Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Meet Mardi-Jean Payne—My entry in the Character Blog Roll

Author Carole Wolf invited me to participate in the character blog roll for my most recent work in progress, In Passing, a romance set in the present, but dependent upon the past. Mardi-Jean Payne is the main character in a novel populated by generations of women of the south and their memories.

1). What is the name of your character, and is he/she fictional or a historical person?

Her name is Mardi-Jean Payne, the Jean is pronounced as a French speaker would. Her mother, Agnes, named her Mardi-Jean because she believed her father was a French guy named Jean, with whom she had a Mardi Gras fling in 1968. Mardi is a fictional character.

2). When and where is the story set?

The story is set in 2014, on a fictional island, in the middle of the very real John H. Kerr Reservoir, north of Warrenton, NC, where the southern drawl was passed down by the founding families of colonial Virginia, who settled this portion of the piedmont. The accent hangs on to this day, like the social class designations and private clubs, and now flows from a workman’s tongue as easily as it drips from the lips of former debutantes and southern gentleman farmers . The reader will also accompany two half-sisters, born in 1920, as they navigate the old south, Europe during World War II, and the social changes in their lifetime, through the memories of the one who remains.

3). What should we know about him/her?

Mardi is forty-five, the daughter of a pot smoking, old hippie, artist mother and an unknown father. She is an old soul, preferring the things and people of the past to those of the present, prompting her mother to say, “You live in the wrong tense, Mardi-Jean.” She has a master’s degree in Art History and is an antiquities appraiser by trade. Life hasn’t been too kind to Mardi in the love department. She explains to her therapist, “I’m a serial girlfriend. I just keep repeating the same mistakes, perfecting the pattern. Darkly dashing and enchantingly mysterious women seem to be my victim of choice. The mystery always turns out to be why they bothered with me in the first place.” A longing she can’t name and ambivalence toward relationships has left her empty and alone. Her mother’s recent passing unsettled her already dysfunctional psyche. Plagued with self-doubt and constant reflection, Mardi is on the verge of giving up hope the feeling of longing will ever leave, and her quest for the peace of “enough” will be never ending.

4). What is the main conflict, and what messes up his/her life?

Upon arriving at Austin Island, the Antebellum estate occupied by a family tracing its roots to colonial times, Mardi discovers a cash of antiquities and art she had only dreamed of finding. For years, she gazed from her mother’s lakeside dock at the mysterious island, watching the Austins from afar, imagining the rumors were true—Austin Island contained treasures beyond belief. Contracted by the Kincaid Law Firm, <a wink to readers who recognize that surname>, Mardi's appraisal assignment is cloaked in mystery, as she is given no details before her arrival. The granddame of the family, Emma Jane Austin, nearing ninety and suffering from dementia, believes Mardi to be someone from her past. Since childhood, haunted by dreams of a woman with uncommon and captivating gray eyes, and coming face to face on Austin Island with them in the person of Bayard Alexander, Emma Jane’s great-niece, Mardi begins to think the old woman might be on to something. A family history of secrets and unknowns pose more of a mystery than the discovery of the vast Austin collection's worth, as Mardi tries to retain her professional integrity, while dealing with the charming Ms. Alexander, the woman of her dreams—and nightmares.  

5). What is the personal goal of the main character?

Mardi struggles daily with a longing she can’t name, until she meets Bayard and discovers the hole in her soul has been waiting for this woman to come along. Is she the answer to Mardi’s prayers, or a means for the hole to deepen and the longing to go unquenched? What about the artwork of questionable provenance? Can Mardi maintain a professional distance and her integrity, without bringing the house of Austin to the ground, and Bayard with it?

6). Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

The title is In Passing and I write about it in Facebook posts almost daily now. Follow this link to join in the fun.

7). When can we expect the book to be published?

I’m guessing about six weeks, but that is a guess. We are renovating our entire house and things just happen. When I know for sure, I’ll post on this blog, social media, and the R. E. Bradshaw Books website, (

"Seconds tick by. Minutes pass. Hours, days, months, and years mark the passage of time, arriving simultaneously on the anniversary of a memory’s making and the creation of a new one somewhere else in the world. A fragment in time means all to one and nothing to another. Defining moments are deferred by fate and lost because of it. Once spent, an instant cannot be held again, never repeated, becoming instead a memory inspiring lamentation or laughter. Our lives are merely a series of moments in passing."

Thank you, Carole Wolf, for inviting me to play. (Carole's blog entry with answers about her character can be found here: I'm usually at the tale end of these blog rolls and can never find anyone left to tag. I have a rain-filled tarp over my roofless house at the moment, and I'm a little preoccupied with keeping our things from being destroyed by today's four inch deluge, so if you feel like playing, tag yourself. 

I was brought up when...

 “Well, I was brought up in a time when…”

Those words can lead to heartwarming stories, or exaggerations that cause us to giggle when Grandma tells it, as in, “When I was a child I had to walk five miles through an alligator infested swamp, carrying my sister, brother, and three hound dogs to get to school, all before sunup, in a dress, barefoot in the snow.” Well, we solved Grandma’s problem with modern conveniences. I’m not discounting the hardships our ancestor faced. I have only been inconvenienced, living in my backyard during this renovation, for a month now. Even with a working restroom, running water, and electricity in the house, this “totally sucks,” to borrow a phrase from my teenaged former students.
That’s another thing. I was brought up in a time when saying, “That sucks,” to a teacher garnered you a one-way ticket out the front door of the school for a few days and more than likely a whippin’ at home. Now, I say “that sucks” more than I’d like to admit. Oh, and the threat, “I’ll knock you back to Sunday,” would land my mamma in jail now, but I’m still here and she never beat me. She told my dad and he administered the punishment with the “snake,” a long black belt that we would have to unhook from the closet door and present for the whippin’. We were also sent to “pick out a switch,” and we better be selective. Bringing back a switch that could do no damage meant the adult would go get one of his or her own. Bad move.
Yes, I was brought up in a time when you beat your kids into submission. I’m not bitter about it, but I am glad that I chose not to do that to my child. I spanked mine once and that did it for me. He was almost seven when it happened and I refused to ever do it again. I learned the way I was brought up had no bearing on how I disciplined my child. I progressed beyond corporal punishment.

“Well, I was brought up in a time when…” is often used to cover deeply ingrained beliefs that are un-retainable in a progressive, more advanced society. The next time I hear someone say, “I was brought up in a time when,” or “I was brought up to believe,” seconds before they use it as an excuse to be bigoted and ignorant, I think I’ll remind them of some of the status quo beliefs of my childhood, which turned out to be as wrong as the people who clung to archaic beliefs and the past without learning from it:
I was born in 1961, and was brought up in a time when…

·      The black men called my grandfather and his friends Mr., not out of respect, but out of fear of being thought disrespectful.
·      We were told whites were the superior race and they alone should decide what was best for all others.  
·      We watched mixed race couples jailed. We saw mixed race children ostracized and bullied.
·      We were told that God separated the races. Oh, and that he was an old white man with white hair that could strike us dead just for thinking the bible might be a bit behind the times—on the spot, dead, lightning bolt through the head and all, but you didn’t just die, you were going burn in hell for all eternity.
·      We were told if they said it in church it was true. (I always thought the flawed "the earth is flat" doctrine took care of that fallacy.)

·      We watched the same people, who now cheer loudly from the grandstands, deny black athletes had a place on the playing fields with their white children, or in their classrooms.
·      Politicians and religious leaders told us that applying basic human rights, civil rights, to blacks would be the death of our way of life and was downright unchristian.
·     We spit on soldiers coming back from war.
·      We saw students killed protesting that war.
·      We were told women were inferior to men, were to be seen and not heard, and should  be subservient and compliant.
·      We were told the only goal in life for a young girl was to be pretty enough to catch a man to take care of her. If a girl wasn’t pretty enough, she should at least know how to cook, clean, and make HIS home comfortable, and be thankful to have him, whether he loved her or treated her with decency and respect. At least, she’d have a man.
·      We were told good girls don’t get dirty. They also don’t correct a boy when he’s wrong, show him how smart she was, or beat him at any game. (I thought, what fragile egos boys must have.)
·      We were told girls weren’t good at math, didn’t make good scientist, and could certainly never be an astronaut, or President. (Still waiting on that last one.)
·      We were told that only bad girls got raped, and if a good girl did happen to do something to cause a man to rape her, she should just be quiet about it.
·      We were told a man could beat his children and his wife within an inch of their lives, because a man’s home was his castle.

·      We were told that AIDS was God’s punishment for homosexuality.
·      We saw firsthand the penalties paid by those out of the closet.


I was brought up in a time of social turmoil and change. We are better for it now. We did learn—well, some of us learned. We progressed and advanced beyond what we were told was right, but knew in our hearts was so horribly wrong. Future generations will look back on our present time and  grandchildren will listen to grandma talk about how she used to have an iPhone and had to carry a laptop everywhere, and the Internet was sooooo slow; how she used to have to actually drive the car, how we nearly killed the planet, how children starved while food stores overflowed, and how wars over money, land, religion, and oil killed so many. And she will have to tell them, “I was brought up in a time when equal rights were not equal, when human beings were denied basic rights because of who they loved.” Her grandchildren will be thankful that their ancestors progressed beyond the generations before them.
I went to undergrad with a French art student. She had romantic entanglements with men and women, with no regard for color. She said of her preferences, or lack there of, (please purse your lips and read with a French accent,) “The human body is beautiful in all its forms. I should love them all.”

I would like to have the opportunity to leave a note for future generations, which would state, “I lived in a time when humanity learned to embrace our diversity and love us all.”