I got a great compliment the other day. A friend I’d named “Jackie” for Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare (I gave all my classmates aliases to protect the innocent and not so innocent) texted me with the message: My cousin phoned me and called me Jackie when I answered. She had read the whole book, loved it, and said that you really had me perfect. So — in my world, you are a big success.
Such great words to hear! I wanted to show older women living with verve and nerve, and I tried to make the characters sound as close to their real life personas as possible, and it nice to know I succeeded.
I don’t know if you can tell much about Jackie from the following excerpt (it seems to be about me more than her), but this is a fun snippet (and from what I remember, the conversation in real life happened exactly as written here:
Class had started during my musings, and I’d automatically followed along with what my classmates were doing until I heard Madame ZeeZee’s sharp, “Point your toes!”
I knew she meant me, and I sighed. I don’t know what I’d hoped for by taking ballet—maybe grace or strength. Even if I were young and slim, I could never become a ballerina. I don’t have a ballet body, or even ballet feet. I have a hard time pointing my toes, and when I stand on the balls of my feet, my heels barely lift off the ground. Luckily, dancing was like writing. I could practice over and over, trying to get it right.
We did chaine turns across the floor, and most of us stumbled as we tried to keep our balance, but Jackie spun like a top, doing a dizzying number of turns. Jackie McDerr looked like a Buster Brown doll with strong cheekbones, bright eyes, and salt and pepper hair cut straight just beneath her ears. She’d taken ballet classes for decades, and I comforted myself with the thought that maybe ten or twenty years hence, I too, could spin across the floor instead of making the few wobbly turns I now managed.
At lunch after class, most of us drooped wearily onto our chairs, but Jackie sat straight and cheery as always. “So, Pat. Have you started to write the book?”
I thought of lying, meeting her perky question with a perky response of my own, but all I managed was the feeble truth. “Nope. Not a word. There’s still so much I haven’t figured out. Everyone needs to have a secret that’s unveiled in the book, but I don’t want to reveal anyone’s real secrets, so I’d have to make something up. And I’m afraid of hurting people with my fictions.”
I imagined a conversation that might result from an untruth:
Husband: Character B is you, right?
Character B: Yes. Isn’t this great?
Husband: And it’s based on your life.
Character B: Yes, but it’s fictionalized.
Husband: So who is this guy you’re having an affair with?
Character B: I am not having an affair.
Husband: You said Character B is you.
Character B: It is. A fictionalized me.
Husband: And Character B is having an affair.
Character B: Yes, in the book I am having an affair.
Husband: So who is he? Do you want a divorce? Is that what you’re saying?
Character B: No. I’m saying I’m character B.
Husband: Do you want to leave or do you want me to leave?
“It’s a big enough responsibility shaping one’s character’s life,” I said, “and to have the real person influence the character. Having the character influence the real person’s life is more responsibility and guilt than I can handle.”
“Maybe it doesn’t have to be a secret, even a made-up secret.” Jackie took a bite of her vegetarian burrito and chewed it slowly. “Maybe you in the book can find out things about us that you in the real world don’t know.”
I took a second to unravel that convoluted sentence. “But how could my character find out things that I don’t know in real life? And what sort of things? They’d have to be relevant to the story.”
“Well,” Jackie said. “Something you don’t know is that I’m a pilot. Maybe that would have some relevancy.”
“Cool!” Rhett shot a fist in the air. “You can fly me to the Philippines to kill my husband, and no one will know I went there.”
Jackie looked from me to Rhett and back to me as if she couldn’t decide if Rhett were being facetious. I shrugged, unable to guess how far Rhett would go to get her way. Nor did I know how far her frankly-my-dear attitude carried her. Did she really not give a damn, or was the attitude merely a conceit she’d adopted because of her name? Maybe it worked the other way—the attitude came first, and then the name.
The whole murder project suddenly seemed impossible. I thought I knew these women I danced with, but I didn’t know them at all. I didn’t even know if the names I knew them by were their real names or nicknames. Or aliases.
What secrets were they hiding behind their innocuous names?
Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare is the perfect gift for for those who love fun, dance, murder, mystery, older women living with all the verve and nerve of the young, and me! (The main character is named Pat. Coincidence? Perhaps not.)
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Unfinished, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.