In 2005, the cold reality of violent domestic abuse portrayed in a film propelled me into writing fiction. Since then, I figured out that every villain has a wound and showing that wound incites some level of sympathy or, at least, understanding. No one illustrates this better than Phillip Roth, whose characters are despicable but I still can’t put his books down (if I can summon the courage to pick them up). I’ve been making my way through Philippa Gregory’s historical novels about the the Kings and Queens of England and their courts. Her treatment of Katherine of Aragon, in particular, paints a very complex portrait of a villainess who, despite her devout religious beliefs, descended into a personal hell and brought as many along with her as she could.
Two of my urban fantasy short stories feature villains as protagonists, and they were very difficult to write. I make my living working with the ill, the vulnerable, the defenseless, and the desperate. And sometimes the despicable, but I focus on the wounds not the words and actions.
Villains have been very much on my mind these days as I struggle to finish Storm Watch, Book Three in the Unfinished Business Series. I fall asleep over my keyboard almost every night trying to meet the 500 word daily minimum goal. Not only does personal angst create more emotive fiction, it distances me from the writing enough to be more objective and less attached to the “darlings” I need to cull.
I hope to have it polished and off to my editor by the end of the month. Only three months overdue but, not unlike the characters, my focus, timelines, and priorities have shifted due to a variety of personal, professional, and political challenges.
Liz, Mike, and their friends are in the direct path of a Category Five Hurricane. At a time when they most need to be together, the spectral storm it has generated is threatening to tear them apart.
Storm Watch, Book Three in the Unfinished Business Series:
Seven days. Things could change a lot in seven days. One week ago, the Barrett Inn was full of guests and had four good weeks of the summer season to go. Fully booked, with a waiting list, Liz had counted on that income to help recover from last year’s financial woes, and give them a comfortable edge for the long fallow winter months.
One week ago, she and Mae had gone for their mammograms. They had their boobs squeezed, then went to lunch, shopping, had a mani/pedi and massage to reward themselves for doing the right thing. One week ago they were both healthy, and the sun was shining, and the shops and beaches were packed. The Barrett Inn had been having its best year since they’d taken over. The beaches—and her marriage–had been restored after winter’s cold and storms.
One week ago, everything was good, too good, but Liz didn’t like to be a pessimist. She and Mike, with the financial pressures relieved, with their ghosts quiescent, were trying to forget they’d been separated in March, that she’d run off in desperation, driven by Elisabeth Barrett’s re-awakening and taking over her body and mind.
Seven days ago, Mae and Kevin had taken Eddie for the weekend so she and her husband could have some time to themselves. They’d made love on his boat as the sun rose and it rocked gently in the waves beneath them. After an early morning walk from Breakwater to Paine’s Creek to celebrate their anniversary, they had bacon, eggs, and corned beef hash at the Brewster Diner—without worrying about the cholesterol or calories since they’d just completed all the recommended screening and blood tests with not a thing of note to worry about. They’d returned home to pick up Eddie, refreshed, she relaxed, ready to cater to Inn guests and Mike fired up, excited about a week of fishing that would make his restaurant accounts very happy.
Seven days later, Mae and Kevin paced the parlor. Mike distracted Eddie, and Liz just sat by the phone and worried. The doctor had promised to call as soon as Mae’s biopsy, the one they’d called her back to have two days after the mammogram, was ready. Liz and Kevin had gone with her, held her hand while they injected her with painkiller, found the offending area on an ultrasound and pierced it with a hook on the end of a giant needle—six times. “Just like getting punched,” Mae had assured them. “No big deal.”
No more than seventy-two hours the doctor had promised it would be before the results were back, but it was now seventy-four hours later and Liz couldn’t figure out if that was good or bad. Seven days ago, there was a tropical depression, this little white blip that resembled the biohazard sign on the needle container in the room where they did Mae’s biopsy. Somewhere off the coast of somewhere, spinning away, churning up the Atlantic, not bothering anybody, except maybe the fishing boats and cruise ships that had to chart a course around it.
The same day that Liz half listened to the weather on the way down to Boston with Mae for the biopsy. Hurricane Caroline, a Category Two storm that had passed over the Dominican Republic, was headed for Puerto Rico, and on track to the Bahamas. They’d said if it didn’t change course or move inland and lose strength, it threatened poor old Miami and Key West. Mae’s biopsy seemed much more important. Miami and Key West were so used to those storms they just dragged out the pre cut plywood from under the back porch and the duct tape in the garage, right next to the sand toys. But the meteorological maelstrom had riled Elisabeth Barrett’s ghost, and she was twisting Liz’s insides like she was wringing out a sodden handkerchief.
Today, as they waited for the doctor to give Mae the results as it was going on seventy-four and one quarter hours, Hurricane Caroline had veered out to sea, was picking up strength, and was canoodling with Hurricane Dennis. In her mind, Category Two plus Two would be a Category Four, but this unprecedented mating might become a Category Five storm on track to hit Cape Cod and the Islands. And they’d named it Edward, which was why Elisabeth had Liz’s head pounding, insisting her long lost sea captain was returning for her at last.