The Big Idea: Jean Marie Ward
Posted on May 25, 2023 Posted by Athena Scalzi 4 Comments
Sometimes, it takes more than one try to really nail down a story. In author Jean Marie Ward’s case, the third time was the charm, resulting in her new novel, Siren Bridge. Read on to see how each iteration of this story came together to form this final novel.
JEAN MARIE WARD:
I stole the first Big Idea for my novella Siren Bridge from my late writing partner, Teri Smith.
Shortly before her death, Teri began a series about a deliciously, cheerfully, unapologetically evil sorceress named Vivienne. Viv’s first adventure, “Dragon Bait”, was published in the 2009 anthology Under the Rose. But Teri left the second barely begun, with Viv’s big personality trapped in the body of a small calico cat.
I wanted to finish that story as a tribute to Teri. On a more selfish level, I wanted to figure out how Viv rescued herself. But hard as I tried, I couldn’t get the story to gel.
Which brings me to the second Big Idea I stole.
A few years later, an editor invited me to participate in a mermaid-themed anthology. As I sifted through potential story ideas, it occurred to me that, instead of trying to finish Teri’s story, I should write an entirely new Viv adventure—a funny one, of course. Viv was born for comedy. All I needed was a finny foil. How about a siren with the delivery of a Wagnerian soprano? Great! And she’ll sing about…
That’s when my muse went AWOL. I needed a profoundly silly way for my soggy Sieglinda to lure men to their doom, and I had nada. So I decided to consult an expert in the whole guy thing: my husband, “Honey, what’s the most ridiculous thing a siren could sing about would that persuade a guy to offer himself as lunch?”
He blinked at me behind his glasses. “Like what, dessert?”
“That’s it!” I cried. “Struuuuuudel!”
My husband immediately decamped to the basement. I didn’t see him again for two days. When he finally emerged, he pleaded with me to never ever yodel again.
The anthology got shelved. But flushed with pride at my achievement, I sent it to an editor friend who knew Teri’s work. As gently as possible, he let me know my protagonist. Was. Not. Viv. In D&D terms, my character was chaotic good. There were lines she wouldn’t cross. Viv had no such scruples.
He was right. But I liked the story. It needed a lot of work. Even so, the scene between Not-Viv and her siren nemesis? That was pure gold, worth every rewrite it took to raise the rest of the story to its level.
Which brings me to the novella’s third Big Idea, my Big Idea: What I wanted for my protagonist and her world.
I wanted a woman protagonist who leaned into her nature and fell into the exciting scrapes traditionally reserved for male characters like Han Solo and Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes. I wanted Oleander Jones, the character formerly known as Not-Viv, to live in a world I wouldn’t mind carrying in my head for as long as it took to write her adventures. A Steampunk/weird west world with magic, great clothes, and marvelous contraptions. A world where diversity is celebrated. A world where even the worst curse could hold the key to happiness if you own the courage to grasp it.
I admit it’s a fairy tale. The United States grew to greatness in the American West. But our forebears committed unspeakable acts in the name of that dream, and their legacy is one we have yet to fully confront. But I cling to the hope that Neil Gaiman’s wonderful paraphrase of G.K. Chesterton got it right: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
Science fiction, fantasy, romance, adventure, mystery—all the genres we call fiction are simply fairy tales grown-ups tell themselves. This is mine:
Oleander Jones knew the rules for successful lady adventurers, and she broke them all.
Now she’s got a reward on her head bigger than the Logressan national debt. The New Dominion Territorial Militia, the full detecting might of Falchion Apprehension Services, and every no-good one-eyed snake who could read a wanted poster are on her tail. And there’s only one way to get where she needs to go—through the killing ground of the biggest, meanest, man-eating, avian monster Roche County has ever seen. Dead across Siren Bridge.
Siren Bridge: Amazon
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This novelette was so much irreverent fun!
Thank you so much, Marion!
How am I spending my Memorial Day weekend?
Why, as one does, I will be visiting historic Pahrump, Nevada.
Wow,.I had no idea that was a real place. Based on Wikipedia, it sounds like there are plot bunnies under every drought-resistant plant!