Falling In Love With Characters
I understand now why authors write sequels: Because it’s tough to walk away from your characters at the end of your novel. The lead women characters in Brilliant Charming Bastard—Rose, Joyce and Maxine—have been my companions for almost two years.
Rose Bingham spent her career as a professor of Biology at UC Berkeley. When I first “met” Rose, she was dating Brendan Burns, who claimed to be a physician and inventor. One night they argued and he stormed out, leaving his email account open on Rose’s computer. When she realized Brendan sent identical love emails to her and two other women, Rose contacted the women and invited them to meet.
Joyce Farrell is a chemist who ran a research lab at an Emeryville biotech company. Maxine Vargas is an engineer and attorney who was a partner in a San Francisco patent law firm. When the three women compared stories, they realized Brendan was stealing their ideas for his research on photosynthetic solar panels. They broke up with Brendan and founded a startup, Canopy Enterprises, to invent the very thing Brendan tried and failed to develop.
I began hanging out with these characters just before the pandemic, when I wrote the Bastard screenplay. I submitted that script to The Writer’s Lab, a screenwriting workshop for women over forty founded by Meryl Streep and supported by Oprah and by Nicole Kidman. My script was not chosen for the workshop, but I used it as the starting point for the novel, which I drafted during National Novel Writing Month last November. Ever since then, I’ve been editing and polishing the book, showing it to fellow writers for feedback, and engaging in the publishing process which will culminate in the launch October 29th.
I’ve loved the feedback from fellow authors.
The plot is a wickedly funny rollercoaster ride, full of twists and turns and yet another surprise. And it’s surprisingly easy to keep track of each woman’s story in this book of multiple points of view. Salted in among the three feminist professionals and the cad they each fell for are several admirable men, young and old, who love and support them at home and at work. The writing is stellar—straightforward and efficient, but it especially shines when Stella Fosse takes on the scientific elements powering the newly formed partnership’s solar panels. You’ll not only enjoy how smart the women’s invention is, you will enjoy learning about some remarkable prospects coming down the pike for alternative green energy. Really. —Judith Stanton, author of A Stallion to Die For
Stella Fosse has created a refreshing take on the tale of the “wronged woman.” And when the women showcased in Brilliant Charming Bastard are wronged, they respond as a single-minded tour de force. Fosse shows us that women standing strong together is not only possible, the outcome ensures no bastard stands a chance. Science stands tall in this tale where carbon-dioxide and oxygen serve as foreplay banter. If this was all Fosse offered it would be enough to lure the reader looking for an entertaining escape, but there is so much more to find in this treasure trove called a novel. The desire to heal a crying planet suffering the effects of climate change burns with a passion that eclipses any sexual liaison. It’s easy to devour this witty, smart, and sexy feast, whether you are hungry or not.
—Maria Nieto, Professor and Author of the award-winning novels, Pig Behind The Bear (2012) and The Water of Life Remains in the Dead (2015), and co-author of The Spectrum of Sex: The Science of Male, Female, and Intersex (2020).
Three accomplished women in their sixties discover they are enjoying the best sex of their lives with the same charming liar. Their accounts provide the erotic center of the novel—rare in fiction about women their age. This novel is an upbeat read with a happy ending.
—Ruth O. Saxton, author of The Book of Old Ladies: Celebrating Women of a Certain Age in Fiction
Dating and sex can be daunting, especially for real grownups. But Stella Fosse sees us and writes spicy, witty stories that push back on ageism and sexism. Fosse shows us that women standing united is great fun.
—Randi Devilkin, author of The Felix Fiasco
Praise like that makes it even harder to part with these characters.
Then as part of the publicity for the novel, I sat with Rose, Joyce and Maxine for a virtual “interview” at their company, Canopy Enterprises, and asked them where they wanted to go from here. The conversation grew rather pointed.
Stella: Were you surprised by your success at dating after age 60?
Rose: Women live long after menopause, unlike other primate females. We evolved that way so we could care for grandchildren during the long human childhood and pass along our complicated culture. These days women have many new experiences after midlife: dating, travel, starting new careers. We’re not our grandma’s grandmas.
Joyce: That’s true. I took up weightlifting at sixty.
Maxine: And I wrote my first novel after I retired from the law firm.
Stella: Plus the three of you started a company and you’re trying to save the world on a shoestring. What’s next once your invention is up and launched? Any big plans?
Rose: I plan to enjoy my granddaughter.
Maxine: I may have a grandchild soon too.
Joyce: Congratulations, Max! I hope you’ll both let me be honorary grandma.
Stella: But didn’t you just say you’re not your grandma’s grandmas? I’m sure there is more in store for all of you.
Maxine: What do you mean by that? Wait—you’re not planning a sequel, are you? Because we’ve been through enough: A lying narcissist for a lover, his irrational research partner who brought that crazy lawsuit, the stress of starting Canopy… Really? How about leaving us alone to enjoy life?
Joyce: Is that why she’s here? To pick our brains for a sequel? [Joyce stands up to leave the room]
Rose [tugging at Joyce’s arm]: Wait, Joyce, this is our company, not hers. Stella should leave, not you.
Maxine: I’m calling security.
Stella [standing]: I’ll see myself out. Thank you, ladies, it’s been a pleasure.
Maxine is right: I’ve enjoyed this ride so much that I can’t just leave these characters to enjoy their successes. Now that the novel version of Brilliant Charming Bastard is finished, I might rewrite the script and re-submit to The Writer’s Lab in the Spring. But first, I’ve announced plans to draft the sequel, The Palace of Wisdom, during National Novel Writing Month in November. These days I’m busy concocting a plot with lots of new risks and challenges. And I hope that when you’ve read the first novel, you’ll be just as interested as I am in learning what happens next.
But what does that mean for Rose, Joyce and Maxine? A lot of trouble, and a lot less time to spend with grandchildren. No wonder authors write sequels. And no wonder that ticks off their characters.