Jean Rae Baxter is a Canadian writer and former educator living in the Hamilton area of Ontario. Her collection of short stories A Twist of Malice (published by Seraphim Editions) draws upon the people and places she’s experienced in Hamilton and Kingston areas and is wonderfully wicked. A Twist of Malice features children who kidnap cats, a caterer who murders her client, a high school romance gone sour, a teacher who packs it all in, and a housewife who goes to great lengths to protect her secrets.
What shines in her work is that her female characters have a distinctly feminine point of view, however twisted their actions may be.
In this very brief excerpt of ‘Loss’ a breast cancer survivor and bitter divorcee extracts a fitting vengeance against her ex-husband and his much younger girlfriend.
Now I must choose the right thing to wear. Perhaps my silk suit is not appropriate for a trip to the post office, but this is a special occasion. I’ll take my sleeping pills as soon as I get back.
Too bad I won’t be around when Clive opens the blue velvet box. I’d love to see his face when he finds Ashley’s golden hair coiled on the white satin lining, with her pink nipple resting like the jewel in her crown.
In all of Jean Rae Baxter’s stories characters are complex and well developed, with unique voices; and bad things do happen, and not everything is resolved for the reader. By some skew of fate, the character’s expectations (and the reader’s) are thwarted.
We are thrilled to have Jean Rae Baxter’s thoughts behind how she develops her stories.
A Note for Twisted Sister from Jean Rae Baxter
In my writing, I always begin with situation. It comes first, before characters or setting
Frequently, the situation is something I have read or heard about. In the case of ‘A Wanton Disregard’, one of the stories in A Twist of Malice, the situation came from a news item. About fifteen years ago, in Burlington, Ontario, a baby was abducted from the new-born nursery of a hospital.
That was a situation. It was not a story until it had a plot. But before I could develop a plot, I had to find the main character, the protagonist, the person I was going to place in this situation.
It might have been the mother of the abducted baby, or the father, or the detective handling the investigation. Each choice would have resulted in a different story. Or it might be the person who abducted the child, and that was the choice I made. This woman became my protagonist.
Why would she do this? The motivation I used came from another news item. It was a report on the sentencing of a distracted driver who, while speaking on his cellphone, had driven over and killed a young man. His family was appalled that the driver received a sentence of just thirteen months.
To intensify the tragedy and also the desire for vengeance, I had my distracted driver kill not just the young woman’s husband but also her toddler son. While distraught with grief, she learned that the wife of the distracted driver was pregnant. She bided her time, thinking that the appropriate revenge was to make him suffer as she suffered. That’s how the plot came to be. The thing to remember is that plot is character: Your character’s needs and desires will impel her (or him) to do things. Her choices will cause a problem or solve a problem. A problem is at the heart of every plot.
As for developing the character of the protagonist, my method is to crawl inside the head of the persona that I have created so that I feel her feelings and think her thoughts until the story is done. Only then do I let myself crawl out again.
Jean Rae Baxter is the author of nine novels for youth and adults as is a contributor to a number of anthologies. She can be found at http://jeanraebaxter.ca/