BEA'S BOOK NOOK "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." C. S. Lewis “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ― Oscar Wilde

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Perfect Man: A Guest Post from Author Brenda L. Baker

Love. Betrayal. Families. Today it's my pleasure to welcome author Brenda Baker to the Book. Her book, "The Elusive Mr. McCoy" was released a few days ago, on July 3rd (review coming later this summer).


Novel writing is one of the few professions where it is acceptable for an adult to have imaginary friends. Even so, writers rarely talk about their imaginary friends—except to other writers—for fear someone might think we are talking about real people, a phobia especially prevalent among horror and thriller authors. So today, I’m grateful to Bea for giving me the chance to tell you about my favorite character in The Elusive Mr. McCoy: the private investigator.

During adolescence, my friends and I spent a great deal of time making lists of the qualities we were looking for in a romantic partner. Our requirements started out simply enough; we all wanted a boyfriend who was cute and had a sense of humor. With the onset of dating, our lists began to diverge as experience taught some of us that cute didn’t compensate for an inflated ego, and others discovered a sense of humor could be devoted entirely to off-color jokes. We refined our lists as the years passed, until somewhere just across the twenties threshold, it became apparent that, outside of Socrates’ theory of ideal forms, the perfect partner did not exist. Everyone had room for improvement.

If you had a list, and even if you didn’t, you probably figured this out at about the same age. So if you read the blurb for The Elusive Mr. McCoy on the back of the book, phrases like “best partner” and “perfect husband” may cause you to roll your eyes, or sniff dismissively, or mutter “Yeah, sure,” in a derisive tone of voice. And you will be right to do so, because McCoy was created from those adolescent lists.

Early on in the writing process, I realized the improbably perfect Mr. McCoy needed a foil, an imperfect but much more believable character to whom he could be compared. Enter Jason: resentful ex-husband, envious brother, reluctant father, and lazy housekeeper—character traits I plucked from a real life list of relationship gripes among my current circle of friends. With all these flaws, I expected Jason would be an unsympathetic character. But as writing progressed he began to seem more and more like a really decent guy. At first I didn’t understand how this could be, then I realized Jason’s imperfections were what made him likeable.

While there are no perfect people, there are those who have the honesty to admit they are not and the willingness to strive for self-improvement. These are the people who inspire us, who earn our respect and affection. There is dignity in the high school drop-out who earns a degree at night school and the alcoholic who rises to testify at an AA meeting. We root for the miser who learns to give and the timid lover who finds the courage to declare himself. These people warm our hearts. We want them to succeed, to prove there is hope for us all.

In Jason’s struggle to assume the unwanted responsibilities of fatherhood, and his reluctance to take sides in his sister’s marital difficulties, I saw the subtle courage of an everyday hero, a man doing his best to make himself a better person and the world a better place. By the middle of the book, I’d developed a bit of a crush on him. I found myself writing more and more Jason chapters, most of which were removed from the second draft and tucked lovingly away in the folder where I keep the darlings I am forced to murder in the interests of producing a commercially viable novel. By the end of the book, even though it was essentially an un-romance, I could not resist the temptation to reward Jason with the love I felt he deserved.

If I could go back a half-century and give teenage me one piece of romantic advice, I’d tell myself to stop looking for perfection and start making a list of the imperfections I could live with. Not only would this have resulted in a shorter list that was much easier to fulfill, it would have greatly increased my chances of finding a perfectly imperfect man like Jason.

  A little about Brenda, in her own words: At the age of eight, I decided to become an archaeologist. I had no idea what the word meant, but it sounded cool. When it became apparent a career in archaeology would require significant education, I switched my aspirations to creative writing, the only class in high school that did not involve reading textbooks.

Writing novels turned out to be less than lucrative. Writing computer programs, on the other hand, paid extremely well in the early seventies. I became a nerd and surfed the technology wave for thirty-five years. This is a very boring period of my life. I will spare you the details.

In 2007, in the grip of a delayed mid-life crisis, I abandoned my secure niche in a cube farm, took early retirement and moved to India. I signed on as a volunteer with a social services organization in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, and had many wonderful adventures exploring South India, meeting the people, and learning their culture. My western background created many challenges for me during this time, but the only truly insurmountable difficulty was the dearth of interesting reading material.

I’m a fiction junkie. For most of my life, I’ve had a three novel a week monkey on my back. During my first months In India, I had the good fortune to live not far from an old-fashioned subscription library run by a dignified, middle-aged man with a British accent and a passion for New York Times bestsellers. His stock-in-trade was primarily Tamil romances and tattered Marvel comics but at the back of the library he kept his prized collection of English novels; six double-stacked shelves of yellowing paperbacks laboriously accumulated over twenty years. His taste was eclectic to say the least, everything from Aldus Huxley to Zane Grey via Lee Child and Maeve Binchy. His rates were more than reasonable; less than fifty cents a week got me all the books I needed to feed my habit.

One day, I walked over to return some books and found the metal shutter pulled down over the entrance to the library. The young man who ran the internet cafe next door told me the building that housed the library had been sold, and the librarian had relocated, but left no forwarding address. Unable to quit reading cold turkey, I began making weekly excursions to Higginbothams, Chennai’s famous English bookstore. The journey was long, the prices were exorbitant and the selection of modern novels was less than impressive. I frequently returned home with nothing at all.

Desperate for something to satisfy my fiction addiction, I began writing my own novel, using the people around me and the stories they told as inspiration. I scouted out locations around the city, photographing buildings and inviting myself into homes as varied as marble mansions and slum hovels. I followed my maid through her daily routine and tried, with little success, to do what she did. I subjected my incredibly patient Indian friends to endless interrogations about their culture and poured over the case files of the social services organization where I volunteered to understand the challenges faced by my characters. In the process, I discovered that writing a novel was almost as much fun as reading one. It took considerably longer, which was a blessing given the number of book-less hours I had to fill. But Sisters of the Sari didn't just fill my days, it filled my heart, as the characters became my imaginary friends.

Now, writing isn't for everyone, at least not novel writing. It's solitary, occasionally frustrating, and frequently annoying - especially when one of my imaginary friends does something that results in whole chapters having to be re-written. But it works for me and now, forty years after turning my back on writing, I'm at the keyboard again and delighted to be here.


 Book Blurb:

Lesley McCoy works in a day-care center, and she is planning to start a family of her own. Her husband, David, is a homebody whose job as a wilderness guide takes him away for long periods—but when he’s home, he’s the best partner Lesley could imagine.

Kendra McCoy is a successful businesswoman whose husband, Eric, is an analyst who specializes in Middle Eastern politics. He supports her enthusiasm and drive to succeed, and is the perfect partner—when he’s home between assignments.

While trying to identify a man who collapses in a Portland, Oregon, coffee shop, two wallets are found: one belonging to David McCoy, the other to Eric McCoy.

Devastated by their comatose husband’s betrayal, Kendra and Lesley reluctantly join forces in an attempt to piece together a true picture of the man they both fell in love with. Instead, they uncover a vast web of deceit as they learn their husband lived a third life neither of them suspected.

By: Brenda L Baker
Publisher: NAL Trade
Length: 336 pages
Release Date: JULY 3, 2012

There's no question that my criteria for a perfect man has changed over the years, and is much more realistic these days. How about you, have your criteria, or even your definition of perfect, changed over the years?


  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I love fun cookie cutters too! Even if I never get to use them, I still buy them. I did find the mermaid cookie cutter on Amazon. I just searched for "mermaid cookie cutter." It was sold as a single unit.

  2. Thanks! I will definitely look for it.


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