She wasn’t speaking only to me. I belong to a group of five women writers (Jane, Martha, two Susans and moi). We call ourselves the Sun City Sluts (all talk, very little action).
I suspect we were drinking champagne when Martha uttered those words, mainly because we always enjoy sips of bubbly when we gather. We’ve been together twenty years and are as close as bees on a honeycomb. Our creed is “Men come and go, but girlfriends are forever.”
“What kind of book?” I asked Martha.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “A mystery maybe. Something easy, outrageous and funny.”
“That sounds like us,” I said. “Easy, outrageous and funny.”
Especially after the second bottle of champagne.
Jane and one of the Susans wanted to continue on their own manuscripts, so that left Martha, the other Susan and me. We were eager to start so we immediately began plotting and came up with a murder mystery that takes place at a writing workshop.
The setting was remote Cape Foulweather, a true-to-life place on the rainy Oregon Coast. The first night, during a ferocious storm that cuts off electricity, one of the workshop students, Orchid L’Toile, meets a fate worse than death: bloody murder without adequate makeup while naked in the bathtub. The Sun City Sluts must find the killer or become victims themselves.
But how were we to write this novel? Susan lives in Grants Pass, Oregon; Martha lives in Portland and I live in Seattle. Thank the heavens for computers and email.
We named our fictional characters Roz Powell, Ruby Jean Culligan, Jamie Miracle, Paige Woods-Heyward and Babs Booty. As you might guess, we made them younger than we are—by a few decades. Although all five Sun City Sluts would star in the book, we would write from only three points of view (Roz, Ruby Jean and Jamie) so we could reduce the confusion of head hopping.
I managed the book. We alternated writing chapters and I kept the master document.
We decided that, when they gathered at the workshop, each of our five characters would be harboring a secret. I won’t tell you what those secrets were, just on the slight chance you might want to read the novel.
Martha (Roz) turned out to be a natural at humor. When her character meets the workshop instructor, she tells the reader: “Husband Number Five coming up.” Roz has three ambitions in life, sock away a million bucks, snag her next husband and publish her novel. “The moment I saw this glorious man,” Roz said, “I started carving another notch in my rhinestone belt. Everything I needed to fulfill my dream was right here.”
The words flowed out. We emailed the chapters back and forth for critique. It took us a year or two to write the book, maybe more. I can’t remember. Coordinating the chapters required a lot of juggling and rewriting.
We knew our POV characters needed to sound distinctive. Because our three writing styles are so different, the unique voices came naturally. Roz is the wild one in the group, Ruby Jean is our southern belle and Jamie is a sweet but secretive introvert. Babs is a former schoolteacher who organizes us and leads the way. Paige is wealthy, smart and dyslexic. We wanted the book to be a light, cozy mystery, but our main goal was to demonstrate the loyalty, support and love our sisterhood has in real life.
It also had to be well crafted and free of typos, errors and awful prose—the scourge of self-published novels.
We churned out a lot of seat-of-the-pants writing, but miraculously it all came together. If there was any conflict among us about the story, I don’t remember it.
Unfortunately, Susan (Ruby Jean) suffered from ill health about halfway through writing the novel, so Martha and I finished the book.
Martha coerced her son into creating a book cover, and we figured out how to put it on Kindle and other distributors’ sites so our vast readership could buy it. Later, we released it in paperback through Createspace. We didn’t spend much time marketing the book so the majority of people who purchased it were probably friends and family.
My sister-in-law said, “This reads like a group of women got together, drank a lot of wine and said, ‘Let’s write a book.’”
“Yes!” I said. “That’s exactly what happened.”
To my surprise, Murder at Cape Foulweather scored four stars on Amazon, and many of the positive reviews were from people we didn’t know.
Most of the time I find writing hard work, and I have trouble keeping the critic off my shoulder, but Murder at Cape Foulweather was the easiest, most enjoyable writing I’ve ever done. I’ve decided that’s the way it should be: pure pleasure.
Which brings us to a new chapter with the Sun City Sluts. Martha and I wanted to write more books in the series. We bandied about future stories and titles: “Three Sluts in a Slammer,” “Pole Dancing at the Nursing Home” and a few more farcical possibilities.
Our next novel will be “All Aboard the S. S. Kevorkian.” The sluts win a luxurious holiday aboard a private yacht. The only problem is they inadvertently board the wrong ship. Expect murder, intrigue, a bit of silliness, some serious moments and a rip-roaring boat ride.