Deb Erika writes the Mother lode

Little Gale Gumbo, by Erika MarksYesterday, Deb Joanne started off our week of Mothers with a wonderful tribute to our own Deb Mom Marcia. So today, I’m veering into the world of fictional moms—specifically those I’ve written.

In LITTLE GALE GUMBO, Camille Bergeron is mother to two very different daughters. I won’t say I modeled the relationships on my experience as one of two daughters and a mother who is very close to both of us, but it certainly gave me insight to how a mother can relate differently to her children (daughters in this case). As a writer, this fascinates me. And in writing Camille’s story, I was writing that of her daughters, too. Eldest daughter Dahlia is fiery and willful, wanting to push the envelope at every turn. Youngest daughter Josie is just the opposite: reserved and emotionally fragile. Camille is the glue that holds them together (and often in check)—so it was important to let her qualities help define those of her daughters. Her calm and quiet determination, her emotional strength and firm sense of loyalty always managed to help the sisters see through whatever issues they may have had with one another. But there’s no question that Camille’s relationship with each daughter is different: with Dahlia, she is supportive but allows Dahlia sufficient trust and independence. For Josie, Camille is much more motherly. Josie is so very attached to her mother, and always tries to keep the piece with her volatile father as a way to protect Camille. Josie also seeks her mother’s approval and is eager to emulate her cooking as well as learn her mother’s voodoo practices. Dahlia, by contrast, can’t stand to cook, has no faith or patience in voodoo, and does everything she can to avoid being the prisoner of love that she sees Camille as being. One mother–two interpretations of her through the eyes of two daughters.

So when it came time to write my next novel, THE MERMAID COLLECTOR, which releases in October, I wrote a very different mother character. Ruby shares little with Camille, except for her love of vibrant color and lush landscapes. Where Camille was emotionally strong and always the head of her family, Ruby is herself a child and utterly enslaved by her emotions and her inability to control them. Her daughter, the novel’s heroine Tess, spends her youth acting as the parent to her mentally-unstable mother until Ruby drowns when Tess is sixteen. Their mother-daughter relationship was often harder to write than Camille and her daughters, because Ruby couldn’t provide the traditional model of mothering that Camille could. Still, Ruby is loving and warm and nurturing in the best way she can be—I simply had to find ways to reveal those qualities within the framework of a desperately fragile person.

I think we can all agree that mothers are infinitely fascinating characters to write and to read—they come with layers built-in, just waiting to be peeled away. I’m already at work on a new WIP, and yes, another mother, different in her own ways…

So tell me: what are some literary mothers who have fascinated you? (They needn’t be endearing or well-behaved either—let’s face it! The most fascinating ones usually aren’t!)

10 Replies to “Deb Erika writes the Mother lode”

  1. I have to tell you, Camille is one of my favorite literary mothers of all time. She exemplifies the point you’re making that no mother is the same mother to all of her children. I know I’m a different mother to each of mine, because their needs are different. I try to be the best mom I can be within the framework of those needs.

    Don’t always succeed, of course. But I tell myself that’s a good way to show them it’s okay to make mistakes. Wouldn’t want them to have an impossible ideal to live up to. 😉

    1. Oh, Linda–you are such a sweetheart to say that about Camille–thank you!

      I think you nailed it perfectly–as mothers, we do all that we can and see our children as individuals whose needs from us (beyond unconditional love, of course 🙂 ) may differ–and certainly differ as they age.

  2. You know, the moms in the last few of my manuscripts have been pretty much non-existant. And I can’t say it’s because I don’t have a mother-figure in my life (ha ha, right?) so I don’t know…As for my fav fictional mom, well I mentioned Marilla Cuthbert from Anne of Green Gables the other day, but your Camille definitely stood out to me as a wonderful mom who made a big mistake in choosing a man and then did what she had to do to get her children away from it. She didn’t always succeed, but she did the best she knew and cared for her girls the way a mom should.

    1. Oh, Marilla! She set the bar pretty high, didn’t she? And it was the idea that she had never intended to be a mother that made her such a rich and lovable character–that this instinctive warmth and nurturing came through Anne’s arrival.

      Joanne, YOU wrote a wonderful character with Lilah’s Dad–he is a wonderfully well-meaning parent, lovable and flawed in such believable ways–but at his core, he loves Lilah and wants what’s best for her–even if he’s not so sure of what he wants for himself.

  3. Good Moring All,

    Oh Erika, I loved Camille, she was a very strong Mom who did what she had to for the sake of her daughters (and she cooks what more could you ask for).

    As a Mother of 4 very very very different children (right J) you give of yourself in many many different way’s to each of them, (some turn out better than others)but you do hope they grow to be good people.

    There is an old saying that I learned from a very wise Bubby it goes like this: “In live you do your best to be the best parent you can” (I tried to translate this to English from Yiddish keeping it as close to what she said as possible)

    So, my favourite so far is your wonderful Camille. Erika keep them coming. Looking forward to the next MOM.

    Have a wonderful week.

    1. Thank you so much, Marcia–that means a great deal to me!

      That mantra you shared is a true one–and I do my best to rise to it. As Linda wrote, we do the best we can and admittedly some days are better than others! But so long as the goal is the same, I truly believe it makes a difference. (And let’s face it–a knock-out kugel recipe doesn’t hurt either! 😉 )

      Have a great day, Marcia!

  4. OH MY… You’ve given us some tasty tidbits of the depth of emotion in your next novel, Erika. And October… holy smokes! That will be here before we know it!

    As far as moms I’ve read in recent years, I have to hand it to “Ma” in ROOM, by Emma Donoghue. What a strong mom to endure the things she did while held prisoner. And I would also point to Pajarita, in The Invisible Mountain (a beautiful literary novel I am just now reading about, of all things, three generations of moms within the same family).

  5. I’m so impressed with your productivity! A book coming out in the fall and another WIP. So exciting! I started my book this weekend and I am so happy to have something to write every day.

    My favorite fictional mom—Mrs. Coates Mother of Travis in Old Yeller

    1. Hi Missy! You’re very kind to call it productive–it’s really manic! But your news is WONDERFUL–I’m so excited for you! Isn’t it a great feeling?

      Oh, Mrs. Coates…I’m about to burst into tears just thinking about her and Travis and Old Yeller…

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