into little things including proper terminology. In addition, it was really exciting to meet Amy and Emily and talk with them! I love the fact that Emily is so well-read. She and I have similar college backgrounds in that we both studied literature, and she likes a lot of the same books I do. I only wish I could write lyrics and music like she and Amy do! I think they are incredible musicians, and even more amazing people because of all the work they do regarding ecology, politics, and human rights.

Libertas: It is all very well illustrated. I wouldn’t have a clue where to begin in describing what it entails. In the same vein, Jaime is a fully qualified electrician. Did you have help to steer you in the right direction when mentioning all the high tech electrical stuff you refer to?

My dad is an electrician, and my partner is pretty savvy, too. That was much easier to study up for because a lot of it is actually fairly elementary. Owning a house for the last 13 years has put me in close proximity to fuse boxes, furnaces, and electrical wiring. It may seem high tech, but most of it really isn’t. I didn’t want to go into too much detail and bore the reader, so I just tried to give a brief flavour here and there.

Libertas: The tour bus sounds fantastic – a real home away from home, albeit on a smaller scale. Did you actually get to go on a tour bus to help you put together a description and was it really meant for Garth Brooks?

Sulli got permission for me to tour the bus that Amy, Emily, and their crew travel on. With that information and also with the floor plans and specs for a variety of genuine touring vehicles currently being sold by bus makers, I was able to create the bus that my characters use. I just threw in the part about Garth Brooks, but one of the floor plans I studied was the one he had used at one time.

Libertas: Also, when Lacey and Kip visit Albuquerque you describe the theatre in great detail, including a state of the art 16 track, in a well-placed sound booth. It seems so real. Does this theatre exist in the way you describe?

I don’t know what sort of theatres are to be found in New Mexico, and to be honest, I’ve never stopped in Albuquerque, though I’ve driven through. I was very lucky to have a reader, Kim Miller, from Albuquerque share a lot of information with me about that area, and I created that venue—just imagined it in my head. I’ve been in a few theatres, and they tend to be similar. For that particular theatre and sound booth, I just created a working, all-purpose type of place to fit the narrative and story line, and that seemed to work.

Libertas: The book covers a lot about Mexican culture and Native American culture. Where did your influences of such cultures come from and do you incorporate them into your own music?

I’ve always been interested in Mexican and Native American cultures, perhaps because there has been so much persecution of them, and I identify with that because of the persecutions suffered by gay and lesbian people. As a teenager, I lived for two years with a foster family, and my foster father was a full-blooded Aztec Indian descended from Pancho Villa. He married a white woman from Nevada, and it was an interesting mix of cultures. I’ve also always wanted to know more about my own heritage. My paternal grandmother’s ancestors were Lakota Sioux from North Dakota, and I need to do some genealogy work on that. Right up to her death, she never talked about that branch of the family, and I would like to know more.

Sometimes I feel like a person without a culture. I mean, I could identify with the dominant American consumer culture, I suppose, but that doesn’t do much for me. My maternal grandmother just recently died, and for the first time, I discovered that both her parents were full-blooded Irish! I had no clue—but no wonder I’ve always been interested in Ireland.

Libertas: On a final note, as a European I do not have an extensive geographical knowledge of the USA. Some of the places you describe, such as Lake Meredith, sound great and may be worth a visit. But where exactly are these places? To see places on a map in relation to known towns would be very helpful and would also in my opinion help one’s imagination when reading the story. Any chance of including this in future editions / other similar books?

Thank goodness for maps, travel books, and helpful readers! Lake Meredith is in the Alibates Flint Quarry National Park in the northern area of Texas, north of Amarillo and east of New Mexico. I haven’t actually been there and had to research the area extensively. I don’t have a lot of money to travel, so it’s always helpful to find resources and people to help me. I know that many authors – Elizabeth George, for instance - insist on travelling to sites they talk about in their books, but at this point in my career, I can’t afford it.

Have Gun, We’ll Travel, which is the current book I am editing for publication in February, will contain a map of the area I talk about, but Charlotte, you are right that especially for readers outside the country, maps are helpful. So many of us have not had the opportunity to travel. Perhaps that is why I enjoy reading books that take place in new and different locales. In fact, we are currently saving to travel to London in 2007.

Libertas: Thanks Lori and congratulations on producing such a great book.

Thank you, Charlotte! It was a pleasure answering your questions and finding out what you enjoyed about Different Dress.

© 2004 Lori L. Lake