By Donis Casey
Originally posted October 30, 2010
As I was beginning to write Hornswoggled, the second of my five Alafair Tucker novels, a well-known author said to me, “You’re on the merry-go-round, now.”
How right she was. The writing life goes in a circle, especially for a series novelist. The excitement of an idea ... the pain and horror and ecstasy of the actual writing ... the amazement when you finish the MS and realize that you’ve got something ... the terror of sending it off to the editor or agent ... the anxiety of the rewrite ... the relief of acceptance ... the joy of first holding the physical copy in your hand ... the drudgery of promotion ... the irony and resignation of the royalty check (for most of us). The excitement of an idea ...
When I write, I’m not thinking of the book’s “theme.” I am thinking about character and motivation. Somewhere in the middle of the process it sometimes occurs to me that a theme is emerging, and when the book is done, I’m often surprised to realize that the story in that particular book is about something more than the mystery.
I tend to think more of my entire series as having a theme. This series is different from any writing I have ever done before, in that it’s about a woman who leads a traditional life. All the books and stories that I had written before the Alafair Tucker mysteries had to do with unmarried, childless, professional women, often scientists, always intellectuals, mostly messed up and unhappy.
After all, I came of age in the ‘60s, and like most people, my values were formed in my youth. I was very into the revolution.
Toni Morrison said that her father told her, “Once you know a man’s race, you know nothing about him at all.” It’s the same with women. Once you know a person is a woman, you don’t know anything about her interests, needs, talents, abilities or desires. Not every woman is suited to motherhood and homemaking. Thank goodness we have choices now.
Once I got to a certain age – the one where you begin to realize that nothing is as black and white as you thought when you were young and knew everything – it began to dawn on me that perhaps by so totally rejecting the qualities that have always been associated with women, I was somehow buying into the idea that there was something inherently inferior about them. And that anything that appeals to or deals with women can’t be all that important.
But when I consider my foremothers, what they had to put up with and how smart they had to be to manage - were their lives and interests somehow less important than a man’s? I think not!
Still, when I chose to write about a wife and mother, I handicapped my chances for writerly fame and fortune. To quote Erica Jong, “Critics have trouble taking fiction by women seriously unless they represent some distant political struggle or chic ethnicity ... We may glibly say that love makes our globe spin, but battles make for blockbusters and Pulitzers.”
My series is an homage to a mindset in which love and family matter indeed. But don’t think for a minute that Alafair is weak or vulnerable. Her love for her family has teeth and claws – and makes her dangerous.
That’s a theme I find fascinating to write about.
Donis Casey is the author of the award-winning Alafair Tucker series, set in Oklahoma during the booming 1910s. The most recent title in the five-book series is Crying Blood (February 2011). Donis is a former teacher, academic librarian, and entrepreneur who currently lives in Tempe, AZ, with her husband, poet Donald Koozer.
Photo by Don Koozer.