Patricia Smiley here...
A year ago when my fourth novel COOL CACHE debuted in hard cover, my friend Harley Jane Kozak asked me to guest blog on The Lipstick Chronicles. Fast forward to June 2009. Cool is now available in paperback, so I decided to share that post with you Nakeds. Here goes...
My fourth book just came out, and my mother has “read” all of them. I use quotation marks because my mother is what we euphemistically call “getting up in years,” and now lives in an assisted living apartment. Her mind is sharp but her body is frail from the ravages of age, the worst of which is the loss of sight from macular degeneration. Because she can no longer see to read, she has listened to the audio version of all of my novels except the latest.
Cool Cache is dedicated to my parents. When I gave my mother her copy of the book, I guided her finger to the spot on the page where her name was printed.
“Is it there?” she asked.
“Daddy’s name, too?”
“He would have been so proud!”
“Read me the first chapter.”
With the first words, my mother pushed the button on her blue recliner and drifted into peaceful reverie. When I finished, I glanced up and saw her staring trance-like into space as if she was the proverbial deer caught in the headlights.
No response. My mother’s hearing is perfect. There was no way she couldn’t hear me. On closer inspection, she seemed unusually still. Her facial muscles were rigid and her eyes glassy. All I could think of was OMIGOD! I’ve killed her!
She blinked with a start. “Why are you shouting?”
“I thought you were…well, never mind.”
“I was just caught up in the story. Is that the end of the chapter?”
“It was very exciting. What comes next?”
“So? What are you waiting for?”
I stopped reading after the second chapter because I had to leave for an appointment. A couple of days later I was talking to her on the telephone. She told me the suspense was killing her (bad choice of words, if you ask me), so she asked her caregiver to pick up the slack. In no time, they were on chapter nine.
“Lita keeps laughing,” she said.
“Maybe she’s tired. Exhaustion can make you hysterical.” I could say this with authority, because deadlines have made me an expert on hysteria.
“No, she’s laughing at your writing. Today she was giggling at lunch about something you said, and she didn’t even have the book with her.”
A little bit of family history here. My mother doesn’t have a sense of humor. If life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel, my mother is a big-time feeler. As a result, I live to make her laugh, sometimes by shocking her reserved sensibilities. Example, during a recent discussion on global warming, I asked if she knew that excessive farting by sheep in Australia and New Zealand was destroying the ozone. She laughed, which was a miracle because when I was growing up, the word “fart” was never spoken in our home. In fact, all references to flatulence were verboten. My sister and I were told that those strange sounds coming from my father’s direction were, in fact, barking spiders. I had a serious case of arachnophobia until I entered first grade and sniffed out the truth.
I digress. So, it was not surprising that my mother wasn’t laughing. I just hoped Lita was laughing with me and not at me.
“Lita and I think you’re talented,” she continued.
Thinking a daughter is talented is the primary job of mothers and those who work for them. Truth be told, my mother isn’t a reliable arbiter of my talent, because she thinks everything I do is brilliant: navigating L.A. freeways, clearing my throat, folding laundry (If she could see those naughty little Victoria’s Secret thongs in my laundry basket, she would definitely drop laundry-folding from the list.)
That night, I told my husband the story.
“I think you should redirect your marketing strategy,” he said. “It’s clear that seniors are a material audience.”
“You’re basing your hypothesis on one person, and she’s my mother.”
“Okay. Ignore the empirical evidence, and do so at your own peril.”
Despite the fact that I live with a man who uses “empirical” and “peril” in the same sentence, his words caused me to ponder. My books are very popular among my mother’s friends, but I’d always assumed that was because she carries a publicity poster in the basket of her wheely-walker and makes Lita slip my bookmarks under everybody’s daily dish of breakfast prunes.
Frankly, it’s difficult for me to narrowly define any specific audience. Still, on those days when I find myself alone at a book signing or stung by a critic’s tart words, it’s comforting to know there is someone sitting in a blue recliner, hanging on every word I write. Lita’s laughter is just frosting on the cake.
I know you can’t read this Mother, but thanks for being in my corner.