Valencia and Valentine
By Suzy Krause
Lake Union Publishing; hardcover; $24.95; available June 1
Suzy Krause's debut novel tells the colorful story about love, adversity, and what it means to truly live through the eyes of Valencia, a timid debt collector, and Mrs. Valentine, an eccentric old woman desperate for company.
To write Valencia and Valentine, Krause drew on her time working as a debt collector in which she encountered mostly verbal abuse, including death threats, but also unexpected and much-needed kindness that stuck with her. She also wanted to write about OCD, something she has lived with her whole life. Krause says, "It was interesting to write about a character with OCD as I was still learning about it, but with the added perspective of having experienced it without knowing what it was. To say this book was both therapeutic and informative to write would be an understatement."
Valencia is afraid of many things, but the two that scare her most are flying and turning thirty-five. To confront those fears, Valencia’s therapist suggests that she fly somewhere—anywhere—before her upcoming birthday. As Valencia begins a telephone romance with a man from New York, she suddenly has a destination in mind. There’s only one problem, her newfound love interest might not actually exist.
Mrs. Valentine is an eccentric old woman desperate for company, be it from neighbors, telemarketers, or even the funeral director (when you’re her age, you go to a lot of funerals). So she’s thrilled when the new cleaning girl provides a listening ear for her life’s story—a tale of storybook love and incredible adventures around the world with her husband before his mysterious and sudden disappearance.
The stories of Valencia and Mrs. Valentine may at first appear to have nothing in common, outside of being wonderfully odd and endearing human beings, but nothing in life is as straightforward
as it seems.
The Story Behind Valencia and Valentine - By Suzy Krause:
|Suzy Krause - suzykrause.com.|
Valencia and Valentine was inspired by three things: my brief stint as a debt collector back in 2006, obsessive compulsive disorder, and music.
The debt collection gig was one of my first forays into the working world. People (especially the people who were my parents) were confused about this choice in occupation, but I needed a job and it was an easy job to get - you only had to be old enough to work and willing to withstand unrelenting verbal abuse, up to and including some very colorful death threats. I was actually very optimistic about it: I thought it might be interesting. (I was not wrong.)
It was a company called GC Services in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; we collected on credit card debt from Capitol One cardholders in the southern US (apparently, if your call center is located too close to the people whose debt you're collecting, the bomb threats get a tad too real for comfort). My coworkers were not excited to be there and the turnover rate was astronomical. People screamed into their receivers, called us horrible names described gruesome torture methods. (One girl's first collection call ended up being to a psychic who was able to tell her the names of her mother and father and dog and exactly how they would all die if she called that number ever again. She quit on the spot.)
But every once in a while, you'd get a kind person on the line. Someone who didn't want to literally shoot the messenger, someone who asked you how your day was and chatted with you for a few minutes, gave you a bit of a reprieve. This small subset of people became the collective inspiration for the man Valencia falls in love with on the phone at her own debt collection job,
"Valencia's OCD was informed by my own experience with it, It's something I've dealt with my whole life but only recently had named and described and ascribed to me. People use the acronym so flippantly (and improperly) that no one seems to know what it means anymore (ex: "I hate when picture frames are crooked; I'm so OCD.") and even I didn't recognize it in myself at first. After all, I didn't care about straight lines or counting stairs as I walked up them; the problem was that I could not, for the life of me, go to sleep without checking the lock on the front door over and over, worrying that if I didn't, someone was absolutely going to show up at my bedside at three AM and murder me. As a kid, I would lay awake in the dark, unable to stop picturing graphic, terrible things happening to my loved ones - and feeling horribly guilty for that, too, even though I couldn't control it. I'm a compulsive, excessive hand-washer. (And so on.)
Because in reality, OCD has little to do with being fastidious or picky or with liking things to be neat, and it's almost laughable that anyone misuses it at all - the definition is literally n the name. Obsessions (unwanted, intrusive thoughts, feelings, ideas, etc.) beget compulsions (behaviors carried out in order to get rid of the obsessions) to an extent that is disordered (disrupts a person's daily life).
It was interesting to write about a character with OCD as I was still learning about it, but with the added perspective of having experienced it without knowing what it was. To say this book was both therapeutic and informative to write would be an understatement.
The last element, the music, appears both on and behind the pages of this book. Valencia's story was loosely based on the song "Heart" by Stars. The song Mrs. Valentine listens to on repeat for the entire duration of the book is Sergei Rachmaninoff's Etude-tableau Op. 33 No. 8 in G-minor. Valencia's name is from "O Valencia!" by the Decemberists - a deceptively joyful-sounding song with heartbreaking lyrics. I chose it because I whole-heartedly believe that the most beautiful things are those that manage to be both happy and sad at the same time.