I spoke at The Margaret Mitchell House in
Atlanta the night after The Accidental Bestseller came out. It was very exciting to talk at such a great venue and it had special meaning to me because Gone With The Wind is my all time favorite novel.
When I was a teenager I re-read the book every year and fell in love with Rhett Butler all over again every time. Since this was in the ‘dark ages’ before Netflix and On Demand, I drove to any movie theater that showed the film, and I could quote large sections of dialogue. I’ve joked that I originally attended theUniversity of
Georgia because I’d read GWTW one-too-many times. Unfortunately, this was no joke!
My only quibble was that I could never quite believe that someone like Scarlett would choose Leslie Howard over Clark Gable.
Long after my GWTW phase and a career in broadcast and film, I was a stay-at-home mom when the urge to write a novel struck. Actually, I chalk this up to post pregnancy hormones and lack of sleep. I mean, I had a two-year-old and a newborn and although I loved to read, I knew nothing about writing fiction.
It took years to write that first book, a short contemporary romance, find an agent and ultimately sell it. I could hardly believe I sold the first thing I managed to write. For me, that first sale was nowhere near as difficult as what came later, which is what The Accidental Bestseller is all about.
As I continued to write I learned a lot, quite often the hard way. But there were a few things I’d learned back in my GWTW days; it just took me a while to recognize them.
The first realization was that my favorite part of my favorite book was the ‘feel good’ part before war and devastation struck and Scarlett threw away what could have been happiness with Rhett to chase after a man who was completely unsuitable (and way too dorky for her.)
I admitted then that I prefer books that make me laugh to weightier tomes. I don’t even like to watch moves that are too painful; not even the really great ones that I know are exceptionally well done. Ditto for the really scary ones where you have to leave the lights on all night afterward.
I read to escape. I read to disappear into someone else’s life for a while—and I don’t want everyone to die or be miserable while I’m there.
Which is probably why my first single title was a romantic comedy called 7 Days and 7 Nights and was followed by Leave It to Cleavage (my favorite title ever), Hostile Makeover and Single in Suburbia.
Humor turned out to be that ‘spoonful of sugar’ that allowed the harsh realties my characters faced go down. (Oops! Wrong movie!)
I had always admired Scarlett’s indomitable will; her determination to rise above every obstacle thrown in her way. As I wrote I was drawn over and over to a central theme: women discovering what they’re made of just like Scarlett had. I began to put them into difficult situations to see how they would handle it and who they would become. (Playing God is definitely one of the best perks of being a writer.) In a way, I wrote my own modern versions of Scarlett—minus the Civil War and the red dirt of
My Scarletts dealt with relationships and marriages that didn’t work. Husbands who dressed up in lingerie and then disappeared with the lingerie company’s coffers. Husbands who ran off with younger women named Tiffany and then brought them to Little League games. Husbands who stayed but took their wives for granted.
And then I wrote a trophy wife who discovered that being a wife was a whole lot harder than it looked. (Go figure!) And I wrote sisters who didn’t understand each other. And many mothers who manipulated.
I was rough on these women, but I gave them a lifeline—I gave them good friends who would be there for them when things got really bad; something Scarlett might have had if she’d befriended Melanie instead of trying to steal Melanie’s husband.
Even Scarlett’s very last line, ‘After all, tomorrow’s another day’ is pertinent to the endings I ultimately chose to write.
With my first few books, which were ‘straighter’ romances, I felt compelled to wrap things up happily, but as I continued writing and my stories became more about the characters’ growth and less about their relationships, that began to change. Now not every character I write lives happily ever after, but each is comfortable with who she is and what will come next.
Robert Fulghum claimed that everything he really needed to know he learned in kindergarten. For me, some of the very best lessons came out of Gone With The Wind. I think I need to make time to re-read it again soon.