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Everything I know about storytelling I learned from Barbie with Sheri Cobb South

It always bugs me when I see parenting articles online bemoaning Barbie’s negative effects on our daughters’ self-esteem. Usually these articles are followed by smug comments from mothers claiming that their daughters don’t even own a Barbie doll, and aren’t allowed to play at the homes of little girls who do, lest they accidentally see one naked and be overwhelmed by feelings of self-loathing.

My take on Barbie is a bit different. Growing up in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s as the middle of three “stair-step” sisters, I remember our basement closet being filled to overflowing with Barbie dolls, clothes, cars, and houses—so much, in fact, that when my parents sold the house many years later and packed their belongings to move, my mother still found tiny spike-heeled Barbie shoes hidden beneath the detritus of almost thirty years.

Not that we all played the same, by any means. While my older sister took her doll out of its case only long enough to change Barbie’s clothes before tucking her carefully away until next time, my younger sister and I made up stories and let Barbie and Ken act them out. Some of these plotlines were so complex that they took days to complete—and if we came up with one we really liked, we would repeat it later, sometimes refining it along the way. Many were the times my dad came home from work and had to pick his way across the floor through a minefield of Barbie paraphernalia.

And yet, not once during those years did it ever occur to me that I should look like Barbie, or should even want to. To me, Barbie wasn’t about appearance—hers or mine—but about actions. Barbie could do all the things that I could only dream of. How else could a ten-year-old girl in rural north Alabama get shipwrecked on a desert island populated by babies, and be rescued by a handsome stranger who (naturally) falls in love with her? (Incidentally, that particularly plotline—which I suspect was heavily influenced by repeated readings of Carol Ryrie Brink’s classic children’s book, Baby Island—proved to be such a favorite that I can still remember it forty-five years later.)

Even then, I knew I wanted to write a book someday, although my literary attempts at that point had not progressed beyond the “trite poetry” stage. No, it was through Barbie that I learned by experimentation about plot development, dialogue, and even revision. Spelling, punctuation, and grammar are important tools for the writer, and these can be learned in school. But for the intangibles of storytelling, there’s no classroom as effective as a basement full of Barbie dolls.

So please don’t dis Barbie. She taught me everything I know about novel writing.

Family Plot 

In disgrace with her aristocratic in-laws, recently widowed Lady Fieldhurst is exiled to Scotland with her three young nephews in tow. On impulse, she and the boys decide to stay at an isolated seaside inn under an assumed name, where they can enjoy a holiday far away from the scandal that still plagues the family.

But trouble soon finds them when the boys discover an unconscious woman on the beach—a woman who bears a startling resemblance to the local laird’s daughter, missing and presumed dead for the last fifteen years. Uncertain whether to welcome her as a returning prodigal or denounce her as a fraud, Angus Kirkbride sends to London for a Bow Street runner—which presents a dilemma for Lady Fieldhurst, since she has chosen to call herself Mrs. Pickett after the handsome young man who saved her from hanging for the murder of her husband.

Meanwhile John Pickett, hopelessly pining for Lady Fieldhurst, resolves to forget her by marrying another. When magistrate Patrick Colquhoun receives Kirkbride’s summons, he packs Pickett off to Scotland before his most junior runner can do anything rash.

Upon his arrival, Pickett is surprised (though not at all displeased) to discover that he has acquired a “wife” in the person of Lady Fieldhurst. But when Angus Kirkbride dies only hours after announcing his intention of changing his will in his daughter’s favor, “Mr. and Mrs. Pickett” must join forces to discover the truth about a family reunion suddenly turned deadly.

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AUTHOR BIO

At the age of sixteen, Sheri Cobb South discovered Georgette Heyer, and came to the startling realization that she had been born into the wrong century. Although she doubtless would have been a chambermaid had she actually lived in Regency England, that didn’t stop her from fantasizing about waltzing the night away in the arms of a handsome, wealthy, and titled gentleman.

Since Georgette Heyer was dead and could not write any more Regencies, Ms. South came to the conclusion she would simply have to do it herself. In addition to her popular series of Regency mysteries featuring idealistic young Bow Street Runner John Pickett (described by All About Romance as “a little young, but wholly delectable”), she is the award-winning author of several Regency romances, including the critically acclaimed The Weaver Takes a Wife.

A native and long-time resident of Alabama, Ms. South recently moved to Loveland, Colorado, where she has a stunning view of Long’s Peak from her office window.

Website URL: www.shericobbsouth.com

 

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