Behind The Book: CODENAME CUPCAKE
STAY-AT-HOME-MOM TURNED SUPERHERO SPY NOVEL.
Write what you know. That’s what they say. It’s actually one of the first pieces of advice any new author will receive. Several years ago, I was determined to write a novel, but what did I know? More importantly, what did I know that anyone else would want to read about? I had two kids, two dogs, a husband who wore a business suit to work every day and I lived in the suburbs. Not a lot of drama. Not a lot of mystery. On the surface, anyway. I wanted to write a story about a mom. A real mom, in the trenches. That’s something I knew intimately. I wanted to present a kickass answer to that most infuriating question: “Are you working OR are you home with your kids?” I’m home with the kids AND I’m working!
I wrote about sixty pages of my new novel which turned out to be less high art and more whining about the difficulties and frustrations of life at home with kids. BORING! The novel I was writing was not the one I wanted to write much less one I would ever subject anyone else to read. Instead of forging ahead with the wrong story, I stopped writing altogether. I put my pen down. It wasn’t writer’s block, it was writer’s fortress. Months later, I lamented my situation to my sister. I complained that parents are unsung heroes and the work we do is nothing short of heroic. So why couldn’t I turn that passion into decent prose? She looked me straight in the eye and said “What if you write about a mom who really is a superhero?”
Of course! My main character would be a supermom. I picked up my pen again. But what did I know about superheroes or muscle bound people in tights flying around the moon to save the world form utter annihilation? I was stuck again. I had no business whatsoever writing a superhero novel. I put the pen back down.
Then I thought of the great fiction that I loved and could not figure out how my favorite authors did it. What could Stephen King have known about a car that comes to life before he wrote Christine? What did JK Rowling really know about snitches and quaffles before Harry Potter ever took to the Quitich pitch? Of course they didn’t “know” these things. They imagined these things but they embedded their fabrications in worlds and around characters that they did know and understand.
I knew about being a mom and I understood the pressures and pretenses that I experienced in that role. Placing my heroine, in a crazy reality would give me a fun and unique way of exploring those pressures and pretenses. It was then my job to create a “super reality”, develop a plot and a cast of characters that were consistent with the reality I would create. Simple, right? I just had to merge life in the suburbs with life in the world of super spies and super villains. Once my panic attack subsided, I got to work. The result: my new novel, CODENAME CUPCAKE, which I like to call an old-fashioned, stay-at-home-mom turned superhero spy novel.
CODENAME CUPCAKE is the story of Molly Peterson, a frazzled suburban mom who takes her first day “off” from full-time parenting to visit New York City. When she witnesses a crime in progress, Molly’s mommy instincts kick in and she instinctively grabs the gun out of the criminal’s hand, just as she would take any dangerous object away from a child. And with that, her life changes forever.
Recorded by a bystander’s iPhone, the “hero mom” video goes viral and Molly becomes an instant, albeit reluctant, celebrity. But that’s just the beginning. Molly is soon recruited by a super-secret spy agency that notices her potential on that viral video. At first she is thrilled: super powers! An “enhanced” mini-van! Secret tunnels from New Jersey to Manhattan spy headquarters! Life is great!
But then Molly is given her assignment: she must infiltrate the PTA at her own son’s elementary school. A staunch PTA avoider, she is disappointed to learn that her assignment will require her to not only join the PTA but “become” the PTA. Midwood Elementary School is cooling at an alarming rate and Molly must spend as much time as possible in the building to determine the cause and help prevent a potential calamity. She is completely on board for the spying part. It’s the PTA part that she dreads.
With a back drop of ordinary school functions including a bake sale and a fall concert, CODENAME CUPCAKE offers a silly suburban take on the superhero genre. It is a send up of motherhood, the PTA, comic books and spy novels.
Before writing CODENAME CUPCAKE, I had never dreamed I’d ever write a spy novel. But once I created a superhero, I had to give that hero a crime to solve and a villain to defeat. That meant stretching the bounds of what I knew. And to my surprise, it all came together: Turning my suburban mom character into a supermom forced me to examine “normal” everyday life in the suburbs and present it in a unique and heightened manner. CODENAME CUPCAKE is a novel loaded with both the outrageous and the ordinary. There is tension and suspense juxtaposed with recipes and PTA meetings..
Years ago, I sat down to write a novel about a stay-at-home-mom and wound up writing a comic spy novel.. Maybe someday I will write another. But chances are, if I sit down with the hopes of writing a spy novel, I will end up writing a lyrical poem about spiders. Luckily, I know absolutely nothing about spiders.
Jillian Green DiGiacomo
Jillian has taught English to students in Japan and Japanese to students in the USA. A graduate of Vassar College with an Ed.M. from Harvard School of Education, she now lives in Montclair, NJ with her husband and two children. She is the author of OFF THE WALL, a book for children and CODENAME CUPCAKE a novel for adults.