I asked Lisa for the back story behind the novel – how she got the idea, if she was plagued with demons while writing, how long it took…
Thanks for having me over Fleur!
Stella Makes Good came together fairly easily for me.
Firstly, there was a piece in the local paper about a raid on a swinger’s party in the next suburb. At the time, I read it and thought, wow! Swingers? Just up the road from me? Imagine if you accidentally turned up there expecting a normal party and instead saw your local butcher dressed in dominatrix gear and the local school’s headmaster wearing a nappy and being lead around on a dog lead? My imagination went into overdrive!
A couple of months later, I was having New Year’s drinks with girlfriends at a local pub – and like Stella and her friends, by the time we caught up, it was almost the end of January. One of my friends asked everybody what their New Year’s mantras were, and we collectively groaned.
But again, it got me thinking, what a great way to begin a novel…making New Year’s resolutions, having defining mantras for the new year…most of us do it…usher in the positive and wipe the slate clean from the previous year.
When I combined the two thoughts, they formed the basis of Stella Makes Good – the rest I made up as I went along.
From the beginning, I knew I wanted the story to be set over one week – I love packing as much drama as I can into a short amount of time – and when you think about it, seven days is quite long. It’s time enough to fall in love, realise you’re married to an adulterer, fail exams, lose a job, win your dream promotion, die…really, anything can happen in a week…and most life changing events happen in a split second.
What if something you knew to be true, turned out to be false? A lie? I believe life turns on a five cent piece…circumstances…and realities can change in the blink of an eye, and often do.
As with my previous three novels, I wrote the main character, Stella, in first person…and then I thought I’d be super clever by writing the three secondary characters in first person as well! So for twelve months or thereabouts, I worked on the first couple of drafts, going back every now and then to layer characters and plotlines.
Because Stella was the anchor, I wanted her to have the least problems, but after the first draft when I reread her story, I thought, ‘apart from being a librarian and a decent mother, you’re a bore’ so I added a romantic interest for her and a mother in law she loved (perhaps a unique relationship – but I love writing about older women which inevitably I model on my mum and her friends).
I wasn’t plagued with demons so much because I really got into Stella’s story and treated her and her friends like real people. (Occupational hazard.)
However, I didn’t think her friends had enough problems so I kept adding to their angst. I wanted so much to add to their angst that I originally had one of the main characters die, but then when I thought about it, I realised I didn’t want that. I didn’t want any of the characters to take the easy way out. Life is tough and you have to deal with it.
That’s not to say that Stella Makes Good is not a hopeful story but those four women – Stella, Jesse, Carly and Louisa – have one hell of a traumatic week!
When I finished Stella’s story, I was quietly confident it would fly and was happy with the four characters all speaking in first person with their own voice…then I got the structural edit back. All twelve pages of it!
Being me, I stomped and cried. The gist of the report was that Stella’s first person was fine but the other three needed to be rewritten in third person. Rewritten being the operative word…I was being asked to do a major rewrite. Far out!
Though I was on a deadline, I called (I think I may have texted) and said, ‘I can’t look at this for at least a week. I need time to digest. It’s basically a rewrite.’
I think then she might have texted back ten minutes later and said something along the lines of ‘suck it up princess’.
Rather than be juvenile and engage in a text fight, I rang and swore at her – we have an open relationship.
Anyway, after I calmed down, I could see the editor’s point and although it was a bit (!) of work, I believe that Stella Makes Good is a much better book because of the changes that were suggested to me.
And that’s about it. Stella Makes Good went through some major rewrites but that’s what you do when you’re a pantser like me and have no idea where your story is heading! You start with an idea and fly by the seat of your pants.
I love Stella and her friends…I just wouldn’t want to spend a week in their shoes!