I NEED YOU TO HELP US, NIKKI
“We will form a little club,” Myra said. “You certainly know plenty of women who have . . . slipped through the cracks. We’ll invite them to join and then we’ll do whatever has to be done.”
Nikki stood up and threw her hands in the air. “You want us to be
“Yes, dear. Thank you. I couldn’t think of the right word. Don’t you remember those movies with Charles Bronson?”
“He got caught, Myra.”
“But they let him go in the end.”
“It was a damn movie, Myra. Make-believe. You want us to do the same thing for real. Just out of curiosity, supposing we were able to find the men that raped Kathryn Lucas, what would we do to them?”
Myra smiled. “That would be up to Kathryn, now, wouldn’t it?”
“I don’t believe I’m sitting here listening to you two hatch this . . . this . . . What the hell is it, Myra?”
“A secret society of women who do what has to be done to make things right.”
Nikki sat down with a thump. “If I don’t agree to . . . go along with this, what will you do?”
Myra borrowed a line from her favorite comedian.
“‘Then we’ll have to kill you,’” she said cheerfully. “So, are you in?”
“God help me, I’m in.”
talks about how she created
the Sisterhood series, and the long
road to publication . . .
When I found out that my publisher, Kensington Publishing, was going to reissue
, the very first Sisterhood book, I got a severe attack of melancholy as I thought back to the beginning when
was just an idea in the back of my mind. The idea at that moment in time was like trying to catch a firefly during the heat of summer. One minute I almost had it and then it would elude me. I kept trying to catch and latch onto the idea and make it work, but like that little firefly I guess it just wasn’t time for me to catch it. I struggled with the concept; women forming a union (that’s how I thought of it at the time) and righting all the wrongs of the universe. I told myself if I was going to think big then I needed to think not just big, but
The whole world (at least the women of the world) knows women are strong and can do whatever they set their minds to, especially a mother. By pep talking, I convinced myself a group of women like that could do
they set their minds to. That’s when I had to define the word
and how I could make it work with the book I wanted to write
The minute I did that, it was a whole new ballgame. In other words, I caught the firefly. Once the idea was firmly planted in my head, I let the firefly go. I watched it flit about just the way the ideas were flitting around inside my head. The ideas came so fast and furious I had trouble keeping it all straight. When I thought I had it down pat, I put pen to paper and drew up an outline and sent it off to one publisher after another. The whole process took three years out of my life in the late ’90s. I can truthfully say the publishers were so unkind and brutal in their rejection of my idea I sat down and cried. After which I drank a whole bottle of wine to numb me to the brutal rejections. Even my agent at the time told me to get over it and go back to writing my “normal” books. Well, that was exactly the wrong thing to say to me at that point in time. Remember what I said earlier, women can do anything. I set out to prove him wrong. Bear in mind it was a male agent. He went the way of the firefly because if he couldn’t believe in me, what was the point of continuing the relationship?
I’ve belonged to a small club of five women for over 20 years now. You know, best friends forever, that kind of thing. We meet up once a week for dinner, usually at my house and talk ourselves out. We do a lot of moaning and groaning, grumbling and complaining about life, friends, what’s going on in our lives, and how we wish we could wave a magic wand and make things right. We all have fertile imaginations, and at times we can go off the rails, saying if only we could do this or that, make this right, send this one to outer Mongolia never to be seen or heard of again . . . if only. I can’t be one hundred percent certain, but I think that’s where the seed was planted to write about a group of women trying to right the wrongs of the world.
We all know what it’s like to have to fall back and regroup, and that’s what I did after all those rejections. Nine in all. The negative words ricocheted around and around in my head.
The reading world is not ready for this kind of book. Your regular readers will drop you and move on. Maybe sometime in the future the women who buy your books will be ready for something like this, but now is not the time.
Here’s the one I liked the best, or should I say the least:
You will absolutely throw your career down the drain with this type of book.
I admit I was wounded to the quick, but then I remembered when I first started to write I sent one of my endeavors to the famous author Phillis Whitney, who was my idol at the time. She sent me back a note and told me not to quit my day job. I thought that was kind of funny since I didn’t have a day job. I was just a wife and mother trying to be a writer at the time. I didn’t quit then, and I wasn’t about to quit now.
I told myself I needed to be smarter in presenting my idea, and enlist the aid of true professionals. And who better than my little dinner club, savvy women friends who would understand what I was trying to do and who would support my efforts. Remember now, women can do anything they put their minds to. So with that thought I called for dinner at my house, and a sleep over. The reason for the sleep over was the wine we were going to drink, which by the way we never drank because when I explained what I wanted we all agreed we needed clear heads. We were all so high on just the ideas we didn’t need wine. But we did drink at least three gallons of coffee and never did go to sleep. I served breakfast. I have to say I never spent a more enjoyable, wonderful 12 hours in my life.
My own little sisterhood numbers five. Diane, Beverly, Susy, Stephanie and myself. Back then, in the year 2000 when I seriously went tooth and nail trying to write the Sisterhood, we met up once a week, sometimes twice, at my house because I had more time to cook. Not that they couldn’t cook, but they held outside jobs, whereas I worked at home and they would come straight here from work. We filled my dining room with charts, sticky notes hung from the chandelier, my fireplace was festooned with pictures and more sticky notes. There were cork boards everywhere. My dining room was where we plotted and schemed and wreaked vengeance as I struggled to bring to life the Sisterhood. Susy came up with the word
and we ran with it. It opened up a whole new stream of do’s and don’ts. Female vigilantes! Boy, was that a whole new world to come to terms with, but I have to say, we were up to the task.
My day lady was very unhappy with what she called “the mess” in the dining room. She speaks fluent English, but when she’s upset or excited she mumbles and mutters in Portuguese as she points to the mess in the dining room. Finally, I asked her what she was saying. She just looked at the mess, then at me, and pointed to the sticky notes decorating the dining room and said, “Kill the bastards!”
Another emergency meeting was called where we agreed that the vigilantes would not kill anyone. But, as Beverly put it, there’s no reason you can’t make the villain wish he or she was dead. That certainly worked for me and the girls, and my day lady was satisfied but not happy with that decision, or with the chaos in my dining room that wasn’t going to go away any time soon. I’d chosen my dining room for our meetings, not that I don’t have an office, I do, but the dining room is close to the kitchen where the food, the wine, and the coffeepot are. It was a question of priorities. The bottom line was anything goes, but the vigilantes stop at outright murder. Another sticky note on the chandelier.
I spent weeks and weeks developing the characters for the Sisterhood. Each one had to be just perfect for their continuing role that was to play out in what I thought at the time was going to be a series of seven books. Seven books, seven dedicated characters, and seven cases to bring to justice, vigilante style. Developing believable characters turned out to be harder to create than I thought. I called a meeting where we did a lot of snapping and snarling at one another. In the end I made my seven main characters composites of the five of us, with a few traits thrown in from other unsuspecting friends. For instance, Kathryn Lucas was patterned after Beverly. In the writing, I would find myself calling Beverly and asking if she would do this or that, or did she have a better idea. Her response was always the same: “Yes, I’d do that, and you nailed it.” In case you’re wondering who Myra and Annie are, that would be me, but you all probably already figured that out according to your many emails.
Introducing and creating the male characters proved a little more difficult. Mainly because they were introduced one at a time and over many books. Again, they turned out to be composites of our kids, our brothers, and just people we interact with on a daily basis. Take Harry Wong for instance, who is one of my personal favorite characters. My grandson went for martial arts instruction years ago and his Master was a real character, as was his assistant. Months and months of picking Master Choo’s brain finally brought the comment, “Are you writing a book?” Well, yeah, I am. You okay with that? Like Harry, Master Choo is a man of few words. All he said was, ‘Okay, make me look good.” I think I did that. Readers have written me tons of letters saying they love Harry. No more than I do. Jack Emery is almost one hundred percent my UPS delivery guy. Someday I’m going to tell him, but not yet.
Cosmo Cricket was created from scratch, as was lawyer Lizzie Fox, or as the gals called her, The Silver Fox. Lizzie was also a pure creation. Beautiful, smart, sexy, witty, and she controls the court room, not the judge or the prosecution. And at heart she is a true vigilante. If I ever come back in another life, I want to be Lizzie Fox or my old dog Fred. Such a choice.
I cloned Maggie Spitzer from an American waitress at a Japanese restaurant I go to. Like Mr. Choo, I picked her brain over time. She also told me to make her look good.
With the character situation down pat it was time to move on to plots. I needed seven plots to fit each of the seven characters. Armed with the thought, and what we felt was the knowledge, that the woman hasn’t been born who didn’t want to get even with someone for something or other, I went at it. We kicked it around for WEEKS with each of us asking friends and acquaintances who they would like to get even with and what they would like to see as a satisfying punishment. I think it’s safe to say that between us we spoke to over a thousand women. Right here and now I want to say that considering my age, I thought I had seen and heard it all, and there was nothing out there that could surprise me. Ha! Was I ever wrong, as were my friends. I will also admit a few times I turned a little green at what some of those women we spoke to wanted done. Bet you’ll never guess who had the best punishment ever for one of the characters. Renata, my day lady who has been with me for 28 years, that’s who. Who knew? I ran with it. Several years later it was a bestseller. Renata bought 14 copies to give out to her friends. That’s in addition to the dozen I gave her.
Now it was time to actually sit down and write the book. And I wrote it on spec. That means without a contract in the hopes of selling it. Writing fiction (that means I make up stuff) is like having a free G
card. You can write pretty much whatever you want, burn down a building, maim or kill a character, you can create love, hate, payback. You can create fictional places that over time actually become real to you the writer, and also to the reader. For example, Pinewood, where the vigilantes hang out, is a fictional farm in McLean, Virginia. You can make people rich or poor. I can say Countess Anna de Silva is one of the richest women in the world simply because I say so between the pages of a book. I can give a character a scorched earth personality if I want, or I can make them sweet as honey. It’s great fun. But it’s how you tie it all together as a whole that makes the story work.
Finally the day came when I was ready to type the first page of
. I wish I could say something meaningful, like it was a dark and stormy night, or it was a beach day with marshmallow clouds and blue skies. The truth is, all I remember was it was a Monday morning, and I know this because I always start a project, no matter what it is, on Mondays. It took me a year to write the book. I had one set back. My husband passed away in May of that year. I didn’t write for a while, but in the end it was the writing that got me back on track. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Then I rewrote, at least a dozen different drafts that I printed out and passed around to my friends for them to critique, and critique they did. When we were all satisfied that it was as good as it was going to get, I packaged it up and sent it to my publisher. We all went to the post office to mail it. I remember it cost $7.67 to mail it. Somewhere I still have the receipt, because I wanted that memory for some reason.
I took the gang to a place called the Barbed Wire where we ordered steaks and beer by the pitcher. I had to call my son to come and drive us home. My friends and I finally had our long overdue sleep over.
a hangover the next morning.
The next two weeks were two of the worst weeks of my life. All I did was answer the phone, calls from the gang asking if I’d heard anything. The answer was always the same, “No!”
Finally the call came. I was trying to unclog the garbage disposal and almost didn’t answer it, but caught it on the sixth ring. It was my editor at the time who has since retired, telling me that Walter and she would be coming to Charleston the following week to discuss my submission. Walter was Walter Zacharius, the founder and owner of Kensington Publishing. Walter was my boss, and my friend. I want to say right here and now that I absolutely adored that man. He saw me through some bad times, the death of my husband, and then the death of my youngest daughter a few years later. Just talking to him made things right somehow. In my heart of hearts I knew I would have to abide by whatever his decision was because I respected his opinion. I’m sad to say he has since passed away and I miss him terribly.
I never did fix the garbage disposal. I had to call a plumber.
I called the girls. We went to the Barbed Wired again. We ate but passed on the beer this time around and got home under our own power. Talk about beating a dead horse. Why was Walter coming here? To tell me no way no how would the book fly? To tell me he loved it and wanted to sign me up for all seven books? We were all a nervous wreck. The days crawled by. And then the day of the meeting finally arrived. I was early because I was about to crawl out of my skin.
Flash forward forty minutes, after the amenities, and Walter said, “It won’t work. It’s too over the top, too out of the box.”