The Best Gift: Realized Dreams


I had a pretty spectacular Valentine’s Day. I basically “gave birth” when the proof of my first printed book “Dirty Little Secrets” came in the mail. The whole emotional “unveiling” was broadcast live via my U-Stream channel, where you can watch me blubber/giggle like a goober. It was very surreal and you never really know how long you wait for something until you hold it in your hand.

I conceived the idea for Dirty Little Secrets way back in 2002. It was the second screenplay I endeavored to write and I think I wrote it in about a week; the last 40 pages I wrote in one complete stretch. It changed somewhat over the years, but never more than in the novel version. In 2009 I decided to make it into a book via my annual NaNoWriMo writing marathon, and because I had the room to grow and explore some of the things I didn’t in the script I went into some deeper history to what made my characters tick. I also got to add a ghost, which is always fun. I personally like learning more about the characters and story by digging a little deeper. We writers like to think we can “control” the worlds we create but sometimes characters have a mind of their own.

This was never more true than with Mike, the antagonist of Dirty Little Secrets. Originally the story was going to be a glimpse inside what it would be like to grow up gay in an extremist religious household, and how denying oneself could lead to self-destruction. My protagonist, Grace, was 19 years old and pretty far gone in all kinds of addictive behavior, using her body to get the slow poison meant to kill her.

That’s all I had, really, when I set out to write. These were the pre-outline days when I just couldn’t wait to jump right into a story. I had a vague idea where I was going, but no real “plot” to speak of.

I was ready to let the story reveal itself to me.

A few pages in, Steven told me that she needed someone in her world she could talk to. As the story starts, Grace is fairly isolated, and he felt that giving her someone – a friend or someone she could commiserate with – would be a good thing for her and for the story.

I agreed and I write the introductory scene for Mike, who – the minute I hit the return key to give him his first lines of dialogue – turned sinister within the first few words he spoke. Essentially, Mike because the physical embodiment of all the ways she was abusing herself.

That piece of the puzzle connected to the major plot point, where Grace causes the accident that would kill Mike’s pregnant wife – that would literally blow up the small, conservative town of Jonston, Texas with all the dirty little secrets everyone had been keeping.

No one was safe from the literary shrapnel that came from that first, fortuitous meeting of a character I never knew was going to be a part of the story.

I love it when stuff clicks like that.

Eventually I did give Grace a friend, a person I originally meant for her to fall in love with and discover her own personal truth. But as it turns out to write Grace as gay actually didn’t feel authentic to the character. I allowed her to find love, but it was with the person she always needed to love… herself.

I put Grace *through it* in DLS. This is not a light read by any stretch. It tackles pretty much every dark secret one could have in a southern town that prides itself on spiritual superiority. It was a bit of a an odyssey for me as well, given that I grew up the product of sexual abuse at a young age, similar to Grace. There’s an unspoken shame that comes from the condemnation of stout religious fundamentalism. I was bad. I was forsaken by God and thus had no real purpose or worth after being “tainted” or “stained.”

I knew a lot about Grace’s journey, except in place of drugs I used sex and food.

The similarity of her name, Grace McKinney, and my maiden name, Ginger McCandless, struck me only after I wrote it.

And it makes the dramatic ending of the story that much harder for me to read. It’s no wonder I regurgitated it all out in a 40 page writing frenzy. It came from a pretty dark place.

As a matter of fact, the original story was way, way more depressing. But a fellow writer, who told me after he read it that it was an important read even though he’d have to have a fifth of whiskey to read it, immediately pleaded Grace’s cause that I had to change the ending. I had to keep it her story all the way through to the end.

I agreed to a point – but the fact was it wasn’t just her story. The story is equally her father’s, and he, in fact, needed to change the most through the story.

So I kept what I thought was a necessary, albeit sad/shocking/depressing/crushing climax of the story… but I did change direction in certain areas that I hope to be a more satisfactory ending for those who fell in love with Grace throughout her painful journey.

Above all it’s a journey of hope – of rebirth… of salvation and self-realization.

In that way it is very fitting that it is my debut novel.

So if you read it let me know what you think about it. Constructive criticism is always welcome, as is lavish praise. 😉 You are also more than welcome to leave reviews on the Amazon pages. The paperback is still being processed for sale on Amazon, but if you click the link above you can purchase it directly from my store. (And get a discount!)

If you decide to use DLS for any kind of book club, contact me via Twitter/Facebook and we can schedule an interview via U-stream after your club reads it.

And because of the issues of sexual abuse that I tackle in the book, 10% of all sales go to RAINN. Check em out and support them, they are doing a very important work.

The Unstoppable Year… CONTINUES!

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