The Inspiration for Lily White

Sometimes a character just pops into my head, somewhat clear if not fully formed. That was definitely the case with Judith Singer in Compromising Positions and Steve Brady in Magic Hour. But after I finished my sixth novel (After All These Years), nobody came through that door between my subconscious and my working, writerly brain. Well, so what: I needed a rest. I went about my life thinking my usual random thoughts. And one of those was about the Bible story of Rachel and Leah, two sisters who marry the same man.

I kept asking myself: What did Leah feel about her husband being in love with her younger sister? How come a father was so willing to sell out a daughter? And after Jacob and Rachel were married, what did Leah do with the rest of her life?

I wasn’t interested in writing about these characters and the patriarchal culture in which they lived (as Anita Diamant later did in the fascinating The Red Tent). The relationships and the notion of writing about a modern love triangle appeal to me.

What I set out to do and what actually becomes a novel are often different. By the time I was halfway through the outline, the triangle had become something of a quadrilateral. New themes arose as I began to ponder whether there were any limits to what people were willing to do for love.

That’s when a second narrative seemed necessary. Lily (Lee) White, the Leah in this novel, is a criminal defense lawyer. Her con man client, Norman Torkelson, is accused of murdering the most recent victim of his scam – he loves them and leaves them – taking their money with him. Not only do Norman’s victims fall for him; his accomplice loves him too. Mary, beautiful, stupid, completely amoral (and to me, somewhat touching) will do anything for her man.

I used two different voices in this book: Lee White’s first-person account and then, because Lee would not be open enough to tell the whole story, I decided to have a third-person narrator cut her off every now and then to tell the reader what Lily White could or would not say. The structure amazed and frightened me by turning out to be complex beyond my wildest imaginings. It took a year for me to complete the outline to my satisfaction, but just another year (quick for me) to finish.