A few weeks ago Bill Chance reviewed La Desperada.
This is the kind of thing that can make an author nervous, because Bill was not the target audience when the book was written as a romance novel (quite) a few years back. And who knows how a man will react to a sexy genre typically written for women?
His review was thoughtful and gratifying because he picked up on things few people do, so as I responded to him there, I knew I’d eventually want to mention some of these things here.
First, I think I’ll address a question few people ever ask or care about.
“Where did you get the idea?”
I thought you’d never ask!
JK Rowling said the first thing that popped into her head before writing Harry Potter was, “Once there was a ten-year-old boy who was a wizard and didn’t know it.”
Well, in my case, what popped into my head was, “Once there was a woman so desperate to escape that she held a cold-blooded murderer at gunpoint and said, ‘take me with you.'”
That’s all I knew. I didn’t know if it was contemporary or historical, if it was set in London or Acapulco. I just tasted this woman’s desperation, could feel it in my veins, and could only ask a few logical questions in an effort to find out more.
How desperate is she? Well, if the cold-blooded murderer looks like Redford/Pitt/Depp, how desperate does she have to be? Seriously? Take me with you? Isn’t that a no-brainer? So I immediately knew that he was not handsome, and worse, had to be terrifying. Because the more terrifying he was, the more desperate she had to be.
My hero began to take form.
How desperate was she? Well, backing up a bit, why would she be dependent upon a cold-blooded murderer? Story-telling logic told me she had to force herself into his company (and again, if she didn’t have to force herself, what was interesting about that? Not much, so again, I learned more about him, because I learned that he didn’t want her. Truly. Did. Not. Want. Her.) And once forced, they would be forced to stay together.
And thinking of isolation made me think of the Trans Pecos.
Of a town so small, Fort Davis was big in comparison. And Fort Davis is not and was not ever big. Fort Davis in the 1880s was even more isolated than today, when it’s connected by state highways and such to the rest of the world. Because Fort Davis is over 200 miles from the nearest city of size, El Paso and (my research uncovered) only had one mail coach a week. Getting away from Fort Davis would be hard. From an even smaller more isolated town?
Bingo. I had a location that I named Cavendish (and later, for the screenplay, Redemption).*
Imagine that isolation, that desperation, if someone is in an insufferable situation and is in fear of their very life–
And then I knew even more about the woman.
She was totally unprepared.
She was a lady.
She was from “back East.”
She was fragile.
I chose the location not because I love it. (I prefer green places, the greener the better.) I chose it not because I love westerns. (I’ve read two Louis L’amour and no Zane Grey, though my grandfather loved them.) I chose it because I knew it in that way you “know” a place you’ve visited a few times, have driven through, have peered at through various windshields over the years thinking, “I could not survive here.”
I chose it for logical reasons and for dramatic reasons, and thus, ended up researching places from afar, before the internet was an option, with a two-day side-trip from a tornado chase to nail down some details.
And thus, when Bill Chance wrote about the setting with such understanding and connection, it really, really made my day. And I had to respond, as follows:
You’re the only person I’ve ever known who knew the setting and recognized the details–even McKittrick Canyon, which you recognized even though I didn’t name it. It has been so long, I don’t remember why I didn’t–I think maybe it wasn’t known by that name yet? Or I wasn’t sure if it was? Twenty years ago I decided not to name it but heck if I remember why now. (That is true of most of my research. I research for hours or even days or longer on this detail or that, find what I want, use it, move on, and have no record nor memory of it for later.) Anyway, it’s really thrilling to read your review and see that you knew the area and appreciated it.
The Sierra Diablo is an interesting place to research, too, because I frankly couldn’t find out much about it at all except a few sentences somewhere, and it was all private access so we couldn’t drive into it to look. I finally decided, “There are 18 people on the face of this planet who will know if I get it wrong, and if any of them ever read my book, they are welcome to inform me of my errors.” LOL!
Rooting the conflict in Missouri was another interesting choice, since I didn’t know at the time that my great-grandmother was a James of Missouri. But when it came time to do the screen adaptation, I couldn’t find a way to gracefully work all that background in and make it dramatic and succinct, and I finally resorted to changing it to abolition, which drew a sharp line in the sand between good and bad.
Secondary characters–there is a trend in romance novels to spin off series by writing about secondary characters. I’m not sure why, but I felt obstinate and decided to write secondary characters that were too flawed or unheroic to merit their own books, just to be perverse. Thus I named my young deputy the very unheroic name of Wendell Crutcher, and Obregon was a drug addict. (BTW, today, Obregon would be a perfect hero, romance having changed so much.) Despite the fact that I thought I’d managed to sabotage any desires for spinoffs, I had letters from readers begging for books about Wendell, Obregon, and (yes, really) Doralee. People wanted me to write a book about the whore. Today? Yes. Back then? No. My editor confirmed, no whores for heroines. (And yes, I realize there are other problems with using Doralee for a future book but we won’t go there!)
As for the sex, ah, that’s okay, you weren’t the target audience. (wink)
Thanks so much for this eloquent review. It was well worth a twenty year wait to accidentally find somebody who appreciated the backdrop as much as you did!
[In writing this, I discovered that Bill and I have something in common. The “other” Patricia Burroughs who crops up in google searches is a real estate agent in Canada. When I typed in billchance.com instead of billchance.org, I found a real estate agent in Virginia. We both have careers in real estate in our alternate lives!]
McKittrick Canyon, unexpected oasis in a desert terrain, my bit of green.
* Originally titled What Wild Ecstasy [Kensington Books], this tale inspired the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences/Nicholl Award-winning screenplay, “Redemption.”
The novel [La Desperada],and script [Redemption] are available together for the first time in one download at Amazon and at Book View Cafe.