Hiya – Gonna be hanging out with these folks the next coupla weeks, sharing heretofore untold secrets about myself.
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.
Okay, since I haven’t fed my blog in awhile and feel the need to – and have no other creative fodder to offer – I’m posting our Christmas letter. Lame, I know, but I do play with the vehicle some and hopefully make it a little fun. For all of you who do and don’t celebrate Christmas out there, I hope you’re having a lovely season! Here goes:
So… Christmas letters can be tricky, I think, and I always hesitate to write one. This in spite of the fact that I enjoy getting news this way, especially from folks I don’t get to see much anymore, whom I love, nonetheless, and want to hear from. If you’re getting our card, this means you! It’s those few we get (from people not receiving this missive, lest I offend), ones that don’t really tell me anything, that, well, put me off of the whole idea… you know, the ones that feel like an application to the Bland & Personality-Free Society?
Well, none of that here! I’m being up front about my family’s blandness and aspirations to mediocrity, and, gosh darn it, I’m sending a Christmas letter that will make me feel like we’ve started a conversation, even if it is uninspiring! I acknowledge right now that I have nothing interesting to report, in case you want to set this letter aside; it might be wise. Too, you can take heart from the fact that this is the second Christmas letter I’ve ever sent out, and I make no promises about doing it ever again. So, quit complaining, already.
Things are pretty good. Mike is building his handyman services company, doing a rock star job as he’s keeping us stocked in groceries, our bills are paid, and he indulges me in all my non-revenue-producing pursuits, which are legion. Jack is heavy into what I call ‘child product development,’ which means 2-4 nights per week of some sporting activity, catechism on Wednesdays, and piano on Fridays. Plus homework. It’s exhausting, and I thank God each and every day that I only have one kid, because I flat out promise you I have all I can say grace over with just him.
My own professional focus, which began as a hobby-like pastime in 2009, has become a full-blown mental illness. Truly. Look for a new entry in the next edition of the DSM, titled, “Errin’s Quest for Publishing Disease,” a sub-category of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Functionally, it means I’ve spent thousands of hours querying agents (don’t even ask); and, unable to take the hint from the hundreds of rejections I’ve received, am writing a third novel, yea though there’ve been no takers for my first two. You have never, never in your life met anyone as serious about mermaid stories as I am, but I’m hell-bound to write them.
If you are dead bored someday and feel like reading random essays on writing and motherhood, you can check out my blog at errinstevens.com. Maybe start with “Only Crazy People Do This,” or “Little Jack.” Or, since it’s Christmas, take a peek at “Long Lost Love.” I’m sorry to talk about this so much, but I can’t help it. And, if you don’t like my writing, for God’s sake keep it to yourself.
More seriously, I wish we had spent more time with you this past year. Please know you are thought of often, and that, with this letter, my family sends you and yours our most sincere good wishes for health and prosperity in 2013. We hope you have a beautiful Christmas.