Writer’s Block (With a Dash of Brag Book)

Little_Miss_BusyOkay, it’s nearly summer, and the temps have yet to crack 60 degrees here in Milwaukee. Ah, Wisconsin weather, gotta love it. It’s June 14th and I’m still wearing fleece.

Well, now that I’ve gotten the weather report out of the way, what else do I have to discuss? Hmmm.

I just started a new work project, which should keep me pretty busy for the next few months. I did work on this project last summer, but my work comrades and I needed a refresher on the process, so we spent this past we re-training. Fortunately, a lot of the process came back to us, and when we truly get started with the project on Monday, we should do alright. Whew, what a relief.

What else? Well, the lovely Lisa Mattson, author of The Exes in My iPod was pleased with my review. And I’m pleased she’s pleased.

I do have some book reviews coming up, but they may take a while with all the other stuff going on in my crazy life. But I do promise I will update this blog as much as possible. I want to write some reviews for a book of short stories, a couple of novels and a non-fiction book that examines how young women have embraced domesticity and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing (or both). I’ve also compiled a huge list of books I want to read and review, which should keep me very, very busy for the next few years.

The Exes in My iPod-A Playlist of the Men Who Rocked Me to Wine Country by Lisa Mattson

The Exes in My iPodMusic just has a way to inspire feelings and moods in us, especially when it comes to love. There is a song you and your prom date danced to. You and your spouse have “your song.” There is a song that always gets you in the mood for some sexy time. There is a song you played on repeat when some jerk stomped all over your heart. There is a song that reminds you of Mr. Right or maybe just Mr. Right Now. And then there are songs that remind you of Mr. Wrong.

Harley Aberle has quite a few Mr. Wrongs in her past, 13 to be exact; she also has 13 songs for each one of these miscreants who make up a section of her iPod called the Exes. And she tells us about her rocky road to blissful romance and professional success in Lisa Mattson’s somewhat autobiographical novel The Exes in My iPod-A Playlist of the Men Who Rocked Me to Wine Country.

When we first meet Harley (yes, just like the iconic motorcycle) she is twenty-years-old and a recent Kansas transplant living in Florida with her slacker boyfriend Chris. Both are on a break from college, and though Harley wants to resume her education Chris is more suited to smoking weed and avoiding responsibility. Harley wants to make her relationship with Chris work, but she has her serious doubts. And after she and Chris break up, these doubts continue to hound Harley as she goes from one doomed relationship to another.

Harley’s 13 past loves are a collection of cheaters, secretly married men, mama’s boys, users, a less than exciting ex-husband and other assorted jerks. Some relationships barely last longer than a power ballad and others go on way after the concert lights go on and it’s time to go home. The songs that relate to certain men are a potpourri of musical acts like the Grateful Dead, Nine Inch Nails, Everything But the Girl, James Taylor and the Black-Eyed Peas.

Throughout Harley’s decade of making bad romantic decisions, she is riddled with self-doubt and a serious lack of self-esteem. She bemoans her flat chest, her big hips and her scars. She constantly compares herself to other women. Harley is also haunted by her childhood. She grew up in a very dysfunctional family in small-town Kansas. She wants to escape her less than refined upbringing, and overcome her family’s lack of educational and professional achievement. She also wonders if her parents’ frayed marriage has negatively influenced her romantic choices.

Like a lot of other people, Harley often mistakes sex for love and falls into bed way too soon with her panties askew. However, Harley also acknowledges her own carnal desires, and certainly doesn’t mind indulging in them. I’m sure some uptight people would shake a scolding finger at Harley and sniff, “Well, why buy the cow when the milk is free?” to which I say, “Why buy the pig when all you want is a little sausage.”

Did I mention sex? Yes, sex plays a big part of Harley’s life and Mattson is not shy about writing somewhat explicit sex scenes. Sure many of them are quite steamy and raise the room’s temperature quite a bit. But Mattson also brings in elements of cringe-inducing humor during some of Harley’s mattress dancing. She compares one gentleman’s penis to a gummy bear. Hmm, Gummy Bear Penis would be a great name for a band.

However, whatever Harley lacks in the romantic department she definitely makes up when it comes to her education and career aspirations. Harley has a work ethic that would put Martha Stewart to shame. She busts her ass in college and also holds down a job at the Cheesecake Factory. It is while in college Harley takes a course on wine and finds her true passion. She makes having a career in the wine industry (especially one in California’s wine country) a top priority and is fortunate to have a professor who acts as a wise mentor.

So with her strong work ethic and a degree in communications, Harley starts her career working in wine marketing and PR going from strength to strength. Yet, her romantic life still remains shaky. However, as she grows as a professional and just grows up, Harley begins to realize she deserves better and perhaps it’s time to make some better decisions when it comes it comes to finding a fulfilling relationship. Okay, at times this includes having her mom do an astrological chart for one of her boyfriends, but at least she’s trying.

Will Harley find her one and only, her always and forever, her true Mr. Right? Will Harley finally make it to wine country? And will her romantic life reflect lyrics more like “It’s very clear/Our love is here to stay/Not for a year, but ever and a day.”* Or will it reflect, “Then love, love will tear us apart again/Love, love will tear us apart again.”**

The Exes in My iPod is both bittersweet and has good doses of humor. I often wanted to shake Harley and shout, “Stop being so stupid, girl!” But I also found myself nodding my head in recognition. There were times I felt I needed a spreadsheet to keep track of all of Harley’s past loves. I was surprised one of them didn’t include a gay guy on the down low. Or is that just me?

At times I did get confused by the wine jargon, probably because though I’m a wine drinker, I’m hardly an expert. I can barely pronounce sommelier. A simple Google search could help me with my wine confusion. And did you know if wine is too cold, the scents are too muted. And if the wine is too warm, the alcohol is accentuated. The more you know.

I related mostly to the musical aspects of the book, and I really thought using music as a tool to describe Harley’s past relationships was quite clever (and the digital form of The Exes in My iPod provides a link to the songs outlined in the book). I am also thrilled one of the songs chosen is “Troubled Mind” by the criminally under-rated Everything But the Girl. “Troubled Mind” played heavily on my psyche back in the 1990s.

The Exes in My iPod does have a few faults. It sometimes reads more like a memoir or a collection of essays than a novel, but perhaps that was Mattson’s intent. There are a few spelling and grammatical errors that could have benefited from some good editing but considering this book is self-published I’ll cut Mattson some slack.

The Exes in My iPod is a fun book, just right for summer beach reading and is a bit of an alternative to the chick lit genre. Enjoy it with your favorite glass of wine and get ready to make your own exes playlist.

* “Our Love is Here to Stay”-Music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin
**”Love Will Tear Us Apart”-Music and lyrics by Ian Curtis, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris and Bernard Sumner

An Evening With Author Lisa Mattson

Cheers to mullets, rattails and never settling in your life!”
Lisa M Mattson

Lisa Mattson inscription in my copy of her book The Exes in My iPod: A Playlist of the Men Who Rocked Me to Wine Country

Kristine Hansen and Lisa Mattson discuss Ms. Mattson's novel "The Exes in My iPod to an enthusiastic audience at the Milwaukee Public Market June 5th.
Kristine Hansen and Lisa Mattson discuss Ms. Mattson’s novel “The Exes in My iPod: A Playlist of the Men Who Rocked Me to Wine Country” to an enthusiastic audience at the Milwaukee Public Market June 5th. Photo courtesy of Christina Plum

This past Thursday I was fortunate enough to attend an author event at the Milwaukee Public Market. Thief Wine hosted wine expert and marketer Lisa Mattson who just released her first novel The Exes in My iPod: A Playlist of the Men Who Rocked Me to Wine Country.

The evening started off with the sizable crowd of mostly women, sampling some delicious wine. I must say the J Cuvee sparkling wine I drank was fabulous and I highly recommend it.

Once settled, the audience was treated to a Q & A session with notable Milwaukee food, wine and travel writer, Kristine Hansen, getting the scoop on The Exes in My iPod and what inspired Lisa to write her book.

Lisa told us her husband bought her an iPod, and as she downloaded songs into her new gift she realized many of the songs reminded her of her past loves. These songs inspired her to make an exes playlist. The playlist sent her back in time when she didn’t always make the best decisions when it came to men, romance and sex, but somehow she lived to tell the tale. Thus, Lisa decided to write a book about her exes and how they ultimately led her to the exact place she was meant to be—happily married with a thriving career in the wine industry.

At first Lisa thought she would write a memoir, but then decided a novel would be a better choice. The Exes in My iPod was a writing exercise that took her seven years. Lisa really had a lot of past romantic baggage to deal with, not to mention a busy professional and personal life. Lisa’s novel features a character, Harley Arbele, who went from naïve small town girl rushing from one bad relationship to another to a sophisticated, accomplished and happily married career woman, not unlike the journey Lisa herself took when she was younger.

When asked what her ex-boyfriends think of the book Lisa answered some of them were mortified. Her ex-husband expressed his displeasure at the novel, and one ex dramatically proclaimed, “This book will destroy my family!” But some of Lisa’s exes had no problem and a few mentioned they wanted an autographed copy. She mentioned she didn’t write the book to hurt anybody and after reading the book I can safely say, Lisa is as hard on her doppelgänger, Harley, as she is on her exes, maybe even more so.

In the book, Harley has a difficult time figuring out the difference between sex and love, something a lot of people struggle with. Harley also had to learn self-respect and the ability to trust herself, which is something a lot of us can relate to. From hearing Lisa speak, it almost as if writing The Exes in My iPod was a form of therapy, a form of therapy that also reflected her love of music and her passion for wine.

Lisa also mentioned the process of her writing novel allowed her to embellish and make some stuff up. Her husband supported her 100% (he pretty much deserves some type of husband of the year award for this), and her employer also gave her a year-long sabbatical to work on the book. However, Lisa’s mom had a hard time with parts of the book.

Lisa chose to self-publish The Exes in My iPod. Why? Well, her job is very demanding and too many times unknown writers get ignored by traditional publishers. Standard inquiries and emails often go unanswered. Furthermore, by self-publishing her book, Lisa had some control in the promotion and marketing. Lisa is a big fan of e-books, and the e-book version of The Exes in My iPod feature links to the songs mentioned in the book. During the Q & A session Lisa took time to tell the audience on the book’s selected musical playlist and how they connected to certain ex-loves going into great length on how Dido’s song “Hunter” connected to her ex-husband. “I didn’t choose the songs; the songs chose me,” Lisa claimed.

And yes, Lisa did read a passage from The Exes in My iPod. And she chose to read a passage with a lot of steamy sex. She figured with the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, the audience wouldn’t mind—we didn’t.

The temperature of the Milwaukee Public Market rose a few degrees as Lisa read about a tussle in the sack between Harley and her Latin Lover John. At first, Harley and John’s venture into the horizontal sweaty was a lusty affair. But sadly, it soon turned to disappointment. And if you read The Exes in My iPod you will never regard Gummy Bears in the same way. Written with a good dose of humor, this passage showed how the erotic can turn us quite neurotic.

Beyond her novel, Lisa also described how she became a topnotch wine maven, which began when she took a wine class in college. Today Lisa is the Director of Marketing Communications for Jordan Vineyard and Winery.

The evening was a load of fun and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Both Lisa and Kristine handled themselves with aplomb, both down to earth and charming. After the Q & A session ended, attendees were able to sample more wine and buy a copy of The Exes in My iPod. Lisa autographed copies and spoke at length to everyone who approached her table. I was able to talk to Lisa and we further bonded over our shared small-town girlhoods and our love of the band Everything but the Girl.

Ultimately, an evening of wine, one woman and a whole lot of songs was a true delight and the perfect way to cap off a warm spring evening. And now it’s got me thinking of how certain songs connect me with an ex. Hey, Mike! Jann Arden’s “Insensitive” is totally about you!