Why Stuff Matters will be marketed as a sort of partner book to Old Buildings in North Texas. The covers will be of a similar design and they both take place in the same town. Also similar is the writing style—both are in first person, present tense, and sequential. Both have, as their protagonist, a single woman, though Why Stuff Matters has many more personalities on the page than did Old Buildings. It is a more complex novel, and I can say this with certainty: if you liked Old Buildings, you’re sure to like Why Stuff Matters.
The town, Caprock, that these novels are patterned after is my hometown, Amarillo, Texas, where the wind always blows, the landscape is flat, the grass is brown and crunchy, and its citizens don’t trust people from elsewhere.
Why Stuff Matters is set in an antique mall, which is based on a dusty rundown labyrinth that I’m fond of in Houston. The proprietor, Jessica, lost her husband and twin daughters in a traffic accident—an accident that was her husband’s fault. As she’s unable to rant at him, her anger has no place to go, a circumstance that has rendered her hostile, bitter, and austere in her environs.
She inherited the antique mall from her mother, along with all the rapacious and sly old folks who maintain booths in it. These elderlies tend to be suspicious, stingy, and shady, participating in nefarious schemes like drug dealing, buying and selling unlicensed firearms, and fencing electronics. There is constant friction between Jessica and her tenants, who complain about every rule and policy change. Jessica, on the other hand, doesn’t understand why they overvalue and overprice the items they claim to be trying to sell.
When twelve-year-old Lizzie, Jess’s husband’s daughter from his first marriage, is dropped into this antagonistic situation by her self-absorbed mother, Jess is furious and apprehensive. Lovely to look at, with eyes that remind Jess of her lost loved ones, Lizzie is a precocious thief and every bit as greedy and conniving as the vendors. She quickly learns how to manipulate the seniors into giving her gifts and taking her to lunch. The development of the relationship between Jess and her stepdaughter is charming and humorous.
In short, nobody gets along with anybody, while at the same time, they all care deeply about one another. Jess continually baits the old men and women in her sphere, believing that being grumpy and indignant about every petty thing is what gives their lives purpose. And they resent her because they would love to be young and strong again, but here she is, wasting the life she’s been given, sniping at everybody, and unable to let go of her sorrow.
The editing of Why Stuff Matters is almost complete. I should have the first proofs in a week or so. This is when it comes to my computer screen in book form rather than draft form. At this point it’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve read every sentence carefully a hundred times. My method is to write a section, then stop and ponder the priorities and scope of what comes next. While I mull, I read and reread what I just wrote, which basically means I edit as I go.
Yet somehow, typos and outright mistakes get by me. For instance, in the fourth round of editing, the copy editor found two different instances when I spelled “rein” with a g—“reign.” I read the two sentences containing “reign” many, many times, and I never caught it. How did such an obvious error get by me? Even when I try to be meticulous, there are mistakes. And now, having learned that I did something so stupid, I feel unable to trust my process. What if the editor hadn’t caught it? How many other words have I misspelled or misused? The thought of producing a novel that’s not the best it can be fills me with anxiety; for the truth is that ultimately I’m responsible for the placement of every comma and the spelling of every word.
Do you think I’m obsessed and fussy, and that readers would never notice an error as insignificant as this wrongly placed g? Some might not. But some would.
I’m grateful to Arcadia Publishing in London for providing not one, but two, brilliant editors to help me make Why Stuff Matters as close to perfect as it can be.
Several readers asked for a sequel to Old Buildings in North Texas, but while it’s true that Olivia is compelling, I feel her tale is told. I can, however, imagine a sequel to Why Stuff Matters. Jessica is a startling blend of blunt honesty, sensitivity, and deceit. All those quirky devious old folks are highly entertaining. And I fell in love with Lizzie, who has a delightful lack of scruples. Jess and Lizzie’s story still has much to explore, and I look forward to having them in my head again.