Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Amy Mason Doan is a ray of sunshine...plus a book giveaway

We're pleased to have Amy Mason Doan back at CLC today to celebrate the publication of her latest novel, Lady Sunshine. Melissa enjoyed Lady Sunshine and reviewed it on Goodreads earlier this year. She's here to tell us how she became a songwriter while working on this novel and she has one signed copy for a lucky reader!

Amy Mason Doan is the bestselling author of LADY SUNSHINE, THE SUMMER LIST and SUMMER HOURS (Graydon House).  All are emotional, layered stories about secrets, lifelong friendship, and the inescapable tug of the past. “Doan’s characters leap off the page,” says Publishers Weekly. Library Journal says they're "sure to please fans of Kristin Hannah and Elin Hilderbrand."

Amy grew up in Danville, California and now lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and daughter. Amy has an M.A. in Journalism from Stanford University and a B.A. in English from U.C. Berkeley.

Visit Amy online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram * Pinterest

Sign up for Amy's free virtual party taking place on Wednesday, June 30th at 8:30 pm EST.

For Jackie Pierce, everything changed the summer of 1979, when she spent three months of infinite freedom at her bohemian uncle’s sprawling estate on the California coast. As musicians, artists, and free spirits gathered at The Sandcastle for the season in pursuit of inspiration and communal living, Jackie and her cousin Willa fell into a fast friendship, testing their limits along the rocky beach and in the wild woods... until the summer abruptly ended in tragedy, and Willa silently slipped away into the night.

Twenty years later, Jackie unexpectedly inherits The Sandcastle and returns to the iconic estate for a short visit to ready it for sale. But she reluctantly extends her stay when she learns that, before her death, her estranged aunt had promised an up-and-coming producer he could record a tribute album to her late uncle at the property’s studio. As her musical guests bring the place to life again with their sun-drenched beach days and late-night bonfires, Jackie begins to notice startling parallels to that summer long ago. And when a piece of the past resurfaces and sparks new questions about Willa’s disappearance, Jackie must discover if the dark secret she’s kept ever since is even the truth at all. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

“Amy Mason Doan creates a whole world and mood with her exquisitely crafted novel, LADY SUNSHINE. It’s replete with late-70s nostalgia and Doan masterfully renders the lives of musicians and those who are drawn to them, no matter the price. A delicious daydream of a book.”
—Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author of 28 Summers

“An engrossing tale of secrets, memory, music, and the people and places you can never outrun. A fantastic summer read.”
—Laura Dave, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Thing He Told Me

“This book is gorgeous. A gold-drenched, nostalgic dream with a fierce female friendship at its heart.”
—Marisa de los Santos, New York Times bestselling author of I'll Be Your Blue Sky

Three Things I Learned from Becoming a Closet Songwriter
(plus an exclusive excerpt from my new novel LADY SUNSHINE)

By Amy Mason Doan

It’s after one a.m., and there are footsteps on the kitchen floor above me. I freeze. I’m in the basement, writing by the amber light of a child’s fairy-tree lamp. 

I shut my notebook, slide it under a sofa cushion, and wait. I know those light footsteps; it’s my teen daughter. One floor up, she opens the refrigerator door, closes it. Rummages in the pantry, walks to the staircase, back up to her bedroom. Only then do I reach for the notebook again.

Why am I so secretive? I’m an author; odd hours are part of my lifestyle. If my family saw me scribbling away in a notebook in the middle of the night, they wouldn’t be surprised. They couldn’t be more supportive of my writing. 

But this is a special notebook. It’s not my good-luck novel drafting one, with its tattered cardboard cover made from an old VHS case for the movie “Prelude to a Kiss,” which I use for new story ideas. Not the graph-paper notebook in which I draw the fictional lakes and houses and towns in my novels. This is a dollar-store school comp book with daisies on the cover. And it doesn’t hold prose or character sketches or maps—it hides song lyrics.  

I have scant musical training – a little junior-high choir, clarinet lessons I abandoned in 5th grade because my teacher shook his head and scolded me about my poor “hand-span” (and because I could never get the hang of spitting on my reeds).  But two years ago, drafting my latest novel, LADY SUNSHINE, I became a closet songwriter. 

LADY SUNSHINE is about a woman named Jackie who inherits a sprawling seaside property from relatives she hasn’t seen in two decades. She’d spent one glorious teenage summer there 20 years before, in 1979, when “The Sandcastle” was a gathering spot for musicians, artists, and free spirits of all kinds. But she’d left abruptly under mysterious circumstances. I can’t say much more without spoilers, but some of the clues about what happened to her in 1979, and the reason she’s summoned back 20 years later, are hidden inside song lyrics. 

So my new pastime started as novel research...with a dash of procrastination.

One day in 2019 I found myself humming a fictional song that a character sings early in the book. Only the title (“Catch the World”) is mentioned in that scene, but I felt compelled to write out the whole song and set it to music. I had to know the song existed, even if no one ever heard it but me. That first tune was nothing fancy – just a chorus and refrain, simple rhymes, the most basic chord progressions—but the act of making it feel more real was liberating. 

I was struggling a little with LADY SUNSHINE’s plot at that point, and questioning my instincts as a writer. I had two successful novels under my belt, but it felt good to let go and write something that no one would ever see. 

Several songwriters in LADY SUNSHINE hide their work, so, without planning to, I did the same. My “songwriting research,” as I called it to myself, became my little secret. During the day, I hid my daisy notebook under the seat cushions of our sagging basement sofa. I often wrote inside it when I couldn’t sleep, giving my “research songs” a hazy, dream-like quality that I liked. After I finished each one, I’d sing it into my phone in the dark, when I was too sleepy to judge or second-guess.

Maybe that’s why in the novel, when Jackie first hears another of the songs, she initially thinks she’s dreaming:

“The next morning, as I’m unlocking my rental car, I hear the song again.

I squeeze the key chain. It’s real. It’s no radio, no dream. Someone’s strumming the same fragment of melody I heard last night. So beautiful—and so familiar…A tiptoeing start in the key of G, the abrupt shift from major to minor a full two minutes in, later than you’d expect.

‘Hey,’ I say. It comes out barely above a whisper.

The sound gets richer, more intricate. Mesmerizing, fast as sudden raindrops against the window…”

My songs are not as intricate or mesmerizing as the one Jackie hears in this scene. That’s not false modesty; it’s true. Their structures are repetitive and, too often, nursery-rhymish. But writing my “research songs” made me a better novelist, and taught me more than I’d have ever imagined when I first began dashing out lines in my cheap daisy notebook:

It’s never too late and we’re never too old.  I didn’t try my hand at my first novel, THE SUMMER LIST, until after I turned 40. But I still have to remind myself, constantly, that it’s never too late to pursue a new passion. The excitement of songwriting was one visceral, late-night reminder of that fact. 
Joy matters most. What I told myself was “procrastination” or “excessive research” helped me rediscover the joy that had been missing from my work. By taking a step back from my too-punishing (and self-imposed) drafting schedule, I rediscovered the heart of my story, got to know my characters without forcing the relationship, and made working on the new novel fun again. It wasn’t fun every day—writing a novel will always be grueling at times. But carving out some secret time away from my “official” writing schedule reminded me how excited I’d felt when I first began writing fiction. I’d kept that practice a secret for months, too…and didn’t tell anyone about it until I felt ready. 

The magic happens deep down. I thank Judy Collins for this one. To learn how to structure a song, and because they’re mentioned frequently by one folk-loving character in the novel, I read up on some of my favorite 60s and 70s singer-songwriters—Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Joan Armatrading, Joan Baez. There’s an unapologetic earnestness to their music that has always appealed to me. My novels tend to have that same heart-forward quality, but in my more down moments, I’ve wondered if my preference for emotional, nostalgic stories was too dated. 

Here’s what Judy Collins said: “I don’t think you get to good writing unless you expose yourself and your feelings. Deep songs don’t come from the surface; they come from the deep down.” The same is true of deep novels, and I no longer apologize for the heart in mine.

In total, I wrote 13 songs. A baker’s dozen. Will I ever share them with anyone? I’m not sure. I didn’t know that I was even ready to admit they existed until a few weeks ago, when an interviewer asked me how I’d come up with the fictional song titles mentioned in the book and the truth popped out. 

“Actually, they’re not just titles,” I said, surprising myself. “I wrote them.” 

“So they’re real?” she asked.

I hesitated a second, then said, “Yes. They’re real.”

Thanks to Amy for visiting us and for sharing her book with our readers.

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here.

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Giveaway ends July 5th at midnight EST.

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Nancy said...

I loved being on our high school's speech and debate teams.

allibrary (at) aol (dot)

traveler said...

The sock hops which we enjoyed every Friday night.

Jane said...

Really like high school and being part of the theater arts group.

Mary Patricia Bird said...

I had a best friend. We had so much in common and we wrote together almost every day. I wish she was still my friend. The rest of my teen/high school years were painful.

Mary C said...

Bike rides to the beach with friends.

Rita Wray said...

Spending time with my friends and going to the dances was always fun.

diannekc said...

The dances and other activities.

Peggy Russo said...

Meeting my future husband. He was so cute and such a nice guy. I was 16 and immediately smitten.

Mary Preston said...

I had such great friends in high school.

penney said...

I loved the small party they had back then, we did the cake run things like that, and playing basketball

Toni Laliberte said...

A favorite teenage memory is going to our local fair when I was 14, in 1984. It was called The Kielbasa Festival and it was set up right in my town, behind our local mall. It was so fun! It had everything! Great Polish food and fair food, rides, games, music and polka dancing. I'm not Polish but it was just so fun and a chance to get together with my community, friends and family.

bn100 said...


Jennifer said...

Camping with my family.

Carla S. said...

Loved school and hanging out with my friends!

Cherisse said...

A favorite teenage memory is going on summer vacation every year with my family. We’d have the whole year to pick a destination, things to do and see, and my siblings and I would play games in the car.

John Smith said...

"What is a favorite memory from your teenage years?" Visiting Washington, D.C., on a high-school choir trip!

Kelly Rodriguez said...

I loved hanging out with my friends.