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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Visit with Lily Burana, author of I Love A Man in Uniform

I'm really excited about today's post. It's been in the works for a while now, but various things kept conspiring to keep me from putting it together. Now that vacation is over and I have a spare minute, I finally have a chance to share it with you all. A month or so ago I had the chance to fit I Love a Man in Uniform into my reading life. I'm a big fan of memoirs in general, especially the ones that have a "theme" to them, as opposed to biographies that cover an entire life.

Because the internet is magic, I am lucky enough to "know" Lily Burana and asked her if she'd stop by and answer a couple of questions for me and she actually agreed to do it! I had planned to do a big build up and a long review and make it all awesome and great, and sadly (happily?) vacation happened. Instead of a nice long preview post and then the interview, I've combined them into one fairly long post, which I really hope you will all take the time to read.

So what happens with a goth teen turned stripper turned journalist marries a military man? She writes a book about it, that's what. Lily Burana, author of Strip City and Try, has written a memoir of what happened after she stopped stripping and moved on. She meets Mike, a career Army man, in a graveyard(!) and has a whirlwind romance that culminates in September 11th and then a quickie wedding. Mike is soon deployed and Lily is left to deal with being an Army wife and all that entails. However, this one isn't just about how to be a wife when your husband is overseas, but also how to handle his return and your adjustment to living together again.

Written with complete honesty and full of humor, Lily doesn't shy away from the hard stuff. If you ever wondered what life would be like living on base, or what PTSD is really like, or just wanted an insider glimpse, this is the book for you. Don't worry, it's not full of red, white and blue bunting and there isn't a yellow ribbon magnet afixed to the cover. You don't have to be an Army wife to enjoy reading it. Lily is a real person, not a stereotype of the perfect military wife (though she does address it.) I would recommend the book to just about anyone with complete confidence.

And now, our feature presentation....

Hi Lily! Thanks for taking time to join me here at Books. Lists. Life!

First, I love the cover of the book. Was it what you pictured
while you were writing it? Did you ever imagine you'd be on the front

I really never wanted to be on a book cover. We went through, I'm not kidding, about 75 different designs, none of which we could agree on--the sales people get the most heavily weighted vote. Because we were runnign out of time, the marketing people just slapped together a fake cover for the catalog using my old author photo, and wouldnt' you know, that's the one the sales folks liked! I said I didn't want that one used--it was too corny and earnest. I mean, I'm not Suzanne Sommers or whatever, so me grinning out of the cover seemed silly and inapppopriate. But I said I'd be okay with being on the cover if it was cheeky and kind of retro--a little play on the old-school Stepford Army wife stereotype.I had my old punk rock friend Laura photograph it (she designed the dress, too) and we had a ton of fun doing it. Even the 2 hours of hair and makeup beforehand was a blast. The cover, once it was totally designed came out with just the right mix of retro-cool with a hint of irony, which works for me. So, moral of the story is: Never say never.

I recently read that the bookstore at West Point did not allow you
to have a signing. Were you surprised? Did you think that might happen? In the book you mention several other Army wives who were supportive of you, what has their reaction been?

I was very surprised! But one thing that happened immediately after the cancellation is a number of cadets, wives, and academics kicked up a fuss. Bear in mind that West Point is incredibly networked--alumni, cadet parents, and faculty all have their own social networks and any big news, like this, spreads immediately. One department head at West Point invited me in to speak to the faculty at a luncheon; my old next door neighbor now retired from the Army, emailed me with support from the middle of Kansas. And my West Point Wife homegirls came all the way down to NYC for my book party to show their solidarity, so oddly, the cancelation really created an opportunity to me to see how much people cared! So now I love the West Point community more than ever.

My grandfather was an officer in the Air Force and a pilot in WWII. By the time I was born he was long retired and it really didn't mean anything to me. When he died he was buried with full honors, including a 21 gun salute. I didn't expect it to be a big deal but it totally was and was one of the few moments I got truly emotional. When I read of your husband's respect of your father at his funeral it brought that memory back in full force. Were you expecting it to be so emotional?

I don't think it's easy to convey how moving military honors can be. Seeing someone's service memorialized with such precise rituals and respect is almost too much to bear. I mean, you're totally pulled apart and made a mess of by grief--makeup running everywhere, you cant find your car keys, your nose runs all the time and snot bubbles down your face. But a soldier, when rendering honors, keeps it all together. Out of love, out of duty. It is one of the most beautiful things I've ever witnessed, and no matter how well I knew--or didn't know--the deceased, I am never able to see such grandeur without shedding a few tears.

In the book you address some issues that I always associated with
teenagers and college students- eating disorders and cutting. Recently there have been a few Young Adult fiction books that also address these things (For example, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson and Cut by Patricia McCormick.) Do you think that issues like this are becoming more mainstream because of the attention paid to them?

Yes, and I think that lots of young women really enjoy reading about them. It shows them they are not alone in their extremity of feeling, that it's reasonably common to feel so overwhelmed that you act in self-destructive ways as a means of trying to cope. It's not about being perfect after you find the perfect therapist or showing some seamless happy ending--it's the journey, of showing all the pain of life in its true form, and the ways that you try to overcome it, however successfully (or not) you can manage. This type of writing has been around since Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, and maybe even before that. It will always have its place, because being a girl in this world is treacherous business, and sometimes reading about The Crazy makes you feel, paradoxically, less crazy!

Tell me more about Operation Bombshell? Have you had good turnouts for it?

Operation Bombshell is my pet project--I teach burlesque dance to women whose husbands are deployed. Just something to give the women a bit of a lift because deployment can be so lonely and stressful, whether you're home alone or taking care of your kids alone while your husband is gone. I gather small groups of women together and we just camp it up for an hour. I keep the classes small because it's more fun that way. Honestly, if I were able to meet the demand for classes, I'd probably be on different military installation every week!

Your last book (Try) was a fiction novel set in the
rodeo west, which happens to be where I live. I read and loved it just as I was starting this blog, and failed to write a review of it. Do you think that you'll write any more fiction so that I'll get another chance? What's

Next is turning Try into a screenplay and I! Can't! Wait! Seriously. Once I'm done with this fun q&a, I am getting started. Yeahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!

What question do people never ask you that you wish they
would? What's the answer?

Fatty and salty, or fatty and sweet? Answer: Fatty and salty. Keep your ice
cream and chocolates. Pizza and fries and corndogs 4 ever!

And last- what five things (not people or animals!) could you not
live without?

Beat up old MacBook
Double-sided tape
SPF 45 sunscreen
Target fitted ribbed tank tops

(I feel the need to go to Target now, how about you?)

Lily has a website, which you can find here and is on Facebook as well. I'm sure she'd love a few more followers, so if you're on Facebook look for her.


  1. This is a great interview. I have not heard of Lily before, but I am intrigued by this memoir. I have a military background -- father, brother, and husband are all Marines). My dad fought in Korea. My husband and brother fought during Desert Storm in 1991. Being a military dependent is definitely tough. Thanks for the interview and introducing me to a new author.

  2. Great interview, Lisa. I love memoirs too - this one sounds good to me because I was a Navy brat.

  3. I am heading to the library soon to pick up some books for my family vacation. I will looking for this book to take along with me. It sounds great. I loved reading about Lily Burana. Thank you for the interview.

  4. What an interesting interview--stripper gone army wife! And I love that she teaches burlesque dancing to the other wives. My brother-in-law is over in Iraq right now and it's really tough on my sister-in-law (and the rest of the family), but we're constantly thinking of him and hoping he is safe.

    My grandfather was a pilot in WWII as well--I know it was a big war, but wouldn't it be crazy if they knew each other?

  5. Nice interview. Happened to come across you blog through my google alerts. I'm an associate editor of the Internet Review of Books and I have the alert set to internet book reviews. I've found some nice sites that way, and some great books to read, too. No need to reply, though, or maybe you'd be interested in doing a review for us now and then?

  6. Thanks for leaving me the link to this interview - it was great! This was not a book that I'd have ever picked up on my own, but after reading the interview it is going on my TBR list. :)

  7. Thanks for the great interview! I just got this one in the mail this week and can't wait to read it.


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