For this post about people without whom The Queen of Hearts would not exist, I decided to go rogue in order to list a few unexpected influencers: a cranky genius, a maligned but immensely successful author of erotica, a fictional six-year-old, a group of 70,000 over-sharers, and, uh, me. To the usual suspects in a thank-you list (my agent, my editor, my beta readers, my writing groups, and my long-suffering friends and family) I owe you a separate article. And a really nice bottle of bourbon.
1. Bill Bryson.
Bill and I have a one-sided relationship. I love him, whereas he is blissfully unaware of my existence. On the surface we have little in common, as writers or as people: he’s a famous New England curmudgeon whose myriad works of narrative nonfiction are steeped in facile brilliance. I’m a highly feminine Southerner, and the author of one mainstream novel, which is not even published yet.
And yet, I wouldn’t be a writer if it weren’t for Bill Bryson because reading and re-reading his many books awoke in me some dormant longing to be a writer myself. It’s hard to describe the depth of my admiration. The man simply cannot write a boring sentence; every thought he conveys is imbued with wit and intellect and intense originality. It’s no exaggeration to say I consider him to be a bona fide genius, on the level of Faraday or Tesla or Michelangelo or Shakespeare, able to synthesize ordinary information and produce something utterly remarkable and utterly unexpected and do it over and over again. I should be intimidated by this but instead I’m inspired, even though what I write is a) a different genre, and b) total crap in comparison. We all have to have our heroes.
2. E. L. James.
Moving on to the opposite end of the spectrum…remember that summer a few years back when every woman in America was surreptitiously reading Fifty Shades of Grey on her Kindle while pretending to be engrossed in some highbrow masterpiece? Yep, me too. Except instead of being repulsed or outraged or aroused as I read it, I had a revelation: by God, if this thing got published, then surely I could write a book too! The novel I had in mind would hopefully be a little more witty and little less porny—okay, a lot less porny—but here was proof that anyone in possession of an idea (and basic literacy) could become an author. I remember turning off my Kindle after a few chapters and plunging into the pool, my heart racing and my mind churning. I could do this! I was going to do this! I would write a book! Of such plebeian moments a book is born.
Never, and I mean never, have I identified with anybody as much as Eloise. As a five year-old, I read the classic children’s story and immediately it stirred something fundamental in my soul. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a pseudo-orphan living in merry autonomy with her dog and her turtle in New York City’s Plaza Hotel—okay, I did want that, very badly— but even as kid, I recognized that Eloise was a made-up person. No, what I longed for was to be able to transform to reality the crazy ideas sloshing around in my head, as both Eloise and her creator, Kay Thompson, did so well. It was my first glimpse of how freaking fun writing could be. And y’all: is there anything more liberating than writing fiction? Anything you dream up becomes possible in the literary universe you rule. It’s all very meta.
Okay, so PMG is not a person, but a collective of 70,000 people. If you haven’t heard of it, you’re probably not a female physician with children: the name is an acronym for Physician Moms Group. These are my people. The group, which began on Facebook, is a massive support network, encompassing everything from complex medical analysis to trivial fashion issues to thorny social dilemmas to gasp-inducing psychosexual dramas. When you’re interacting with your 70,000 besties, everything comes up. (Although after the last election, we had to be barred from talking politics.) The Queen of Hearts would truly not exist without this group: they were my muses, my beta-readers, my expert consultants, and my ever-optimistic cheerleading squad. And in many ways, the book is about them.
You might be thinking this is a stupid statement. Of course no book could exist without its author. But what every writer learns—fast—is that you are more than just a word incubator for your magnum opus. There is literally no other human being on earth who cares about this book the way you do. Your biggest fan, your editor, your agent, even your mom—none of them even begin to match your level of investment in this project; how could they? You wrote the damn thing, yes, but you must also edit it, revise it, promote it, produce it, sell it, adorn it, share it, defend it, and continually obsess over it. Ain’t nobody else gonna do all that. Without you as its engine, this thing is dead in the water.
So…here’s to all the authors out there! Who’s on your list?
*Technically, 70,005 people, so I went over a little bit.