The SHANNON MUIR’S INFINITE HOUSE OF BOOKS column on Mondays and Wednesdays is a place at Shannon Muir’s author website showcasing books from a variety of fiction genres, with an emphasis on interviews and guest posts from other authors. One thing Shannon firmly believes in for readers not only to learn about new books available, but about those who craft the tales behind them. As its name implies, SHANNON MUIR’S INFINITE HOUSE OF BOOKS weekly column features writers from all genres of fiction who want their potential audience to get to know them, and their works, better.
Today, we look at MEMORIES IN DECEMBER.
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Guest Post from the Author
Writing Across an Age Gap
In Memories in December (like with all the Calendar Girls books), there are two heroines. This time around, the story revolves around thirty-year-old Siobhan Bendlow and her seventy-year-old grandmother, Althea Bendlow. That means a forty-year age gap between these two ladies.
Talk about a writing challenge! Bear in mind, I’m in my fifties. Which means, I’m twenty-five years older than my younger heroine, and fifteen years younger than my older heroine. Not exactly a comfortable place to write from while hopping from one head to the other, chapter by chapter.
Althea spends a great deal of the book reminiscing about her younger self (hence, the title, Memories in December), and I loved the research involved in conjuring up her youthful indiscretions and turbulent past. She attended Woodstock, married a Vietnam vet, and outlived her husband both her children. Hers is a life full of rich moments, many of them tragic, and yet, she maintains a positive attitude.
Siobhan insisted I couldn’t wear a caftan and my Keds to the Gull and Oar. As if anyone would notice what I had on and care. After all, once I was seated, I’d only be visible from the waist up anyway. The gold and red floral pattern would look like a pretty blouse to the other customers and restaurant staff. But, no. Bon-Bon made me promise I’d wear something dressier.
Still, I wanted to be comfortable. After some heated debates, we finally settled on a deep blue, crushed velvet jumpsuit that worked for both of us. I loved the bell bottom cuffs and the drawstring waist. At my age, I’d outgrown the need to suck in my gut by shimmying into control-top pantyhose and stumble around in high heels meant to arch my back for a man’s appreciation. And I told her so. When she pushed a pair of silver ballet flats on my feet, I was surprised how nice they looked peeking out from the hem of my pants.
“And they won’t make your feet ache or arch your back to entice Captain Lou,” she pointed out.
Because I didn’t like her snippy attitude, and besides, the whole date idea made me ornery, I retorted with, “I’m not puttin’ on tons of makeup or a bunch of jewelry, either. I’m too old for that kinda stuff. I’d look like some vain woman, desperately trying to cling to her youth. I won’t be seen as ridiculous. I’m seventy years old and proud of it. Lou’s getting me the way God made me, wrinkles and all. Take a tip from me, Bon-Bon. Love who you are first. Only then will real love find you.” My granddaughter glared at me, and I realized a minute too late I’d touched on a sore subject. I had to backpedal. Fast. I fussed with my collar. “I swear, if Lou makes one snide comment about how I look, this date is off.”
The anger left her eyes, but the hurt remained. I’d have to double down on my efforts to get her fixed up with Jimmy Vais. Once she was happily in a relationship, she’d mellow out.
Maybe it’s because I’m closer to her in age and have experienced more of a life these days, but I found Althea a fun and easy character to write. Siobhan, on the other hand, gave me fits. Don’t get me wrong. I like her. I love her, in fact, as I do all my characters. They’re my imaginary children, and like my real children, I know their flaws as well as their virtues. Siobhan has blind spots that make the older me want to take her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. Her life’s been rough, and she’s had her share of heartache, but unlike her grandma, Siobhan allows the circumstances to rule her reaction, instead of tackling issues head-on.
“I thought I’d head over to Schooner Court to see the Christmas lights.” At last, Jimmy returned his attention to me, a too-sweet smile on his sarcastic face. “Maybe Siobhan would like to join me?”
I’d rather eat live spiders.
Before I could come up with a more polite reply, my grandmother clapped and announced, “She’d love to! Go on, Bon-Bon.”
Any doubt I’d harbored that this dinner was a set-up disappeared. The old lady got to her feet faster than I could and practically dumped me out of my chair.
“Don’t worry about the dishes,” she told me—as if that was my greatest fear right now. The fact Jimmy still watched me with that sociopath smile gleaming brighter than the diamonds in our chandelier had no effect on her. She shooed me with her hands. “Lou will help me clean up. Go on. Get your coat. Go with Jimmy. We’ll be fine.”
I stifled a shiver. Yeah, sure. They’d be fine. What about me?
“Well?” Jimmy prompted. “You coming?”
I could’ve said no, could’ve gone with my first instinct and opted for the spiders, but I was pretty sure that was what he wanted. Never let it be said I did what someone else wanted. In that respect, I was a lot like my grandmother. I matched the monster’s predatory grin with one of my own. “Sounds fun. Count me in.”
Ha! He blinked. I’d caught him off-guard by agreeing. Good. I’d hate to be the only stunned player in this…whatever game this was.
“I’ll just get our coats,” I added in a lighthearted tone far from the angst I felt in the pit of my stomach. How did I know he wasn’t a serial killer, for God’s sake? I couldn’t help but remember Nana’s comments from earlier. You should see the house. He keeps it dark all the time. Why? Did he hide the bodies of the women who ticked him off in the basement?
Minutes later, despite misgivings screaming inside my skull, I sat in the passenger seat of Jimmy’s car in his driveway. My breath came in quick gulps, forming puffy clouds in the chilled air while I waited for him to turn up the heat. What in the world was I doing here? What did I have to prove? Did I really care if Jimmy Vais thought I was weak or cowardly or waiting ‘til he left before I threw up my dinner?
Over time, both women will come to learn from and appreciate the other, and this transition allows them to find love. Because, after all, as Althea would be the first one to tell you, you have to love yourself before someone else can love you.