It all came to me on the southbound R train on the ride between 57th and Rector Streets. A full-blown plot, like Athena springing from the head of Zeus. It’s not the way I usually work.
I still remember the lunch I had with my editor and her boss after Temporary Insanity, my first novel for Avon Trade, was in the pipeline. Over a nice filet of fish, the topic under discussion was “What’s next?” Luckily, I’d received some pre-game coaching from my agent, so I asked them what they’d like to see me writing next. Was there any hot topic in the world of lighthearted women’s fiction that still remained surprisingly neglected?
“What I’d really like to see is a story about a single mom whose little daughter has a better social life than she does,” sighed my editor’s boss-a single mom whose six-year-old daughter evidently had a better social life than she did.
As soon as I got back downtown to my survival job, I sent them an email, proposing a story about a young single mom whose daughter has a more fulfilling social life than she does. And, whaddya know, by the time I clocked out, it was accepted! Of course, there was more to my proposal than a single sentence. Remember Athena.
At the time, my niece was the same age as the editor’s boss’s child. From enough sociological observation on the sidewalks of New York (and from my sister, who although happily married, was well versed in that lifestyle). I intended to layer in the dynamics that make competitive mothering into a contact sport on the Upper East and Upper West Side of Manhattan. These are the parents who rent out museums for their children’s birthday parties, and whose kids are enrolled in cutthroat private schools on the fast track to Harvard by first grade. Lavish expenditures cement their social standing; those who can’t keep up face mockery and ostracism.
I added an economic gap as well as an age gap between the newly divorced young mom, Claire, who is still in her mid-twenties and the other moms in her social circle who didn’t get pregnant until their mid-thirties and who hire au pairs who are Claire’s age. And I introduced another have/have-not element to the story: Claire’s unmarried sister Mia, free-spirited but financially independent, an unfettered soul who yearns to settle down. Each young woman envies what her sister has. I thought it would be fun to tell the story through three voices-Claire’s, Mia’s, and Zoë’s. To make sure that Zoë, Claire’s daughter, was doing the right sort of homework and having age-appropriate conversations for a precocious second-grader in an academically challenging New York City private school, I picked my sister’s brain. She became my goddess of verisimilitude.
The result is a slice of lifestyle story, which-as I keep hearing from overscheduled kids and their exhausted mothers-remains all too true.