The Story Behind the Books Chats with Lian Dolan author of Helen of Pasadena

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Name: Lian Dolan

Name of Book: Helen of Pasadena

When I finally sat down to write my first novel Helen of Pasadena, after 20 years of writing in almost every other form from essays to ad copywriting to cocktail party invitations, I knew I wanted to write a book like the kind of books I like to read. To me, that meant a novel with a touch of history, a touch of romance and a big wallop of funny. That’s what I put into Helen of Pasadena.

For the history, I turned to a subject matter that I had stashed in my back pocket for a long time: Helen of Troy. I was a Classics major in college, having concentrated on Bronze Age history like the Trojans, the Minoans and the Greeks.  Helen of Troy always seemed like the most misunderstood woman in ancient history. Did she leave her husband cuckolded or was she kidnapped? There’s much debate over that in Classics circles. And sure, she was the face that launched a thousand ships, but then what happened to her? Nobody really knows for sure where Helen ended up after the Trojan War. Did she go home to her husband? Did she stay in Troy? Maybe move on to another fabulous Greek Isle with a young warrior. For me as a contemporary fiction writer, I thought using Helen of Troy’s misunderstood existence was a great jumping off place for a modern woman trying to reclaim her own identity after 15 years of a marriage that involved a lot of compromises.

For the romance, I turned to the classic structure of movie romantic comedies. In addition to reading lots of novels in my genre, I used the movies as an inspiration for the meet/cute, the arc of the second act, the inevitable separation of the lovers and then the reunion. I tried to create two main character, Helen and her archaeologist boss Patrick who were engaging and flawed, but definitely a couple you were wanted to see get together. Having studied screenwriting and having the experience of completing several romantic comedy screenplays really helped me keep the pace up in my prose writing. In screenplays, the stakes have to build every scene with out any wasted words. I really tried to keep the action in Helen of Pasadena tight and the obstacles for Helen and Patrick coming at a brisk pace. But, I also wanted there to be those “movie moments” that seem to slow down and gave the readers butterflies, just like when you are watching a really great rom/com. And to make sure that happened, I gave Patrick a really great head of hair and Helen some really goo clothes!

For the funny, I relied on the observations I’d made over the last 17 years living in a town like Pasadena. It’s a place with a rich cultural history and a modern energy, but right in the middle, there is a subset of very traditional, hierarchical society. It seemed like a ripe setting for a novel that satirizes with love. My goal was to avoid the snarky and concentrate on the similarities of the characters, not the differences. Some of the sharpest lines in the book are actual quotes that I’ve heard and remembered for years. It’s hard to be “how to write funny” into words, but I’d say: be open, observe without judgment, then refine.

For me, the combination of a touch of history, a touch of romance and some funny really worked in Helen of Pasadena. It’s my intention to carry on with that formula for two more books, using historical women as “models” for contemporary women tying to find their place in this world. Or, at least, in Pasadena.

About Lian Dolan

Lian Dolan is a mother, wife, sister, friend,  daughter, novelist, writer, and talk show host.  She writes and talks about her adventures in modern motherhood for her website, and her weekly podcast, The Chaos Chronicles.

Lian has always used her voice to take on all aspects of motherhood, from common-sense parenting to all-consuming school volunteering to overcoming handbag envy.  She is known for her humorous take on the day-to-day issues that face women everywhere. The Chaos Chronicles is currently being developed by Nickelodeon as a half-hour comedy.

Prior to The Chaos Chronicles, Lian spent a decade hosting Satellite Sisters, an award-winning talk show that she created with her four real sisters. Satellite Sisters has won 11 Gracie Allen Awards for Excellence in Women’s Media, including Talk Show of the Year in 2006. On air, Lian has interviewed everybody from Bill Clinton to Nora Roberts to Maya Angelou. Lian is the Executive Editor of the Satellite Sisters website.

In addition to her work on air, Lian is a writer.   Her first novel, “Helen of Pasadena” will be published in November, 2010 by Prospect Park Books.  She is also weekly relationships columnist at . Previously published books include “Satellite Sisters UnCommon Senses,” published in 2001. Her writing has been featured in many national magazines including regular columns in O, The Oprah Magazine and Working Mother Magazine.

Lian has appeared numerous TV shows including The Today Show, CBS Sunday Morning and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

She lives in Pasadena, California with her husband and two sons. Her dream is to ride on a Rose Parade float.

To read more about Lian Dolan, please visit

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