Summer Leigh reminds me of somebody I know. Somebody funny and wonderful and snarky and vulnerable. Who could it be? Well, while I’m ciphering it out, go ahead and read this interview with the stunningly talented author Claire Croxton.
1) I just finished Redneck Ex and love it. Which, and don’t take this the wrong way, surprised me just a tiny bit. Because the novel is definitely a Romance and I don’t usually enjoy that genre. But, in the case of Redneck Ex, I found the main character, Summer Leigh, absolutely irresistible. She hooked me from page one. Tell me, please, however did you come up with this glorious character?
You know, I didn’t think Redneck Ex was a romance. I thought it was women’s fiction or its own groundbreaking genre. I was very surprised when The Wild Rose Press requested the manuscript and even more surprised when I was informed it was indeed a contemporary romance.
As for Summer Leigh, the experts all say write what you know. I know neurotic, snarky, confident-in-the-boardroom, yet hopeless-at-love women. If a man landed naked in Summer Leigh’s lap and asked, “Want to f***?” she would have to analyze the question and poll her friends before she’d understand what he meant.
When folks ask me how I managed all of Summer Leigh’s insightful internalization, I’m stunned. I have to admit that I was quite surprised that not everyone has an ongoing snark-fest playing in her head. Summer Leigh is flawed and she knows it. Every once in a while, she’ll try to do something about it, but she always slips back into her neuroses, which is why she has to think: what would Mama do? Mama always does the right thing. Summer Leigh? Not so much.
2) Part of the novel is set in Arctic Alaska. I’m one of the millions of people who are fascinated with that part of world while knowing I’d die within the first five minutes if I ever ventured into that land of snow and ice. Please tell me more about living in Barrow, Alaska. What was a typical winter day? Summer day? Tell me about the polar bears, Claire, tell me about the bears. Are you planning more books set in the Arctic?
Like Summer Leigh, I moved to Barrow, Alaska after I got divorced. (I really have no idea where I got the inspiration to write Summer Leigh.) It was August. I’ll never forget flying over the Brooks Range and watching the terrain change from mountains, to rolling hills to flat as a flitter. I was fascinated. It looked like the surface of the moon—flat with craters of water everywhere (well, if the moon had water that is.)I fell in love the second I stepped off the plane. It was surreal. It was at least seventy degrees cooler than the mind-melting heat of Arkansas. I taught high school. The first day of school it was 30 degrees Fahrenheit and there was enough snow on the ground to result in school being closed in Arkansas. Students showed up wearing shorts and flip flops. I knew Barrow was my kind of place!
I always worked government jobs so I never had to spend much time outside, so the weather didn’t bother me much. I do remember fighting a blizzard when I lived in Kaktovik—a small island in the middle of the Arctic Ocean with a population of around 225. I worked for the City of Kaktovik and it was my job to update the bulletin channel on the city-operated cable system. I had to bundle up, walk into 80 mph winds to the shack that housed the equipment so I could post a bulletin that it was cold and the National Weather Service advised everyone stay indoors. Yep. Had to alert the local Iñupiaq (Eskimo) population that it was cold and windy. I believe the ambient temperature was hovering around minus 57 degrees.
The hardest adjustment for me was the sun not setting. The 60 + days of the sun not rising above the horizon was no problem. It was too cold to go outside anyway. I’d just burrow under the goose down comforter, read and mainline chocolate. The summer though, yikers! Drove me insane. I had to put foil over my windows so I could block out the sunlight and get some sleep. I’d wake up at 3 a.m. with an overwhelming need to bake something. It was ridiculous.
Polar bears. Oh, the lovely nanuq. Kaktovik is known for polar bear watching. The remains from the fall whaling season are dragged to the point and left for the bears. You could drive down the runway (when planes weren’t approaching,) sit in your truck and watch the bears feasting on whale carcass. Simply amazing. They are
My current work in progress is set in Barrow as well. It’s about a woman who escaped an abusive marriage and is in hiding in the Arctic.
3) One of the scenes in the book I loved was when Summer used a tractor to gently move the paralyzed Dwight. How did you come up with that?
Naturally, I think every scene in Redneck Ex is pure genius J, but there are a couple that are particularly special to me: the tractor scene and cousin Trixie at Kitty’s wedding.
As a writer, I could’ve made things much easier by making Dwight’s cabin at ground level, but where’s the fun in that? I’m not a plotter. I write by the seat of my pants. I had Dwight and Summer Leigh arriving at Dwight’s cabin in the backwoods of back-of-beyond and as soon as the car pulled into the yard, I realized I’d made a mistake. The house could only be accessed via stairs. I had two choices. Remove the stairs or use redneck ingenuity to find a way for the wheelchair-bound Dwight to get inside.
I pondered, which resulted in naught. My dad was just outside my house cleaning turnip greens in the garden, so I moseyed out there to help. I explained my dilemma to him. I was going to use plywood to build a makeshift ramp. Summer Leigh could run up the ramp pushing Dwight’s chair. Pops then started doing some calculating. You know, being reasonable and all that? Using trigonometry, algebra and his alchemist powers, Pops deduced that I’d need 14 sheets of plywood (or something like that) in order to build a big enough ramp.
He could tell I wasn’t thrilled with being bothered with logistics and said he’d think on it and let me know. In all my *cough, cough,* years, my dad called me a grand total of 3 times. Seriously, 3 times. As a matter of fact, now that I’m thinking about it, this is the last phone call I ever received from my dad. Now, I’m crying. Thanks a lot Pam.
Anyway, Pops asked, “Does your boy have a tractor?”
“He has a tractor if I say he has a tractor,” was my smug, author response.
“Well, she could use the front-end loader to raise him to the deck.”
“Daddy, you’re brilliant!”
I wrote the scene that night and gave it to him to read the next morning. Pops wasn’t much for talking. No need for words when you can convey all you’re thinking with a twinkle in your eye and a slight grin. I knew I nailed it when he said, “That’ll do.”
Pops passed away one year (almost to the day) before I got the contract for Redneck Ex. There’s no doubt in my mind, he was grinning at me from the banks of the giant catfish pond in heaven.
4) The military hospital in the book where Summer’s “bull-riding, tobacco-chewing, coon-hunting, banjo-picking ex-husband” is taken after being injured in Fallujah is the same hospital where my first child was born forty years ago. Coincidence? Probably. But, still I’m curious as to whether you’ve actually been there? And, also, I just want to say, anybody who can imbue a military hospital with hot sex really deserves some type of special writing award. So I guess this is a two part question. Are you planning on doing any marketing to military hospitals or V.A. wards. Redneck Ex would certainly go a long way in bringing these guys back to life.
I have been to military hospitals and I’ve been to Germany, but I haven’t been to Ramstein where Dwight is sent. Summer Leigh’s realization that all the patients in the hospital were military personnel was based on my reaction to visiting a military hospital. It was a sobering moment for me. I was smacked upside the head with reality. I didn’t like it. The world in my head is such a nice place. It’s filled with hot, able-bodied men, calorie-free chocolate and free pay per view.
I’ve known several soldiers. My uncles fought in Korea. I worked with guys who served in Vietnam and I have close friends who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t get it. I honestly cannot comprehend the mindset of a person who joins the military. But let me tell you this. Regardless of what I think of our government’s reasons for our involvement in any of these “conflicts,” I am thankful from the bottom of my heart for those men and women who fight for my right to write what I want, watch what I want, and say what I want.
If Redneck Ex would buoy soldiers’ spirits, then heck yeah, V.A. hospitals can have my book.
As for “imbuing a military hospital with hot sex,” the hospital is filled with sexy men who can’t get away. Hello. Captive audience. Who better to woo? I’m irresistible to men who are under the influence of morphine, so I decided Summer Leigh should give it a go.
5) Redneck Ex is your debut novel. What’s next?
Santorini Sunset will be released in May, 2012. I love the main character, Caroline Clayton. Talk about a neurotic mess. Her fiancé, Albert, dumped her for her thinner, younger sister Gabriella who just happens to be a supermodel. Then, Gabriella asks Caroline to be maid-of-honor. There’s no way Caroline is going to let anyone know how heartbroken she is, so she agrees to be in the wedding. She’s not about to go on her own though and she recruits her sexy co-worker, Raul Sobrevilla.
I think the inevitable battle between Caroline and Gabriella is one of the most fun I’ve ever written. Let’s just say that everyone gets what they deserve.
6) The final question, which is a blatant steal from Ruth Burkett Weeks, is: If you could spend twenty minutes with anybody - historical, fictional, or living person –who would it be and why?
That Ruth Burkett Weeks is one clever gal. This is a tough question. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad or Zoroaster? Think about how much fun it’d be to learn from the very creators of our religious worlds. Shoot, can you imagine sitting down with them and playing a hand of poker? I’m pretty sure they would’ve all gotten along. No suicide bombs or burning crosses at that party.
Sure, I’d like to meet some of the greats in history. Attila the Hun—was he really the fantastic lover they claim or where the women forced to embellish his attributes? Cleopatra—come on, how could anyone really look that good in a snake headband? Catherine the Great—you know my question there!
But I think that if I had twenty minutes with anybody in history, I’d go back to 1888 and have tea with Alois Hitler. Accidently, of course, I’d spill battery acid on his privates rendering reproduction impossible. As a result, I’d completely rewrite the 20th century.