~Guest Post with Nancy~
SURVIVING THE BAD STUFF WITH MY ALTER EGO
Good writing often comes out of adversity. My first novel, The Losing, was written in a boys’ boarding school where the headmaster wouldn’t allow me to teach English, my college major, because, he said, it was a man’s subject. Writing the book was a way to cool the slow burn in me, but even so, in the end, my faculty wife-heroine slowly anesthetises herself with sherry. Except in my hometown, Middlebury, the book sold poorly. After two more books, I walked out of a bad marriage and went down to Poughkeepsie, N.Y. to teach in a small liberal arts college. Yet I felt like a pariah in this new place. I couldn’t write anything longer than a poem!
But then I invented an alter-ego called Fay, a gutsy, older woman divorcee who lives over a Video King and toughs her way through life. I wrote dozens of poems in Fay’s persona—poems thrive on trauma! The alter ego helped, but still I craved order in my life. I wanted to wake up mornings knowing that all was right in my world. And it wasn’t.
I read an article about an assault on two elderly farmers that appalled me, and decided to write a mystery with a single-mother sleuth (like myself) that would begin in chaos and end in order. Mad Season was the first of five mysteries published by St. Martin’s Press, with alter ego Fay Hubbard in two of the five! The hardcover books were well reviewed, but didn’t make enough money to satisfy the publisher’s bottom line. And so in ’06 the series ended.
I had remarried, but in ’01 my husband died of cancer, and I slowly picked up the pieces of my life and went home to Vermont. Already I had three tiny grandchildren! Enough to live for surely, but a writer must write. I wrote two kids’ mysteries—one won an Agatha Award. Yet I longed to write another adult novel.
I taught a course in Women and Literature, and rediscovered 18th-century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman). Wollstonecraft became governess for an autocratic Anglo-Irish family—a humiliating position like my job in that boys’ school. There were cries of horror when her Vindication came out, advocating coeducation, the right to speak out, to divorce—they called her a “hyena in petticoats.” And like me, Mary had a dilemma: despite her independence, she liked men. In London she offered to move in with a famous artist (his wife slammed the door). In Paris during the French Revolution she fell in love, got pregnant, was abandoned, attempted suicide, and was again shunned by society. Yet a resilient woman, she kept on writing until her death, shortly after giving birth to the future Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame.
I, too, find writing a therapy. I wrote two mystery novels in Wollstonecraft’s persona, then a “tween” novel set in 18th-century Vermont, and now Broken Strings, a contemporary mystery with alter ego Fay as my sleuth. As I was starting it, I was in car crash, and later broke my arm. My son was felled by a garage door; a granddaughter was in an accident that caused fatalities. All of these traumas have colored the psyches of my fictional characters. For writing, I find, is not only a meditation, but a way of processing the bad stuff—a way to instill order and resilience in one’s life.
And I couldn’t have done it without Fay!
~Nancy Means Wright
By Nancy Means Wright
Release Date: May 7th 2013
When puppeteer Marion collapses during a performance of Sleeping Beauty, her friend Fay Hubbard promises to carry on. But Fay already has her hands full with three demanding foster children, Apple and Beets, who have a fractious jailbird father—and sixteen-year-old Chance, who has a crush on a much older guy in a band called Ghouls. And now Marion’s husband Cedric seems more interested in a drop-dead-gorgeous French teacher than in any string puppets. And who is the mysterious Skull-man who warns of death if the show goes on with one of Marion’s offbeat endings? When an autopsy reveals that Marion had swallowed a dose of deadly crushed yew—and a friend finds her sister dangling from a rod like a marionette, a shocked Fay goes after the killer.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nancy Means Wright has published 17 books, including 6 contemporary mysteries from St Martin’s Press and two historical novels featuring 18th-century Mary Wollstonecraft (Perseverance Press). Her two most recent books are the mystery Broken Strings (GMTA publishing) and Walking into the Wild, an historical novel for tweens (LLDreamspell). Her children’s mysteries have received an Agatha Award and Agatha nomination. Nancy lives in Middlebury with her spouse and two Maine Coon cats.