HALLIE EPHRON: As I was reading today's blog post from S. W. (Susan) Hubbard about her terrific new novel, This Bitter Treasure,
she had me contemplating the themes that seem to show up unbidden and unexpectedly in my novels, too. Reminding me that we writers only think we're in the drivers seat.
S. W. HUBBARD: As I was finishing my most recent novel, This Bitter Treasure, and blabbing about it on Facebook, a reader responded, “Oh good—I hope it has another baby.”
That stopped me in my tracks. Uh, yeah—it DOES have a baby. How did you know?
And then I thought back over my seven books in two series and realized they all have babies, or kids, or some exploration of the parent-child relationship. In only one, The Lure, did I intentionally set out to write a novel about a baby (in that case, an illegal baby-selling scheme). But in every other novel, children managed to work their way in through a side door as subplots, motivational devices, or red herrings.
How did that happen?
This Bitter Treasure was supposed to be about the suburban heroin epidemic and a hapless home health aide who’s drawn into it. There wasn’t a baby in sight anywhere on the writing horizon. But as the pages piled up, a baby appeared. A baby who died before he was born.
The heroine and the home health aide and the old woman dying in a house filled with treasures are still in the novel. But soon this baby, along with his mother and grandmother and aunts and uncles, began elbowing his way to the front of the story. What’s an author to do? I can’t seem to repress my need to explore and re-explore the parent-child relationship. To me it holds so much more promise than fiction’s well-worn themes of cheating lovers and spouses with dark secrets.
Perhaps it’s because I find my own children so profoundly unknowable. Consider my daughter: at fourteen she declared herself a dumb blonde at math who wanted nothing more than a job that allowed her to wear cute clothes. Now, at twenty-two, she has a degree in engineering and a job with a clothing allowance…to buy the steel-toed boots she sometimes dons at work sites. I helped create her, yet she remains a mystery.
Every time I hear a parent utter the words, “I know my child. She would never…,” I see the plot for a novel appear.
I recently became an empty nester. Twenty-five years of in-the-trenches childrearing have ended. So maybe now I’ll be free to let some other subconscious theme creep into my work. Like the financial despair that leads a man to take hostages in his own home. Yes, yes! And then he becomes an escaped prisoner who terrorizes a small Adirondack town. Yeah, that’s the ticket!
But, wait. There’s this little girl…and her foster parents…and her biological mother….
Looks like that particular well hasn’t stopped producing just yet.
How about you? Have you noticed recurring themes, conscious or unconscious, in the books you write, or in the work of favorite authors? Do those themes attract you? Do you ever think “not this again!”?
HALLIE: I do! I do! Old women keep showing up in my novels -- an aging woman who is sharp as a tack and underestimated by other characters. Maybe it's my attempt wreak my own revenge and come to terms with getting older myself.
To second Susan's questions: What seems to show up in the books you write or the ones you love to read?
S.W. Hubbard is the author of the Frank Bennett Adirondack Mystery series and the Palmyrton Estate Sale Mystery series. This Bitter Treasure, the third estate sale mystery, was released last month. The first book in the series, Another Man’s Treasure, happens to be just $.99 for Kindle today through 4/10. You can read the first chapters of all her books at http://swhubbard.net. Follow her on Twitter or on Facebook.