Rochelle B. Weinstein, WHAT YOU DO TO ME

Rochelle B. Weinstein, WHAT YOU DO TO ME

Guest host Julie Chavez interviews author Rochelle B. Weinstein about her seventh book, WHAT YOU DO TO ME, which features a dual timeline and explores themes of love, nostalgia, and the impact of parental choices. Rochelle discusses her process of weaving music into her storytelling, revealing how she secured lyric approval from Tom Higgenson of Plain White T’s for the book. The conversation delves into the challenges and joys of writing, the importance of music in storytelling, and the emotional connection songs create. Rochelle also reflects on her background in the music industry and its influence on her writing. The episode highlights the depth and complexity of character development, the balance of presenting relatable, flawed characters, and the author’s desire to provide readers with a fun, nostalgic experience.


Julie Chavez: Rochelle, welcome to “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” I’m so excited you’re here. I’m so happy that I get to be the one to interview you today. Welcome.

Rochelle B. Weinstein: Welcome. Thank you, Julie. Thank you to Zibby for having me. I just love you guys. I love what you’re doing over there.

Julie: I’m so grateful to be a part of it. It’s such a fun community. We are here today to talk about What You Do to Me, which is your latest book. Is it your seventh or eighth? I feel like I had this in my mind, and then I forgot.

Rochelle: I’m laughing because I’m getting confused. It’s my seventh. I literally just finished writing my eighth book yesterday.

Julie: Oh, my goodness, congratulations.

Rochelle: It’s a collision of books right now.

Julie: That’s such a weird thing that I never appreciated before I got into the author world, how you’re working on your next project by the time the comes out. Keeping it straight, is that ever challenging for you to keep straight what you’re talking about?

Rochelle: It’s great fun when you’re in an interview and you’re talking about a book that should be on the forefront of your mind, and you get the characters’ names all wrong because you’re so enmeshed in the new book. You’re like, wait a minute, who’s the love interest? It’s great fun.

Julie: That’s amazing. What a joy. What an adventure. I’m so excited to talk about this book. Will you give us, first, the brief overview? I’m terrible at summarizing books. Before we do that, I want to say this cover is amazing. I think that they did such a good job. There’s something about a mix tape that just totally pegs a certain time.

Rochelle: It conjures up a certain memory and a certain type of a nostalgia for us older women. Not you.

Julie: I’m getting there.

Rochelle: Like every author, we all suck at the synopses of our books, so here goes. What You Do to Me was inspired by the song “Hey There Delilah,” which I’ll get to. It is the journey of a Rolling Stone reporter as she’s on the hunt to find the muse behind the title song, which is “What You Do to Me,” which is a line right out of “Hey There Delilah.” We follow her journey to find the muse. It’s a dual timeline. We see Cecilia and her childhood and her history and how it influences her choices and her grit and her drive while she’s also introducing us to Sara and Eddie, who are the love interests. Ultimately, for Cecilia to bring these two together, their happy ending echoes her hopeful, happy ending.

Julie: Very good job. I’m very proud of you. You did great.

Rochelle: That sucked.

Julie: No. It’s so challenging to do. I will say, too, that I think it’s far more challenging for fiction than it is for nonfiction, at least in my mind. I’m an elementary school librarian. I tell the kids all the time that what you have is the story of the book, but then there’s what the book’s about. The book is always about so many more things. This book is about love and longing and nostalgia and the ways that our parents fail and forgiveness, just all these wonderful topics in here. I loved it.

Rochelle: Can you just do the synopsis for me? How about you do the synopsis? I’ll do your book. You do mine.

Julie: Oh, my gosh, that’s perfect. We can tradesies. We’ll do it from now on. We should’ve thought of this. It’s true, it’s hard to summarize your own work, especially since you’re so close to it. “Hey There Delilah,” that song really is the beginning of all of the book. Tell me about how you decided it and then actually involving Tom from Plain White T’s. Tell me a little bit about how that all went down.

Rochelle: I truly wanted to write something different, a little bit of a departure from my previous books and a little bit, maybe, more high concept and a little more edgy. I’ve always loved the song “Hey There Delilah.” Every word in which I described it in the book was how I felt about it, this sultry tune. You just feel his emotions and his affections for this woman. Of course, being a curious writer, I went and researched what the real story was behind the song. I don’t know if you know, but there is a real Delilah. She went to Columbia. She was a track runner. Tom met her in a bar in Chicago. Forgive me if I’m getting any of this wrong.

Julie: It’s all lining up for me, and so really, that’s all that matters, right? Who cares about veracity?

Rochelle: Exactly. Tom met Delilah at a bar. She had a boyfriend at the time. He may have said at some point, “I’m going to write you a song.” He ended up writing her a song. Yeah, she had a boyfriend. Listen, I initially had some pushback from agents and editors about this particular book. They’re like, “He was a stalker. How inappropriate to write a song for somebody that has a girlfriend.” Yeah, but I still thought it was the most romantic gesture that anybody could do. Honestly, if someone wrote me a song, I just would be bowled over and appreciative and whatnot. Mind you, she did end up going to the Grammys with him, so it couldn’t have been that uncomfortable. I think that was a really cool piece to it.

Julie: Absolutely. That’s a very good selling point.

Rochelle: They didn’t end up together. I, of course, was disappointed about that. I said, hmm, what would happen if I reimagined the story with wholly different characters, a wholly different time period? I stuck A over here, B over here, C over here. I worked with the players and made a completely different ending. Could I get the song? Lyric approval is a nightmare in our business. A lot of the publishing houses don’t want to touch it, which I understand. I used to work in the music business. My friend Doug Cohen, who I can’t say enough about — big plug for Doug. He put me in touch with Tom. I emailed him and I texted him probably a million times with no response. I was like, oh, my god, we’re getting down to the wire. The publishing house, we’re in edits. Do I have to change the title of the book? Do I have to change whole passages of the book? Then Tom all of a sudden — I still have the text. I have pictures of the text. He wrote me. He said, “Hey, I’m so sorry to delay you.” He’s like, “Can you talk later today?” I’m like, what do you think?

Julie: Can you talk later today? Nah, I’m getting my hair done. Can’t do it. Sorry, pal.

Rochelle: Walking the dogs. I was actually walking my dogs when we spoke. He was so warm and wonderful and just so appreciative and so humbled. I don’t want to say too much about the forward. First of all, he gave us the approval for the lyrics. We went through Warner Chappell. I really wanted him to write a forward. What was so beautiful about the forward is — here, we all look at, Tom wrote this song. He’s looking at us like authors. We wrote this book. He was just so humbled by the fact that that song had enough meaning to somebody to base an entire book upon it. I think that really showed through in his forward. He was great. Now I’ve been stalking him. I make little jokes to him. I’m going to fly you down to the launch event. You better come. I am your new stalker.

Julie: I’m your stalker. I’m only half kidding. Don’t worry, I’m not dangerous. I’m just fun.

Rochelle: I’m not going to write a song about you. Don’t worry. He’s been great.

Julie: The forward is one of my favorite parts of this book too. To your point, I don’t think I ever appreciated, years ago, that songwriters really are storytellers.

Rochelle: They are.

Julie: I don’t know if you ever watch Songland. Now I would like to stalk Ester Dean. She was so fantastic on that show. They were working on songs. Basically, you’re watching them go through a mini editing process where they’re saying, okay, we need to bring this out and draw this down. It was so fascinating to me. I never appreciated that. Also, I want to go back to one thing you said. That was about the lyrics permissions. I have only dipped my toe in the permission space. I came home and told my husband one day, “I’m never ever again.”

Rochelle: It’s a nightmare.

Julie: It’s insane. I had no idea. That was immediately the first thing I saw when I picked it up. I was like, oh, my gosh, look at all these song titles. You had support. Obviously, there was a lot of research. There are things that you moved, but a lot of this is true to the dates when the songs came out and all these things. How did you manage that?

Rochelle: You know what? It was so much fun for me. Listen, to combine music and books, for me, having been in the music industry — music has defined me since such a young age. Books have defined me from such a young age. It was so fascinating for me to do this. This was as close to a historical fiction writer I’ll ever get. Oh, my god, what they do is so incredible. It was so much fun. Working with the timeline and the music in the seventies, I had to go look at the Billboard charts. Just even delving into that research was so fascinating and so nostalgic for me. I was literally living — someone said this book sounds like the soundtrack of your life. Each chapter, it’s a song with a person’s name. There’s a ton out there, but I was very particular about the ones that I picked. So many of them elicit so many incredible memories. I know we’re going off tangent right now.

Julie: I love it.

Rochelle: The research and all that, it just shows you the absolute power of music and the power to transport and the power to bring you back in time. To have a book as a vehicle for that, I just feel like it’s a double whammy.

Julie: Absolutely. It really does present it in a way that I think allows readers to think about their own soundtrack because that’s what I found myself thinking about. What are the songs? Some of them are these. Some of them are just the most random. I feel like when I sit down to make a — now it’s a playlist. I’m not making a mix tape. It’s just amazing to me to think about all of the songs that encompass your life and where they come from, those discrete moments in time. There’s something really special about that.

Rochelle: Obviously, this is a big book community and a reading community. I think as readers, we want to escape. We want to feel something. We get that from books and also music, the same thing. Sometimes we don’t have the words, the phrases, or the expressions to share what we’re feeling. I know as a child, music and books did that for me. I was able to feel, understand, be transported to a certain place through those vehicles. It really is incredible, the power of both.

Julie: You are exactly right. It makes me emotional just thinking about it. What’s a song for you that brings comfort?

Rochelle: Trick question. Gosh, there are so many.

Julie: I know. That was mean. Pick your favorite child. I’m kidding.

Rochelle: I know. It’s funny you say that. There’s different songs for different seasons and reasons. The first thing that came to my mind — there was two things. This is going to sound so totally weird. My son Jordan — “Stumbling In”, which is such an old song, and it is so totally inappropriate — for some weird, whacky reason, I don’t know, it is our song. Whenever we hear it, we take a picture of it if it’s playing on Sirius or whatnot. We just feel connected. It has no significance. Then my other son Brandon, who will kill me for this, whenever he — my kids went to a Jewish day school from Mommy & Me until eighth grade. When he comes home or when things are tense in the house — we have the Sonos, the speakers, in the house. All of a sudden, he’ll start playing “Ma Tovu,” which is this Jewish song. It’s in Hebrew. Listen, it’s not even like we’re the most religious family. The point of this and your question is to show you that music connects. When he plays that song, we all laugh. I’ll be on the phone with some of my author friends, and they’ll be like, “Oh, my god, is Brandon playing “Ma Tovu” again?” I’m like, “Yep.” It’s just something that connects. What a gift.

Julie: Yes, it’s so true. There’s so much crossover. You do it so well in this book. I loved reading a little bit about you, that you — you mentioned it earlier. You have a background in music. You worked at The Box, which is, by the way, the best title for anything I’ve ever heard. I was like, that tells you all you need to know. That was your starting point. You not only incorporate that, but there’s also a lot of your journalism angle there, which I really enjoyed. Was it fun to bring all these parts of your life together? I imagine this was kind of like a, like we talked about, a mix tape of your life. There’s something minorly autobiographical about it where you’re pulling in all these sides of yourself that have existed. They’re coming together in this book.

Rochelle: That’s why the next book that I just finished writing yesterday absolutely stinks, because I don’t have that same passion and excitement. Well, I do, but that book was so much fun to write. It was challenging, the red tape and whatnot. That was not work, that book. This book, it was so much fun to write and to delve back into that world. I don’t want to be in it right now, for sure. It was great in my twenties, going to the Grammys, getting free CDs. All those perks are wonderful, but not now. Now I’m too old. This is the perfect platform for me to dive back into the music business. It was a lot of fun.

Julie: I bet. I was just telling someone the other day about remembering being part of Columbia Music Club where I got the nine CDs for a penny or whatever it was. You remember that?

Rochelle: I forgot about that. I love that.

Julie: I was thinking about it the other day. I was like, man, I remember getting that little catalog and just pouring through it. That was living right there.

Rochelle: This generation has no idea what we — when we used to hear a song on the radio, you used to race to get your tape recorder so that you could press record and tape your favorite song. There was no Shazam. We had no idea who the artist was. You know what’s so funny now also? Now they have all the song lyrics. We didn’t have that back then. Now all of a sudden, I’m like, hey, wait a minute, I didn’t know those were the words to that song that I’ve been singing wrong for the last twenty years.

Julie: I love that you brought that up. It is so true. Also, sometimes when they look up the lyrics, I’m like, that is cheating. You have to listen to it five thousand times and torture yourself. Duh.

Rochelle: And get it wrong for years.

Julie: We have so many of those stories in our family. Your son will love what you mentioned. My sister’s going to love this.

Rochelle: What’s her name? Come on, come on, spill.

Julie: Her name’s Amy. Since I wrote a memoir, she’s already in there. I’ve, I’m sure, ruined her life in some ways, so we’ll just continue on. Keep it moving. We had, I remember, this ridiculous conversation about, I think it was a Cher song that she — I think it might have been a remake, which was “Taxi Taxi.” She had done that. My sister was convinced that it was, “Pterodactyl, give me a ride.” I remember having this huge argument with her. These were the things that we did in the nineties, just rip into each other.

Rochelle: It was so easy. It was so simple.

Julie: It was so simple. I did write, as one of my questions, what do you think our kids are missing from making a mix tape?

Rochelle: First of all, I’ll be a little on the cerebral side. I think they’re missing the hard work and the determination. They’re relying too much today on the instant gratification. I don’t know if I said that the right way. I think instant gratification is just ruining the whole process. Some of the joy is, oh, I nailed it. I got the song. I made this mix tape. Everything flowed perfectly. You’re just so proud of your efforts. You’re self-sufficient. You’re doing this. You’re not relying on somebody else to do it. I think that’s missing a lot today. My goodness, there are so many things that we’ve been talking about, like the lyrics. I would say that the instant gratification has muddied the journey of unearthing that song and those lyrics. How about sitting at the tape recorder and hitting stop so you could write down the words? Then play and then stop, and then I have to rewind it a few beats. Come on, that is just so satisfying to get it all down on the page.

Julie: So satisfying. I remember, also, calling in to the radio station and making the request and then waiting to push record so that I could catch it on tape. I will say instant gratification is also ruining me, so I don’t mean to put the children in a box here. There was something about that effort. It was like you were capturing a moment in time, which we don’t have now because now we have access to it all the time.

Rochelle: Right. Look at your power. You had the power to catch that. Now someone else has the power. Yes.

Julie: It’s so true. Looking back, there are many things. I do enjoy a good Sonos system and pulling it up on my Spotify. I do have to say there are so many wonderful things.

Rochelle: One of my older books, Somebody’s Daughter, was about a cyber-sexual, in a middle school/high school, situation, cell phone, digital technology. I have always, always said that the internet, its greatest strengths are its greatest weaknesses.

Julie: Yes, I could not agree more. It’s so interesting to see that as a parent too. My husband and I talk about this often when he decides that we’re going to throw everyone’s phones in the bathtub and stuff. That’s always fun. It’s just one of those things. I said, “But look at how connected they are.” They really do have a lot that we didn’t have. I’m trying not to become an old fogy too soon, but it’s happening .

Rochelle: It’s like anything else. With anything else in life, it’s moderation. There has to be a balance.

Julie: Yes. Let me evaluate my relationship to whatever this is. You’re exactly right. Let’s talk about the book. How do you find your characters? Do they come to you? Do you write to discover them? What’s your process like? Now you’ve finished eight drafts, seven books and one draft. What’s your process?

Rochelle: I think it’s changed and evolved over time. It used to be, my characters, they find me. Then this goes back to that ridiculous question that we all hate, the plotter/pantser. I’m writing a book. I know my character. I know their journey. I know their goal. Then while I’m writing, they take me on their journey. It starts out where I’m in their head. It starts out where I know their story, and then they hand over their story. It’s interesting because this latest book, the eighth one that I’m writing, it’s four points of view. This has been the hardest time I’ve ever had with characters. They didn’t come to me as easily. It was much harder to write not knowing up front. My point is, usually, I have the one protag, and it’s that woman’s journey. This time, it was four separate characters, being in their heads, all their individual journeys. The big question, who are you rooting for? It was tricky. It was challenging. There’s a little of both.

Julie: That sounds interesting. I like the way that you said that. I can kind of see the character — you’re sort of summoning them. Then they’re asking you to tell their story, and so you’re watching it unfold even as you’re writing it.

Rochelle: Yeah, because as you’re fleshing out your characters, you may have your own personal spin on it. It may have been your own personal, a little small part of you or someone you know. Then you’re in character on the page. The character’s like, no, no, no, I wouldn’t do that. I would do this.

Julie: Interesting. I’m wondering if I’ll be able to have enough distance. I started working on a novel, but I don’t know what I’m doing, which is perfect for me, actually. I wonder about that because I might be the tiniest bit of a control freak. I don’t know for sure. You’ll have to ask my family, and they will say, for sure, I am. There’s such a letting go. You’re holding space for this imaginary person, almost. It’s fascinating to hear you describe it that way. I respect what people can do. You have done that here. I also wanted to talk just briefly about — there’s a real parent-child relationship, obviously, in this book. I feel like it relates to that closed doors or missed opportunities or missed connections that happen as a result not of a choice that we’ve made, but a choice, perhaps, that someone has made on our behalf or a choice that they made that had a waterfall effect. When you sit down to write a book like this, do you already have those themes in mind, or do those come up as you explore the character’s journey?

Rochelle: I think there’s a global, general theme. I don’t want to give too much away. I knew that Cecilia was going to have this challenging relationship with her father. Honestly — this is to your point, your last question. I didn’t know that big reveal was going to happen. I did not. As I was reading through the drafts and as I was editing, I felt that where the story went was much more in line with who Cecilia was and who, ultimately, Don was and how this story could — you don’t want to have the most likable characters all the time, but you don’t want readers leaving and being like, asshole, bitch, I didn’t like her choices. I don’t want just the perfect pat ending. I guess the point I’m trying to say is that relationships are so layered and so multifaceted and so pulling away the layers of the onion. Not everything is always as it seems or we imagine it to be. I like to show those gray areas in those familial relationships.

Julie: You do an excellent job with that. There is a lot of gray. There’s a lot of heaviness and challenge when it comes to family relationships. Seeing pieces of redemption for all of us, it’s always something I look for in books because it leaves you — you’re exactly right. Not everything is tidy or tied up neatly or fixed. Perhaps, a small part of it remains hopeful. That can feel so wonderful.

Rochelle: I don’t know if this makes sense, but Don James, whatever type of redemption he may or may not have had, that influenced Cecilia, ultimately. It could be somebody else’s journey that influences yours, and the ability to see that no one in our lives is perfect.

Julie: It’s so true, but what about me? I feel like I kind of am in my life.

Rochelle: Yes, you are.

Julie: Everyone else is a disaster. I am just doing great.

Rochelle: My husband is sitting across the room. He’s laughing. He’s saying, “I love her.”

Julie: Best friendship, engage. We already said it. It’s happening. This is great. It’s such a challenge to see things honestly. I think that’s such a beauty in your fiction and fiction in general. You do a really good job of presenting those angles with a soft touch that doesn’t feel too oversimplified and also doesn’t feel too rigid, like, hey, this is a disaster, and it’s never going to work.

Rochelle: I go with safety. I try to be safe.

Julie: We all need to just, sometimes, get right down the middle of the fairway. There’s no need to be over in the bunker. What is your hope for this book? This is your seventh book. I’m sure each one is different. Like we’ve said, this one has a special place in your heart. What would you love to see when it comes out?

Rochelle: My husband says movie.

Julie: Yes, I agree with that. I second that because so much of this translates so well.

Rochelle: It’s so funny because that wasn’t my answer. A lot of authors, they have a very specific goal. I manage expectations. That’s how I get through this career. I feel like my life is really balanced, book and family life. I don’t let myself get too — my editor will disagree. I don’t let myself get too bogged down. I just want people to enjoy it. I want them to be transported. I want them to have fun. I want them to remember a song that really influenced them. I want them to have that nostalgic moment that we all love when we hear a song that brings us back to childhood. The word that keeps coming to my mind is, I just want everybody to have fun with it because it was so much fun to write.

Julie: I can’t wait for this book to be out. Thanks for being on today and for sharing this joy with me. I have no doubt that people will have fun with this book because I’ve had so much talking to you about it. It’s just part of what you have created and given in the world. I can’t wait for people to explore it.

Rochelle: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Julie: My pleasure.

WHAT YOU DO TO ME by Rochelle B. Weinstein

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