March 26th, 2012
If you’ve been reading my blog for the past year, you probably know that I have a friend named Rainbow Rowell. I went to high school and college with her, but wasn’t really friends with her back then—more like friendly acquaintances. We reconnected over Facebook around the same time that her first novel, Attachments, was published last year. I read it and LOVED it, and we emailed back and forth a few times and then had coffee in Omaha when I was there and somewhere along the way we bonded like whoa over books and Harry Potter and Downton Abbey and kids and Tom Felton and now she’s a really good friend. A marvellous friend, even. (Internet friends, FTW!)
Attachments is being released in paperback on March 27th. In honor of that release, here’s a review of the book, an interview with Rainbow, and a chance for you to win a paperback copy (a lovely trade paperback) of Attachments now!
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Attachments is mostly about Lincoln, a 28-year-old college graduate who has just moved back home with his mom temporarily and works as the IT guy at a newspaper, helping them prepare for whatever coding disasters the year 2000 might bring, while he figures out what he really wants to do with his life. Part of his job is to make sure employees aren’t using their email for nefarious (i.e., non-work) purposes, so he reads everyone’s email. Even though he feels uncomfortable with that part of his job, he starts looking forward to reading emails between two particular women who work in the newsroom. Beth and Jennifer’s emails are funny and smart and cover a wide range of topics. Eventually, Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, and he doesn’t know what to do about it. It’s not like he can walk up to her and introduce himself as the guy who monitors her email and then ask her out on a date. The book alternates between chapters that consist of email conversations between Beth and Jennifer, and chapters about Lincoln becoming who he wants to be.
You might be thinking, An underachieving, living-with-his-mom 28-year-old man whose job it is to read other people’s emails as a hero? What was Rainbow thinking? She did set herself a tricky task, but you know what? Lincoln might have been drifting and unfocused at the beginning of the story, but he was also kind and intelligent and loyal and wanted more from life. He’s one of the most likable and loveable characters I’ve ever come across. Of course that might be because Lincoln—a D&D gamer and a big fan of the show “Quantum Leap,” who didn’t mind sleeping on flowered sheets or letting his mom cook for him because it made her happy—kind of reminded me of a lot of guys I know and love, including my husband. It was really refreshing to read a love story where the guy was a normal, socially well-adjusted geek. It didn’t come off as even the tiniest bit creepy that he had a crush on a woman he’d never met.
And the women! I loved Beth and Jennifer. Their email conversations are hilarious, smart and emotional. I want to be friends with them.
By the last third of the book, I was reading as fast as I could to see how everyone would manage to get their happily-ever-after. As I read the final chapters I was laughing and crying at the same time. I’ve read Attachments three times now, and enjoyed it just as much the third time as the first—maybe even more.
(NOTES: One of the reasons this book was especially fun for me to read is that it’s set in my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. It’s never mentioned explicitly that it’s set there, but to anyone familiar with Omaha it’s obvious. It won’t detract from your enjoyment if you don’t know it, though. Also, when I wrote these interview questions, I was in a book-club frame of mind, asking Rainbow questions as if we were at a book club meeting at which everyone had already read Attachments. That means that some of this interview might not make sense if you have not read the book. But there are no major spoilers and I think most of it’s interesting even if you have not yet read Attachments, especially if you’re interested in the process of writing a novel.)
On to the interview! Details about the book giveaway are at the end.
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1. Did you have a similar system of email monitoring at the Omaha World-Herald when you worked there in the late ’90s?
Yes. We were very late to get email and internet access, and when we did, it was very controlled. At first, there were only a few computers in the building that had internet access, and you had to get special permission to use one. When we got individual access, we all knew we were being Big Brother-ed. But even then, it was hard to resist using email to gossip or talk with your friends. It was so much easier (and more subtle) to email than to crouch in each other’s cubicles.
2. As you were writing, did you make sure that the emails were all ones that would really get flagged?
Well, I gave myself a pretty big umbrella…I say in the book that their emails can get snagged for being too long or too frequent. And I say that the list of flagged words is long and ridiculous. But YES, I usually tried to make sure there was a curse word—or a near curse word, or something that could be construed as sexual or even financial—somewhere in the conversation. Once, in real life, I had an important email get flagged and sent into IT limbo because I said that I was a “hardcore reader.”
3. How did you remember so much about 1999? Did getting the details right require a lot of research and fact-checking, or did you just remember a lot about that period in your life? I was struck in particular by details like which movies were out, what color lipstick was fashionable, drinking Slice and Zima, the Indian Hills Theatre closure, and the TV schedule (when Quantum Leap was on).
I started the book in 2002, so 1999 was recent history at first. The longer that I worked on the book, the more it became a period piece—which was actually more fun. I had the benefit of hindsight to know what about 1999 would still be funny or interesting over time. (Tom Cruise jokes. Matrix references.) All the Y2K stuff was a really late add. After my first draft, I realized that I had written a book about an IT guy in 1999-2000 that never mentioned the Millennium. Duh.
The pop culture stuff was easy. I have a pretty good memory for that sort of thing, and what I couldn’t remember I would Google. Sometimes I’d look at magazine photos from the ’90s. And I spent a lot of time looking at movie lists, trying to choose which movies Beth (a newspaper film critic) should review. Making sure the references would work the way I wanted them to.
My next book takes place in 1986. That took a lot more thinking and researching.
4. In your head, are there more details about the characters and their world than there are on the page? Like how you said Beth’s full name is Bethany, but that didn’t make it into the book…or, say, do you know what dorm Lincoln lived in at UNL, or what mall Lincoln and Eve went to where he bought her an Orange Julius? (This is one of those Omaha questions, probably, but I want to know the answer anyway.)
Oh, good question. I guess the answer is a limited yes. I usually don’t think up details until I need them. But sometimes I need information that doesn’t make it into the book. For example, I always had to think about what part of town the characters were in, so that I could internally make sure they stayed oriented and consistent.
So I know that Lincoln lives with his mom in South Omaha. His apartment is in Dundee. The park where he breaks up with Sam is in Papillion. He and his sister meet for Orange Julius at the Westroads. I always pictured him living in Pound Hall, probably because I lived there the longest. Oh and he sees the Pokemon movie at the old Cinema Center.
I never thought about where Beth and Jennifer lived. (Just realized that.) I definitely don’t have troves of information socked away about each character. Writing is very freestyle for me, just making it up as I go along.
5. Was your college newspaper, the Daily Nebraskan, a drunken viper pit? (More generally, I assume you based Beth and Jennifer’s experiences with working at a college paper and a city paper on your own experiences?)
The Daily Nebraskan was sometimes a drunken viper pit. I didn’t drink in college, which meant I spent a lot of time not fitting in. It was especially hard for me at the college newspaper because I spent almost all my free time there, but I didn’t party with anybody. I was there for the fights and the melodramatics and the coups. But I missed out on all the stress relief, the drunken make-out sessions and the inside jokes.
That said, I have great memories of working on the Daily Nebraskan, and I made a lot of friends there. I had Jennifer make that “drunken viper pit” comment because she seemed like the sort of person who would hold onto a grudge. I often gave Jennifer my most acidic feelings and thoughts.
6. Are you a D&D player? Or did that part require a bit of research? Did you run it by a friend who plays for a reality check?
I never played myself—not that I’m above it!—but I hung out with guys who did. And my husband did. So he was my reality check. (Funny to think about a D&D reality check.)
7. When Lincoln the perpetual college student was discussing whether he might have a problem with school with his sister, it made me think of your recent column about how you have a reading addiction, and that might not be a good thing.
Good observation. It’s different, I think, because the reading addiction is more drug-like. More of a “more-more-more, now-now-now” feeling. Lincoln’s problem with school (if it is a problem) is more about not wanting to commit. Not really wanting to be any one thing. Not really wanting to make a choice. And a lot of it, for him, is just a love of knowledge. (I just sorted Lincoln into Ravenclaw, I think. Though he does have some Hufflepuffly moments…)
There were some lines and ideas in Attachments that I really liked, that resonated with me strongly for one reason or another.
“it was like sitting inside a headache”
This is one of the very first things I wrote, and I almost cut it a few times because I worried that the whole section was too belabored. I’m glad you like it!
“He tried to look like someone she didn’t need to worry about so much.” (Says a lot about Lincoln’s character.)
I’ve never given that line a second thought. (It’s about his mom, right?) It’s sad, isn’t it? One of the surprises/delights for me when I was writing was realizing that I could inhabit a character, Lincoln, who was so different from me. When I was writing him, I would start to feel like him and not like me anymore. It was a very weird/cool feeling.
“Sometimes I pray for a bumper crop of zucchini or a good night’s sleep.”
This one is a line that an editor asked me to cut because she thought it sounded silly. But it seemed like exactly the sort of thing that [that character] would pray for. Also, I like thinking about people who have such an intimate relationship with God that they can talk about everyday things in their prayers.
Eve’s ideas about adding good things to the pile instead of trying to fix what’s wrong, just letting the pile of good things grow; and “figure out what’s right with you.”
I have nothing to add to this—other than I think Eve is right.
“Nobody deserves a baby.” I loved this line because it sort of has to sink in for a second before you realize what Beth was saying. It sounds negative at first, then you realize it’s really not.
YES! A baby is a profound thing! And also a completely mundane thing. People have babies whether they deserve them or not, and even people who deserve them don’t really deserve them, you know?
“like a giggle falling off its chair” – Did you have some of these lines written for years, like you thought of them and saved them up for someday when you needed them?
Ha, no I am not so Machiavellian as that. This is another one that an editor asked me to cut. Sometimes the really interesting lines call attention to themselves, and you have to ask yourself whether they’re being distracting. This line survived a major rewrite of that scene. In the end, I kept it because it made sense to me.
On the subject of stockpiling lines, whenever I try to do that, it doesn’t work. Sometimes I’ll be thinking of a project and jot down what seems like a very good line. But those lines almost NEVER work when you’re writing the scene because the scene comes out of you fluidly and new in the moment, and it’s hard to ram old lines in.
One of the only exceptions I can think of is in my next book, Eleanor & Park. One of my very first notes was to have Park say that Eleanor’s body reminded him of a “perfectly made Dairy Queen ice cream cone.” That line survived, but it might be the only thing from my notes that did.
“There’s no air in space.” Perfect ending.
Thank you! I’m so glad you like that ending. A few people really hate it. There’s a very funny Goodreads review of my book that’s like, “WTF does that even mean?!?!”
I know what this line means to me. What does it mean to you?
Too much space in a relationship isn’t breathing room, it’s suffocating.
THIS! YES! That’s exactly what I meant!
I don’t see how you could have meant anything else! Not coming from Lincoln’s mouth, anyway.
I wish I could do this back-and-forth with the author of every book I love. This was fun! Thanks again, Rainbow!
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Would you like to win a copy of the paperback of Attachments for your very own, including a signed bookplate from Rainbow? All you have to do is leave a comment! For fun, tell me one of your favorite book quotes, if you can think of one. If you can’t, that’s okay. I’ll keep the comments open till Friday, March 30th, 2012. I’ll pick a winner using random.org and will notify them via email. If they have not replied within a day or two, I’ll pick another winner.
(If you happen to already own a copy of Attachments and would like a signed bookplate, mention that in the comments too! I’m pretty sure Rainbow would be happy to send you one.)
Comments are now closed. Book winner will be announced shortly!