A librarian and a heavy metal star might sound like an unlikely romantic combination, but in Jessica Topper’s debut novel, “Louder Than Love,” it makes perfect sense.
Katrina Lewis lost her young husband in an accident just before 9/11, leaving her to care for their baby daughter, Abbey, all alone. Fleeing the city where she fell in love, she moves home to the New York suburb of Lauder Lake to the solace of her friends and family. When Abbey’s obsession with a British cartoon prompts Katrina to email the creator of the show’s theme song to play at their library, her life takes a different turn.
Adrian “Digger” Graves used to be an 80s heavy metal God in the group Corroded Corpse, but now he’s living off the radar in his posh Manhattan apartment (and every so often recording a cartoon song). The surprisingly unstuffy librarian who emailed Adrian has no idea who he is, and thinking she’d run if she knew, Adrian doesn’t bother to fill her in on his days of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. Although he’s cleaned up his life and retired from music, Adrian fears no one will want to be with the real him, and he can’t seem to get over the fallout with his former friend and bandmate.
After a hit performance at the Lauder Lake Library, the connection between Adrian and Katrina, who he nicknames Kat, is immediate. She finds herself with feelings she never expected after her husband’s death, and struggles to deal with letting go of the past. When Kat finds an old Corroded Corpse poster in her brother’s bedroom, the pieces come together and she has to decide whether the man she thought she knew could still be the one.
Topper took the time to discuss tales from the tour bus, sexy British rockers and what readers can expect next from her.
KC: What gave you the idea to write “Louder Than Love?”
JT: Funny, I was actually living down near Philadelphia at the time. My husband was working with two different bands and on tour a lot, so I was the “road widow,” shuttling my daughter back and forth to the local Montessori school. I’d happily play The Wiggles and Sesame Street CDs to tame the preschooler each morning. Yet guilt and relief would flood me as I’d crank WYSP, Philly’s hard rock station, and peel out of the parking lot for those few precious hours of freedom. And so Adrian, the recluse shock rocker who gets mistaken for a kiddie musician, rose from my tired mommy brain as the perfect hero for my novel. And the rest of the story just followed! I knew I wanted to write a story of reinvention, and so moving Kat back to her hometown to heal amidst her girlfriends and the calming, grounding force of the lake really set the tone for me.
KC: This is definitely a good girl meets (reformed) bad boy story. Why do you think Kat is able to accept Adrian’s past, even though it initially shocks her?
JT: Good question! Early on in the novel, Kat confides in her best friend, and more or less makes the comment “I’m more afraid of the known than the unknown at this point.” Kat’s a librarian, her life has always been orderly and she’s always had a plan. But then life plays the ultimate cruel joke and robs her of her husband. So by the time she’s met Adrian, I think she realizes that all bets are off and there are no hard and fast rules. She’s ready to “jump in the fountain,” so to speak (which she suggests to Adrian on one of their early dates) and give him a chance.
KC: They say 'write what you know,’ and your background is in the music industry. Are any of the band’s crazy stories taken from your personal experience?
JT: Ha ha, I can safely say that the band’s antics shared in “Louder Than Love” are entirely rock and roll fantasy. That is not to say I haven’t been inspired and influenced by things I’ve seen or heard about on the road, working with bands. Or by devouring rock magazines as a teen. I’m pretty sure Ozzy Osbourne really did snort ants off the pavement, for example. People asked if I based Wren, the band’s evil manager, on my husband, since he manages bands…I firmly deny any resemblance!
KC: How long did it take you to write “Louder Than Love?” Did you know exactly where the story was going, or did it change along the way?
JT: It took me about five years, I think. Writing was something I did as a hobby to relax when not working…but the problem with working from home is that the work is never done! So “Louder Than Love” always got relegated to the back burner. But I always knew where I wanted to story to go; it was pretty clear to me all along.
KC: So besides the accent, why do you think Americans love British guys so much?
JT: Do we need another reason? LOL It’s hard not to melt when you hear the accent. But another attraction, for me at least, is the wit and humor of many British guys I’ve met. Very quick and dry, witty and ironic. Some people get it, some don’t. I practically cry with laughter through an episode of “Extras” and my husband just sits there, scratching his head. I guess it’s not for everyone…but it rocks my world. Along with the accent and some ruddy red cheeks!
KC: If you could cast the movie version of “Louder Than Love,” who would play Adrian and Kat?
JT: So hard! I don’t see enough movies these days to know who the “it” guys and girls are. But I absolutely loved Rhys Ifans as Gavin Kavanagh in “The Boat That Rocked”: shaggy haired and a bit rough around the edges, but totally cocky and sexy. I think he would be perfect for Adrian. And if Rachel McAdams ever goes back to brunette (a la “Wedding Crashers”) I think she would make a good Kat. She’s delicate looking, but there is something survivor-strong there, lurking behind her smile and her eyes.
KC: Did you have a real-life band in mind when you created Adrian’s group, Corroded Corpse?
JT: I was seriously obsessed by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal growing up: bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden were my religion as a teen. Fans of heavy metal are constantly on the defense, having to prove there can be a cerebral side to the music others might find too loud or offensive. I wanted to show Corroded Corpse as an exaggerated, slightly over-the-top version of the bands I loved as a teen, with a little bit of self-depreciating humor. So I made them a Doom Metal band, and incorporated some funny Spinal Tappish elements (like the Muzak-version of their hit song, with blistering guitar solo replaced by Pan flute). I wanted people to realize that behind all the shock rock, they are still guys who possess brains and hearts of gold… heavy metal hearts of gold.
KC: What songs would you add to a playlist to go along with “Louder Than Love?”
JT: Music references run all through my story, from the Beatles to Motown to Schoolhouse Rock and beyond. Too many to list…and as someone who works in the music industry, I would want to legally license them all for a soundtrack! If I ever had a Hollywood movie budget, it’s safe to say I would want them all. ;-)
KC: What’s on your must-read list this autumn?
JT: I just splurged and bought the hardcover copy of Tom Perrotta’s “Nine Inches,” a collection of short stories, so that is definitely on my list. Also waiting on my Kindle are some great reads I’ve accumulated since joining the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association and networking with so many wonderful WF writers. Laura Drake’s “Her Road Home” and Lorrie Thomson’s “Equilibrium” come to mind.
KC: What can readers expect next from you?
JT: I’ve been following many “plot bunnies,” as I like to call them, hopping past. A quasi-companion to “Louder Than Love” is in the works, featuring some of the same characters, also set in Manhattan and my fictional small suburb, Lauder Lake. I’ve also been working on another musician-based women’s fiction, a “local hero comes home story” set in the New England winter, which I hope would be ready for reader’s eyes by the 2014 holidays!