Friday, May 10, 2013

BLOG TOUR and Q&A: Elizabeth the First Wife by Lian Dolan

Title: Elizabeth the First Wife
Author: Lian Dolan
Genre: Women's Fiction/Chick-lit
Release Date: May 1/2013
Adquired: Ebook provided by author
Goodreads: ADD

Elizabeth Lancaster, an English professor at Pasadena City College, finds her perfectly dull but perfectly orchestrated life upended one summer by three men: her movie-star ex-husband, a charming political operative, and William Shakespeare. Until now, she’d been content living in the shadow of her high-profile and highly accomplished family.

Then her college boyfriend and one-time husband of seventeen months, A-list action star FX Fahey, shows up with a job offer that she can’t resist, and Elizabeth’s life suddenly gets a whole lot more interesting. She’s off to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for the summer to make sure FX doesn’t humiliate himself in an avant-garde production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

As she did so skillfully with her first novel, Helen of Pasadena, which spent more than a year on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list, Lian Dolan spins a lively, smart, and very funny tale of a woman reinventing her life in unexpected ways.


What a perfect summer read! Elizabeth the First Wife was exactly the kind of break I needed from the heavy books I was/am currently reading. It was clever, witty, and charming at all the right places. Lian Dolan achieves the right amount of quirkiness, and heart-warming with this book. If you were ever at a fork on the road of life, or just need a great, genuine, feel-good laugh, pick up Elizabeth the First Wife-it definitely did the job for me!

Elizabeth Lancaster is a sure herself/not-so-sure-of-herself 30-something-year old with a notable past, and an even more notable ex-husband. She loves her job as an Shakespearean English teacher at a local College, and has been content for the most part with her personal, and romantic love life. Enter (now world famous) ex-husband FX Fahey, spewing the details of a job offer that Elizabeth just can't seem to pass up. But, is she doing it for the professional compensation, or are there feelings that just never went away?...

I enjoyed every last bit of Elizabeth's dialogue, especially when she was conversing with FX. As a reader, I really picked up the underlying, ex-martial banter, and I grew attached to the pair very quickly. It was fun to hang back with Elizabeth as she brought her superstar actor of an ex-husband around her friends and family again, and reveled in the open-mouth stares and awe-struck glances. I felt like I was getting a glimpse into behind-the-scenes Hollywood the way a lot of fans never get to, it humanized the "celebrity status." They were all once regular ol' Joes like you and me at some point, and Lian wrote that aspect perfectly. The characters in Elizabeth the First Wife were almost impossible to to not relate to. Elizabeth's family won me over in a large way, and though they were a lot more upper class than what I enjoy reading about, they were crafted with personalities that captured many different parts of my heart. I found myself comparing them to people in my own family!

The storyline in Elizabeth the First Wife was just plain fun-in the best sense of the word. It got me out of my head, and brought out some real laugh-out-loud moments. I had my boyfriend staring at me like I was a crazy person. I think every book should invoke an emotion in a real way, and this book definitely soothed my soul. If you're looking for your next beach read this summer, Elizabeth the First Wife is it!

Recommended for Fans of: Women's Fiction, Humour, Contemporary and Romance


In Helen of Pasadena, your protagonist was a woman roughly your age, with a teenage son about the age of one of your sons. She even majored in the same thing in college that you did. But Elizabeth Lancaster is younger, single, childless, and a Shakespeare professor. Was it more of a challenge to write her?

Actually, it was more a lot more fun to write Elizabeth than Helen. With Helen, there were so many obvious parallels to my life that I really had to work to make it clear she wasn’t me. (I thought I’d done a fine job, but I can’t tell you how many people have called me “Helen” since the book has come out. Or introduced me by saying, “This is Helen of Pasadena!” Um, no.)
Elizabeth’s the cool, slightly cynical single gal that I’d like to think I would have been had I not gotten married and if I had a PhD. I had a fantastic Shakespeare professor in college who literally brought the material to life with her passion and sometimes brought us to tears with her lectures. Elizabeth is an homage to her, but she comes with more emotional baggage and a funkier wardrobe than my former professor.

One similarity you have to Elizabeth is being the youngest of the family—in her case, a highly accomplished family, and in your case, a very large family, also with its share of accomplishments. How has being a youngest shaped you as a writer?

When you’re the youngest in a big family—or probably any family—you end up observing more than contributing for years of your life. No one wants to talk to the youngest or hear what you have to say at the dinner table. So I spent a lot of years listening, laughing, and making copious mental notes about people, behavior, and conversations—all very helpful for a writer. Also, you have plenty of “lives” to borrow material from. Was that funny story about the bad date mine? Or my big sister’s? Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter who went on the bad date, I can still use it in my writing.

Shakespeare looms large in Elizabeth the First Wife. Have you always been interested in the Bard?

I grew up in Connecticut near a town called Stratford, which is home to an “official” Shakespearean theater, so from elementary school through high school, seeing a play was an annual field trip. And I can still remember the discussion about The Taming of the Shrew in my eighth-grade English class with my groovy, feminist teacher. I think that early exposure gave me an interest and a comfort level with the material. Let’s face it, the first few Shakespeare plays you see, you barely have a clue what’s happening. But the more you read and watch, the more you understand.

In high school, I also loved going into New York City in the summer to see Shakespeare in the Park with friends, because that was a whole happening, from waiting in line for the tickets to seeing great actors in an outdoor setting with a raucous audience. By college, I eagerly signed up for a full-year class, reading a dozen plays and even playing Hamlet in our in-class production.

But my lifelong fascination with the Bard was really cemented during my junior year abroad in Athens. I had the opportunity to see an amazing Royal Shakespeare Company/Peter Hall production of Coriolanus with Ian McKellen in the title role. The production was staged in the ancient amphitheater on the Acropolis. There was no need for a set, because it was the ancient amphitheater on the Acropolis! Just the words, the acting, and the lighting—and with Shakespeare, you don’t need any more. It was mind-blowing, to steal a phrase from the book. Just one of those experiences that connected me to thousands of years of theater, words, and the whole human experience in a single night. Made me a lifelong believer in the power of the Bard.

How challenging was it to write about Shakespeare, the most influential literary figure of all time?

Very. The more I researched for the book, the more I realized I didn’t know jack about Shakespeare. At first, I thought I’d weave some Shakespearean mystery into the plot, something to do with the writing of Midsummer and the noble family for whom it was written. But after dipping into my research, it became very clear that there were lots and lots of serious Shakespeare scholars and ten times more enthusiasts who would bust me if I didn’t get the research exactly right. That reality was sobering! That’s why I decided that Elizabeth’s research for her book would have a pop-culture slant and be more accessible and fun than arcane. That was a critical decision in the creation of Elizabeth’s character and the plot. As a writer, I felt inspired when I decided to go in that direction.

Which brings up Elizabeth’s book-within-a-book, All’s Fair. What inspired that?

Once I decided to ditch a super-serious scholarly focus on the Shakespearean material, I worked on creating pseudo-scholarly material that any reader could enjoy. The idea hit me in the shower—where I do my best thinking—and I immediately got out and searched for contemporary relationship books based on Shakespeare. There weren’t any! I was shocked, but thrilled. It seemed like a really contemporary way to use the material, and I like writing about contemporary women and their lives.

Plus, let’s face it, even for educated readers, for many of us our last exposure to a Shakespeare play was in high school or college. Details get fuzzy. And who’s kidding who? Life is busy, and nobody sits down to read The Tempest after they put the kids to bed. But I thought, readers might have read The Tempest at some point and would like a little refresher class. I hope All’s Fair, the book-within-a-book, helps readers feel a little more on top of their Shakespeare again. Like they’re back in the literary game, able to drop references and quote quotes without having to work too hard!

Is there a Shakespearean heroine you most identify with?

Before I wrote the book, I probably would have said Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing, just because she is fabulous and easy to like. The Elizabeth Bennet of the canon. But doing the research on all the Righteous Role Models made me appreciate so many more of the female characters for various reasons. Juliet was one tough teenager. Cleopatra worked it. Portia made a feminist statement in an age when those didn’t come easily. There’s a lot to admire in almost all the women of Shakespeare, especially when viewed through the perspective of time.

In this era of extremely heated political debate, you’ve created a world in which Democrats and Republicans not only get along, but also love each other. Is this literary wishful thinking or actually possible?

When I conceived of the book, we had a Republican governor of California who was a fiscal conservative, a social liberal, and a bodybuilding movie star married to a Kennedy clan member! Clearly, here in California, anything IS possible.

Elizabeth Lancaster sticks to her career guns and doesn’t do what her mother wants her to do. Is this an essential message for you?

One of the themes I wanted to explore in Elizabeth the First Wife was the idea of breaking free of your family’s expectations and being your own person. (That’s definitely the baby of the family in me!) But I’ve observed in my own life and the lives of others that being your own person is not that easy, even as you slide into midlife. And ironically, it can be even harder to carve out an adult identity if you have a close family where you can get stuck, never really evolving from the role you played when you were twelve.

In Elizabeth Lancaster, I wanted to explore a woman sticking up to not only her mother, but really her whole family, who have plenty of ideas of how she should be living, what she should be doing, how she should be dressing. The Lancasters are purposefully an intimidating bunch, high profile and high powered, making it even tougher for Elizabeth to strike out on a new path. Plus, she is stuck romantically at age twenty-three, when she got totally burned, so that’s not helping her forward momentum. The book focuses on Elizabeth, in her mid-thirties, defining who she is and finally making choices as she sees fit, not to please her family.

And I do feel that finding a professional path is critical for women to establish their adult identities. We have a lot of roles we play in society or in a family—wife, mother, sister, aunt, caretaker— and by definition those roles rely on others in our family. But in our professional lives, we get to create our own persona. Be who we really are when our mother isn’t watching. I think that’s important in a woman’s self-identity.

Once again, Pasadena serves as a major setting and theme. Has your vision of Pasadena evolved since writing Helen of Pasadena? Can we expect to see you escaping to Ashland any time soon?

I know so much more now about Pasadena than I did when I wrote Helen of Pasadena. Wow, since that book came out, lifelong Pasadenans have dished the dirt on all kinds of scandals and local lore. I won’t be walking away from Pasadena anytime soon, because there’s too much good stuff to mine and great cultural institutions to explore. But I did like bringing in another locale. It keeps my writing fresh and provides a comparative setting for Pasadena, which is steeped in tradition. The next book will be Pasadena and somewhere in Europe, because I can write the trip off as research, right?
That being said, Ashland is an amazing town with a wonderful spirit and a creative soul. I’d love to find my own little Sage Cottage there one day.

Helen Fairchild swoons over the manly forearms on the sexy archaeologist. Elizabeth Lancaster swoons over the manly forearms on the sexy political operative. Is it safe to say you have a thing for masculine forearms?

Guilty as charged. Forearms are revealing. I think as a gender, women have focused on men’s backsides and abs for too long. Six-packs don’t tell us anything except that the guy spends a lot of time in the gym and probably doesn’t eat pasta. A man’s forearms say a lot about his life choices. Are they tanned and muscular? Then the guy must get outside and move dirt around, figuratively or literally. Are they pale and slim? Too much time in the office! Could be dull. There’s a story in every forearm, and all you need is for the guy to roll up his sleeve to get a good look.

Does writing a novel get any easier the second time around?



Lian Dolan is a writer, producer, talk show host, podcast pioneer, social media consultant and author of the new novel, Elizabeth the First Wife. She currently writes and produces the weekly podcast and blog The Chaos Chronicles, a humorous look at modern motherhood. She is also a regular weekly contributor to as a parenting expert.

A decade ago, Lian created Satellite Sisters, an award-winning radio talk show, blog and website with her four real sisters. From 2000 to 2009, Satellite Sisters won eight Gracie Allen Awards for Excellence in Women's Media and enjoyed a nationwide audience of a million listeners a week.

Lian is also the co-author of Satellite Sisters UnCommon Senses, published in 2001 by Riverhead (sales to date: 75,000). Her writing has appeared in many national magazines, including regular columns in O, The Oprah Magazine and Working Mother and essays in such anthologies as Chicken Soup for the Sisters Soul. TV appearances have included The Today Show, CBS Sunday Morning and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She is a popular speaker for groups and corporations, always using humor as hook.

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Thank-you to the Wunderkind PR for hosting this tour, and to Lian Dolan for sending me a copy of his book!

CLICK HERE to follow the rest of the tour

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this book as well. I was a little leery of the literatureparallel until I started reading and then once I was hooked, all that mattered was reading the next page until the book was finished.


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