novel writing

In the Fifties, what a girl wore branded her as Easy or Good.

Good Girls wore bobby socks and saddle shoes. Easy Girls wore ballerina slippers and ankle bracelets. They had pierced ears. A Good Girl clasped a charm bracelet on her wrist and a circle pin on the side of her collar that indicated she was a virgin. (I could never remember what side that was.) A Good Girl wore her boyfriend’s letter sweater, an Easy Girl her guy’s leather jacket with a tight skirt and sweater.

Good Girls could get away with form-fitting sweaters, but skirts had to be loose enough to slip easily over hips and butt. Calf-length circle skirts with crinolines underneath were great for jitterbugging because they swished and swooshed when you did. For all the talk of poodle skirts, I never had one. I did know someone who had a battery-rigged skirt with a felt appliqué Christmas tree. She’d squeeze a bulb and the tree lights would come on.

Good Girls aimed to convey a kind of sexy innocence. From their point of view, Easy Girls were too obvious. They didn’t leave themselves the option of virtuous outrage if a boy made an unwanted move on them. With the way they dressed and held themselves, they would have been “asking for it.” Girls were schooled early in this way of thinking. In Stony River, Tereza Dobra knows exactly what she’s doing when she struts around in short shorts and a tight sweater.

That understanding made me initially flinch at the cover design for Stony River. It’s gorgeous and evocative of the era, all right. But in that era, many would have considered the model’s pose a sexual invitation. Would readers think that’s what the book was about? I checked with others. Those who reacted with sentiments like “whoa” were either my vintage or had read the manuscript and were expecting something darker. Younger ones found the cover beautiful and compelling. “I’d pluck it off of a table of other books first,” one said, and wasn’t that the idea?

I reconsidered the cover from a more modern perspective: why couldn’t you lie with arms behind your head and legs drawn up without someone judging you as asking for it? When I realized that my character, Miranda, whom the model resembles, would have no understanding of what provocative meant and could easily picture herself lying “on soft grass, garbed in gossamer and sunlight,” it felt right. Now, I can’t imagine Stony River with anything but this cover.

Stony River goes on sale July 24. For suggestions on what to wear on book club night, see Dress the Part on the Flashback page.

Crikey.

I haven’t penned thoughts for this blog in over two years. Instead, I’ve been turning myself inside out writing and rewriting a novel. Emerging only recently, exhausted and disoriented, from a self-imposed quarantine due to that writer’s disease for which there’s only periods of blessed remission.

Not surprisingly I’d lost touch with others, My husband had cobbled a life around my unavailability for anything lasting more than fifteen minutes. And I’d submerged my own feelings in those of my characters, suspended my life in favor of theirs. (I envy those who can restrict their obsession scribbling to mornings or the quiet hours between midnight and dawn.)

I’m taking a break before the next book, enjoying bike rides and lunches out on the final summer days of British Columbia. Wondering what I should write about on Silent Girl Speaks and why. Who gives a rip what an aging WASP woman who has the luxury of indulging in novel writing has to say about anything in a world pocked with war, poverty and oppression?

Guilty As Charged

This guilt over privilege may be more of the reason for my silence over the past two years than the intensity of novel writing. I’m mute in the face of women who are raped, stoned, held as prisoners in their homes, forced to journey miles for water. How dare I indulge in literary fantasies while my sisters suffer?

But here I am, with a room of my own, a space on the blogosphere in which I can talk to myself and spammers. A chance to say what I feel, not just what I think. I’m gonna give it another go. If anybody cares to join the conversation, so much the better.  If not, that’s okay, too.


FROM THE BOOK