Wendy Delsol shakes things up for the heroine of her new novel, The McCloud Home for Wayward Girls. So how does the author help this character move forward — and what role does insomnia play in this tale about mothers, daughters and new beginnings? Find out in this special blog post from the author!
As my novel, The McCloud Home for Wayward Girls, opens, its protagonist, Jill McCloud, has been asleep for fifteen years. No, this is not a modern reinterpretation of Sleeping Beauty; I’m speaking metaphorically. Following the death of her father and a family crisis, Jill resolves to repurpose their historic property as an inn and to raise her daughter alone. Oh, and she has a secret, a big one. These burdens fill Jill’s life with day-to-day bustle but ultimately isolate her emotionally and physically. Fifteen years later, when the death of the town matriarch gathers mourners and prompts memories, Jill is roused to examine her choices.
For a writer, it’s a challenge to establish the monotony and torpor of a character without the narrative itself becoming the fictional equivalent of Sominex. Moreover, an awakening is certainly nothing new in literature (rest assured, I did not open the novel to the sound of an alarm clock or an early-morning phone call), so, if utilized, it had better be fresh or big or just this side of spoofdom.
Early in the book, while the routine of Jill’s life is documented, other quirky and more dynamic characters enliven the story and serve as a contrast to Jill’s safe-but-flat existence. Her color-therapist sister, Jocelyn, claims “a sexth sense,” an ability to detect pheromones between two people. Her mother, Ruby, entertains guests with stories of the home’s past life as a haven for unwed teens (she herself a former wayward). Her fourteen-year-old daughter, Fee, is at odds with a mean girl and is dabbling in her own brand of lies and secrets. And the dead woman’s nephew, Keith, who arrives for the funeral, is no stranger to Jill or her sister.
This history between Keith and the sisters allows a window onto the nineteen-year-old Jill, a vibrant and gutsy college student. In a bliss-filled, albeit brief, romance, Jill and Keith prove to be a perfect, pheromone-gushing match. Circumstances, alas, conspire to separate them.
Present-day events surrounding the funeral grow more and more complicated: the inn is struggling financially, her mother’s outrageous behavior is symptomatic of a serious condition, she intuits her daughter’s teen angst, she suspects her sister of rekindling a relationship with Keith, and, finally, the secret upon which she’s built her life is revealed. In a stressed and sleep-deprived state, Jill determines all is lost. In pajamas, she flees in her sister’s Hummer with no purse, no cell phone, and no destination. During this well deserved meltdown, she tunes into a radio show, Sleepless on the Prairie, and listens in as callers describe their sleep disorders: one refers to himself as the walking dead while another describes pre-slumber hallucinations and paranoia. With a deliberate irony, I employ this insomniac state to reanimate Jill’s relationship with her daughter, her sister, and her love interest.
Waking Jill is about as much fun as a writer can have at the expense of their character. I do not make it an easy or painless process. While a little shaken in the process, Jill is wide-eyed and fully engaged come the closing scene.
- Wendy Delsol
To find out what happens to Jill, you can pick up your own copy of The McCloud Home for Wayward Girls in stores now!