L. C. Evans is an accomplished author with several acclaimed novels as well as many mystery and children’s stories to her credit. She currently lives in North Carolina with her husband Bob and their three dogs, not to mention a knight-errant feline who occasionally deigns to include himself in the Evan’s household.
SLP: First, thanks for agreeing to participate in our Featured Authors Project. Let’s begin by establishing your roots. Where you were born?
LCE: I was born in Brooklyn, New York
SLP: Where were you raised?
LCE: I was raised in a small town—Punta Gorda, Florida. My family moved there from New York when I was only three. My father is from Punta Gorda and all his family have lived in southwest Florida from way back.
SLP: Where were you educated?
LCE: I went to college at Stetson University and Edison Community College, both in Florida.
SLP: Where do you currently reside?
LCE: Currently I live in Matthews, North Carolina, which I love. It’s a beautiful area and not so geographically isolated as the Florida Gulf Coast.
SLP: Do you write full-time , and if not, what is your principal occupation?
LCE: I wouldn’t say that I write fulltime, since I only have a few hours a day for my writing, but I don’t have a job outside the home. I’m a born again soccer mom since I have custody of my 9-year-old grandson. Once he is home from school in the afternoons, he takes up most of my time and attention.
SLP: What literary genres appeal to you as both writer and reader?
LCE: I love mystery, true crime, chick lit, humor, and historical romance. Among others. Among many others. I’ll read just about anything, though I don’t particularly care for horror or fantasy.
SLP: What writers have most influenced your work?
LCE: I learn something from every book I read. Among my favorite authors are Evelyn Waugh, Denton Welch, Catherine Cookson, early Dick Francis, Mark Twain, David Sedaris, and Elizabeth George.
SLP: What other genres such as screenwriting, travel writing, etc., if any, have you considered?
LCE: I’ve considered screenwriting, but have never tried it. It seems like it would be really difficult to sell a screenplay and I think that’s what puts me off.
SLP: Do you write primarily at home?
LCE: I write at home only. I like my routines and if I try to write in public places I get too distracted looking at other people.
SLP: Do you write in public places such as coffee shops, etc.?
LCE: I love to go to coffee shops, but not to write. Public places are more places for me to observe and to think about writing, but not to actually put pen to paper. I’ve actually gotten some great ideas for characters by noticing people interacting in public.
SLP: Do you write best in the morning or evening?
LCE: I write almost exclusively in the mornings after I take the boy to school. First of all, I’m more alert and ambitious in the mornings. And second I don’t like to be interrupted when I’m writing. It really disturbs my deep creative state to be dragged into the real world, and then I get very cranky. The boy has not learned to avoid speaking to me when I’m at my computer, so when he’s home the writing stops. Probably this is a good thing since I would not like to learn hours after the fact that he accidentally dropped his underwear into the toilet and then accidentally flushed it. Or that he accidentally spilled that “new gallon of milk” on the kitchen floor and the dogs walked through it.
SLP: Do you set aside specific times to write? If so, when?
LCE: Weekday mornings are my writing time.
SLP: Do you feel you have sufficient time to write?
LCE: I do. In fact, I don’t take advantage of the writing time when I get busy promoting my books. What I need to do is carve out promoting time and make that separate from writing time.
SLP: How many hours per day do you devote to writing?
LCE: Usually I have 3 to 4 hours because I get too exhausted trying to push past that limit and the writing suffers. My brain just gets tired and runs out of fuel. When I start to feel woozy, it’s time to quit. There have been occasions when I was near the end of a book or in the middle of a big action scene when I’ve taken a break for an hour or so and then returned to the computer for an afternoon session.
SLP: If possible would you like to write full time, or do you have other overriding interests?
LCE: I do have that time, other than on weekends and I consider myself very fortunate.
SLP: Do you feel a compelling urge to write, or is it more of a pastime?
LCE: I am consumed by the urge to write and begin to feel guilty when I slack off. Before the computer age, I filled notebook after notebook and now have about a hundred stored in my closet. These will probably be burned when I die because no one will be interested in them unless I become really famous.
SLP: When and how did your interest in writing first assert itself?
LCE: When I was six I became an avid reader and it wasn’t long before I wanted to write stories of my own. I started writing and performing in puppet shows for the neighborhood kids with my best friend when I was eight. We charged five cents admission, so I suppose this was the first money I earned from writing. After all my children were in school, I started writing and selling short stories–mostly mysteries and children’s stories. Eventually I branched out into novels.
SLP: Do you have any other creative outlets or interests such as music, dance, or graphic arts?
LCE: I love to listen to music and watch other people dance. I used to play guitar, but haven’t done so for years. As far as dancing, I am a total klutz. My children get embarrassed if I even talk about wanting to dance.
SLP: What is you writing process like? Do you primarily write on a computer? If so, do you prefer a laptop or desktop?
LCE: Laptop. I used to write in longhand and then type my work into a computer. I quickly figured out that this was double work. I taught myself to write directly into a computer and this took a bit of time. At first it seemed to block my creativity. I still have times when I get stuck and then I use a pen and paper to write. This seems to free up the flow.
SLP: What writing software do you use?
LCE: Right now I’m using Pages on a Mac computer, but I’m planning to get a different program.
SLP: How do you handle a sudden idea or insight?
LCE: Notes, always. If I’m at the computer, I’ll type the notes into my notes folder. Otherwise, I’ll write in a notebook.
SLP: Are you a serious note-taker?
LCE: Pretty much. I jot things down all the time—new plot ideas, action scenes, observations. Many of these never get used, but they’re there if I should ever need them.
SLP: Do you have a daily goal as to how much you write?
LCE: When I write, I want to get at least 2000 words during a session. This doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I’m only going back over what I wrote the day before and I only add about 4 or 5 hundred words.
SLP: Do you have a specific technique for beginning the next day’s writing?
LCE: I start by going over what I wrote the day before, trying to improve it, adding bits that I thought of since I left off. This seems to naturally lead into the next chapter or scene. When I first write a scene, it’s often pretty spare. Each time I go over it I layer in more description, enlarge things, improve dialogue. It’s like those times in real life when later you wish you would have handled a situation differently or you’ve thought of a snappy comeback. Unfortunately, there are no do-overs in life. But if you’re an author, you can give your characters as many chances as you want to get it right. After I write the scene, my mind keeps working on it, so when I return the next day I’ve usually thought of something better.
SLP: Are you ever troubled by writer’s block and, if so, how do you deal with it?
LCE: Yes, unfortunately. And it’s always because I didn’t think through what I was doing. I can always work through the block by going back over what I’ve done and digging deeper. For example, What would I do in the situation the main character finds herself in? Would the character necessarily do the same? If not, what would a person like her do? Why or why not? In other words, I have to become the character and then all kinds of new ideas and scenes come to mind.
SLP: Do you typically work from an outline?
LCE: I don’t use an outline. I have a general idea of the beginning and the end and work from there. I’ve tried outlining and have gotten totally frustrated with it.
SLP: In first drafts, do you write in chapter sequence, or do you tend to bounce around?
LCE: I almost always write in chapter sequence since ideas for new scenes develop as I write.
SLP: Do you generally focus on a single project until finished?
LCE: Generally, yes.
SLP: Have you carried any of your characters from book to book?
LCE: I’m currently working on a sequel to one of my books, Talented Horsewoman.
SLP: Tell us about your own reading habits. How much do you read?
LCE: I read 3 or 4 books a week.
SLP: What are you currently reading?
LCE: It’s my habit to have several books going at once. I’m currently reading Heresy by S.J. Parris, How To Forgive When You Can’t by Dr. Jim Dincalci, Frequency by Penney Peirce, and Widow’s Tale by Maureen Miller.
SLP: Do you have a strong preference for either fiction or nonfiction?
LCE: No. I read both about equally.
SLP: When discovering a book you’ve begun isn’t to your liking do you feel compelled to finish it?
LCE: Absolutely not. I used to, particularly when I wanted to give someone a review. But then I realized that if I really didn’t like the book, I couldn’t give a fair review. There are too many books out there and I read for enjoyment. So I will definitely put a book down if it’s not for me.
SLP: Given a choice, which would you prefer to read, an ebook or a paper book?
LCE: Paper, though that’s changing since I got my Kindle. The Kindle makes ereading a whole different experience from reading an ebook on a computer.
SLP: Tell us a bit about We Interrupt This Date. Can you summarize the plot?
LCE: Since her divorce a year ago, Susan Caraway has gone through the motions of life, feeling at best mildly depressed. Now she is finally coming out of her shell. Just when she decides on a makeover and a new career, her family members call on her for crisis assistance. First there’s her sister DeLorean who has come back from California with a baby, a designer dog, and no prospects for child support or a job. As soon as DeLorean settles in at Susan’s home, Susan’s son Christian comes home from college trailing what Susan’s mama refers to as “an androgynous little tart.” Then there’s Mama herself, a southern lady who wrote the book on bossy. A secret from Mama’s past threatens to unravel her own peace. But not before Mama hurts her ankle and has to move into Susan’s home with her babies—two Chihuahuas with attitude. Susan would like to start her new job as a ghost tour operator. She would like to renew her relationship with Jack Maxwell, a man from her past. But Jack isn’t going to stand in line behind her needy family.
SLP: The book has an almost “cinematic” feel to me. Was that a consideration in the writing?
LCE: No, not at all. It just came out that way. I visualize the scenes in my mind as write and that may be why.
SLP: While reading I found myself assigning roles to particular actors. For example, Kathy Bates became Mama. If you were casting the parts, who would fit where?
LCE: Doris Roberts for Mama, if she could do Southern.
Tina Fey for Susan
Jessica Simpson for DeLorean
Danny DeVito for Odell
Renee Zellweger (wearing a long black wig) would be Patty
I have a couple of Chihuahuas that would do nicely for Mama’s dogs, though mine are not little hellions.
SLP: Were the characters fairly fixed before introducing them, or did they evolve?
LCE: They definitely evolved. Mama was softer and less bossy. DeLorean was more selfish and snotty, and Susan herself was much more helpless and whiney.
SLP: Did any of the characters prove more difficult to manage than others?
LCE: Not really.
SLP: How long did the book take?
LCE: About two years. I wrote a first draft in about three months, put it away for six months or so, and then revised off and on for more than a year—with the help of my online critique group. I would like to thank Sandy, Lila, and Tami for all their support and encouragement as well as for catching those wrong notes in the story.
SLP: Once started, did the story unfold as you anticipated?
LCE: Goodness, no. I originally had Susan leaving town with little more than her car and a suitcase and then realized this was all wrong. The woman clung to Charleston like a barnacle.
SLP: Were you blocked at any point?
LCE: The ending had me stumped for a while. After I figured out she would never run away from home and her responsibilities, I wanted her to end up with Jack, but had trouble getting them together.
SLP: Do you typically use multiple points of view in your writing or was We Interrupt This Date an exception?
LCE: Three of my books are in first person and one in third person, multiple points of view. I’m currently working on two others–one in first person and one in third.
SLP: Did Susan’s first-person point of view present any difficulties?
LCE: I thought the story was best told from her viewpoint and though I considered third person from Susan’s point of view only, I decided in the end that it flowed better in first person.
SLP: Did the book end as you originally envisioned?
LCE: I had wanted her to leave town and start a new life in another city, but Susan simply refused to leave. Much as her family dragged her down, she still loved them and she loved her home. So they had to kiss and make up.
SLP: Did you consider multiple endings?
LCE: It was between leaving town and staying and working things out with Jack and the family. Since Susan wouldn’t leave town, I had to help her work things out.
SLP: Is the book entirely a product of your imagination or were some characters and/or events based on experience?
LCE: Some characters and events were based on experience. I hope I have cleverly concealed them well enough so certain people can’t tell who they are.
SLP: Do any of your relatives or associates believe they’re in the book?
LCE: I did have someone tell me that Mama is her mother and Susan is her sister. A couple of family members eyed me with suspicion after they finished reading it, but they didn’t ask, so I didn’t tell.
[Spad: Just to allay any concerns on the matter, I can assure our readers that the Mama character was most likely based on my mom.]
SLP: Did you ever feel that the characters were taking the story in unforeseen directions?
LCE: Definitely. Mostly with Susan who finally developed the strength she needed to live her own life.
SLP: Were there surprises when writing this particular book? If so, what were they?
LCE: Other than the change to the ending, no.
SLP: What are your other titles and in what order were they published?
LCE: My other titles are, in order, Jobless Recovery, Talented Horsewoman, and Night Camp (a children’s vampire tale).
SLP: What exactly is a “children’s vampire tale”? At first blush this would appear to be an oxymoron.
LCE: Whoops. Sorry about the vampire confusion. The vampires aren’t children. The book is a vampire story for children. I strive for clarity, but sometimes I fall short. Here’s a brief overview:
A spooky graveyard. A creepy basement. A pair of coffins.
Thirteen-year-old Shane Andrews hates summer camp. When his parents allow him to choose, Shane decides to pick the worst camp he can find. Night Camp must be terrible. For one thing, activities take place at night and campers sleep during the day. That can’t be good, Shane reasons. His parents will realize Night Camp is even worse than they thought and they’ll come back to get him. Then Shane’s plans for summer freedom fall apart. His cousin Brad, a boy with a huge collection of tabloid magazines, convinces Shane that two of the camp counselors are vampires. Shane enlists the help of Brad and a girl camper named Nicole. The three set out to save themselves and the other campers. Then Shane uncovers the secret of Night Camp…
It turns out the camp counselors are indeed vampires, but not the kind who kill people. And I have to share (brag about) the following review I just got for the book–it’s my favorite review of all time:
So good the kid stole it out of my bag for a 2nd read., February 8, 2010
By Lindsay M Kozel
This review is from: Night Camp
This is an excellent book. A dear friend was kind enough to let me borrow it before a 4 day weekend taking care of 2 kids (8 and 11). We spent hours each night reading “Night Camp”. I’ve never seen these kids sit still. I don’t know that I even ever sit that still. I loved Goosebumps books as a kid, and this book has blown all of those out of water. It is definitely not too scary, but it’s also captivating enough to have kept me wanting to read it all those hours, instead of just tucking the kids in bed early to read on their own. When I got home after the weekend, I couldn’t find the book anywhere in my bags, and it wasn’t until Monday that I had realized Jeremiah (8), had snuck into my bag, stolen the book, and started over from page 1.
SLP: That really is a great review—and perfectly timed! (Lest our readers think the author is bragging, this book has been reviewed 12 times on Amazon alone—all five stars!)
What’s your next writing project?
LCE: I’m currently working on two books—a sequel to Talented Horsewoman and a murder mystery that takes place in North Carolina.
SLP: Are they well underway?
LCE: The mystery is finished, but I’m not satisfied with the ending, so I’m going to start reworking it after I finish writing the first draft of the TH sequel. The sequel is about two thirds finished.
SLP: Does either have a similar theme to that of We Interrupt This Date?
LCE: Neither are similar, though both involve strong family bonds.
SLP: When do you anticipate finishing them?
LCE: By June–the first. I promised myself.
SLP: Can you offer a ‘high concept’ or brief synopsis?
LCE: A brief synopsis of the Talented Horsewoman sequel is:
Amateur sleuth Leigh McRae is once again caught up in a murder when a member of her horse club is arrested for killing a man in her stable. Leigh believes the woman is innocent, but doesn’t want to get involved. However, the accused has few resources and is sure to get convicted if someone doesn’t help. Leigh can’t stand an injustice. And she admits she is a wee bit nosey. She decides it can’t hurt to find out just enough to point the police in the right direction. With the help of her ditsy cousin, she pokes around and gets herself in a lot of trouble before the killer is found.
SLP: Moving on to more general topics, what do you believe will be the short- and long-term impact of ebooks on the publishing industry?
LCE: Short term, there are a lot of growing pains. Big publishers don’t seem to want to change, but ebook readers are popping up everywhere. Publishing houses need to adapt or die. Long term I think ebooks are definitely the future of publishing and are going to make things easier than ever for indie authors to get their books out there.
SLP: What do you think of the current publishers’ pricing structure for ebooks?
LCE: Personally I don’t like to pay more than $5 for an ebook. And I don’t like buying reference books in eformat. I definitely prefer paper for reference and read fiction in ebook.
SLP: Do you support the “Agency” model currently being pressed by the publishers?
LCE: I’m still thinking about it. As an author I don’t like seeing ebooks priced too low and devalued. But as a reader, I won’t buy a lot of ebooks if they’re more than $5 each.
SLP: Do you own an ereader?
LCE: I own both an iTouch and a Kindle and enjoy them both. Lately I’ve found myself looking at books I want and then immediately checking to see if they’re available in eformat.
SLP: That wraps up the Q&A portion. Now for a generous sample from We Interrupt This Date:
Somehow I had mentally assigned Brenda, Odell’s niece, her uncle’s intellectual capacity. Though there was a definite family resemblance in her stocky build and she had her Uncle Odell’s droopy eyes and wide nose, she proved to be pretty sharp. If she hadn’t been as obnoxious as her uncle was, I might have liked her.
When I complimented her on how quickly she caught on to the bookkeeping system, Miss Brenda straightened her back and announced, “I took secretarial training at the community college in Spartanburg. Of course, I’ll be making a lot of changes after you leave.” She swiveled her head from side to side. Something about the way she stuck out her lips gave me the idea she wasn’t happy with the way I’d arranged the desk and chairs. For a second I went defensive, but then I reminded myself that soon this would be Brenda’s domain.
Despite her trainability, I gave in to moping through a good part of the day, listening to my mind screaming at me that I was soon to be sans paycheck. The troubling thoughts were momentarily silenced when Jack called and invited me to lunch on Friday. We still had, he reminded me, a great deal of catching up to do.
Patty scooted into my office as soon as I put the phone down. Excitement had her eyebrows practically dancing a tango.
“I wasn’t eavesdropping, but I heard the last part of your conversation. Was that a man inviting you to lunch?”
Not eavesdropping? She’d been lurking outside my door like a spy too lazy to find a real hiding spot. I glanced pointedly at Brenda who’d just come back from Odell’s office. Patty didn’t take the hint. I guess she figured that since I was leaving it didn’t matter if Brenda told Odell about me taking a personal call.
“It’s not a date. Jack’s an old friend who moved back to town recently, so it’s only polite for me to catch him up on how the area has changed over the years.” Right. Lunching with Jack was all about manners.
Patty held her arms straight up toward the ceiling. Her eyes narrowed to slits and she aimed the slits about a foot over my head to stare at the wall behind me. Then she started swaying her hips like a belly dancer warming up for a performance. “Right. Right. Susan, it’s good news. The Universe told me Jack is your destiny, and I am just soooo happy for you.”
“It spoke to you without benefit of the tarot? Despite the newsflash from the beyond, Patty, you can rest easy. Due to a complete lack of chemistry between us, which he was quick to remind me of last night over coffee, Jack and I are nothing more than friends. Besides he has a girlfriend.”
“The Universe doesn’t lie,” Patty said in tones of deepest respect. The bell at the front of the store rang, and she scurried back to her register to wait on a customer.
I had a feeling she wanted to light a candle, but Odell doesn’t allow lit candles in the shop. I glanced at Brenda. Her mouth hung open, and she was fingering a little gold cross hanging around her neck.
“Don’t mind Patty,” I said. “She’s harmless and her predictions are about as accurate as what you read in the tabloids.”
“I don’t read the tabloids.” Brenda sniffed. “But I’m well able to deal with difficult co-workers.”
“I’m sure.” The secretarial school I’d already grown sick of hearing about must have had a required class on the subject.
I’d planned to stay late to work with Brenda, but she had errands to run and I had no doubts she was planning to lay in a supply of new office decorations. I was able to leave promptly at five, my usual quitting time. I made a side trip to Publix and pulled into my driveway exactly forty-five minutes later. I was not surprised to see Mama’s aircraft-carrier-sized green Cadillac taking up most of my driveway. She’d invited herself to supper, no doubt prompted by the fact that I’d finally worked up the nerve to phone her last night with the announcement about the new job. She’d reacted predictably, which meant I’d had to drink about a gallon of herbal tea.
I shouldn’t say I’d worked up nerve. I didn’t need Mama’s permission to rearrange my life. What I needed, rather, was enough time and energy to listen to her wear herself out trying to get me to stay in my safe little world, a world much like hers. It was a world I’d been resigned to inhabiting until yesterday when I’d woken up and met the new me. Now I picked up my two grocery bags and marched to the front door, determination showing in every stride. Mama yanked the door open before I could do more than point my key at the lock.
“I carried in your mail. It’s on your desk on top of all that clutter. Your electric bill would be lower if you’d reset your thermostat. And there is a huge packet from Veronica about the Blackthorn House. I’m quite sure that does not bode well, but it is not like me to interfere, so I won’t say a thing about it. You really should keep your refrigerator stocked. I was going to finish making dinner, but you don’t have a single tomato for the salad.”
“I bought some.” I held up the bag on my right. A couple of reddish globes shone through the opaqueness.
“And no bread.” She sighed with profound weariness and then shook her head vigorously, a move that didn’t have any effect on her lacquered hair. The Chihuahuas hovered in the background, growling softly at my incompetence.
“Bag on my left.” I looked down and wriggled my eyebrows at the closest Chihuahua, a little tan number named Tiny that seems to think he’s a lot bigger than he really is. He curled his lip.
“Don’t tease my babies.” Mama was already pulling the bags out of my hands. “I’ll have supper done in ten minutes.”
I didn’t want her to have supper done. This was my house, my state of the art kitchen, and my life. But, judging from the delicious smells wafting toward me, it was too late to tell Mama to sit down and have a cup of tea while I did my own cooking.
I took the only way out, nodding and stepping carefully around the Chihuahuas as I moved toward the hallway. I concentrated on my yoga breathing.
“What’s wrong? Your lips are pulled together like purse strings and at your age there’s a serious chance of wrinkles if you hold that expression. I declare, you look like someone shoved a sour lemon down your throat.” Mama pulled me around to face her and peered into my face.
A sour lemon? Was there any other kind?
“I’m good, Mama. Give me a minute to change and I’ll help you in the kitchen.” If I made my voice any more cheery, she’d think I was trying to sell her a beach condo.
She waved a hand at me and reversed direction. Mission accomplished. I’d gotten safely in the door and past Mama and her mini guard dogs without getting into an argument. I was saving myself for later when Mama went into high gear over my upcoming career change, a high gear made higher by the fact that she’d had all day to prepare her argument.
Mama considered herself a gracious southern lady, a member of the club made up of women with accents that sounded as if the words were dipped in honey and stretched out into extra syllables. Like all of them, Mama was tough as old leather. She was a strong woman who’d survived widowhood—my father. And desertion—my sister’s father. She’d managed a career as an accountant’s secretary, raised two girls, and retired comfortably with her dignity intact.
I’d win the argument, though. Of course, me winning meant that Mama would finally throw up her hands in defeat and blink her eyes at warp speed, leading me to believe she wanted to frown, but didn’t dare risk the wrinkles. Then she’d say in that low, melodious voice of hers, “You mark my words, Susan Nicole Caraway, you are making a large mistake, bless your heart. A very large mistake.”
She’d gather the Chihuahuas and dump them into the straw basket–woven by a Gullah woman–that she called her purse. Then she’d stagger out to her Cadillac leaning sideways from the weight of the little dogs.
I thought of this now as I changed from business casual into a pair of jeans and a tee shirt sporting the logo from some metal band Christian pretends to like. Mama never really gets angry, doesn’t raise her voice. Voice-raising isn’t ladylike. Even when she reminds me she said to mark her words—such as when the minivan I’d bought against her advice developed a problem with the radio—she is always ready to pitch in and help pick up the pieces. Mama is fond of saying, “There is no love greater than a mother’s love for her offspring.”
I’ve given up trying to get her to say children instead of offspring. Offspring always makes me think of a science experiment involving genetics and multiple generations of albino lab rats that specialize in running mazes.
I ran my fingers through my hair and padded barefoot down the hall into the kitchen. I discovered that Mama had already fixed salad and garlic bread to go with the vegetarian lasagna she’d baked earlier.
The table was set and Mama had brought white carnations for a centerpiece. She’d arranged them in a bowl so they sat low between the salad and a pitcher of iced tea, all the better for her to see me from the opposite end of the table. A gracious lady always has flowers in the house, I’ve been told a million times, and plastic flowers don’t count.
Somehow I’ve never managed to become a gracious lady. Mama has to keep reminding me I’ve fallen short and my sister hasn’t even made the effort, and Mama doesn’t know why she keeps trying with two daughters who are simply doing their best to torment her into an early grave.
I waited until she locked the Chihuahuas on the back porch with a bowl of tiny kibble, a food recommended by Mama’s best friend, Lydia Freeman. Lydia is a Chihuahua breeder active with the local dog rescue organization. She has a Cadillac identical to Mama’s, except for a bumper sticker that reads, “If you don’t rescue, don’t breed.” Before I knew she raised dogs, I had no clue what the bumper sticker meant—I thought Lydia was simply anti-sex.
Mama carried the food to the table. We ate, chatting about the new gift shop near Calhoun Street, and how Ruthie Ames’ daughter Cindy, who was as flaky as her Aunt Lou’s pie crust, had dropped out of the College of Charleston to “go find herself in Idaho.”
“Can you imagine?” Mama said, dabbing her lips with her cloth napkin. “If she can’t figure out where she is right here in the city where she was born and raised, then there is no hope in Idaho where all the people are roughnecks. No hope at all.”
I knew Mama was thinking of my younger sister DeLorean as much as she was thinking about Cindy Ames. DeLorean had gone to LA a couple of years ago–not to find herself, but to let LA find her. So far, all she’d managed to do was move in with a stuck up movie producer and have a baby. There seemed slim chance of her ever being discovered, if that’s what she really expected. I doubted if even DeLorean knew what she wanted out of life.
But then, I was one to talk. Married for nineteen years, divorced for one and I was finally getting around to figuring out I didn’t want to be stuck in a loan office answering phones and soothing the feelings of entitlement-minded customers. I wasn’t sure that running ghost tours was what I wanted to do either, but I’d been forced into the situation and maybe that was what Patty’s Universe had had in store for me all along.
“Mama?” I got up and started filling the dishwasher. “I hope you’re not still upset about my phone call last night.”
“Your phone call?” She made phone into two-syllables. “You mean that nonsense about selling the house to live in a bed and breakfast and going off to hunt for ghosts like some common street person with pagan beliefs? I’ve raised you better, the good Lord knows I have, and by now you’ve surely to God realized you simply can’t do such a thing. I mean, people will think you’ve been mentally unhinged by the divorce, positively gone around the bend and that you need help before you ruin your life entirely. Though no one could blame you after T. Chandler dumped you for that gold digging home wrecker with the huge bosoms. I’m sure they were fake; pure silicon–or is it carbon they’re made of? What was her name?”
“Crystal,” I said. “Crystal Rose.” I gritted my teeth and hunted under the sink for the dishwashing powder. A year later and Mama still brought up the incident like it had happened an hour ago and, of course, it was my own fault and she wasn’t going to let me forget.
“Whatever. Sounds like a made up name to me, like she’s one of those low women who take off their clothes in bars and fit themselves into all kinds of suggestive positions around metal poles. But didn’t I say to mark my words? I said, I don’t know how many times, I said, ‘Susan, when a man claims a best friend who’s a woman, and that woman isn’t his wife, then there’s trouble brewing.’ As sure as peach blossoms turn into peaches you can expect trouble.”
“Yeah, Mama, you did all but spell it out. I still walked around oblivious, cooking and cleaning and taking care of my home while T. Chandler worked himself into a lather over a pair of size 40D faux breasts and an enhanced butt. Dumb me. No surprise when I eventually found myself in divorce court.” I made my voice deep and ominous when I said “divorce court” as if I were talking about the deepest pit of hell.
I should have been able to figure things out for myself without Mama’s warning—which I’d ignored. What forty-two-year-old man has a bubble-brained flirt for a best pal? To be fair, though, my sin was apathy more than cluelessness.
“Don’t be flippant, dear. The point is, I believe, we were going to discuss this horrible plan of yours so I could advise you.”
I sighed. I was positive I hadn’t asked for either a discussion or her advice. And equally positive that no force on earth could prevent her from butting in.
“There’s nothing to discuss. I’ve already told Veronica I’ll do it.” I would not tell her Odell had fired me and Veronica’s offer was the only one on the table.
“I must say, I am shocked.” Mama pulled a lavender spray bottle out of her purse and spritzed the air around her for about a three-foot radius. She sniffed delicately and sat back in her chair. I knew she was counting on the lavender aromatherapy to help her get over her shock while she thought up ways to influence me. Naturally she wanted me to continue to sit around and grow bitter, yet remain a true southern lady who holds her chin up and keeps a prominent display of her best wedding photos–with the lying skunk cut out of them–on the mantle.
“It’s a done deal and I am not changing my mind.”
“I hope she hasn’t spent any money yet. Because it’s just a matter of a few days before you realize what a fatal mistake you’ll be making.” Mama shivered. I half expected her to reach for the lavender again, but a yelp from the direction of the porch caused her to swivel to face the door. “That Tiny, he thinks he’s a Great Dane. Always beating up poor Sweetpea.” Sighing, she started to rise.
I waved her back down. “I’ll get them.” I marched out to the porch where a growling Tiny, his dark marble eyes bulging from his skull with the effort, stood over the cowering Sweetpea. He’d placed one nickel-sized paw on Sweetpea’s black and tan chest.
“Stop that right now, you little beast,” I snarled. “If the Dog Whisperer didn’t live clear across the country, I’d haul you in for rehab.”
When my warning did no good, I squatted and cupped my hands around Tiny’s body. He sank his needle teeth into my wrist, but they hardly made a dent. I carried him back into the kitchen and dumped him on Mama’s lap, leaving the other dog on the porch.
“Mama, I’ve made up my mind about the new job. I mean, look at me. For the first time in I don’t know how long–at least a year–I actually feel enthusiastic about something.” Sort of true. “I’m looking forward to living at the Seaside View. It’s beautiful, it’s close to the harbor. I’ll be able to walk all over the historic district enjoying the sights and the fresh air of one of the most beautiful cities in the country. I won’t have this huge house to work me to death. It’s a new beginning.”
“Four bedrooms isn’t exactly huge.” Mama sniffed and looked around as if she could peer through walls and see the rest of the house, mentally measuring the dimensions. “And you don’t look anywhere near death.”
“That isn’t the point,” I ground out. “I’m ready to do something for me. Maybe I’ll like conducting ghost tours and maybe I won’t, but at least I’ll know I tried. I can always look for something else if it doesn’t work out.”
“Yes, but you’ll be without a home, and you know you love this place and you love working in your garden. And you’ll have no job. Lack of a paycheck is the first step toward winding up in the streets.”
“I promise I’ll stay out of the streets. And I wouldn’t quit the ghost tours until I found something else.”
“Yes, no doubt you’ll end up at the reins of one of those poor horses that pull those overloaded carts–carts simply full to bursting with sightseers.” She grabbed Tiny’s rhinestone encrusted collar and pulled him back into her lap before he could climb on the table.
“The carts aren’t that full,” I said in clipped tones.
“And you’d have to empty those horse diaper things. I can just imagine the condition of your poor fingernails. I can almost smell the manure.”
So could I. I rolled my eyes. The phone rang and I started to say I’d let the machine answer, but Mama threw up her hands in her patented “I give up” gesture that really meant “I’ll keep hounding you until you admit I was right, because you are going to land on your face.”
“You will crash and burn, Susan. Mark my words, you will wish you never lowered yourself to being a ghost walker.”
“Ghost tour operator.”
“Call it what you will. I won’t be able to hold my head up in church when my friends spot you parading around Charleston leading tourists looking for wisps of fog.” She sucked in air like she was taking her last breath, dropped Tiny into the purse, and went out on the porch to gather the other dog. I spared a moment of pity for Sweetpea who’d be forced to ride home in a confined space with the ferocious Tiny.
Then I grabbed the phone. Telemarketer. I did not need a new back porch, a subscription to twenty-two magazines, or vinyl siding. Too bad they weren’t trying to sell me a quiet, charming mother who looked at me adoringly and doled out praise like it was her only function in life.
SLP: Once again, my thanks to L. C. Evans for the excellent interview and a last reminder to our readers that her books are available in both ebook and printed editions at both local bookshops and online.