By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published May 23, 2014 at 9:04 AM

Lisa Mattson, author of "The Exes in My iPod: A Playlist of the Men Who Rocked Me to Wine Country,"  says she should have known that it was her fate to write about bad romances when an elementary school snowball fight with her first boyfriend landed him in the hospital.

He dumped her the following day.

Interestingly enough, the main character in her first novel has some of the same issues.

After all, Harley Aberle isn’t high class. She’s just a redneck gal from Kansas who’s on the hunt for true love.

"Harley comes from a long line of alcoholics and grew up around beer-guzzling raccoon hunters," says author Lisa Mattson. "Though she thinks Chardonnay is just a stripper name, she ends up waiting tables at a well-known restaurant in a metropolitan city, and her taste buds get exposed to a whole new world of flavors -- both with food and wine -- she never knew existed back in Kansas. As her palate becomes more refined, so does her taste in men. Harley’s search for her dream guy coincides with her working and going to college, so readers also see her path from waitress to wine marketer."

And Mattson has more than a bit of insight into Aberle’s plight. After all, the fictional character is loosely based on he own life. 

Mattson is an award-winning wine blogger, wine media expert and former magazine editor who grew up in backwater Kansas. She has spent the last 16 years working in wine marketing, and is currently director of marketing communications for iconic Jordan Vineyard & Winery.

Mattson’s book offers a candid account of Aberle’s often misguided approach to love and relationships, alongside her journey toward self-respect and genuine love. And Mattson says the story, in many ways, runs parallel to her own.

"Did I move to Florida with a pot-smoking scuba diver at age 20?" she asks. "Did I fall for a cokehead model I picked up at a bar? Did I fly to Los Angeles to spend the weekend with a Navy SEAL I’d only known for eight hours? Yes, yes and yes. Did our break-ups go down exactly as portrayed in the book? No, no and no."

The book, she says, was originally meant to be a memoir of sorts. But, after several ex-boyfriends "freaked out," Mattson decided it would be better as a work of fiction.

"Though it did require another year of editing, it was the best decision for the stories," she says. "Writing was much more freeing when I could embellish and not rely on memory or be tied to pure fact. The sex scenes got way better -- and in some cases funnier -- once Harley became the main character and the non-fiction shackles were off."

The novel, which cleverly harnesses the emotion of music-triggered memories, hits a sweet spot with Mattson, who says that she added the music component to the book because it seemed like the most vividly emotional way to replay the scenes she’d experienced with the men in her life.

"Whenever I hear a long-lost song from my teens and twenties, my mind always races back to an ex-boyfriend," she says. "I’d gotten to that point in my life where I was starting to look back and ask myself, ‘Wow. How did I get from there to here? How did I become this person who is so different from who I was ten years ago?’ I started to realize that all the embarrassing dating mistakes I’d made had shaped me into a better, stronger person, and I wanted to explore deeper what I’d really learned from being pitiful at choosing suitable boyfriends."

Wine also plays a role.

"I’ve been working full-time in the wine business since age 23, so creating a story about a waitress who ends up in the wine business came naturally," she notes. "That said, Harley’s career path is on the backburner in most of the early chapters. But, toward the end of the book, as she is approaching her 30th birthday, wine plays a bigger role in the chapters, the relationships."

Mattson will be in Milwaukee next week to talk more about her book as part of a Q&A with Milwaukee journalist Kristine Hansen, whose work has been published in Wine Enthusiast, Sommelier Journal, FSR, American Way and, among others.

The event, which will be held at the Milwaukee Public Market second floor Palm Garden on Thursday, June 5, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., will feature a lively discussion between Mattson and Hansen that covers everything from bad sex to great syrahs. Complimentary tastings of wines featured in the book -- such as Riunite, J, Ravenswood and Jordan -- will be served as well as snacks. Featured wines will also be available for purchase at Thief Wine Shop & Bar.

Mattson, says she is looking forward to a trip back to Milwaukee, which she last visited just after the Milwaukee Public Market opened.

"I’m looking forward to seeing how much it’s evolved," she says. "I also really enjoyed taking a stroll along the lakeshore last time, and I’d like to do that again. I love being near open water, just like Harley."

She’s also looking forward to bonding with other women, making new friends, and sharing her story.

"It’s very rewarding for me to talk candidly about my upbringing, my dating mistakes and the odds I’ve overcome," she notes. "I’m living proof that we all control our own destiny. No matter where you were born, how you were raised or what type of dead-end relationship you are in, you can change your life. You can live your dreams."

Tickets for the event are free, but online registration is required on or before June 1. Digital copies of "The Exes in My iPod" are available for $3.99 before the event. Paperback copies will be sold at the event for $14.99. 

Wine lovers also won't want to miss Lisa Mattson's suggestions for pairing some of her favorite summer dishes with delicious wines.

  • White nectarine and yellow tomato bruschetta -- "I love pairing this summer appetizer with a crisp Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. The subtle tropical notes and bright citrus really bring out a touch of sweetness in the nectarines."
  • Panko crusted chicken -- "Thomas Keller's recipe is easy, delicious and pairs well with crisp, stone-fruit style Chardonnays. The lemon sauce really brings out the citrus in the wine."
  • Chopped Thai chicken salad -- "I love pairing zippy rose sparkling wines with this light, spicy salad. The fruit flavors and acidity in the wine stand up to the spiciness from the Thai chilies."
Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.