Guest Post by Tamara Thorne
When Alistair Cross and I began writing our psychological thriller, Mother, we had only four characters in mind. Priscilla Martin (Mother herself), her daughter Claire, Claire’s husband, Jason, and Morning Glory Circle, the street where the action takes place. (For us, location is a character as important as any other.)
We’d planned on giving this intense thriller a very small cast, but then Prissy Martin’s neighbors quickly started showing up and giving us insights and opinions about her, and showing us how Prissy interacts with them. After just a few neighborly pointers, we were hooked and knew that the tale would be much richer – and more fun to write – if we included the neighborhood.
Alistair and I both love writing from multiple points of view; experiential differentiation is something neither of us can resist. Think of it this way: There is a red rose bush in bloom. One person will see a beautiful flowering shrub. Another will inhale the fragrance and be transported back to the special day when her beau presented a rose and asked her to marry him. A third will have a similar memory, but it’s unwelcome because the guy ended up cheating on her, and that’s made her dislike roses. A fourth will simply think, “God, I hate rose bushes – they’re too much work to maintain.” Another will recoil, remembering being punctured by a thorn or stung by a bee. One more holds back tears because it reminds him of the funeral of a loved one. And finally, an allergic person will practically run the other way at the mere mention of roses.
Different perspectives are everything in writing so we set about recording various reactions to Prissy Martin. Her daughter hates her, but we don’t know why. Is Claire unreasonable? After all, she left home as a teenager – and you know how difficult adolescents can be. Claire’s husband, Jason, is meeting Prissy for the first time and knows virtually nothing about her because Claire doesn’t like to talk about the woman. He’s keeping an open mind, thinking only that Prissy is a little pushy and a tad eccentric. He even feels sorry for her because she still mourns her long-dead son, Timothy – but Claire sees her mourning as nothing but an attempt to get attention.
Outside the house, at church and in the neighborhood, we see Prissy from many viewpoints. She keeps the Ladies Auxiliary running at Holy Sacramental. Father Andy admires her even though he’s a little intimidated. His predecessor and friend, Father Dave, warns him not to cross her; he obviously loathes the woman, but refuses to explain why. The ladies of the Auxiliary – which includes several of her neighbors – elect her president a year after year and look to her for guidance even though they don’t always agree with her. Prissy is tops at organizing and making money for the church and is widely admired for her business acumen.
But some people, like her neighbor and lifelong friend, Babs Vandercooth, are beginning to chafe under Prissy’s rule. Babs, who loves Prissy’s daughter Claire as if she were her own, has known Prissy her entire life – she is the only person with any insight into Prissy’s childhood and motivations. Another neighbor and an Auxiliary member is Geneva-Marie Collins: there is no love lost between her and Prissy; both are alpha females so Geneva-Marie is a rival and without her, we wouldn’t get to see the lengths Prissy goes to maintain control.
Prissy is the self-proclaimed president of Morning Glory Circle, too. She constantly organizes potlucks, yard and bake sales to make profits for the cul-de-sac. This year, she’s getting her neighbors to compete for the next animatronic Santa the proceeds from sales will supply. She encourages competition, yet she herself is always the real winner and the one who dictates how the street decorates for the holidays. Woe unto the families who don’t conform to her policies.
All these things – and people – let us see into Prissy Martin’s mind in a way that we can’t in a more limited multiple point-of-view story. While it’s interesting being in Prissy’s head, no one can know all of their own secrets and foibles. So observing her from multiple viewpoints as she assigns projects to her neighbors and tries to micromanage their lives tells us far more about her than she could on her own.
In addition to the points of view of neighbors, priests, and friends of her long-deceased son, we see her from the point of view of the location. Morning Glory Circle – don’t let Prissy hear you calling it the Sac if you don’t want a lecture on obscenities – is a character, too, with its own personality. It’s Every Street, USA, with neatly cut lawns and pristine houses that are all very American. Geneva-Marie had the audacity to remodel her home into a big Spanish-style sprawler and Prissy has never forgiven her for it. Is it because the house doesn’t conform to the other styles? Or because it’s now bigger than Prissy’s house? Good question – the kind we had no answer to until Prissy eventually ranted to us about it.
We love it when our characters come to full life and take over the story, when they take our hands and guide our fingers across the keyboard, showing us what’s really going on. One of the most exciting things about writing is watching the characters choreograph the tale and show us what’s in their hearts and minds.
And that’s why we love multiple viewpoints. Even when we attempt to do a small book, other characters begin talking and they’re just too interesting to ignore. We’ve happily resigned ourselves to our larger fate.
A Girl’s Worst Nightmare is Her Mother …
Priscilla Martin. She’s the diva of Morning Glory Circle and a driving force in the quaint California town of Snapdragon. Overseer of garage sales and neighborhood Christmas decorations, she is widely admired. But few people know the real woman behind the perfectly coiffed hair and Opium perfume.
Family is Forever. And Ever and Ever …
No one escapes Prissy’s watchful eye. No one that is, except her son, who committed suicide many years ago, and her daughter, Claire, who left home more than a decade past and hasn’t spoken to her since. But now, Priscilla’s daughter and son-in-law have fallen on hard times. Expecting their first child, the couple is forced to move back … And Prissy is there to welcome them home with open arms … and to reclaim her broken family.
The Past Isn’t Always as Bad as You Remember.
Sometimes it’s Worse …
Claire has terrible memories of her mother, but now it seems Priscilla has mended her ways. When a cache of vile family secrets is uncovered, Claire struggles to determine fact from fiction, and her husband, Jason, begins to wonder who the monster really is. Lives are in danger – and Claire and Jason must face a horrifying truth … a truth that may destroy them … and will forever change their definition of “Mother.”