Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Grace Metalious Bobblehead

Is it wrong to give yourself an award? 
    I hope not. Because I have just awarded myself with what I like to call the Grace Metalious You Can Do It! Award.
    I'm pretty sure that people give themselves awards all the time. For example, the I Can't Believe I Made it Through This Awful Day Without Slapping Anyone Award. Or the My Manuscript Is Finished and It Didn't Kill Me Award. Or the My Book Is Finally Published and I Deserve a Prize Award. 
    I awarded the attractive bobblehead pictured here to its worthy recipient (ME) for finally finishing the thriller I've been working on for years in between other books: The Dollhouse in the Crawlspace. It is now available as an ebook and will soon be available as a trade paperback.
Grace Metalious Bobblehead.

    My major award, the Grace Metalious "Pandora in Blue Jeans” Bobblehead, is available through the New Hampshire Historical Society. This is deliciously ironic: Grace still embarrasses some people in her home state because of the scandalous notoriety of her bestseller, Peyton Place. According to the Historical Society, the pose is taken from a photo of the writer at her typewriter.

    Why the Grace M. Bobblehead? Because it’s funny. Just look at the picture. It makes me laugh. Grace's head bobbles thoughtfully every time she has an inspiration, staring intently at her empty typewriter. And by the time I finish a book, my head has bobbled a thousand times. Sometimes it bobbles right down onto my keyboard.

   Why Grace Metalious, the author of Peyton Place? Because she was pretty much the writer who would be voted Least Likely to Succeed. And yet she did. The odds were stacked against her. She was a housewife and a mother who came from poverty and obscurity, but she was driven to write. She succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. Granted, those dreams turned into nightmares and she essentially drank herself to death at a young age. But before all that, she made the improbable happen. She emerged from nowhere and wrote a bestseller that rocked the established literary order.
   I first glimpsed parts of Peyton Place in an old and tattered paperback copy during my high school babysitting jobs. (My gigs weren't stocked with libraries full of impressive leather-bound volumes.) But when I later saw the movie version of Peyton Place, what struck me most was its depiction of women. Women who worked hard, who were passionate and ambitious, and who did what they had to do to survive in their superficially buttoned-down (but secretly sordid) small town. Just like Grace M., who was said to lock herself in the bathroom to find the time and space (and peace and quiet) to write.
   You can do it. These words have been my mantra for years. I had to say them to myself, because I wasn't hearing it from the peanut gallery. Walking to the Metro Station on my way to work, exhausted, one foot in front of another: You can do it. While holding a full-time job and writing at night: You can do it. Stopping after work at the library or bookstore or coffee shop to write because if I went home, I'd go to sleep: You can do it. 
   So I'm either a fool or I deserve this award. Maybe both.
   Now, as the proud winner of the first Grace Metalious You Can Do It Award, I have another Grace M. bobblehead waiting in reserve, to award to some other deserving writer who might need a word or two (or a nod of the head) of encouragement. How about you? Any awards you've given yourself? Or wish someone else would? I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Dollhouse. The Crawlspace. The Cover.

This is a time for new beginnings for me, so I'd like to welcome you to my new, reinvigorated blog. I don't know how often I'll post, but I plan to write from time to time and I have a new book to talk about.  As a mystery writer, I have transitioned from my usual series to publishing my first suspense thriller, The Dollhouse in the Crawlspace. At times, it's been a difficult-yet-fascinating journey, from the first draft to creating and finishing the cover. 
The finished cover.
     To be quite honest, Dollhouse has been my White Whale, the book in my head, the book I have wanted to write for a very long time. It remained elusive because there always seemed to be another book due in my Crime of Fashion series, and much of that time I had a full-time job (besides my book writing, another full-time job as a journalist).
      I would no more start on Dollhouse than I would have to interrupt the flow and return to Lacey Smithsonian and finish another book in my series. (Never fear, I love Lacey and will be continuing that series.) Despite the delays, I could not get Dollhouse out of my mind. 

The Title Always Comes First

     When I start writing a book, I always know certain things. For instance, I can’t start writing without knowing the title or the key characters' names. And I knew The Dollhouse in the Crawlspace was the title for this new book years before I finished writing it.
The Dollhouse under construction.
 The original dollhouse came from the home of my aunt and uncle and cousins. When they moved in, they discovered a dollhouse, full of exquisite miniature furniture, left behind in their crawlspace by the previous owners. It seemed like a very strange thing to leave behind. I was a teenager at the time, and the image stayed with me. It suggested so much to me: hidden spaces, secrets, discoveries, a lost childhood. It became a key image in this story.

     Over the years I've tried other titles, softer, harder, edgier or more “thrillery,” but it's the title that stuck. When it came time for The Cover, I didn’t want anything frilly or soft, or the Addams Family dollhouse. Perhaps I could get away without a dollhouse, or with the mere suggestion of one? But no matter what I tried, this cover needed a dollhouse. In a crawlspace! Not only that, the dollhouse had to suggest a "real" house in the story.
     My cover designer for Dollhouse is the talented Robert Williams, who edits my manuscripts and masters my website. He's also my husband and partner in Lethal Black Dress Press, our publishing endeavor, and he designed the covers for The Children Didn’t See Anything and The Last Goodbye of Harris Turner. We already had a dark, creepy crawlspace in our own house, so all we needed was just the right dollhouse. No problem! Right? 
Setting up the photo shoot in our crawlspace.

     Stock photos of generic dollhouses didn't work for us; neither did a real dollhouse via eBay. Our best find on Craigslist was too big to fit in our car, which the dollhouse owner proceeded to insult. (“Is that your ONLY car?!”) Only one option left: Build the #$%!&! dollhouse ourselves! It tested our patience, our dining room table, and the very fiber of our beings for three solid weeks, leaving in its wake sawdust, hot glue glop, paint smears, and frayed nerves. 
Donning hard hat and suffering for my art.

     But that was just the beginning. Donning hard hats and our new dollhouse, and grabbing lights, cameras, dolls, and tripods, we crawled into our gloomy crawlspace to set the scene, dress and light the dollhouse, cover ourselves in cobwebs, and take hundreds of pictures in the dirt and dust. Then all Bob had to do was choose the right frame out of 998 (or so), perform some digital image magic, and match it to the right composition, fonts, and color palette to create just the right look: Cool but hot, shadowy but eye-popping, gloomy yet glowing, as if lit from within.
     All things considered, it was easy! No, not really, but we think it was worth it. 
     The Dollhouse in the Crawlspace is available as an ebook now, and will be in trade paperback by the end of August.