"Are these capris okay?"
They are not. My sister and I are preparing to head out to a meeting of her book club, and I need to find a way to stop her from leaving the house In Those Pants.
I channel Tim Gunn from Project Runway, arranging my face into a concerned frown. I try to insert a note of bright optimism into my voice. "What other options do we have to work with?"
My sister mutters an expletive in my direction (rhymes with rich) and stomps upstairs in search of pants that will do a better job of camouflaging the Mommy Box that has edged out the sexy curves that once made up our midsections. Finding a pair of pants that hides this Mommy Box is like searching for the Holy Grail, and probably deserves its own Dan Brown book to chronicle the quest. My sister returns 10 minutes later, frazzled now because we are running late. "Are these okay?"
They are much better, and I tell her so.
"Thank God," she says with a sigh. We gather up our Weight Watchers dip, kiss our kids goodbye, and head out.
It would have been easier to lie. But I'm a middle sister and I can't bring myself to do that. It's not in my DNA. I've been told I'm a very down-to-earth person.
I would also say that honesty is a quality I value more than just about anything when choosing my friends.
So I decided it was worth blogging about after I noticed that honesty is an element that is almost entirely M.I.A. from my two latest books. A Dark Love and Riptide both feature a cast of characters who lie to each other all the time. About everything.
Don't get me wrong — when you're writing thrillers, it's good to have characters that lie, scheme, cheat, and steal. The critics agree. The October issue of Romantic Times gave a three-and-a-half star review to Riptide, saying "Carroll is a strong writer whose ability to construct a scene and weave a tale rivals the best in the business."
But I noticed something all my main characters have in common. They live in a vacuum. No siblings. No moms calling to see how the first week at school went for the grandkids. No cousins sending funny little emails. No sidekicks appearing over the cubicle wall at work asking if they cried during the season premier of Biggest Loser.
Nope, my main characters live their lives in isolation. Christina Cardiff (Riptide) is an orphan, far from where she grew up and anyone that knew her when she was little. Caroline Hughes (A Dark Love) is not an orphan but she might as well be. Neither of them has a sister, a friend, or even a neighbor they can confide in. Well, I take that back. They both have some really great neighbors! These girls are just trapped in their downward spiral and refuse to open up to the people who might be able to help.
I do it on purpose. I write about troubled women who are faced with problems. In order for the struggle to be interesting, they need to be alone with their problems (at least in the beginning) and lonely.
If my main character had even one good friend she could confide in, how could I put her inside an abusive marriage? Send her down in a tailspin of alcoholism, domestic violence, and extramarital affairs? (I know my plots get ugly, but when was the last time you sat up late turning pages of a book about wives who volunteer to run fundraisers for their kids' schools?)
The basic element of all thrillers is a main character with problems. Serious problems. Your main character has to have a hole so she can dig her way out.
So, dig that hole!
Make it really deep. Make the sides slippery and steep so it seems there's no way out. Don't leave any rope lying around. Then toss her in.
The great thing is watching her rescue herself as the story unfolds. That's the fun part of my job.
If you're going to throw your heroines down a hole, you need to take away all their resources first: No friends. No sisters. No one to tell them their caboose looks bad in those jeans.
So, don't look for any middle sisters to star in any of my books anytime soon. Or women who are members of book clubs, or Reiki circles, or 12-step support groups, or moms who organize Brownie troops or 5K races, or... you get the picture.
Friends and sisters are the best antidote to domestic violence, in my opinion. We need to surround ourselves with people who love us and support us and who will call us on our you-know-what, so we can live the best lives possible and be the best women we know how to be. We need to cherish our friends and sisters.
Please remind me of that next time I try to leave the house in pants I have no business squeezing myself into...