Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Author Guest Post: Varian Johnson on Saving Maddie Playlist + A Giveaway

Today we have the wonderful author Varian Johnson (whose most recent book is Saving Maddie) visiting us at Reading in Color on the 2nd stop of his Saving Maddie blog tour. Welcome Varian!

Today is an important day for two reasons

1) Today is the release day of Saving Maddie! Read my review here, everyone should go buy the book, there's something in it for everyone :)

2) More importantly today is Varian's birthday. Happy birthday Varian! We wish you continued success as an author (and engineer) and thank you for gifting us with your stories.

I will now let Varian speak

Saving Maddie Playlist


Joshua Wynn is a preacher’s son and a “good boy” who always does the right thing—until Maddie Smith comes back to town. Maddie is the daughter of the former associate pastor of Joshua’s church, and his childhood crush. Now Maddie is all grown up, gorgeous—and troubled. She wears provocative clothes to church, curses, drinks, and fools around with older men. Joshua’s ears burn just listening to the things she did to get kicked out of boarding school, and her own home.

As time goes on, Joshua goes against his parents and his own better instincts to keep Maddie from completely capsizing. Along the way, he begins to question his own rigid understanding of God and whether, as his mother says, a girl like Maddie is beyond redemption. Maddie leads Joshua further astray than any girl ever has . . . but is there a way to reconcile his love for her and his love for his life in the church?

My thoughts on the Saving Maddie Playlist:

Some people laugh when I say this, but I consider Saving Maddie my first true love story.

My other novels include elements of romance, but I’m not talking about romance. I’m talking about real love, built on friendship and trust. I’d even call it a story based on sacrificial love—a love so deep that you’re willing to give up the very thing that you want to alleviate someone else’s pain.

Of course, these are teenagers were talking about—you can’t talk about love without bringing up sex. And maybe that’s okay—attraction and desire go hand in hand with love.

Basically, Joshua both loves Maddie and is in love with Maddie. He wants to save her, and he wants her. And he doesn’t know how to reconcile this. (But Joshua’s not alone in this—Madeline feels the same way.)

As this book is all about love (and lust), many of the songs on my playlist are love songs—though I wouldn’t consider them happy love songs. Like Joshua and Maddie’s relationship, my playlist is a mix of seduction and despair, love and loss. Here are a few of my favorites:

Hello, Like Before by Bill Withers

The first version of Saving Maddie wasn’t about Maddie nor Joshua—it featured characters named Peter and Cassie. Unlike Joshua and Maddie, they were strangers thrown together due to circumstance.

When I restarted the novel, this time with Joshua, the good preacher’s son, and the wayward Madeline, I knew I wanted them to be friends—old friends…best friends—which made me think of this song, which is about childhood friends seeing each other after a long absence. Wither’s voice is powerful, but the song feels more like a folksy, laid-back soul song than traditional R&B.

Call Me (Come Back Home) by Al Green

This song, like the entire album, drips with southern soul. In the song, Green implores a woman to come back home—like Joshua does with Maddie. Also, Al Green famously battled between the religious and the secular—at one point he gave up singing R&B music entirely and became an ordained minister.

Let Me In Your Life by Bill Withers

“I only want to love you / please don’t push me away / Let me in your life.”

Plain and simple, this song is all-Joshua. Like with “Hello, Like Before”, the song captures Wither’s folksy, laid-back vocal style, which jives with Joshua’s demeanor.

What Would Happen by Meredith Brooks

Right before Maddie leaves Conway for the first time, she and Joshua almost share a kiss—they’re interrupted before it could actually happen. Fast forward five years, and the echo of that failed kiss still hangs between them. Like in this song, I think both Joshua and Madeline wonder what would have happened if they had kissed five years ago…and what would happen if they kiss now.

Scared Money by Kelis

This song is from Kelis’s second album, Wanderland, which was never officially released in the US. The idea of scared money is that you have to be fearless in order have success, or as Kelis says, “scared money don’t make none.” Like Madeline does throughout the novel, Kelis’s words skip between the playful and the seductive throughout the song. With its driving, synthetic beat, this song makes me think of Madeline at her naughtiest—with purple lips, a tequila-flavor tongue, and a take-no-prisoners attitude.

I Want You by Marvin Gaye

This song is actually a bit…explicit, but still, I love the passion Marvin Gaye sings with. “I want you / the right way / I want you / but I want you to want me to.” Like Al Green, Marvin Gaye also struggled to balance the religious and the secular. Unfortunately, Gaye died before fully being able to tame his demons.

Prayer Dance by Rachelle Ferrell

This song actually reminds me of an alternate ending of the novel, where we see Madeline dancing in the Sanctuary. I cut this part long before it got to my editor after realizing the true ending of the novel had occurred 40 pages previous to that point. However, maybe we’ll see Maddie dance in the companion novel….

You Do What You Have to Do by Sarah McLachlan

This might possibly be the saddest song in existence. I basically put this song on repeat after I “broke up” with best friend during college. She wasn’t a girlfriend in the traditional sense, but in the emotional sense, we were a couple. More than a couple. And due to hundreds upon hundreds of reasons, it didn’t work out, and we eventually decided to stop seeing and talking to each other for a while.

Relationships like the one that Joshua and Madeline share remind me so much of that old friendship from my youth, which is why I always turn to this song when things get rough for my characters. The song is simple yet haunting, with just McLachlan’s voice accompanied by her piano, an upright bass, and percussion. I love so many lines from this song, especially the refrain, “But I have the sense to recognize / that I don’t know how to let you go.” I tried to capture this emotional struggle throughout the novel as Madeline constantly pushes Joshua away, yet he doesn’t quite know how to let her go.

Other Songs on the playlist:

Come Live With Me Angel by Marvin Gaye

Make Ya Feel Beautiful by Ruben Studdard

Elsewhere by Sarah McLachlan

In the Land of Make Believe by Dusty Springfield

Rainy Days by Shuggie Otis

Can We Pretend by Bill Withers

My favorite songs on the playlist (and they are all good) are Hello, Like Before by Bill Withers, and Make Ya Feel Beautiful by Ruben Studdard. I also really liked Scared Money by Kelis and I'm glad Varian brought the song to my attention. all the songs completely fit the book and I love the combination of spiritual and 'secular' music. I have some iPod updating to do!

Follow the rest of the tour

Wednesday, March 10th – Gwenda at Shaken & Stirred

Thursday, March 11th – Melissa at Book Nut

Friday, March 12th – Edi at Crazy Quilts

Thank you so much for stopping by Varian and have a great birthday!

A Giveaway

The publisher has kindly supplied me with 3 ARC copies of Saving Maddie to give away. So if you want to win one, just leave a comment here with your email address. You don't have to be a follower to enter but you will get an extra entry if you are an old follower or become a new one.

To enter: Leave a comment answering either
1) Why do you want to read Saving Maddie? (I'm just curious)
2) What's your favorite spiritual song? (You can say Jesus Walks by Kanye West) Even if you aren't spirtual there has to be an inspirational song of some sort that you like, it doesn't have to be religious in nature.

ETA: OR you can say something about the actual guest post. Just a thought.

Extra entries:

+2 New follower

+3 old follower

Ends: March 17, 2010

Open: Internationally (there will be at least one 1 U.S. winner and 1 international winner, the 3rd winner could be either).


  1. I want to read Saving Maddie because you gave it a good review and that's good enough for me!

    nbmars AT yahoo DOT com

    +3 old follower

  2. Please enter me!

    This sounds like such a great book. I'm always intrigued by anything that questions god or has a character questioning god. I won't go into details why! As for my favorite spiritual song . . . well, I don't really have one. I love Nara by ES Posthumus but it's not spiritual. It's just nice instrumental but it makes me light every time I listen to it.

    And I'm an old follower. Thanks for the contest!

  3. I'm an old follower.

    I want to read it because your review makes it sound fantastic!

    I really love the version of Joyful, Joyful at the end of Sister Act 2!! Lauryn Hill has such an amazing voice.

    foreveryalit at gmail

  4. I want to read it because it sounds like exactly the kind of book I like to read. :) And my favorite spiritual song is Someday, from the credits of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

    I'm an old follower! :) Thanks for running this contest!

  5. I want to enter because I want to A)Read this for the PoC challenge, B)I love the cover, C)Your review was spectacular

    My favorite spiritual song, well there's a couple and I'm not religious at all but: Roots In Stereo by POD and Matisyahu basically they collaborated and it's all about God, but the sound is amazing and it's rocking; Also, I really like Elijah Rock by Moses Hogan Chorale, we sang it in choir and it was AWESOME.

    I'm an old follower +3!


  6. Your review really made me interested in this book. I guess I'm also in a "questioning faith" period--and have been for awhile--and I often find myself too easily dismissive of people for whom faith is still important. This sounds like a book that is really able to address both sides.

    (I've been reading your blog for awhile on my feed reader, but I just became an official follower today!)

    tiasbook AT gmail DOT com

  7. Don't throw me in the pile (already have the book!), but I love the playlist. Fabulous songs.

  8. I want to read Saving Maddie because every since I read the synopsis, I have been intrigued by it! I haven't seen many reviews of Saving Maddie around the blogosphere so I want to review it as well. :)

    Thanks for the contest, I'm living outside US and Canada.

    kate.readthisbook [at] gmail [dot] com

  9. Eeeee PICK ME!! I want to read this because I keep hearing good things about it. Also may have something to do with the purple lipstick on the cover. Purple ftw.

    Hmm, well, Vienna Teng's song has a spiritual tinge to them, and I love her music. There's this relaxing quality that I really enjoy from her works. The song I have in mind is Homecoming (Walter's Song).

    Afraid no comment on guest post because... I don't recognize the artists? Should rectify that, clearly.

    +3 old follower

    Canadian through and through.

  10. Does Sarah McLachlan have any happy songs? Just wondering.

    Also, yeah break ups with friends = heartbreaking. Especially when you love them and have shared so much with them.

    I want to read the book because I love books with complicated characters about complicated issues.

    theenglishist AT gmail.com

  11. That's a seriously good playlist. I just love 'I Want You', it breaks my heart.

    I'm an international girl and I would love to be entered in your contest. I want to read Saving Maddie because basically religion is a very challenging subject for me. And I like to be challenged.

    Old follower. :D

    lauren dot wavekeeper at googlemail dot com

  12. Please enter me in the contest!

    I would say my favorite inspirational song is "In Christ Alone" by Newboys or Kristin Chenoweth's version of "Upon This Rock."

    New follower

    stephaniefleischer889 AT gmail DOT com

  13. Love the playlist and very happy that this book is on book tour. Thanks Varian and Ari.

  14. My favorite spiritual song is All Around Me by Flyleaf <3

    Thanks for the contest
    barbrafl737 (at) yahoo (dot) com

  15. I'm a new follower - I found you through The Rejectionist - and I love your blog. You will have a bright future in publishing I am sure, should you choose it.

    I want to read Saving Maddie because I am intrigued by the concept of a boy who sees a childhood crush so changed, but is still able to see in her the girl he once knew and love her anyway. I want to know more about them: what happened to change Maddie so much? How far will Joshua go to save her, and how much will he change in the process?

    ishtamerc AT gmail DOT com

  16. By the way, I don't know how this affects your giveaway, but I live in Canada. Just thought it might be important.

  17. I'm an old follower. I'd like to read this book because I like 1) the cover 2) Bill Withers and 3) the good review you gave it.

    ivesiana at yahoo dot com

  18. I'm an old follower. I'd love to read this book because it's about PKs. I'm not one, but in small enough towns being a PGK (pastor's grandkid) totally counts. As does being the Christian summer camp director's grandkid. Or having a mom who writes the Christmas pageants and a dad who directs the church choir. Also, I love the cover and you gave an awesome review!

  19. I would like to read this book because it sounds very interesting!

    +3 Old Follower

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

  20. I so scared, I thought it was too late to enter!!! I really want to read this because of the hot cover. jk, this book has been on my wishlist for a very long time and it just sounds like the kind of book ill be thinking about a long time after I read it.
    Though I do love Jesus Walks by Kanye West, my favorite inspirational song would have to be Onward Christian soldiers. I love that hymm.
    +3 I follow your blog!!!



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