Reality proves confusing

Feb 04, 2024 by Karen Janowsky

I've had a few interviews with various bloggers and reviewers for Her Name Was Lola recently, and I thought I'd share the one from Literary Titan, who just issued an award for the book. I'm not sure why the question in the meme has stuck with me all this time, but I'm curious--which option would you choose, and why?

Her Name Was Lola follows a college student at a conference who, after a disastrous hookup, winds up in a working relationship with the man on campus. What was the inspiration for the setup of your story?

​My first romance book, Dear Prudence, was in the process of being published by Extasy Books when I came up with the idea for Her Name Was Lola. The inspiration for the former was The Beatle’s song with the same name. In the song, Prudence shuts herself off from the world as her friends gently try to help her reenter it. I came up with my own Prudence and explored the reasons why someone might be so hesitant to be out in the world, and her character developed from there.

As the book was being prepared, I thought it would be fun to find another classic song to write about. The title comes from the Barry Manilow song of course (I love that song!), but I really had The Kinks’ “Lola” in my head the whole time. There’s a moment in The Kinks’ song where the narrator pushes Lola away because their connection is too intense for him, but they can’t keep apart for the same reason. I think many of us have had the experience of wanting something so badly it hurts and being overwhelmed when we get it. That’s kind of where both Vance and Lola are toward the beginning of the book. Whereas Prudence was afraid of getting out of her comfort zone, Lola is the opposite. She doesn’t feel ready to think of herself as a “grownup,” and is anxious to, as she says, “stop being the princess in everybody’s tower.” But then she learns that what she thought it means to move into adulthood isn’t that at all. She has to figure out how to stand in her own power before she can really love someone maturely.

Lola is young, unsure of herself, and definitely not ready for the adult world and all that goes with it after college; however, she has to grow up and figure things out when circumstances take an unexpected twist.

What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?

The idea for Lola’s character came from a meme on Facebook asking if given the choice, whether we’d want ten million dollars right now or a chance to go back in time to when we were six, knowing everything we know now. I’d be very tempted to choose the latter. Going through childhood with a grownup perspective probably would change a lot of problems I had as a kid. Plus, if I had that much foreknowledge, I could buy stock in things like Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Google, etc. while they were still upstarts and have plenty of money, plus the wisdom to invest it well!

But then I started to think that concept through more seriously and revisit my early twenties. Adulthood means different things at different stages in our lives, and I remember what it was like trying to balance embodying what I thought being a grownup meant versus my reality of being inexperienced and dependent upon others. It takes a lot of time to mature and learn to understand how to “adult.” I remember the anxiety of wanting to be taken seriously rather than be seen as a child when I was about Lola’s age. Her experiences don’t necessarily reflect my own, but her feelings are absolutely the same as mine were.

On the other hand, it might be a little weird to be in the body of a little kid with more maturity and experience than my parents as they raised me!

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

The main theme is fairy tales. Like Lola and Vance, I have always been fascinated by and enamored of the original (not sanitized for children or popular culture) versions of them. Both Lola and Vance worry about being vulnerable and what their futures hold. Although she conceptualizes the stories’ messages well enough, Lola has internalized the lessons in Andersen’s The Little Mermaid and other stories. She clings to the idea of good people being rewarded in life. In terms of The Little Mermaid, she’s sure she can avert the main character’s sad fate simply by being a “good person,” as is more or less prescribed by the Grimm and Perrault tales. But reality proves confusing to her. From the time she and Vance meet, she feels voiceless and ineffectual, like the mermaid.

Vance, on the other hand, craves order and certainty. He too, grew up on those stories but mostly identifies with Hans Christian Andersen’s themes of life being marked by heartbreak and disappointment. Vance’s life from childhood forward has taught him that goodness simply doesn’t exist in the world—at least not meaningfully in his case. He’s drawn to the stories but decides scholarly dispassion toward them will keep him from internalizing their promises and messages. As far as he’s concerned, those promises are empty. He thinks that if he can examine rather than actually feel and experience stories and real life, he’ll be protected.

The other main ideas are trust and vulnerability. Reality is not like fairy tales at all, no matter what approach one takes toward them. Life is uncertain, people are complicated and self-contradictory, and love doesn’t always come easily or without baggage. There’s no magic in the world that rewards or punishes people. This is a lesson Lola needs to understand before she can emotionally mature into womanhood. Nothing is ever linear, and reality demands trusting the process as one makes decisions. Sometimes there’s no right answer, and following your heart, even with the best of intentions, can end in painful lessons. Other times, it pays off.

Vance has growing to do as well. He needs to understand that giving and receiving love is possible for him, but he’ll have to allow his life to unfold without that intellectual scaffolding he’s created for himself. His choices thus far have been reactive—either defying or embracing things he’s been taught. In fact, like the eponymous prince in the fairy tales, his relationships are superficial—and he prefers things that way. He isn’t happy—in fact, he doesn’t feel much at all most of the time. That lack of involvement in his own life insulates him from getting hurt. He needs to be vulnerable with himself before he can entrust someone else with the feelings that he’s denied for so many years. Like Lola, he has to decide whether the risk/reward balance is worth it.

What is the next book you are working on, and when will it be available?

I’m in the early stages of a celebrity age-gap romance where the woman is significantly older than the man. I’m hoping to have the manuscript ready for an editor by the end of this summer, and then I will start querying it.