POLITICS AND PLOTS by Laurel S. Peterson

Thanks for inviting me to write about what triggered the plot of Shadow Notes, Marilyn. I’m happy to be here today.

In my story, Clara Montague comes home after fifteen years away because she dreams that her mother is in danger. (Clara has a sixth sense.) A few days after she arrives home, her mother’s therapist is murdered. Did her mother do it? Since Constance won’t talk to her, Clara decides to research her mother’s past through volunteering on a local election campaign because the candidate is one her mother’s oldest enemies. Enemies know as much as friends, right?

Like many people I know, I don’t consider myself a political person. However, Adrienne Rich, the feminist poet, once famously said that the personal was political. She meant that who we were in color, shape, size, gender, national origin and so on determined for us a set of political values, a set of needs that could only be answered politically.

Living as I do in a wealthy area of the country, I see the disparities in my community on almost a daily basis. These disparities were highlighted for me when some colleagues and I started a women’s center at the community college where I teach. We were funded by a local branch of a national service organization. Many wealthy women use the organization both to do a lot of good, and as a social networking tool.

This fascinated me, and I became almost like an anthropologist documenting the habits of another species. Strict but unspoken rules about how one dressed, wedding rituals, working or not working, having kids or not having kids, what one did with the children after one had them, house sizes, locations, and decoration projects, husbands’ jobs, personal fitness, and so on were complex and exhausting. One day, two of the women commented that the seats in the hallway of the college were dusty between the cushions and the wall. I thought that my students, worried about how they were going to pay for their classes or food for their kids that week, had bigger problems than a little dust. So parodying and investigating and thinking about the culture clash in my community became a central component of the plot through my protagonist Clara’s awareness of her own and her family’s privilege.

This political component is also developed through the senate campaign that occurs in the story. What makes candidates trustworthy? What are their values? How do people negotiate power in relationships, be they personal or social? When does our use of power cross over into abuse? And how does one counter those abuses of power, especially when that power often comes with lots of money behind it?

I used Shadow Notes to explore these questions. I’d love to hear your answers, too! Thanks for reading.

Book Blurb: Clara Montague’s mother Constance never liked—or listened—to her but now they have to get along or they will both end up dead. Clara suspects she and her mother share intuitive powers, but Constance always denied it. When Clara was twenty, she dreamed her father would have a heart attack. Constance claimed she was hysterical. Then he died.

Furious, Clara leaves for fifteen years, but when she dreams Constance is in danger, she returns home. Then, Constance’s therapist is murdered and Constance is arrested.

Starting to explore her mother’s past, Clara discovers books on trauma, and then there’s a second murder. Clara realizes that only in finding the connection between the murders and her mother’s past can she save her mother and finally heal their relationship.   

BIO: Laurel S. Peterson is an English professor at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. Her poetry has been published in many literary journals and she has two poetry chapbooks. Her first mystery, Shadow Notes, has just been released by Barking Rain Press. 
Twitter @laurelwriter49


Maggie said…
Good post. I too have worked with wealthy individuals who were well-meaning but had different viewpoints and priorities. I wish you the best of fortune with Shadow Notes.
M. Johnston said…
I hadn't ever thought of those things in terms of "political." Another learning experience for me. Looking forward to Shadow Notes.
I'm so glad you visited, Laurel, and Maggie and M. Johnston, thanks for commenting.
Laurel said…
Thanks so much, Maggie and M. Johnston for dropping by and commenting. I learned so much from working with those women; it was a really good experience.

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