What Would You Do I You Weren’t Afraid?

This amazing video has been bouncing around the internet all week. As the mother of two young women, its message is close to my heart. I am trying to teach my girls to be leaders and cultivate a sense of fearlessness.

After I watched the video a few times, I started thinking about Kitty and Stacia (the main characters in Overlook). Kitty is afraid. She gave up her dreams to do what was expected of her, rather than what she wanted. She is afraid of what people will think if they find out her husband is cheating on her. She is afraid to disappoint her mother, yet she is willing to disappoint herself.

I wondered what Kitty would think if she saw the video in her Facebook feed. I think she would want her daughter’s life to be different than her own. She would think about Stacia and how Stacia is so much stronger than she is. Perhaps that would motivate her to make a change.

Drowned Towns of North Carolina

You may not know this, but the state of North Carolina is littered with drowned towns. In the Piedmont, the Neuse, the Tar, and the Catawba all have hydroelectric dams. In the mountains, the Broad river has several dams. The supply much needed power but didn’t come without cost.

In 1917, the town of Badin was drowned when the Yadkin-Pee Dee River was dammed to support the local aluminum smelting plant. It’s said to be tricky going to boat on the resulting lake because there are still church steeples and full grown trees on the bottom.  In 1944,  a Navy bomber went down in the lake. The rescue and recovery crews never found the pilot’s body because of all the debris under the surface.

At one point, I lived on one of the man made lakes along the Catawba River. it was a beautiful spot but I always wondered what was under the water before the dams were built. Native Americans had lived in the area before the area was settled, textile plants had dotted the river for a hundred years or so, and farmers had built plank bridges across narrows.

When conceiving Overlook, I decided to have the secondary lead character be part of the Tate family that built the local dam that created Lake Tate. Unlike the residents of Overlook, Stacia Tate Curran knows what is buried under the seemingly serene waters of their upscale neighborhood.

Conformity as a Survival Technique

1a4492521bd2a453e6854372f4567f05Parenthood has a way of making you revisit your own childhood. I was never one of the popular girls. Fifth through eighth grades were a nightmare that I survived by retreating to my room with a book. When my two daughters got to that stage in their young lives, I was terrified for them. I wished I could guide them through the land mines of gossip and mean girls, but I hadn’t learned any tricks in the intervening twenty years.

I read all the books I could find and used my psychology background to try to help my eldest daughter. She didn’t fare much better than I did. She keep her head down and got through it with only minor scarring. My youngest daughter, on the other hand, figured it out. She realized she didn’t need the mean girls to like her or accept her as part of the clique, she needed them to not target her. She came home one day with a list of accouterments to make her blend into the herd. In her middle school, camouflage was a Vera Bradley bag, tan Sperrys, skinny jeans, Hollister t-shirts, and long hair. I was resistant to her plan. She’s a beautiful, bright girl. I wanted her to celebrate her individuality, not hide behind a facade of conformity. She was right. I was wrong. She sailed through middle school without any major traumas. She had a few close friends that were nice kids and the mean girls left her alone.

So why am I telling you this? What does this have anything to do with my writing life? My daughter’s experience made me reconsider the way I do things myself. Was I making myself a target for the adult version of the mean girls (more on that in Queen Bees) in the PTA? Should I outwardly conform and save myself a lot of grief? When I started writing Overlook, I decided that conformity would be a cornerstone of Kitty’s personality. She doesn’t know who she is anymore. She dresses the way her husband likes her to, she eats what he likes, she worships where he tells her to. Kitty blends into the crowd of other Overlook moms, The Lookers. She does whatever the people in her life tell her to do, at least until her husband pushes her just a little too far.

Queen Bees

Women and girls have unique social structures. The concept of “mean girls” is well documented in tweens and teens. In middle school there were the popular girls that rejected anyone that was not pretty and thin as if crooked teeth or acne were contagious. A similar group of girls became the cheerleaders and cool kids in high school and college. Unfortunately, many of those girls never outgrow those tendencies. Those women go on to infiltrate PTA’s, church committees, and work places. I’ve encountered the queen bee and her minions. This is the woman that everyone else defers to. She may not be nominally in charge of a committee or civic group but she is definitely in charge. She is a bully that doesn’t physically dominate people. She bullies people by making them feel excluded and denigrated. Her minions are kept in line out of fear of being thrown out of the group. Thankfully, this social structure is becoming less prevalent as parents are becoming better informed and girls are exposed to more avenues of healthy competition. Still, the rate of change is glacial in the arenas of friendships and bullying. Adult female cliques is one of the themes I addressed in Overlook.

When I was initially conceiving the world of Overlook, I envisioned the local queen bee as  an antagonist. Bullies make good antagonists; they are easy to despise and many of us have been victims of bullying. They can also be cliche. The more I got to know the character of Stacia Curran, the more I came to love her. She is a terror that rules her little fiefdom with an iron fist, but she is also benevolent. She quietly helps the other members of The Lookers when she can and is motivated by guilt more than malice.

If you’d like to read more about queen bees, Rosalind Wiseman wrote the excellent Queen Bees and Wannabes, as well as the follow-up Queen Bees Moms and King Pin Dads.