MY MOM – NOT! – IN FICTION
by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
My poor mother.
Maybe it’s because Mother’s Day was this past weekend, Mom’s been on my mind even more than usual lately, so much so that she’s even the inspiration for #135 in my Fortune-Cookie Tips for Writers micro-blog over at Red Room http://redroom.com/
When your mother asks you if all the awful mothers in your novels are based on her, deny, deny, deny.
It all started with my first published novel, The Thin Pink Line
. The widowed mother of sociopathic pregnancy-impersonator Jane Taylor has always favored Jane’s younger sister and is ice cold to Jane herself; in the sequel, Crossing the Line
, the mother becomes a more rounded person but she’s still mostly stiff with Jane. Mom didn’t say anything about Jane’s mother, but by the time my third book came out, A Little Change of Face
, yes, well…
The problem was that it actually hadn’t started with my first published novel; rather, I’d written several unpublished books before that, my mother had read most of them, most of the mothers in them were some form of toxic or nutty, so by the time she got around to A Little Change of Face, for the first time she asked, “These mothers in these books of yours – are they all supposed to be…me?”
Even while groaning inside, I knew why she was asking and I knew she had a legitimate reason to ask, because I’d broken a cardinal rule: I’d stolen an anecdote from real life and inserted it into the book. It wasn’t the first time I mined real life for humor, and wouldn’t be the last, but it was the first time Mom was at the center of the anecdote. In this case, the heroine tells the reader how her mother’s decorating style is inspired by TV Guide, by which she means that her mother has a whole panel of wall in her den on which she’s taped up TV Guide covers as though it’s wallpaper and that she’s decorated the support post in the garage in the same curious fashion. Of course Mom had done this and now, based on this one piece of concrete evidence, she wanted to know if all along, all those wretched mothers had been her.
That’s when I explained about the trope of the awful mother, how central that character is for so much comedy. The awful mother helps the writer, like a magician, shift the mirrors. When done right, the awful mother increases sympathy (“Yes, this main character is flawed, but look where she came from!”) and she provides for comic relief even within already comedic material (think Rhoda Morgenstern’s mother on the old Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda). Sweet and sensitive and non-awful mothers just don’t pack the same laughter punch. Eventually, Mom got it. None of my toxic mothers were her – she was a wonderful mother! She even forgave me for using the TV Guide thing once she realized I thought it was a fine way to decorate the house; it was only my eccentric character in my eccentric book who thought differently.
By the time I got around to writing The Bro-Magnet
, my comedic novel about a man’s man whose been Best Man at eight weddings while harboring a wish to be a groom, I’d solved the mother problem. As the book opens, Johnny Smith tells the reader, “Right from the start, I’ve been a disappointment to women,” and goes on to describe his mother dying while giving birth to him, which results in his mother’s sister playing a large role in raising Johnny. That woman, Aunt Alfresca, blames Johnny for her sister’s death and reminds him of this on a regular basis. So no, in The Bro-Magnet
, the mother isn’t awful; she’s actually a saint although she does happen to be dead. Aunt Alfresca, on the other hand, is a piece of work.
The Bro-Magnet is currently free for five days on Amazon and I hope you’ll check it out: http://www.amazon.com/The-Bro-Magnet-ebook/dp/B006KYQ36U/ref=pd_rhf_dp_p_t_2.
And while you’re at Amazon, you might want to also check out the Victorian suspense novel The Twin’s Daughter, a Kindle bestseller and just $1.99! http://www.amazon.com/The-Twins-Daughter-ebook/dp/B003Y3BBA8/ref=pd_rhf_dp_p_t_1.
As for Mom, please know that I do my best to keep her happy. She’s 89 now and as Mother’s Day approached, she asked me if I’d heard of that “new sex book.” I realized she was talking about the E.L. James Shades of Gray thing and I took it as a hint. On Sunday, I let her watch her Yankees instead of my Mets and while she smiled when she opened the Frank Langella autobiography I’d also bought her, her face really lit up when she opened the second package. Somehow, I have the feeling that book will be making the rounds at assisted living and Mom’s status will rise to new heights.
Wherever you are, Mom, the mothers in my novels are not you.
Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of 24 books for adults, teens and children. You can read more about her life and work at www.laurenbaratzlogsted.com.