A funny thing happened to me when I read Elizabeth Eulberg’s debut YA, The Lonely Hearts Club. Ironically, I made a new friend. Each morning, I have exactly seven minutes to read on the train commute to work. At 5:30am, it’s always just me and one guy sharing the carriage. For months, we’d ignored each other in that uniquely Sydney way. However, while reading Elizabeth’s book, I LOL’d so much, the guy looked up from his own book, smiled, and asked what I was reading. And so a new friendship was born! (I should note, our conversations haven’t gone past hello, goodbye and have a nice weekend! It’s a start, though, don’t you think?)
Back to the book, The Lonely Hearts Club. Stephenie Meyer describes it “A must-read for anyone who’s ever fallen in love – or sworn off it completely. A funny, fantastic debut.” I think she’s spot-on!
Penny Lane’s parents are obsessed with the Beatles. John, George, Ringo and Paul are practically members of the family. Their music is a source of comfort to Penny in times of trouble. And, boy, does she need a shoulder to cry on when the love of her short life, Nate, betrays her. Disillusioned, Penny swears off guys. They lie, they, cheat, they stink. Staring at a “Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” poster in her room, Penny is inspired to start a club with a membership of one. It’s more about making herself happy, not about wallowing. Penny unwittingly starts a revolution, with dozens of girls demanding to join her club. She’s happy to oblige. Among the club rules, thou shalt not ditch thy friends for a boy, no matter how hawt that boy may be. When newly single (and hawt) Ryan looks more and more like boyfriend material, Penny fights her feelings. After all, she’s the prez of an anti-dating club. She can’t give in to Ryan’s charms. Can she?
The Lonely Hearts Club is a warm, fun read about friendship and taking responsibility for your own happiness. I loved this book, and I was thrilled when Elizabeth, who is my lit agency sistah, agreed to an interview to celebrate the release of TLHC in Australia. She explains, among other things, why her drum kit is incomplete.
Elizabeth, tell us about your road to publication.
My road to publication was a long one! I came up with the idea for The Lonely Hearts Club in the spring of 2004. I didn’t have an outline or character studies when I began to write so I struggled through a lot of drafts before the story really came together. I worked on four drafts before I sent it to a literary agent. I’m really fortunate because I work in the publishing industry so I already knew several agents (I think finding an agent is the hardest part, so I always tell people they are allowed to hate me for getting an agent so easily!). I then worked on seven drafts with my agent before we had a manuscript that was ready to be sent out. I had a book contract by July 2008. The reason I like to mention how many drafts and how long it took to get a book contract is because it can take a really long time to get a book published. But the most important thing is to stay with it!
Seven drafts?! That is a long and winding road! What inspired you to write The Lonely Hearts Club?
I was out with a friend of mine who was the type of friend who only called me when her boyfriend wasn’t around (we all know the type!). She was ignoring me because these guys came over and started talking to her. I was getting really annoyed, and then I realized that I was being stupid. I needed to stop hanging out with someone who wasn’t a good friend, instead I should get all my amazing single girl friends together every Saturday night to celebrate being single. As soon as I had that thought, I knew that would be a great idea for a book. I had the title and basic concept before the night was over!
Now, that’s what I call turning a negative into a positive! If you could form your own club, what would it be called?
Well, I am single so… the Lonely Hearts Club? Just joking (or am I?). I love going to concerts, so it would be fitting to start a concert club…maybe we’d be called the Concert Club Society.
I love the relationship Penny has with her parents. (They were kind of dorky, cool, and attentive all at the same time.) Your own mother worked at your high school as a librarian. What impact did that have on you?
Thanks! Penny’s parents are two of my favorite characters in the book. My mother was my high school librarian and I like to joke that those scars run pretty deep. I did see my mom a lot in between classes and she taught a few classes. But the biggest influence my mother had on me had to do with her putting books into my hand from an early age and then giving me a book called Careers in the Music Industry which is how I found out about publicity. That changed my life!
I’m glad to hear it wasn’t traumatic for you! One of the elements I loved about the story was the characterisation. Penny’s friend Diane is beautiful, blonde and a cheerleader. It would’ve been so easy to add “catty” to her list of traits. Were you conscious of steering away from cliches?
I’m so happy you feel that way. Diane was a character that I struggled with for awhile because she WAS a cliché. I sat down with her and said (in my mind!), “I don’t like you. You are just this big cliché of a character. Why would Penny be friends with you? You need to do something else, I need to shake up your life a bit.” Once I figured out the problem with Diane, I decided to have her quit cheerleading to join the basketball team. That is one of the plot points that came later in my editing process and it really not only strengthened Diane, but made the club a lot stronger. It was that small change that made me see what a positive influence the club could have over the members.
You devoured the Sweet Valley High series when you were growing up. (A woman after my own heart! Isn’t it wild that you’re now represented by Francine Pascal’s agency?) How did SVH influence you as a writer?
I LOVED Sweet Valley High. I would read a book a day over the summer – I couldn’t get enough. Those were the first books that I read about high school characters. I remember that each character had such a distinctive personality and you genuinely cared about them. I think that had the biggest influence over me as an author – the importance of having several unique and identifiable characters.
Which Beatles tunes can you play on piano? And have you added a second drumstick and snare to your drum kit yet?
I can play a bunch of Beatles songs on the piano and guitar. Because I currently take guitar lessons, I play the guitar more than the piano now. My favorite songs to play on the guitar are “Blackbird,” “Yesterday,” “Ticket to Ride” and “Revolution.”
I still only have the one drumstick. I got it from Jonny Quinn, the drummer of Snow Patrol, after a gig. I’m hoping to get another one to make a complete set, but I’m holding out on getting one from another famous drummer. Hint to all you rock star drummers out there!
Did you hear that, Ringo? All she needs is one drumstick! Come on, be a pal. Elizabeth, you’re a publicist in the book industry. Can you share some tips on self-promotion for authors?
Authors need to be more involved in the promotion of their books more now than even five years ago. A lot of that has to do with the importance of social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, etc. I guess my biggest advice, especially for first-time authors, is that no request is too small. Do as much as you possibly can and don’t use your social networking for strict book plugs, allow readers to get to know you better. I try to do a balance of “check this book-related thing out” and more personal things, like what kind of music I’m listening to, books I’m reading and every now and then something random that probably nobody cares about, but what’s important is for people to get a sense of you and your personality.
Elizabeth, thanks so much for keeping us company at We Love YA! I’ve dug up the opening titles of the Sweet Valley High TV show from a years back just for you:
WLYA readers, here’s a challenge for you–incorporate a Beatles song title into a comment for your chance to win a copy of The Lonely Hearts Club. The winner will be announced next Friday.