A few years ago, I wrote three novels about a late-blooming woman named Katie Connell. Some time later, they were published, and the reaction to these books and their characters surprised the heck out of me. The question I was asked most frequently was, “When will you write another Katie novel?”
I’d left Katie in a good place at the end of her third star-turn in Finding Harmony. I was excited about the interest in her, and I suggested to my then-editor and then-and-still-husband-and-story-partner Eric that I write more Katies. Both of them voted NO, with no equivocation. I was terrified that if I left Katie and moved on to another protagonist, readers wouldn’t come along with me. Meghan and Eric both argued for the integrity of Katie’s journey/story/character development.
My gut told me they were right.
By then, I’d already written Going for Kona, which was anchored by Katie’s law school friend Michele. I brought Katie and Nick into the story as well.
The question, then, was what was next. I didn’t want to start with a new character. I wanted to stay in the world I had created. If I wasn’t going to focus on Katie anymore, I had to choose between Michele and my other characters, Emily and Ava.
I wanted to wait to write more about Michele. She’s my most personal character. The one most like me and my life. She needed space in the timeline of my books to heal. That left Emily and Ava.
And I’m going to be totally honest: I wrote about Emily first because Ava terrifies me!!! (For more on that, read What Gives Me the Right, on Cultural Appropriation)
Emily has become popular now in her own right. I’ve introduced new female characters, two of whom are slated for what is now known as the What Doesn’t Kill You world: Laura (introduced in the Emily novels) and Maggie (introduced in Fighting for Anna). As with any author of multiple protagonists, I find people who are #TeamKatie, #TeamMichele, or #TeamEmily, and that’s totally cool. But meanwhile people have been asking for more AVA.
Ugh, Ava. Oversexed Ava. Non-monogamous Ava. To write her without dealing with these truths of her personality and life would be inauthentic, yet these are the two of the qualities I am least comfortable exploring. I’m just not a Fifty Shades of Grey type of author or reader, even though I don’t think I’m a Pollyanna. I just have personal preferences as to what I enjoy exploring in fiction.
So I’ve wrestled with how to write Ava’s point of view for the last few years. She should have been easier, since she’s based on my best friend from St. Croix, Natalie. The translation from person to page, though, is not a straight line. I played with Ava in Earth to Emily. I experimented with her in my novella, Wasted in Waco. It was harder than I’d expected. Then I launched into her first story (already discussed and outlined over the previous year with Eric) last fall, only to find myself struggling with my own health issues and putting the manuscript down for a few months.
I was relieved to stop. *Sigh*
I picked it up against a few months later, and wrote this piece:
I’m eighty pages into Bombshell. In the first seventy pages, I managed to channel Ava without having to confront her sexuality with direct behavior. Heck, the only times I’ve written sex scenes, they were love scenes, and I could turn to experiences I am familiar with. Not with Ava, not in her life at the time I am writing about. Love has nothing to do with the scenes I need to write.
It’s not that I don’t know how to write sex or think it doesn’t belong in books. When it’s important to the development of the character or the plot/storyline, sex belongs in a book, at a level of disclosure appropriate to the POV character. Which means, for Ava, a lot more disclosure for me than before. And if I am going to write sex, I not only have to have a compelling reason for it, I have to write it well. I have to write good sex, from Ava’s perspective. Good sex is, well, good, and I am lucky in that regard personally, but that just isn’t the same as what it is for Ava. So I have to come up with unique good sex outside my experience and my comfort zone.
Finally, that moment came when to continue to keep Ava out of this sexual situation was no longer possible, if I was going to be true to her point of view.
So I trudged up to my writing tent in my knee high snake boots and some really attractive gray yoga pants that ended at the top of my boots. I’d jammed a straw cowboy hat on over my wet hair and thrown on a t-shirt promoting tiny Burton, Texas. Our two draft cross horses were munching sweet alfalfa from a round bale, eying me and lazily swishing their tails. Three dogs dug their sleeping spots and settled at my feet in a cloud of dust.
I didn’t look like a woman about to get her sexy on, that was for sure, and I didn’t feel like one either.
I closed my eyes and pictured Ava. Within seconds, I am on St. Marcos, at a party on the patio of a gorgeous home, the silky night air caressing my skin, the stars winking at me from above. In this scene Ava’s the date of a wealthy, mysterious man (just her type!) who’s a partner in the business she’s just gone to work with. There’s been a murder, maybe two. Someone is stalking her, or maybe not. Not everything seems kosher with her new employer, or maybe it is. She’s struggling as a single mom and only child of aging parents. And, she’s trying to convince herself that she’s not in love with another man who she’s just dumped (spoiler: think Earth to Emily). So she’s throwing herself into a new relationship, or, relationships—this is Ava, after all. The evening unfolds, ripe with sinister elements, suspense, and night blooming jasmine, and suddenly I can see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, and touch it, as if I’m Ava instead of Pamela. She makes choices, says things, does things, that I have no experience with, yet they flow from my fingertips as if it’s all happening around me and to me, because of me. And I don’t even have the grace to blush.
When I’d finished the scene, I looked up. The horses have come to the fence nearest me. They’re watching me, curious. I wonder if they’d sensed my departure from my body, the temporary takeover staged by Ava. They’re empathic like that, and after a few moments, they resumed eating, and I realized, yes, they probably knew better than I what just happened.
Time and many, many more words will tell whether or not this scene will stay in the book as is or whether it will get a substantial toning down or be cut altogether. Maybe we’ll close the door and not be a voyeur to Ava’s private life. Sometimes as a writer, though, it’s not about what makes the final cut, but about writing it true, understanding your character, and letting the chips fall where they may later.
Yesterday, I wrote Ava true. And I think I need a cold shower
Ava is pretty lovable, and she’s got me cheering for her. #TeamAva
Newsflash, a year later: The scene stayed in the book. My content editor loved it. My betas said it got them hot under the collar. And it is true to Ava, whose personal experiences make her uniquely her, which is what mattered most to me.