My Dirty Little Secret...

Okay, I have absolutely got to tell you my dirty, little secret.

I mean, this is the place to do it, right? In my online "diary"? That is what blogs are for, right?

Okay, not always...Like in my case, I'm an author, hoping to intrigue people who've never read my work into buying one of my books. For the people who already read my books and wonder how anyone could come up with such deranged ideas, this blog should be attempting to answer those questions. Hence, the blog is alleged promotion.

Too bad I can't stick to that notion. Instead I wind up telling you all about my life- the ups and downs, the insanity and the little quirks that a sensible author would probably keep to herself!

Not me. Not the big mouth.

But tonight, I'm gonna give it my best shot. I'm going to tell you the dirty little secret that drove me to write books.

Before I tell you the absolute worst, let me set the scene a little.

When I started writing, for the first time since college that is, my boys were toddlers. We lived in what I euphemistically called "The Golden Ghetto" of Atlanta, the northern suburbs of the city, a good 45 minute commute from the downtown area, in a subdivision where every house looks the same and every lot occupies no more than a tenth of an acre.

The other women who lived in my subdivision scared the hell out of me.

They were the perfect "supermoms." Their houses were immaculate, their children well-dressed, albeit obnoxious, and their husbands brought home pots of money and never wanted their wives to work "outside" the home. It was the perfect melding of Soccermom and Stepford Wife.

They had the toddler mom social scene scoped out and they did it to a fare-thee-well, too. Playgroups, Pampered Chef parties, Cookie Exchanges at Christmas. Oh. My. God! What daunting rolemodels...Especially to an imposter trying to pass muster, hoping these superwomen never found out the real truth and exposed me to the world for the sham I was.

I must've been absent the day they taught Soccer Mom 101 because I didn't have a clue! I was a former hippy disguised as a regular mom and I wanted desperately to fit in. I wanted to do the right thing because I by-God knew if I didn't my boys would grow up to be drug-addicted reprobates.

I absolutely believed that if they didn't play sports, they'd become junkies overnight. If they weren't in the same preschool the others attended, they'd become social pariahs. It was my total nightmare! My children, abnormal...Just like their mother!

So, I tried. I went to all the playgroups. I mimicked the Supermoms every move...If they packed Ritz crackers and juice boxes for snack at the pool, so did I. If their children wore polo shirts and Nike soccer shorts, so did mine...kind of. Except I would keep veering off, lured by the scent of leather and the feel of fake sheepskin over to the baby biker jackets and tiny high-topped construction worker boots. I'd buy the faded jeans and flannel shirts of my youth because they were just too cute when they were made in a size 2T.

I envisioned myself cruising around town with my boys, the three of us wearing matching aviator sunglasses, as they scoped out the local "chicks."

Oh, God, I was such a miserable failure at being a social chameleon!

I knew something was wrong the day I scrubbed the no-wax finish off my vinyl floor with a toothbrush and Clorox...combined with a little ammonia.

In addition to producing a gas toxic enough to compromise the health and well-being of metropolitan Atlanta, I ruined the brand new floor forever and had a contact high that would've induced brain damage in a lesser person.

I knew then that something was terribly wrong. I just didn't have a clue what it was! And had I known, I wouldn't have been able to figure out what to do about it. No, I hadn't hit my emotional "bottom," as they say in AA. I still had to sink to a further low. I needed a little more misery before, like an oyster irritated by a grain of sand, I produced a pearl of insight.

I needed...Billy Two-Feathers.

Every day, as part of my perfect-mom ritual, we watched Sesame Street followed by Thomas the Tank Engine...all on PBS. I drew the line at Barney. I didn't care what kind of low-achievers my boys turned out to be, we were just not going to sink to the depths of despair that it would've taken for me to turn to a purple dinosaur who's best friend is named "Baby Bop." Sorry, even a people-pleaser like me has to draw the proverbial line in the sand and Barney was it. Barney was like sprinkling Sweet and Low over sugar. He was insipid, patronizing and he had a voice that sounded like fingernails on a blackboard to me.

But Thomas the Tank Engine...Now there was a show I could get behind.

As long as there was Thomas, the world of toddlerdom had hope. Maybe Good could triumph over Evil when the Conductor was played by none other than George Carlin and later, Ringo Starr.

I mean, Rock is not dead as long as Ringo and George draw breath, am I right? We can still march on Washington and demonstrate with George Carlin as our fearless conductor, can't we? The sixties and seventies aren't dead until Ringo checks out, correct? Can I get an Amen in the back there, Sisters?

Would that I were that altruistic...

I finally had to confront the dreadful truth of my existence the day I realized I was not watching Thomas the Tank Engine because George Carlin was leading my little guys into an authentic, truthful childhood.

I was watching Thomas the Tank Engine because the Conductor's faithful sidekick, in a quirk of public television marketing brilliance, was the most stone-gorgeous, washboard ab-ed, hunk of burning American Indian love I have ever personally experienced.

I was sitting on the end of my four-poster, early American-reproduction bed, drooling over Billy Two-Feathers.

Had I no pride? Had I absolutely no sense of self-worth? Had it come to this- my sexual fantasy life was peopled by a guy who played the Conductor's sidekick on a toddler t.v show?!

This insanity had to stop.

I had to get a life. A real breathing, smoking-mighty-Jesus life. Not one of those two-dimensional, Calgon-Take-Me-Away lives based on conjecture and innuendo. It had to be mine...my passion, my drive, my...self.

And that, my dear readers, is the stinking, awful truth of how I came into the world of writing.

There was just no other place to go.

I was out of options. Desperate. My life had become an unmanageable hoax and creating a deeper, more intense fantasy life peopled by characters I created and loved was my only road to personal salvation.

I thought long and hard about it. And when that didn't work, I allowed my then-husband to hold an emotional gun to my head.

"Your writing is an obsession," he intoned one night. "You have a private practice. You can make a lot more money seeing patients than you can fooling around with this silly hobby of yours. You need to work more. You need to bring in more money."

And so I took a deep breath and made a deal with the devil.

I told him there was a writing conference in his favorite city, Ft. Lauderdale, and that the conference sponsored a short story contest for new writers. "Let's go," I said. "It'll be like a second honeymoon. I'll enter that contest and if I don't place in the top ten, I'll quit and focus on being the best little social worker in the whole wide world!"

That is how I wound up three months later, sitting in front of a blank computer screen on the eve of the contest deadline, praying for inspiration.

It is also how I learned that your children will be who they are regardless of what environmental obstacles you throw in their paths.

I sat in front of that blank screen in the cold, dank basement, drinking cup after cup of coffee until finally my youngest boy, then three or four, wandered downstairs with a box in his hand.

"What you doin', Mama?" he asked with the world's cutest lisp.

He looked up at me with huge brown, trusting eyes and I wanted to say "Writing the Great American Novel," but instead only said, "Writing a story, baby."

He looked at the blank screen. "It don't look like you writin', Mama. It look like you just sittin dere and if you just sittin' dere maybe you could put this Weeder Wabbit game on the computer cause I'm gonna learn to weed."

I thought, what the hell, it's not like I'm getting anywhere. I'd written one so-so story and I knew it was going to take a better effort than that to place in the contest. I felt defeated and uncertain and lost.

"Okay, baby," I said, giving up. "Let me see the box."

It was one of those magical moments that happen only a few times in your life.

Ben extended the box that held the reading program toward me. I reached for it with caffeine-induced, trembling hands; fumbled and sent the box flying into the air.

It came crashing to the floor, spilling open, the papers and discs scattering. I leaned down, sighing with just-my-damned-luck self-pity and saw a piece of paper.

"Sierra Reveals All," it said, describing the Sierra Software companies many educational programs.

I froze, my fingers clasping the shiny white paper. "Sierra Reveals All," I murmured. "Now that would be a great title for a story. I wonder who would reveal all?"

And then I heard her voice...The voice all authors mention when they talk about their inspirational muse...Only I didn't get the F. Scott Fitzgerald muse...Nope, I got Sierra Lavotini, the wise-cracking blonde bombshell, exotic dancer and amateur sleuth.

The rest, as they say, is history...

I found myself. Ben taught himself to read and I won first place in the contest. Six months later I finished, The Miracle Strip...Six months and 27 rejections later, I had an agent. Five months after that, less than 12 hours after my spouse again said I was going to have to fish or see patients for a living, my agent sold my first born daughter, Sierra, in a two book deal to a wonderful editor at St. Martin's Press.

I finally had a life...A juicy, real-deal, authentic life of my very own.

Somewhere I have a picture from my first book signing. Adam and Ben flank me, their arms folded, clearly "body-guarding" their Mama from her fans.

In that photo, we are all three grinning like maniacs.

Maniacs with their very own, rich and breathing lives.

This isn't the picture from the booksigning, but it was taken the day my first book arrived.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Are you going to write any more Sierra Lavotini mysteries?