Lynne Murray says:
I spent a long time crafting a sentence that would introduce the heroine of my mystery series to the world. When I started reading it out loud at signings, people gasped on more than one occasion. Sadly, all these years later, I know it still shocks some people. Larger Than Death begins:
My name is Josephine Fuller and I’ve never weighed less than 200 pounds in my adult life—not counting the chip on my shoulder.
I wanted to write about a woman who was capable and self-confident, who didn’t suffer fools or put up with put downs. I consciously tried to evoke Raymond Chandler’s “I was calling on four million dollars.” opening from The Big Sleep.
Unlike Phillip Marlowe (Chandler’s detective protagonist), I wanted my heroine to respect the people she worked for, even if that respect was hard-won (on either side):
Friends sometimes call me Donna Quixote because tilting windmills is what I do for a living. How did I get started? I answered an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle.
“Need person of substance for special assignments: part bloodhound, part bulldog, part lone wolf. Job requires quick study, travel and communication skills. Must genuinely care about the advancement of women.”
As a matter of fact, I was feeling quite concerned about the advancement of women in general and myself in particular at the moment I read the ad. I had just landed in San Francisco for a breather and a much-needed infusion of salaried work after divorcing my husband, a world-class photographer, adventurer and philanderer.
In other words, I needed a job. Nothing permanent. After all I hadn’t stayed in one place for more than a few months for years.
One way of keeping people down is to trivialize their stories, another is to censor them from the public view except as objects of ridicule. The tremendously insightful feminist literary historian Susan Koppelman pointed this out during a recorded conversation with other authors and Pearlsong Press publisher, Peggy Elam.
[Entire conversation archived here]
Another thing Susan said that struck me was arithmetical. She asked when Larger Than Death came out. When I told her 1997, she said “Fourteen years ago.” I may be math-challenged, but I could have figured that out. Hearing her say it made me realize that for most of those years the Josephine Fuller books have been out of print.
And now they’re back.
I’m happy to say that this week an ebook edition of Larger Than Death will be published by Pearlsong Press, with a trade paperback coming out a few days later. The other three Josephine Fuller books are being reissued over the next several months.
I wrote the Josephine Fuller books with a clear agenda–to show a fat woman as the heroine of a mystery novel, doing what fat people do in real life–solving problems, falling in love, behaving heroically. I wanted life-sized characters and I worked as hard as I could to tell a good story, to be entertaining, and to write a book good enough to stand next to other mysteries.
When Josephine calls on her future employer, a multi-billionaire (rich characters need billions these days, four million dollars doesn’t impress anyone anymore), Mrs. Madrone gives her attitude and she gives it right back:
“You do seem to be a person of substance,” she remarked, looking me up and down just a shade shy of insolence.
I looked back at her in silence until enough time had passed for her to take my point.
“Mrs. Madrone, I never let size stop me and I don’t allow anyone to intimidate me. It took awhile, but I learned not to obsess about being larger than average. In my family it comes with the genes. Good health, great teeth and high IQ. You want any one of the above, you get the whole package.”
For a moment she retreated back into her shell, then she hitched her wheelchair forward and smiled for the first time since I met her. The smile made her young again and clearly she had once been a dangerous beauty. She looked as if she still had all her teeth and those brown eyes remembered pleasure.
For the first time since I’d rung the doorbell and entered that quiet mansion, I began to feel a glimmer of the spark her ad had kindled when I read it.
“How did you get such confidence?” she asked.
I told her about Nina.
My choice to write books telling stories that revolve around women and men whom society works so hard to exclude has not resulted in stunning success in the publishing industry. Those times I remind myself that every page I write spits in the teeth of powerful assumptions–wrong, but powerful nonetheless. The voice of truth crying in the wilderness is seldom associated with financial security.
This is my mission, it chose me and I chose it. No one promised me fame and fortune for doing what I love. But what I do means everything to me, so I keep doing it.
And, hey, if you want to buy one of my books, or books from the very few authors who challenge this particular stereotype, you can think of it as helping to fund the body-positive fiction revolution one page at a time–and reading a fun book too.