(I continue here with my series of "the making of" my novels, taken from my Weird and Wonderful Gazette. Enjoy!)
Whackadoodle Times was originally born out of my frustration over the state of the world and the apparent obliviousness of most of the population about what dire straits we’re in. But, of course, I can’t write novels from a soapbox. Can anyone? Still, I thought it would be fun to write an allegory or satire or blend them together to have an allegorical satire. In any case, we don’t have to label it. Let’s just call it a novel. I was initially poking fun at our culture’s obsession with celebrities and the apparent obliviousness of the rich to the plight of almost anyone else, but in the end what happened was that I wrote a story about Brooke McMurphy, a woman in trouble.
I wrote the first chapter several years ago. I loved the first chapter—just as I had with Butch. And just like with Butch, I got scared. Could I keep going and maintain the quality? I was also worried about length. As I’ve mentioned before, I believe the story should dictate the length, not the publisher. I tend to write short novels. I knew if I wrote a short novel, I probably couldn’t get a traditional publisher to publish it. But the world changed between the time I started Whackadoodle Times and when I finished it. I was now an indie writer with a publisher who didn’t care about length. Yes!
The novel begins when a bag lady comes to the house of two screenwriters and says she will do one great thing a day for them if they’ll let her stay in their guest cottage. When I started the novel, I was going to have the story revolve around that one great thing a day. After I wrote the first chapter, I began to worry about how I’d come up with one great thing a day. That was another reason I put the novel away for several years. When I brought it out to continue working on it, I just let the story evolve—which is what should always happen. The “one great thing a day” became an integral part of the story, not the focus of it.
Except for the first chapter, I ended up writing this novel at our winter retreat in Arizona. About eight years ago, I put out a call to friends to find a place in the Southwest where Mario and I could spend part of the winter writing and soaking up some sun instead of getting soaked by the Pacific Northwest rain. Terri Windling responded and told me about a retreat near Tucson, Arizona, for writers and artists and other creatives. That winter, we packed up our car and headed out to Tucson.
Going to this retreat has saved my life in so many ways; I don’t have the words to express my gratitude for its existence. Every part of it was designed with purpose, in beauty. When I’m there, my prayer every morning is a version of the Navajo Beauty Way; I often chant, “I walk in beauty before me, I walk in beauty beside me, I walk in beauty behind me, I walk in beauty all around me.” In the last few years, I have had a creative opening, and now stories flow very quickly from me. I believe being on retreat in Arizona every year is responsible for that, in part.
The second year I was at the retreat, I wrote Church of the Old Mermaids. This novel changed my life and continues to change my life because 13 of the characters—the Old Mermaids—are now a part of my everyday life. They are more like guardians or spirit helpers than characters in a novel. I’ve now written several novels where the Old Mermaids and kin make an appearance. (Besides Church of the Old Mermaids, there’s The Blue Tail, The Fish Wife, The Desert Siren, along with The First Book of Old Mermaids Tales and the as yet unpublished An Old Mermaid Sanctuary.)
I digress. We were talking about Whackadoodle Times. I wrote Whackadoodle Times while I was on retreat in Arizona. Once I had the characters, the story began flowing. At first, the tone was different from anything I’d done in a long while. Brooke isn’t a happy person. Her wit can be acerbic, but she was so funny that I didn’t care. The story was at times sexually graphic, too. I’ve written sexually explicit scenes before, but what happens in Whackadoodle Times is more realistic than romantic, so it could seem crude and rude to some. But that was what made it funny to me.
I never laughed as much as I did writing this novel, and in the end, I never cried so much. Although my life couldn’t be more different from hers, I understand her: I understand getting to a place in your life and wondering how the hell did I get here.
I also understand her life because she’s in the entertainment business, and so am I. When the studio head (the stud) is trying to convince her to script doctor Zombie Town and make zombies sexy, I’m laughing at the absurdity, but I’ve been a part of very similar conversations over the year. I often think of the scene in Gypsy where the strippers are telling Gypsy “You Gotta Have a Gimmick.” Yep, sexy zombies are the gimmick the studios want from Brooke. Writers are often asked to come up with some kind of “gimmick” in order to get their work published. It’s not a particularly inspiring way to create!
Anyway, I had fun writing this novel. I hope you enjoy reading it. I plan on writing two more novels in the Whackadoodle Times universe. The second one will probably be called Whackadoodle Times Two. I’ve got the story. Maybe I’ll write it when I go to Arizona this year, knock wood.