Influences on my early writing

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It has been at least fifteen years since I’d read My Sweet Audrina.

I’ve always considered V.C. Andrews novels a guilty pleasure (like the Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella). They are easy reads, and, considering I do most of my reading in bed at night before I go to sleep, it’s what I need.

I was afraid of reading Audrina—afraid that it wouldn’t be as good as I remembered—but even though V.C.’s novels aren’t considered literature, Audrina touches on a variety of important topics: self-hypnosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, brittle bone disease, autism, and how parental favoritism can destroy the favored child.

What is haunting about V.C.’s Southern Gothic horror novels is their timelessness. Reading this book made me nostalgic for that time when I was getting into more “adult” novels.


The first time I came across a V.C. Andrews novel was at a “Friends of the Library” sale ( It was Dawn—the first book in the Cutler family series—a crisp, hardcover edition sheathed in a dust jacket with a haunting family photo on the cover. I was immediately intrigued, and of course, I had to read everything she wrote after that.

When I was a teenager, I wrote part of a sequel about the Lamar Rensdale character in Audrina, bringing him back from the dead. I wanted Audrina to ditch Arden and marry Lamar instead—a man who helped her—even as Arden had failed her the first time, a second, a third…

I think my juvenile attempt to write a sequel to My Sweet Audrina was my way of living in that crazy Whitefern world just a little longer.

What’s more, I’ve always wanted to give characters happy endings—just like I wanted to give a happy glimpse of Ginger (from Black Beauty) in the afterlife.


Audrina is unputdownable, for it drew me into this strange, Whitefern world. Coming from a caring, but odd and somewhat dysfunctional family (a neighbor of ours, I found out, once referred to us as the Addams family), I related, however distantly, to the Whiteferns/Adares, for they live in an old house where things don’t always work and consider themselves outliers in the community. (My parents don’t even watch the local news.)


I think, when we read a book, we either like to be taken away or see ourselves in someone else’s work, to feel less alone—Audrina was both. It was also well-edited, unlike some of V.C.’s other books, where last names are spelled two different ways and middle names were changed altogether.


I don’t recommend any V.C. books after the Logan series, because the quality tanked and they all started to sound the same. I have no plans on reading Whitefern, the sequel to Audrina that Neiderman wrote, though I will try the televised version of Audrina. (The original flick, Flowers in the Attic, though not a masterpiece, had a haunting quality about it the TV movie lacked.)


V.C. Andrews had one hell of an imagination, and it’s too bad she passed away before she got to write more books. She was an influence on me in my early writing (who doesn’t love dark family secrets?), just as the breezy, Shopaholic series lightened what V.C. darkened.


Even though I read many novels by different authors, I think series books will always have a place in my heart, because I fall in love with the characters, and don’t want to let them go. I think that’s why I’ve always preferred novels over short stories, and short stories over poetry. It’s always been about the characters for me. Even the poetry I write is often about characters (many of them wacky).

Plots may keep you reading, but characters will keep you rereading.


A Paper Existence, 1957-1960

Like flowers in the attic,
the four, Dollangangers—
Christopher, the doctor,
Cathy, the dancer,
and the twins,
Cory and Carrie—
wither like blooms over their own graves,
like petals long forgotten after a wedding,
like flowers pressed into a book.

To them, hope was colored yellow,
like the sun they seldom saw,
like the daffodils that grew in their backyard
in Gladstone, Pennsylvania,
like their mother’s hair that fell around her face
as she kissed them good-night.

It is in the wee hours of a morning
on an indeterminate date,
they are whisked away to Foxworth Hall,
where “The Grandmother” lives.
It is the goodliest of good golly days,
that Cathy imagines milk and cookies,
of a kitchen that smell of cinnamon,
and a parlor that smells of potpourri,
of knitting needles and kitten paws,
of shawls over rocking chairs.
Oh, but the mansion appears haggard
in the moonlight,
its windows blacked,
like eyes without a soul.

Years later, Cathy will wonder
if the bus driver,
whose name they never knew,
whose face they cannot remember,
remembers the four, golden-haired children
who rode his bus that night.
She will wonder if anyone who had
memories of her father,
ever wonders what became of the Dresden dolls.

Their mother Corrine, like Christopher,
is whipped for the sins of their father—
sins she shared in the marriage bed—
and they, these beautiful children,
are the spawn of that sin.
By Grandmother Olivia’s hand,
the sins of her daughter
is being passed on the second generation.

Locked away in an upstairs room,
they explore their small world,
and find the attic—
like a dusty, forgotten heaven—
turning it into a paper Garden of Eden.
The grandmother is like the snake who
slithers below—
tempting them by telling them of the sins
they must be committing.
It is the lie that will become a truth.

Christopher and Cathy are innocents,
as Adam and Eve once were,
Cory and Carrie their children,
as the memory of their father becomes vague
in their minds—
their father, whose death brought them here.
Their mother has become like Lilith—
Christopher’s first love—
even as Cathy was her father’s first love.

Cathy blossoms like a calla lily in an alley,
and Christopher is entranced by his sister,
who is blossoming into womanhood.
He sees in her the mother he used to know,
and loved without reason.
When Grandmother sees Christopher gazing upon her,
she pours tar on Cathy’s hair;
unlike Samson, it is not her strength she diminishes,
but her beauty.
Christopher saves her crown of glory,
seeing beyond the hair
to the flesh that is as close to him now
as his mother’s breast once was.

Even as Cathy bleeds for the sins of Eve,
Christopher bleeds for the sins of his mother,
feeding his siblings the life of his body.
It was love that saved Cathy’s hair,
love that built the swing in the attic,
love that fed them now.

When Cory, the little mouse who didn’t make it,
lies in repose in the basement—
the hell of Foxworth Hall—
Cathy breaks out,
only to come upon her mother’s new husband
in his sleep.
Like a fairy in a dream,
she kisses him,
sealing a promise that she will return.

Christopher, his eyes turning from blue to green,
takes his sister as Amnon took his half-sister Tamar,
and then begs forgiveness from the sister
he never would have looked at had she not been the only one.

Then these remaining children,
malnourished and unloved,
except by each other,
escape through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia,
to redefine what makes a family.

What I Learned Last Writers’ Meeting (from an honest-to-God publisher of books)

So I belong to a local writer’s group called WriteOn! Pensacola.  Last week was the first time we had a guest speaker (Dan Vega, from Indigo Publishing).  I not only had a blast, but I learned a ton about what publishers are looking for (this one in particular).  I learned that I am totally okay with forfeiting my rights–I still win.  I get my book published, make money, a movie based on it is made, generating more book sales, and I make even more.  However, if it is a bestseller, then it’ll be the one and only time I’ll do that.

I learned that this is a lady to check out:, and you must be involved on social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter).  I consider this blog a bonus.

Some tips for submitting to a publisher:

Figure out your target age range within a 15 year mark (such as age 35 to 50 years old). Is it more male than female? Go as narrow as possible at first. (Really.)

Find out why people should read your book, so you know how to market it later.

How is a person different after reading your book? (You have to have a “vision” for your book.  This was really hard.  The only vision I’d had before was that it’d become a bestseller.)

Readers today want shorter books (we have 12 seconds–the attention span of a goldfish–to hook a reader).  Books between 125 and 175 pages Paperback, 8.5×11 Or 6×9 in size are recommended.

Self-help books, biographies, business books are easier to market than novels.  Cookbooks and children’s books are a bit harder to sell because of more time and less profit margin involved.


So, I attached my novel, “Because of Mindy Wiley”, to an e-mail to Mr. Vega and his staff at Indigo River Publishing, with these notes:

Genre:  Southern Gothic Horror

Word count:  220,000 (Book is naturally divided into three parts, so I would be willing to publish it as a series).

Audience:  Female, between the ages of 20-35; those who enjoyed “Flowers in the Attic” and “Peyton Place” would like “Because of Mindy Wiley”; also, former Mormons.

Vision:  To provide pure escapism while bringing awareness to how rigidly aligning with any religion can improve or diminish one’s life or the lives of others around them.

Online presences in which to promote book:

  1. Facebook account
  2. LinkedIn account

The end.

Of course, I always think of something I should have included after I’ve hit send.  Though my book is primarily a Southern Gothic horror, there is also a light touch of magical realism (think Alice Hoffman) to it.

When a movie makes you want to read the book

Once in awhile, I’ll watch a movie that intrigues me enough by what it doesn’t show (or tell) to want to read the book.  The movie I am referring to is “Rachel, Rachel” from 1968, starring Joanne Woodward.  It is about a 35-year old virgin schoolteacher named Rachel Cameron who has lived in the same, New England town all her life with her mother, whom she allows to run her life.  Rachel grew up surrounded by death–her family lived above her father’s funeral parlor.  We are not only privy to cryptic flashbacks, but also get to see inside her head–of her imagining things she wants to do, but cannot bring herself to.

This film isn’t without flaws, but it made me think, and is the kind of movie that stays with me for days afterward.  It is interesting that it is following the scene in the tabernacle (where Rachel has a breakthrough of some sort–I wouldn’t call it a conversion) that she falls from grace, because whatever was going on in that room, made her want to feel again.

I have always loved stories set in New England, perhaps because I live in an area where we have two seasons–summer and winter (without snow).  Though I love covered bridges and the changing of the leaves, I am a beach girl at heart, and would live in flip-flops year round if I could.

“Rachel, Rachel” is the kind of film that needs to be watched more than once, because you won’t catch everything the first time.  Much can be learned from is not said or shown.  There is more to the story, and I will be reading the book (“A Jest of God” by Margaret Laurence).

I can count on one hand the number of movies that made me want to read the book:  “Flowers in the Attic” (great score, but not even a good movie–the premise just intrigued me), “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”, “The Hunger Games” (for the same reason I want to read Ms. Laurence’s book–I needed more backstory), to name a few.  Of course, if I loved the movie, the book cannot compare (as was the case with “Gone with the Wind”).

The same is true if I loved the book, the movie cannot compare, as was the case with “Flowers in the Attic”.

Then there are books that just should not be made into movies, like books by LaVyrle Spencer (a hit-and-miss author for me), and Belva Plain, to name a couple.