Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Q&A DATING A SAINT Part 1 (pushing boundaries)

 What was the inspiration for the unusual storyline?

Epic answer--sorry it's so long, but my story about it is as complicated as the book I wrote.

During the summer of 2009 while I was recovering from leaving a career that had lasted for eighteen years, I spent a lot of time staring at the walls and listening to audiobooks. One was called LEAP! What will we do with the rest of our lives? by Sarah Davidson. The material was very good and overall served to provide me the self-help inspiration I was seeking. One of the tracks (I bought the CD version) was about how the meaning of "love" changes as you get older. In that exploration, Davidson recounted a story that she declared had redefined love for her. And it ended up doing the same for me. Don't tie me to the exact details of the story, but here is the gist of it as it lives in my mind as inspiration.

There was an older man (late 60's I believe) who had had to put his older wife of many years with some sort of "not remembering" problem into a nursing home because she required constant care he could no longer provide. While in facility, his wife completely forgot her relationship to her husband and developed one with someone else. The husband was devastated at first, but eventually accepted his wife's new relationship and supported it because he saw how much pleasure it gave his wife, even in her limited condition.

(Now you're where I was thinking this was bad enough, but there was more.)

The family of his wife's new beau developed financial problems and were going to have to take the wife's beau out of the facility. The husband, understanding the devastating effect losing the new beau would have on his wife, sought and found a job just so he could help pay the wife's beau's fees there. If Davidson mentioned the ending to the story, I don't recall it. I shut it out of my mind because it was more personal sacrifice than I could bear thinking about one loving, faithful man making.

I cried for two weeks after every time I thought about the story, mostly because I knew there was no simple HEA possible for that incredible man. I realized how limited my view of love was in this world. And the romantic in me, the one that was trying to write about love because hearing this pre-dated the creation and release of my books, knew that given the slightest provocation, I was going write a similar story with a happy ending that might balance out my personal grief for this unknown man. It would be my humble homage to a love that runs the hell over all the boundaries of what is morally or socially right and goes straight on to unconditional romantic love redefined. He was the best of heroes.

So in the third book of a series about friendship that I was determined to keep light and funny, I was working on turning a very quiet, repressed Lauren into a fully rounded heroine when suddenly up pops my hero with a background that fit my promise to myself. I thought, "No Donna, don't go there. It's too risky. The first two books are doing well. Readers like them. You know you can't start a romance with one of the characters being married. Everyone will hate that and the book as a result."

I covertly wrote ten chapters, and then spent several weeks pondering the meaning of life. For me this usually means modest debauchery and lubrication of some sort because I want to avoid all else.  When I surfaced again, I realized that I had to go forward, but that I would do so VERY CAREFULLY and take great care in making the characters really, really sympathetic and likeable. I balanced the storyline with loads of humor--slapstick, verbal, all of it. But there was simply no running from the crux--the homage I had promised. I have never worked so hard to find an HEA. Most of them are self-evident early on in books. It's just a matter of how you get there. My problem was that I was committed to a full-blown working out of ALL roadblocks.

I think if I had refused to finish that specific storyline and gone for another, the muses would have called me a coward and dusted off their hands as they walked away. I had as many butterflies putting out Dating A Saint for sale as I did posting the first book as an unknown. Now it is one of the books I am most proud of writing. Maybe I became a real writer in that book. I think it has one of the best endings I have written to date.

And whether or not it turned out to be the homage I intended, I still like to think of that story as balancing the unhappy love karma in the universe.
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