Great to see you here. Let’s see. Where do I start?
First, I’m really excited to present the new cover for my 1970s coming-of-age novel, Squalor, New Mexico. I’d like to thank the super-talented Lisa McCallum for designing such a perfect cover. (You are the best, Lis!)
To celebrate the new cover, I will be selling the Kindle edition for only .99 on Amazon.com until the end of September, 2013. (While this is just the link for the US store, the book is discounted in all Amazon stores all over the world.)
Now, let’s get down to business. Why does my Young Adult novel have such a downright bizarre title, especially since it’s only peripherally about squalor and not at all about New Mexico?
The seed for the title/book began in my childhood. Every time I heard it said that someone lived in squalor, it sounded like a place to me. For years, I had the identical notion every time I heard the word: “Is Squalor a town?” “Is it a city?” “Where is it?” The word “squalor” nagged at me. The universe and the word were trying to tell me something. (“Write a novel! Write a novel!”)
It was then that I decided that I wanted to begin a novel with the sentence: “My aunt lived in Squalor.” I had no idea who the main character would be, who her aunt would be and why said aunt would live in Squalor, but it all began from there. I built a 159,000-word book (445-pages) completely around my desire to use that opening sentence. Though it is not specifically stated, the book is set in the 1970s in an east coast suburb.
The first page of the book explains the unusual title:
My aunt Rebecca lived in Squalor. I first heard my mother and my aunt Didi discussing this one day when I was nine. I was supposed to be in my bedroom doing homework, but I snuck down the back stairs into the kitchen for a McIntosh apple and an Oreo cookie. Mom and Aunt Didi were close by in the dining room, huddled together at the corner of the table, as they often were, and they were talking about Aunt Rebecca. To me, the most curious thing about Aunt Rebecca, whom I had never met, was that Mom and Aunt Didi only brought her up when they thought no one was listening.
“I’m sure she’s still living in squalor,” Aunt Didi told Mom authoritatively. “Unless she’s screwed her way out!”
I had no idea what all that meant, but it seemed like such an odd thing to say that I was willing to take the risk of letting my presence be known and ask.
“What’s squalor, Mom?” I said, walking into the dining room.
“Goodness, Darla!” Mom said putting her hand to her throat. “How long have you been listening?”
“Not long. I just came down for an apple.” (I thought it best not to mention the cookie.) “What’s squalor, Mom?” I repeated.
Aunt Didi, knowing Mom would be loath to answer my question, took hold of the reins for her. “It’s a town in New Mexico, Darla. It’s an Indian name.”
Mom looked at Aunt Didi in amazement. I figured she hadn’t known what it meant, either.
“Oh,” I said. And then I took a bite out of my apple.
“You have a book report due tomorrow,” Mom said.
“I know,” I said, taking another bite.
“Well, you’re not going to get it done standing here, are you?”
“I guess not,” I replied reluctantly. “All right, I’m going. Mom?”
“Yes, Darla?” she asked impatiently.
“What did Aunt Didi mean about—”
“Please dear,” Mom pleaded softly. “Go upstairs and finish your—”
“But Mom, I really want to know what—”
“Darla!” Aunt Didi screamed. “Listen to your mother. Go upstairs, now, and finish your book report!”
“All right. Forget it!” I said indignantly. “How am I supposed to learn stuff if I don’t ask?”
So, friends, now you know. Squalor, New Mexico began as a lie told to a child to quell her curiosity and ended up being the unlikely symbol for all of the lies, secrets and twisted truths that can destroy a family. It is a coming-of-age story shrouded in family mystery, and yes, I’ll admit it: it has a very strange title.
Note: In the not-too-distant future, the paperback edition of Squalor, New Mexico will be republished with a new cover, too.
.99 on Kindle throughout September 2013