Living the Virgin Islands life

I turned Fighting for Anna in for copyedit last week. It’s my 8th novel. My 1st novella rewrite is my August project, then I’ll continue work on my 9th full-length novel.

My brain is a little tired.

I sat down to write an “It’s all about [insert character name here]” blog, and I realized I don’t have it in me this week. But I had a better idea, that I think you guys are going to like.

I’m going to share some stories behind my stories, focusing on why I write what I write. Thank Bobby Marrs, publishing assistant extraordinaire, for it 🙂 Right now, the background of Fighting for Anna is burning a hole in me, but I’ll hold off the urge until October when we’re getting ready for its release.

Instead, let’s start at the very beginning, as that’s a very fine place to start: Saving Grace.

When I sat down to write novels in my thirties, I had no idea what kind of writer I wanted to be or what sort of stories I would tell, other than the overly long emails I sent to friends and family, little “slices of life”. I’ve gone through fits and starts, flirting with every conceivable genre and incarnation of the written word. No matter how I tried to write “fresh”—unrelated to me—my stories came from what I knew. Being a wife. An ex-wife. A mother. A daughter. A lawyer. A stepmom. A fresh water West Indian. A lover of animals. An investigator. A singer of songs. A mediocre triathlete. A hormonally-challenged female. A Texan. A former Wyomingite. A writer. An occasional New Mexian. Now I realize this is what all writers do. Back then I thought creativity meant I had to write outside my world.

Sometimes my writing was light and fast, other times it was deep and complex. A sliding scale from mystery to women’s or literary fiction. As my writing matured, the stories started revealing my internal and external struggles and complicated “everything is shades of gray” worldview. But it wasn’t until I unleashed my fascination with the impact of place and religion on culture, past and present, that my stories gelled, that they lifted off the page.

My original drafts of the novel that became Saving Grace were about my experiences with a house and the human relationships between Katie, Nick, Ava, Rashidi, Emily, Collin, and Bart. Annalise was there, but she was just in Katie’s head. We never saw her. I downplayed her, scared of revealing what she really was to me.

But I had more to say, to share. I had lived in the U.S. Virgin Islands for nearly ten years. I married a Virgin Islander. My best friend besides him is a Virgin islander. I was immersed in this odd space between Christianity and “legacy” voodoo or santeria. Between slavery and freed people. Between my life of privilege and minority. Between beauty and violence. Between our four senses and what lay beyond them. The people native to the island—including my husband and best friend—took for granted that spirits (jumbies) co-existed amongst us. Some were good, some were bad. Most were a little of both. The stories of them were current and frequent, and even in my own home.

Meanwhile, my husband just wanted me to reach THE END. I’d told him it was my dream to write a novel. Not half a novel or two-thirds of one, but a whole one. The original Saving Grace was a novella to make him laugh, one I cranked out while he was on a two week trip to India. He loved it, and urged me to make it THE ONE. To see it through. So I did, or tried to.

At the 11th hour, I realized that the heart of my writing was that odd space. It was whatever it is that makes the setting my protagonist lives within unique: religiously, mythologically, culturally, historically, and contemporarily. Annalise sprang to life, her story became the story of the three Katie books. We saw her, we got to know a little about her, and we wanted more. And the simple act of making her visible—of accepting that there were things beyond my upbringing and five senses, of validating what was real to the people I’d grown to love in the islands—burst through in my writing from that moment and forever more. Katie’s differences from her world and her new friends in the islands became more important and yet more nebulous. The colors became brighter, the stories bigger. The book became a love letter/poison pen to the Caribbean. The path forward to the other two Katie books became clear.

And to the books beyond.

So if you think you see in my fast-paced romantic mysteries a fascination for cultural and religious history and exploring the extremes of them without sacrificing pace or tension, you are correct. I don’t do cozy. I don’t do police procedural. I don’t do pure romance or pure women’s or literary fiction. I do “cross genre,” uncontainable, not coloring within the lines of what agents or publishers expect will sell. (You guys proved them wrong)

This is the thing that makes my writing mine, and I love it.

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5 Responses to More Than The Eye Can See: The Story Behind the Story of Saving Grace

  1. Very well put! And each book just reflects what’s in you, coming out stronger each time!

  2. Eric Hutchins says:

    I love that people get to “see” behind the curtains with what you write, when you blog things like this.
    Life Re-imagined.

  3. […] the last two weeks, I’ve shared the story behind writing Saving Grace and  Leaving Annalise in my series of “stories behind my stories”. Now let’s […]

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