How Do You Choose? Or Why I Wrote This Novel

DeLauné Michel, author of Aftermath of Dreaming and The Safety of Secrets, has graciously agreed to guest host my blog today. Michel says:

I was at a dinner party once when someone threw a question out to the group, “If you were stranded on a deserted island, would you rather be stuck with a man or a woman?”

My first response was, “A man, of course.” But then I started to think about it. And as much as I love my husband, I can talk to my best friend in a way that I never can with a man because I know she has felt exactly the way I have. But I still need my husband, so whom would I chose?

After I got married, a significant friendship in my life underwent a shift. It was as if just by signing that paper and walking down that aisle, things with my friend had changed, even though I really hadn’t, other than the option of Mrs. that I didn’t even use! As my friend and I struggled to get our friendship back, and to redefine what it meant, it forced me to think about that question, about being torn between a husband and a best friend. I wondered what sort of situation would make a woman be more loyal to her best friend than to her husband. Maybe a childhood trauma locked away with a life-long pact to never tell? And what if a woman lied to her husband to protect that secret? Could that ever be okay?

I realized that I didn’t know the answers to those questions, and that’s when I knew that they were the basis for my second novel. I wanted to explore deep-rooted loyalty between women, and how sometimes it can be a sword that cuts both ways, opening up whole worlds of safety within the friendship while exacting a price, as well.

When I started looking at loyalty, I also had to look at betrayal. And it occurred to me that one currency of intimacy in a best friendship is shared secrets, so I wanted to see what would happen to that relationship when its most powerful secret is given away, and given away thoughtlessly, like so many pennies dropped on the floor. There is such stark and deep knowledge of one another in an ages old friendship that I wondered about how some secrets are used to protect ourselves, while others are used to try to continue to be the person we think our best friend needs.

Then I realized that if there is any world in which secrets are at a premium, it is Hollywood. All of that shielding and hiding are essential tools in that town. I think one trait that distinguishes stars from other actors is their ability to appear completely exposed while in fact they presenting only and exactly what they want us to see. I felt that making my main characters, Fiona and Patricia, actresses in LA (though part of the novel occurs in flashbacks in south Louisiana where they grew up; I can’t let go of my roots!) would deepen their connection to secrets and revealing truths. Besides, my first novel, Aftermath of Dreaming, was mostly set in Los Angeles, and after living there for so long, I wasn’t ready to leave such a rich and provocative backdrop yet.

By working through Fiona and Patricia’s friendship in The Safety of Secrets, I learned a lot about loyalty and secrets between women. But I still have more to go. If you get a chance to read it, I’d love to hear what you think about how those issues play out in the book and in your own life.  And if I’m in your area on my book tour, come by and tell me in person. I’m traveling to Portland, LA, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, pretty much all of Louisiana, Jackson MS, Natchez, Memphis, Boston, Newburyport, and the New York area. The tour schedule is on my gather page.

Oh, and who would you chose for that desert isle, a woman or a man? Or is it a secret you’ll never tell?

Unblocking Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is a term, like chronic fatigue syndrome, that covers a multitude of ills. Sometimes it means an inability to begin writing that book, sometimes it means a stoppage in the flow of words or ideas, sometimes it means a lack of desire to write. It is only a critical condition when the blocked writer is on a deadline, otherwise time or a change in writing habits can help.

For me, writer’s block generally means that I have taken a false turn in the story, that I’m heading in the wrong direction. This often happens in the middle of the book when all the ideas that I had in the beginning have been used up, and I need to fill a hole in the plot. The only thing I can do is go back through the story, make sure every action is motivated, every scene necessary, every character operating at his or her full potential. Usually I can find where I went wrong. After I change it, I continue in the proper direction with renewed vigor.

My latest attempt at writing, however, stalled at the beginning. I wrote three and a half pages almost a year ago, then nothing. It seems ludicrous that I could have taken a wrong turn so early, but I must have, otherwise I would be well on my way to finishing the novel. Ironically, it was supposed to have been fun to write, a take-off on the apocalyptic fantasies that have been so popular in recent years. Then why is it so hard to get going?

Perhaps the story isn’t worth writing. Perhaps my characters aren’t strong enough. Perhaps I begin with too many characters or too few.

I decided that the story is worth writing. I have a great hook, high stakes, and a delicious ending. So the problem has to be in the characters. I was going to tell the story from two points of view — a man and a woman who come together in the end — but the problem seems to be that one of their viewpoints is superfluous. Showing both of their reactions to the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it would be repetitive, like those lawyer books that rehash the entire story during the courtroom scene. Yawn.

The man has the stronger story and will have to make some of the more poignant decisions (for example, he is a devout vegetarian who will be forced to kill to feed those dependant on him) so today I deleted the woman. She didn’t even have a chance to come to life before I had to do her in. Poor thing. May she rest in peace.

Now maybe I can get going on the book.