In my NaNoWriMo experience (in November 2010), I chose to explore a character from one of my published novels, taking the reader on a pathway toward understanding more about her.
In Embrace the Whirlwind, Martha Scott Cummings presents as a cold, vacuous woman who is only interested in maintaining the sham of a life she has clung to for years. As the wronged woman in the triangle that is made up of Amber Cushing, Martha, and her husband Hal, we seldom see her point of view.
For awhile, I had been thinking of “Martha’s Story” as one that deserved exploration. I thought…there must be more to her story than what we’ve seen here.
One thing we knew about her from the book that is really “Amber’s Story” is her “domestic diva” routines. And that she had her own interior design business.
I thought about a twist on the words “interior designs” and how the interior world of any character can show us unexpected twists and turns.
For this challenge, I chose the title Interior Designs, which represents a take-off from Martha’s business and leads us into her interior world as she journeys and explores her life and what has happened to her. As she gains insight, we come to see that, despite her flaws and some of the horrendous mistakes she has made, she is not beyond redemption.
Perhaps we can even grow to empathize with her.
Just as we did with Amber, who also presented many negative traits, which we came to understand in her story.
I shall return with more thoughts about my favorite—and not so favorite—characters.
Sometimes looking back and remembering our past can help us chart our voyage in the present. This is what Martha believes, as she searches for clues that can help her move on. This excerpt is from Interior Designs, published on April 1, 2014.
In my dream, I was a small child…about five or so. My brothers and I were sitting in the back of our parents’ sedan, driving somewhere, and even though our parents were in their usual little cocoon in the front, there was something else going on. I could see the disapproval in the tightness of their shoulders, the way they looked straight ahead, not talking or even looking at us. Not looking at me. And I felt so very, very sad. My stomach felt hard with the lump that had been building up inside me. For days, it seemed.
Then I remembered. I woke up quickly, sitting up in bed, as the memories from that time flashed before me. I had felt so excited that we were going on this trip. We were visiting Mama’s cousins in LA, cousins I hadn’t met. I pictured kids that would play with us and show us the adventures of the big city.
We’d arrived in the evening, so right away we were led into the bedrooms where we’d be staying. The boys—Jerry and Billy—had bunk beds. We played in the room for awhile, and then Jerry showed how he could light a match, put it in his mouth, and it would go out without burning him.
Then Billy dared me to climb up onto the top bunk. I was afraid, but finally did. Then someone turned out the lights. Frightened, I started climbing down, but missed the step on the ladder and fell.
Humiliated, I held back the tears and pretended it didn’t matter.
Later, at dinner, there were about twenty people sitting around the table, all strangers to me, and they all seemed to be staring. I couldn’t make myself eat. When I tried to swallow, a lump grew in my throat until nothing would go down.
My mother looked like I’d embarrassed her…again.
The next day, I did manage to eat a little, because most of the people had gone by then and we sat in the little kitchen. Then I went outside with Billy, who played around the edges of the lawn for a few minutes and then grabbing his bike, he took off down the street.
When a boy came over from next door, I thought: oh, good, someone to play with me. But instead, he started yelling at me that I couldn’t play out there. That I didn’t belong there. It wasn’t my house. I tried to explain, but he wouldn’t listen. Finally, really feeling like someone who didn’t belong—a feeling that had been growing inside me for the longest time—I grabbed something and hit him. Later, I would see that it was a pretty big stick, almost a club.
My parents were horrified, and took me over to the boy’s house to apologize. It seemed like a whole crowd gathered to watch, but it was probably just my mom’s cousin and her husband. I felt about ten feet tall, with everyone staring.
We left later that morning, and for hours, it seemed, Mama wouldn’t look at me or talk to me. I had totally ruined the vacation for them.
Now, in thinking about that time, I felt the old familiar lump and the tightness in my shoulders. The feeling had followed me around for years, it seemed. Starting school, I went to the wrong classroom on the first day, and had to be led to the correct one by the principal; when I’d walked into the room, everyone stared at me.
One thing I had going for me, though, was Maeve. I met her in first grade and she took me into her inner circle. She already had several friends who went to church with her. Later, I would persuade my parents to go there, too. And finally and gradually over the years, I started to fit in. I had the right clothes, which helped, and the vivacious Maeve who helped draw me out.
But always, just beneath the surface, there was that recurring feeling of not quite belonging. A feeling I worked hard to hide and even eradicate. And I thought that I had succeeded. Until the day I learned that my husband was cheating on me.