At conferences and panels, one of the questions that frequently arises is “how do you start writing?” Now, my answer to this is a little different from most: I just write. And I do it because I know I will eventually delete the first scene…or two, or three, or four. I have yet to write a book that did not require a complete rewrite of the beginning. I knew before I finished writing Twisted that I would follow it with Tara Jean’s story, but I had no idea what that story would be. At the same time, I was in a workshop in which I was required to write something I would read at a bar one night. I had something written, but I wasn’t happy with it, so at the last minute I ditched it and wrote this scene, which never made it into LOST, but did show me what the basic plot of the book would be.
Tara Jean Dobbs was not cut out to be a cult member. She didn’t know whether the plants in the field were herbs or weeds, so she couldn’t be trusted to maintain the crops. She had lousy communications skills, so she couldn’t be sent out to recruit new members. Her kindergarten teacher had remarked that she didn’t play well with others, and her first grade teacher had said she wasn’t good at sharing, neither of which had changed much in the twenty-odd years since.
And she flat out hated to follow orders.
The Leader had re-named Tara “Serena,” which she thought was pretty much the biggest crock of shit she’d ever heard. She laughed about it behind his back. Unfortunately, no one else shared her sense of humor, and she couldn’t talk to anyone outside the group, which left her to laugh alone. Not so different from her pre-cult life, really.
Theoretically, she could have had friends outside the pretty picket fence at the front of the compound, because she wasn’t locked inside. Not exactly. But if she hoped to achieve a high rank among the acolytes, to become one of the Leader’s personal attendants with the freedom to wander the great house and surrounding buildings unsupervised, she had to pretend to have no desire for outside conversation. Or cheeseburgers, diet coke, true crime novels or hot baths, dammit. And she had to put her mind to learning skills like sucking up, keeping her opinions to herself, and keeping her head down.
Tara had noticed some women seemed to be singled out for personal attention based on their looks, but that wasn’t a route she could take. God knew her parents had made that clear enough. “Your hair is a disaster, Tara Jean.” “Do you really need to eat that, Tara Jean?” “Where are we ever going to find gloves to suit those stubby fingers, Tara Jean?” The one thing she appreciated about the name Serena was that it wasn’t Tara Jean.
But although her figure was a little on the square side, and her hair curled in every direction, Tara had one thing going for her that most people in the group did not, at least as far as she could see. She had a brain. Logic and analysis were her fortes. Of course, those talents weren’t prized within the compound, but that didn’t bother her because they also weren’t recognized. The dumber she appeared, the faster she’d get what she was after. And with blonde hair and blue eyes, Tara could make herself appear pretty damned dumb. It was another lesson from her mother, who’d assured her that smart women never found husbands.
Maybe Marianne Smithfield Dobbs had been right on that score. Because sure as God made little green apples, no man had ever come knocking on Tara’s door with a ring in his pocket. When she was being particularly honest with herself, Tara could admit that precious few had come knocking at all.
But that was okay, too, because most men weren’t worth the saliva it would take to spit on them. Take the almighty Leader, for example, the benevolent father who walked among them three times a day: six in the morning, noon, and six in the evening. Occasionally, he’d turn a shovel of earth, stir the soup in the kitchen, or heal an ailing member of the congregation, but the majority of his life was spent in the ranch house with his attendants.
In public, the Leader prayed repeatedly to the Powers on how best to help his flock leave behind their worldly concerns and receive enlightenment. As far as Tara could tell, the Powers generally espoused getting rid of worldly goods, first, then worrying about worldly concerns. And since members no longer needed their iPods, cell phones, watches or jewelry, they didn’t need the cash to buy them, so the Powers recommended giving money to the Leader to help him in his crusade.
How anybody fell for this shit was beyond her.
Not that Tara was particularly materialistic. If she were, she’d still be living in Dobbs Hollow, where her family had been royalty for generations. Well, before their fall from grace, anyway. But she’d left that life behind even before she left the Hollow, and her most recent job had been as a short-order cook in a diner in the podunk town of Fayetteville, Texas. She’d actually made friends in Fayetteville. Three of them, in fact; a veritable cornucopia. And it was one of those friends, Andrea MacDonald, who’d prompted her interest in the cult. Or commune. Or whatever.
Because somewhere along the line, Andrea had become entangled with the group, and then she’d disappeared. And while Tara would never be a good cult member, she was very, very good at her true vocation.
Tara Jean Dobbs was a cop.
So there you have it. As you can see, it wouldn’t have made a good beginning to the book. Too much backstory, too much in-the-head, too much telling and not enough showing. But that’s inevitably the way I begin. Now, aren’t you glad I don’t leave it that way?