Hiya – Gonna be hanging out with these folks the next coupla weeks, sharing heretofore untold secrets about myself.
About Errin Stevens
Posts by Errin Stevens:
Updrift is first and foremost a love and adventure story with a little mythology mixed in, not a treatise on ideal womanhood or feminism… But. I did write in a theme addressing the challenges modern women face concerning work, family, and love; and I included the backdrop deliberately with the goal of enriching the narrative. The theme is not there to cast aspersions or further divide us, however. Quite the opposite.
In a nutshell, my heroine, Kate, is the daughter of a single, working mother. As Kate grows up, she looks to the three most influential women around her – her mom; her aunt, the corporate go-getter; and Alicia, the stay-at-home mother of her best friend – to try on the incarnations of adulthood each represents. She changes her mind twice in Updrift, changes her mind again in the sequel… and if I were to focus solely on Kate throughout the series, which I don’t, her circumstances and how she applies her values in light of them would change many, many more times.
I took this approach because real women who juggle real, whole lives, don’t have the luxury of adhering to one, pure professional or biological ideal. Real women adapt, with considerable intelligence and strength, to accommodate all the dichotomies inherent in having a job and family and lovers on the side; and they live richer, more communicative lives as a consequence. They’re also, in my opinion, a lot more relatable than the idealized women represented on either end of the spectrum in commercial literature, ones who I don’t think much exist.
If you’re like me, you’ve seen literally dozens of what I call anti-heroines come out of traditional publishing in the past ten years. The last book I read in what’s become a veritable slough of them had the hero and heroine falling in love because of their ability to physically harm each other, with the heroine (of course) being the superior fighter. It was very well written… but I find this trope every bit as one-dimensional and limiting as the damsel trope it’s meant to replace. I also find the arguments in favor of such scenarios too facile, certainly disingenuous, and worst of all, unkind.
Telling a young woman she needs to develop her combat prowess to be a competent romantic partner is no better than insisting on weakness for the same reason. If you don’t know a woman who wrestles with how to have a family and pay attention to it while holding down a job, you don’t know any women. If you think brandishing the banner of ‘either/or’ should be the goal of fiction aimed at young women, I would ask you to approach the idea of womanhood with more expansiveness, more empathy, and more love, both for yourself and for girls coming into adulthood.
This perspective led me to ponder in my writing, “What does ‘and’ look like instead of ‘either/or? What does it feel like inside a real character?” I gave Kate her professional passions because they are a part of her personhood and therefore her womanhood, and she sets aside her romantic compulsions for the man she loves in favor of professional discipline before she commits, which I believe can be hard for some girls but is a worthy choice to illustrate. I make sure Kate feels the friction between duty and love, as many of us do. I do not make her figure everything out at age 20 because I wouldn’t expect that of her, and because life in the real world doesn’t happen that way.
And I just wouldn’t do that to a sister.
Kate’s story contrasts with different heroines in the trilogy, which was drafted entirely before Updrift came out. For those who are truly interested in this issue and where I take it, I’m happy to provide the following spoiler alerts: Kate will return to her professional interests in Breakwater, where she figures out how to accommodate motherhood and her career ambitions, but on her terms. Breakwater’s heroine establishes her own business and is professionally developed well before engaging with her guy. And in the third, Outrush, the heroine completes medical school and is processing a failed marriage before her romance takes off.
Maybe you disagree with my approach and have good reasons for doing so. I welcome your comments and invite you to share your perspective. And if you have a different story to tell that expands on the ideas I laid out above, I invite you to write the story out, publish it, and share it with the world. I think we need a broader selection of novels than the ones we have. The ones I’ve written, I’ll admit, are based on my musings and mine alone. What would be your theme?
Was asked to provide a personal letter to accompany a book subscription box Updrift was part of recently, and I thought I’d throw it up here for any other interested Updrifters:
Updrift likely began in my girlhood – I’m thinking 1976 – when the mythology of Hans Christian Andersen’s “Little Mermaid” sunk its teeth into me and ate me whole. I honestly wonder at our decision to shelve fairy tales in the children’s section when so many of them are these brutal, brutal tragedies… and “Little Mermaid” is no different. Seriously, read “The Little Match Girl” or “The Red Shoes” at your local library and just try to walk away undevastated!
I remained captivated with TLM’s mythology throughout my twenties, when the story simmered beneath my struggles to finish college, establish myself in a career, run the modern dating gauntlet and try to look breezy and confident during it all, which I did NOT accomplish. A husband and child and three jobs later, I finally sat down to try and make sense of modern life and modern womanhood; and Andersen’s fable helped me write it out. In this sense, Updrift was a way for me to knit up my own coming of age via a kind of corollary post-mortem.
But Updrift is not an autobiography, and neither is it the Little Mermaid retold, although I’d love for you to see a reflection of the original in my book. Can you guess who most closely mimics Andersen’s heroine? When you’ve finished the novel, think back on who was most compelled to abandon friends and family for love, who in the end preferred his own destruction to that of his beloved. It’s twisted, I know, but hopefully in the right way.
An author colleague, Allie Ritch, is collecting a series of one-liners from various characters across the romance genre for a compendium she’ll curate and showcase sometime this fall on her site. I had fun combing through my stuff to come up with a few and thought I’d share a few:
“Desperation gets the girl – is that right?” Gabe Blake in Updrift
“Wow. It really was an orgy.” Maya Wilkes in Updrift
“The first time I saw this scene… well, it was so sweetly erotic, I couldn’t sleep for three days.” Kate Blake in Breakwater
“Ha. I can’t wait until you’re the most pregnant thing on the planet. I’ll be there to push you right off the Cliff of Indulgence and that’s a promise.” Kate Blake in Breakwater
“People don’t belong in oceans. That’s why God invented swimming pools.” Maya Wilkes-Evans in Outrush
(Updrift was published Nov. 2015; Breakwater debuts Nov. 2016; and I’m still drafting/refining Outrush.)
The third title in the Mer Chronicles series I’m writing – after Updrift (1) and Breakwater (2) – is Outrush; and I’m trying to set up a scene where my heroine, Maya, jumps off the Brooklyn bridge at the urging of her soon-to-be siren lover. Here’s where we’re at, folks:
Maya had always loved falling. Or maybe she craved the sensation of floating, since the biggest thrill happened before, not during, her descent. It was that soul-freeing catharsis at the apex of an arc, the half-second of suspension at the top of a bounce off a trampoline; or the heady, gravity-less moment after her launch from the seat of a swing she’d pumped too high. As a little girl she’d limped home with skinned knees and a bruised backside so often she’d been forbidden from that last practice, although she still connived her way to the playground every chance she got to swing and try to fly.
She blamed her father, Jeremy, for fostering this particular affinity starting when she was a toddler. Their play in the front yard was her earliest, most poignant childhood memory, where she was tossed in the air and caught, tossed and caught again, Jeremy’s strong hands propelling and releasing her with such force she thought she might travel up forever. The prospect almost – but not quite – terrified her as much as it titillated. Still, she chased whatever unknown awaited her at the top of her fling, a wild sort of joy building and building until fear threatened, fear she might be swallowed into some skyward abyss and become lost. And then in the instant before panic overtook her, she fell back to earth loose and weightless and happier than ever, her father’s embrace like an unexpected second dessert.
“Do it again, Daddy,” she begged breathlessly.
I bought two apple trees on sale last week. Do you all have those grocery-lot nurseries that pop up for a few months in the spring? Well one of our shops had one with a closeout sale, including a few fruit trees, meaning I bought two apple trees for $25. I already have one plum tree – and need to get another or bush or something so the dang thing can pollinate – on the west side of the house, so I thought great, I’ll make a little orchard over there. Except there isn’t QUITE adequate room for three fruit trees when they’re fully grown, much less four, so I played with the layout for a couple of days and decided the best option is a kind of zigzag pattern that would land one of the apple trees to the very side of the front yard. I’m talking thirty feet from the front door and way to the side. This detail is important.
I left the trees in their little bins in the locations I’d chosen for them, took the shovel out of the garage and laid it on the ground, asked my hubby and son to dig two holes for me and I went out for eggs and milk. I came home to planted trees NOT where I’d sited them, one of the them way too close to the foundation (but away from the front yard), all of them too close together. Husband – who it should be said is an exemplary partner and father and I’m lucky to have him – said he didn’t want apple trees in the front yard and would hear no more about it. He put them where he thought they’d be out of the way.
We’re in reasonably good physical health at my house, have a thriving kid, 20 yrs of marriage under our belts and a stable mortgage… and I’m every bit as OCD on this issue as if we were languishing in hardship or terrorists showed up at the door. I got up at twice in the night to research how to espalier fruit trees, and what kind of fences will I need and how will that interrupt lawn mowing and traffic flow on the west side of the house because kids in the neighborhood use the hill next to this space for sledding in the winter and I don’t want them to go kersplat so should I make that whole area into something else entirely with little alpine strawberry plants or some sort of deconstructed formal hedge/garden thing and would I train the trees to go to one side or two and I should have purchased dwarf varieties… Seriously. I woke still thinking hard about these issues. And of course I feel like I didn’t rest.
My husband, it is worth noting, slept like a baby and hasn’t a care in the fruit-producing world.
Today I shall invest in some sort of fencing system and commit a part of my life I hadn’t previously considered expendable to studying and executing the art of espalier. I expect the endeavor will cost far more than my initial investment of $25.
…of a conversation with my dad at some point. He was recently asked by his undergrad university to serve on a study-abroad panel since he was one of the first students to participate in such an endeavor for St. John’s. His answer is quintessentially him and particularly salient given the current political climate imo. So because I’m a writing-nerd and way get off on things like this:
Good morning. I had earlier replied indicating that I am available on October 25, and promised to provide more information about my life since SJU and how the study of foreign language has impacted me.
I attended l’Universite de Grenoble for the entire ‘65-‘66 school year and was among the first of the original five students from SJU to study abroad. The others were Jim McKeown, Joe Messina, Gary Youso, and a young man whose name I no longer recall and who dropped out of school in France and “bummed around Europe” for the school year, not returning to SJU for our final year. Jim went to Dijon, Joe to Paris, and I believe Gary went to Paris as well. Upon our return we were to present our experiences to faculty and students, and it is from that, I believe, that a sanctioned study-abroad program was developed. It was, as I now recall, my intention to teach French, and as a senior at SJU did some tutoring of seminary students seeking a post-graduate degree that required a foreign language – and quickly finding out that I did not have the DNA to be a good teacher! Instead I went into a management training position with a retail chain for two years, then began law school, working at the same time as a law clerk, an investigator for a law firm, and an insurance adjuster. Upon completion of law school I took a position with a Minneapolis law firm where I gained immediate trial experience, and left there after two years to take over a retiring lawyer’s practice in west central Minnesota where I remained until retirement. I served for approximately 30 years as a county attorney, and for the past 14 years have worked part time as a child support magistrate for the State of Minnesota, hearing cases in our Seventh Judicial District from Moorhead to St. Cloud.
The experience of studying in France for a year was truly life-changing for me. As a product of a rural upbringing and a very small high school, everything was a broadening event, from experiencing the resentment of Americans (think Viet Nam) in Europe to being classmates with the children of business tycoons and ambassadors and the famous. And I would be remiss, if not misleading, if I did not disclose that two years of college French did not make me conversant in the language, a fact that became painfully apparent upon disembarking the ship in Le Havre knowing no one and having no prearranged place to stay or live. But one learns quickly when necessary. Almost all of the friends developed over the course of that year were Spanish-speaking, from Spain and Central and South America, and communicating was accomplished through a combination of charades, French and Spanish. The people themselves, the history embodied in the country of France, the polyglots encountered, the politics, the prejudices, and, of course, the food and the wine were all new at the time but the impressions if not the choices have remained with me to this day.
The impact of learning French and studying abroad on my life and career is immeasurable, not by any specific application or accomplishment on my part or for reasons of economics, but in my willingness to accept other cultures, other foods, other opinions that differ from my own (a part of the Benedictine values??); and perhaps even a way of thinking. My wife and I have traveled to France over 20 times and have made friends there, as well as from around the world. As a lawyer and judicial officer, the study and learning of French has helped me to better understand, appreciate, and use our own language. And literature seems best read in the language in which it was written.
Here is another bit of information to ponder: After WWII France wished to distance itself somewhat from the USA and established La Francophonie, which brings together all of the countries that speak French, not necessarily as the native language but where it is spoken by most educated people, a total of 56 countries. Put another way, and as pointed out to me by a friend from the Canary Islands with whom I studied in Grenoble, anyone who speaks French, English and Spanish can travel to and communicate in almost every country of the entire world.
Thank you for allowing me to reflect on this matter. It has been a very, very pleasant voyage of the mind.
Lyndon L. Kratochwill
SJU Class of ‘67
**Spoiler Alert (albeit a small one)**
A few of you who’ve read Updrift have reached out to ask about the knit-up to Dana & Will Fletcher’s storyline. This was cut (understandably) from the final manuscript, but I figured I could kerplop it here for the curious. This would have occurred in part three:
“I’m not willing to give it all up to sell flowers on a street corner,” Dana mused to her husband.
“Me neither,” he agreed. “But we can make a shift. I have some ideas. One of them will work.”
In a scenario that should have been baffling but was not, Dana and Will found themselves installed in a hammock on a back porch overlooking the sea. They had no idea how they’d come to be there, but they’d grown comfortable with their new reality, which revolved around a series of semi-sedated, disjointed experiences. They were alone for once, although, somehow, the heavy, soothing presence of their watery friends still enveloped them.
Will had his arms around his wife, and they were nestled together like lovers, Dana’s head on his shoulder, her hand on his chest, their legs an intimate tangle. He felt centered and confident for the first time literally in years, and he was determined to find a way to extend the situation to their life beyond this place. He, too, was optimistic things would work out well. As if to confirm, a warm breeze, carrying promise and hope, caressed them. They both smiled in response.
“That singing really is marvelous,” Dana commented, sighing. Will nodded in agreement. The singing, like the felt-but-not-seen presence of… all those people they’d been with, had been a constant subtext to their lives in this new place, alternately acting as a balm, a stimulant and, most often, a distraction. Each commented how they were unable to feel concern for their responsibilities back home.
Following Dana’s meeting with Xanthe in the cathedral, she and Will had reunited amid her floating, dancing companions, as she’d asked. Her revelations, thankfully, did not require any retelling, as it appeared their separate psychological reviews brought each of them to the exact same conclusions.
“We should start our own business,” Will suggested. “Something small and manageable, where we could use our skills but avoid the responsibilities of a larger organization.”
Dana agreed. “Something on our own. Do you have anything in particular in mind?”
“Actually, I do,” he said with a touch of pride. “If we have a child, it would be nice to be close to family, both for our son or daughter and for us. My family is gone, so that leaves your sister.”
“So, what could we do in Childress, or Griffins Bay?” Dana mused.
“How do you feel about opening a bakery?” he asked.
Dana laughed, what a delightful, absurd idea, to move from health care information management to bread baking. “I love it,” she replied. “Who’s going to bakery school, you or me?”
“What the hell. Let’s both go,” he grinned. “Actually, I thought we could approach that Wilkes girl, Sylvia? I wonder if she’d be interested in running it day-to-day. She’s certainly talented, and isn’t she already through culinary training?”
Dana nodded. It could work. She began thinking through potential marketing initiatives, years of conditioning overriding the diversionary tactics of their hypnotic friends. But while one part of her mind was busy thinking of promotional programs, another started to think about the underlying reason they were turning their careers upside down in the first place.
“You know, I’m not sure I can conceive,” she confessed, regret filling her as she considered the possibility (likelihood?) of not being able to have a baby. “I’m 43 years old, Will.”
“Fine. We’ll adopt,” Will said, unphased. His enthusiasm for following whatever path they needed to cheered Dana, and she relaxed into optimism again. One way or another, they would have a child. She could count on it.
Some combination of the breeze and singing around them caused their level of consciousness to begin receding, although Dana still had the presence of mind to marvel at the fresh life that had been somehow been breathed into them, both individually and as a couple. She couldn’t believe her good luck. “I love you, Will,” she said, nuzzling his neck, her eyes closed with gratitude.
“I love you, too, honey,” Will replied. He brushed his cheek against her hair, and then turned toward her, running his hand from her waist to her back inside her shirt. She tilted her face to him as he drew her to his chest and leaned in to kiss her. He smiled to himself at how easy it felt to be doing this, bemusement shining in his eyes as he looked at his wife. It did not make sense that they should be so resurrected, each of them and within the marriage, but he was sure they were saved. And whether it was this magical place or divine intervention or shear, dumb luck, he didn’t care to examine the why of it too carefully. Even if it should not be, he wanted nothing to disrupt this healing.
Tenderly – and, in each of their opinions, miraculously – Will and Dana talked and loved together as they had not for many years, now able to reaffirm their marriage as if nothing had ever interfered. Ensconced in their silent, protected retreat, they resolved their wants and desires, establishing a vital, common vision for their future. In the morning, they would emerge rested, reunited, and able to re-embark on a life together that both of them wanted.
Outside, several sirens snuck away toward the water, patting each other on the backs and handing out discreet high-fives as they tiptoed off. Dana and Will’s gratitude flowed freely around them, touching everyone who had facilitated their rejuvenation. For nearly all of them, this thanks was adequate compensation for their troubles; only Lydia and Bridget were a little disappointed, and even they were mostly happy. Mostly.
I was invited to submit a holiday-themed short story a couple of months ago at Romance Lives Forever, which I turned into a thingy on Wattpad recently. I hope you enjoy what I came up with!
We altos (the muddier, under-appreciated sisters of all those trilling, standout sopranos) used to tell a joke I have since adapted to feature writers or editors as my situation dictates. It goes like this:
Q: How many sopranos does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Ten. One to do it and nine to stand around and say they could have done it better.
I thought I was so alone in my cleverness until I stumbled across this site today: https://sites.google.com/site/writersjokes/jokesabouteditorspublishers
Hope it gives other folks out there a chuckle!