Behind the Scenes of
The Devil is a Woman
Chapter 1 – Yes, I started it out with frantic action, throwing the reader into the immediate concern for a patient who gets preferential treatment. And a doctor devoted strictly to him! Setting it in the ER gives us the clue that this is an emergency, not a scheduled appointment by any means. Someone is in dire straits. I thought seeing the action from the POV of the other patients would be very realistic – and much better than a simple narrative. Yes, I use threes here to describe the scene in the ER vividly and quickly. ‘Bleeding, crying, screaming’ patients and ‘overworked, overstressed, overtired’ doctors; stepping up the intensity with each word so that you can feel the ER, not just see it.
And the room with the locked door. Necessary, don’t you think, for a hospital that sometimes deals with the extraordinary? Definitely you’re supposed to wonder at the secrecy!
Dragon enjoyed my description of Jackson, who anyone addicted to the show would recognize from my words. And he’s odd enough in appearance to keep the ER silent as he scurries after his patient. Then of course, once he’s gone, things return to normal.
Since most UFO fanfic revolves around Straker, and most fanfic writers tend to put him in the hospital in their stories (hint hint), it could easily be assumed by the reader that this patient is him once more. And they’d be right! But even so, I take my time telling you that. You know that whoever it was had a date with Ginny to go to the opera. And she went to pick him up at his home. But if you know me and my preferences at all from reading my other stories, you’re not thinking that it’s Straker yet. Until we cut back to the doctor and the reference to him being his ‘most important patient.’
So we have lots of questions and no answers! But for me, I’m hoping the biggest question in the reader’s mind is ‘what is Straker doing going on a date with Col. Lake?’ Hopefully when you read through this story a second time, you can understand why Ginny is so upset here. She had no idea how often her fiancee looked at the ring, so she had no way to tell when the dosage of the poison would become too much. But she surely never expected it to be so soon! And so devastating! A catatonic state? You just know she’s thinking about how often he’s been touching that box! And is no doubt furious about it. You mentioned how emotional she was in this scene, which I think would be understandable for anyone being confronted with this type of accident, but perhaps it becomes even clearer on the second read-through when you know how she feels under it all.
And the doctor tells her when she asks if this could be an alien attack that Alec is in charge at the house gathering evidence. Ginny leaves, forgetting her sleeping pills. Yes, as you said, on hindsight this is significant. But it could happen to anyone who’s distraught, so it’s easily missed the first time around.
Chapter 2 – Does she go home and sleep? No. She goes to the house and talks to Alec. One more thing that seems innocent on first reading the story, but takes on a different meaning the second time through. Also, I have her react strongly to Alec’s suggestion that Straker might die. I know you thought she was too emotional, but this was deliberate, so that the reader (if they’re crafty enough to suspect her at this point) will think they have it wrong. But the truth is that she doesn’t want him dead. She needs him alive, as he states later.
I’ve always agreed with the experts that a criminal needs to revisit the scene of their crime. And when she does, she responds as any criminal would. It’s overwhelming. But it’s also the way anyone who’d found a loved one on the floor might feel, so again, it’s a point easily missed the first time around.
The suit on the bed? Not really misdirection, but for me as I pictured it, he was diverted from dressing by thoughts of his engagement, which led him to set the suit aside and take the ring out of its spot in his bedside table. I really see him as tortured here, wanting someone else, but trying to accept life the way it was. He had no real hope of ever seeing Tay again. But he couldn’t get over her or what he felt for her. Of course, this only becomes clear on the second reading. (At least, I hope it becomes clear!)
And poor Alec is oblivious, of course. Worried about his friend. And now worried about Ginny too. He’s so loyal, isn’t he? It’s one of his most endearing qualities. And we see her playing on that. Which I hope makes you grit your teeth the second time through!
When Ed wakes, we hope the mystery will be solved. But we only get more questions. What or who is Tay? Yes, I know I was misdirecting you. No one would look at that and see a woman’s name! But then, as we find out later, she has a very unusual name! And the nightmare – what did that mean? My daughter is very big on dreams, and I’ve learned a lot about the way the mind works on us through dreams by listening to her discuss what she’s been studying in reference to them. Anyone who has a clue about those things will wonder why Straker is dreaming of death and destruction. The truth is that the subconscious mind sees so much more than we ever allow it to reveal to us on a conscious level. And deep inside, Straker knows what his fiancee is capable of where he’s concerned. But he’s chosen this path, and he thinks he can handle her. He wants what’s best for her and is sure that once they’re married, her obsession will be appeased. But he’s not a woman, so he can’t comprehend the depth of her feelings of possession where he’s concerned. But his mind is warning him, because it knows that something is wrong.
I made the doctor much more compassionate in this story. More the way he is in Timelash as he worries about the commander. Again, the series gave us enough diversity in the setup of the secondary characters that we can pretty much go anywhere we need to with them. And it just worked better to have the doctor on his side in this one. And the rest of the chapter deals with their conversation, in which many important things are revealed. His exwife’s death in a car accident about a month ago. The funeral he didn’t attend, but wanted to. The onset of his symptoms. How much he credits his fiancee with his being able to handle things. And the doctor’s belief that this is probably not the flu.
Chapter 3 – Starting the chapter with Straker’s nightmare was supposed to throw you off! I’m glad it worked. And his denial that Tay meant anything. Of course, he wouldn’t discuss Tay with Ginny! The story has already mentioned his fine sense of delicacy. But the reader isn’t used to a Straker who would lie, so they’re misled here into thinking that even he doesn’t know what it means. But Ginny’s not fooled, as is hopefully obvious on the second read-through, although her responses sound normal on the first reading. We think she’s just curious, and we understand that, because we are too! *grin*
To me, the saddest moment in the story is when Ginny impulsively asks him why they waited so long to admit their feelings for each other. And Straker sidesteps the question. She loves him and needs him to love her too. But he doesn’t, and he won’t lie to her about it. However, she hears whatever she needs to hear in the words he does say. It’s tragic – and more true to life than is comfortable.
His conversation with Alec is much more honest. We see (as you said) how in tune they are with each other. Alec can even finish his sentences for him. But he knows him well enough to be worried about his future happiness by marrying someone he doesn’t love. And yes, I gave you definite clues here that Mary was not the love of his life. But on the first reading, it’s something that’s easily missed. And if you’re quick enough to spot it (as you were!), then it only leaves you with more questions. Aren’t mysteries fun?
My favorite moment in this conversation (and there are lots of them!) is when Alec closes his eyes, realizing that his friend is as human as the rest of them and can be influenced by his own body’s needs. Straker’s memories of that night he was drunk haunt him by giving him tantalizing glimpses of the intimacy that his life lacks, and eventually he is swayed by them into thinking (as Alec says) that it might work between Ginny and him.
And of course, Alec is aware of the commander’s tastes in reading material! Somehow I can’t imagine Straker (in his position as head of the most powerful secret organization on the planet) reading a spy novel! He’d find it tedious at best and ludicrous at worst. So I put that in to show that his friend really does know him well. He wouldn’t want a spy novel. He’d even prefer a poorly written script to that! *grin*
Chapter 4 – And now we return to a scene between Straker and his fiancee, aware finally that things are not as sweet and light as we thought between them. And she pushes him, trying to get him to tell her the truth about the name (although you only see that in retrospect.) The first time around, you merely wonder why she’s so worried about it. And no doubt wonder if you should be worried too!
Their conversation about what happened to him is perhaps the only time in the story that you see them in one accord. He explains why he doesn’t think it’s the aliens, and she admits that she was just so shocked to find him that way. Which would have been quite true. And he comforts her, painting a picture of their life together that I’m sure he actually believed could happen. They would take care of each other.
I hope her final words made you think.
That moment between them makes the reveal all the more shocking. He knows immediately once he sees the list who it had to be. And what had happened to him. Because he remembers quite well what he was doing just before he blacked out.
He can’t look at anyone else but Alec, knowing that even his acting abilities won’t be able to hide what he now knows from his assailant. I introduce Paul and have him act poorly, just to throw a wrench into the works and make you wonder for a moment if it could have been him. And to contrast his actions with Ginny’s obedience. She’s worried, but it could be simply because Ed’s acting odd. And the fact that he stares only at Alec should make the reader wonder momentarily if he somehow suspects his friend. Did you suspect? Even for a moment?
Then of course, I don’t tell you what he found until the next section! See? You’re not the only one who can do suspense! (Actually, I learned all I know about it from you!)
It’s just a small box! Worn over time by the touch of the commander’s fingers. This image is one that tightens my throat every time I read it (and I wrote it, so I know it’s coming, and it still does it!) Straker, holding the box and thinking of his lost first love. And then he opens it and we see the ring. Oh, boy. A very serious first love.
And someone doesn’t want him to look at the ring. Wants him – in fact – to put it away for good. Gee, who could that be? But we hardly have time to absorb all that before we find out that Alec was instrumental in keeping Straker from proposing! And the commander is still angry about it after all these years!
I really enjoyed writing Alec’s response! Ol’ Gunderguts’ daughter indeed! Isn’t it interesting to see people from a different point of view? So now we know how Mary came into the picture!
And we suddenly get a glimpse of how Straker sees himself: as an amputee. Trying to carry on with a part of himself missing. And he realizes that even Mary probably heard him call out for Tay.
And Alec tells us her full name for the first time: Taylor. But she’s not ancient history after all, is she?
Yes, the saddest lines in the story are those Ed tells his friend when he explains how insane love can be. He’s seen the worst of love, having lost his love through his sense of duty. And it’s clear that he’s never gotten over it, never healed, never even accepted it. It’s still acid in his mouth. His reference here to eating his own heart is from a poem by Wallace Stevens (I think) where someone eats their own heart and remarks on its bitter taste. It’s a poem that has stayed in my mind for decades, simply because the imagery is so bizarre, yet resonates on a deep level.
And he’s tired. Poor Ed. All his dreams of companionship are gone. All his hopes of making Ginny happy were wrong. He’s an utter failure when it comes to relationships. And hopefully you can feel his despair.
But is he safe from Ginny, as you thought?
Chapter 5 – Nope! She’s on the loose!
My daughter laughed at Alec’s exasperation with the major when he told him to get out of there. She said it rang so true!
And Alec apologizes to Straker for misunderstanding about Taylor. And we find that the commander doesn’t really hold him to blame for what happened. He knows that he is the one responsible for his own actions. His talk about his epitaph says how much he holds himself to blame for every wrong decision in his life. But in reality, he couldn’t have known those decisions were wrong when he made them. They only seem that way looking back.
And Alec comes to his defense! Isn’t he a true friend? *grin*
But Straker isn’t finished hating himself. From his heated words, you can almost see that he thinks things with Virginia might have worked out – if he hadn’t been so obsessed with a memory. This story deals with many themes, and one of those is obsession. He understands Ginny’s obsession, because he’s obsessed too. But he would never take it to the level that Ginny did. He doesn’t see that though, condemning himself for his undying love for Tay..
But this is where the title of the story comes in. He is a good man, as Alec says. It would never cross his mind to obsess as badly as Ginny has. Because he’s not a woman. And he doesn’t think like a woman does. I know we’ve talked before about evil and villains and how Hollywood portrays them as mostly men. But I have always believed (and always will) that there is no villain as cruel or evil as a female one. With our inherent understanding of the feelings of others, we can strike where no man would even consider striking. We can see into the innermost workings of a mind and find where to apply the pain most effectively. There is no evil worse than a woman out to get her own way. (As we see later on in this story.)
And yes, Straker is definitely on edge when he tells Alec to stop pacing the floor! *grin*
Did you think Ginny would come to the hospital to finish Ed off? Or were you one step ahead and realized like Straker did that she didn’t want him dead? Either way, we see the truth of it as the commander explains to Alec what she’ll do and why. And we find out when he does that Tay may be in danger! Now he is forced to find her, in spite of everything that stands between them. (I really enjoy forcing the commander to confront things he’d rather leave buried. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this pattern in my stories, but it’s there. He mistakenly believes– as most men do – that it’s best to leave things as they are rather than confront them head on. Men hate confrontations! But women know that a wound has to be reopened and the pus drained out before it can begin to truly heal. So I force him to do just that. See how I am?)
I’m glad you weren’t sure if Ginny had gotten to Tay first! I didn’t keep the suspense there for long, but I wanted the reader to have that heart-stopping moment. And I’m glad it worked for you. *grin*
They talk, and we see that the commander has himself under control. Until we get a glimpse of his true feelings when he tells her exactly how long it’s been since they spoke. If that’s not a dead giveaway, then nothing is! And she’s no fool. She sees it – but needs to apologize first for running off. Even his use of her nickname ( the special one he had for her) doesn’t stop her. She needs to explain. And in her explanation, we find out how much she is like him. They both understand the importance of duty. And they both have suffered by their adherence to it.
And here we find the difference between them. She knew he loved her and she loved him, so she couldn’t marry someone else until she had resolved that inside herself (which she never did). But he only knew that he loved her. Since he didn’t know if that love was returned, and in fact had evidence that suggested it wasn’t, he tried to go on with his life. And he did marry someone else on the rebound.
I love it that he asks her if she ever managed to get over him. If she has, we know he’s going to want to know how to do it for himself! As he tells her, he’s been trying for a long time to ‘get her out of his head.’ But I love how she responds! Tired of him? Are you kidding? Seriously, I can so imagine you or I in this situation, telling him exactly the same thing! How in the hell could we ever get tired of him? He’s The Man! *grin*
And they reconcile! My daughter was a bit scandalized at how quickly they fell into each other’s arms. But I had no problem envisioning this. Did you? I love it when he tells her that he didn’t expect this to happen. It’s such a Straker thing to say, don’t you think? He never does see himself as the rest of the world sees him. It’s one of the most enchanting things about him.
I didn’t want a Hollywood stalk and last-minute capture. As you know very well, I have a real abhorrence for stalkers and would never write about one. So she is captured without getting a chance to try to kill Tay. A much better scenario to my mind. Besides, I want to concentrate on the lovebirds!
Men absolutely love it when a woman cooks for them! And we as readers know that he rarely gets a home-cooked meal in his line of work, so it’s doubly sweet when she feeds him. He is so relaxed here and banters with her in the way he does when he’s comfortable with someone. But then he worries that he’s being too playful, and she sets him right.
She’s Italian, so of course he’s going to want to marry her once he eats her cooking! (Don’t you just love her confidence here?) And she warns him of greater feats in the kitchen to come – lasagna! *grin* But then she tells him how she wants to be proposed to when he’s serious about it. (I’m so glad you approved of her scenario! My daughter loved it too! It’s not one I would have chosen for me, but I tried to keep in mind that she’s Italian, so it would need to be a passionate setting!)
Chapter 6 – This chapter started out as an epilogue, but there was just too much to resolve. So it grew into a chapter. First the commander faces his fiancee in custody. This is a very sad part of the story, because we see how thoroughly deluded Ginny is about him. Actually, some of this way of thinking I got from different things fans have said about Straker over the years. It’s almost creepy the way they talk about him as if he’s alive and a good friend of theirs. What do you say to that? What can you say?
And we find out that she murdered Mary. Again using a woman’s favorite choice for death – poison. This part actually did creep me out as I wrote it, because it’s so plausible! And Mary would never suspect! Sometimes I scare myself. I’m glad that you were already suspicious that she was somehow involved with her death. Good detecting!
And poor Ed! So out of his league here! We can feel his pain as her obsession is revealed in all its horror. He feels responsible – and really there’s no way to change that for him. Matt especially liked the double meanings of everything he says to her. We know what he means, but she sees his remarks through the eyes of her own delusion and interprets them differently. Finally he leaves, sick at heart.
But there is someone there to care for him and take him home. Isn’t Tay perfect for him?
Then we see Tay with him in HQ. I didn’t go into long explanations of how that came about. We know that she worked with Interpol and has a high security clearance. It’s easy enough to see that Straker made her a part of SHADO. And he’s delighted with her response to his office. Especially the painting on the wall.
You know I love art. And I’ve addressed this abstract painting more than once in other stories. It’s such an odd thing to find on his wall that it needs an explanation! But here we see that he had to buy it, because it was how they met. And that immediately makes us picture him in his office all these years, remembering Tay and better times while working away at his piles of reports. Yeah, he’s a sentimental fool. But aren’t we all?
The proposal. Two things I hope are evident in this scene. First, that she hates her full name and never goes by it. In fact, that comes out when they first meet and she tells him the ‘long story’ of how she got her name. More of that in the sequel!
And second, that the box that caused Ginny such heartbreak and Straker such sadness means nothing to Taylor. She truly does just want him. I hope the irony of that doesn’t get lost on the reader.
Thanks for your in-depth review, Louise! This was my very first mystery story, and I think it worked. From your comments, I’m hopeful that this excursion outside my normal venue was a success. You’re the best!