Pamela Binnings Ewen brings the ’70s and New Orleans to life in her latest novel, Dancing on Glass. Enjoy meeting her young lawyer and her river boat pilot!
Over to you, Pamela:~
Amalise Catoir is a young woman lawyer in New Orleans. She is about 5’2 or 5’3, with short dark hair, straight, silky—reaches her chin. She’s slim, well dressed. And she is pretty, with classic, delicate features, but not beautiful. Not glamorous.
Jude Perret is about 5’11. He is athletic, in good shape. Works as a river pilot so he’s in the sun a lot and his skin is weathered. Good looking. Tanned, striking blue eyes. Sturdy chin.
Amalise – I think Wynona Ryder would be a good choice.
Jude – How about Matt Damon! This is a good question for readers once you’ve finished the book. I’d love to know. What do you think about these two?
And for Phillip Sharp—I’d say either Jude Law or Kevin Bacon.
Strengths and weaknesses
Amalise was raised in a loving family—had a wonderful childhood in a small town 100 miles from New Orleans, in bayou country. She loves the outdoors, and with her best friend Jude who taught her how to use a pirogue, she’s explored the beautiful swampy areas around Marianas, their home town. Like many women she’s empathetic, caring, nurturing, and because of her self-confidence and inner strength, she believes that she can fix any problem if she puts enough effort into it. In fact, that’s one of her weaknesses, because she also thinks she can fix a broken man.
Amalise is also somewhat a dreamer, a romantic—loves movies, particularly Audrey Hepburn movies. She has a deep, personal relationship with Christ, who she has called her Abba since she was a child. Amalise has great inner strength. She’s left the small town behind now and loves living in the city. She’s smart, self-sufficient, with a streak of independence. She’s an optimistic person. Amalise is a hard worker, and ambitious. She loves children, and wants a career and a family someday.
Jude’s father was the town drunk. His mother died when he was a child. Amalise was about six and he was ten when they met, and he’s thought of her family as his own since then. Jude’s father and mother took him under their wing, so to speak. He taught Amalise how to paddle a pirogue through the swamps, how to fish, read the stars, tutored her in math, taught her how to dance, listened to her problems and gave advice, and has always been there for her. Protecting her—dispensing wisdom when sometimes her dreams run off the rails or she gets ahead of herself. He’s wise and a little caustic now and then.
Jude is now about 32 years old—has had many girlfriends, but no one serious and he’s still unmarried. In high school he was an athlete and women love him. He’s a ship pilot now, more particularly, a ‘bar’ pilot on the Mississippi River—piloting ships over the sandbars down at the mouth of the river, through the treacherous passes in and out of the Gulf of Mexico. This job requires him to live two weeks of every month ‘on watch’, living in the pilots’ station house on a small island in the river near the Gulf. The other two weeks are spent in his house in New Orleans. He’s been athletic all his life, and is healthy and in good shape, particularly because of the hard work he does for a living. As a pilot he’s earned good money, and he’s invested well and saved, so he’s doing well financially. His faith is ingrained and deep, and he’s constant, steady force in Amalise’s life. He’s Amalise’s oldest, dearest, friend, and he feels that way about her too.
Amalise compartmentalizes problems and deals with them one at a time. Which means she also puts off until tomorrow the problems she doesn’t have to deal with today? But she gives 100% to everything she does—each in its own time. She has a habit of tucking her hair back behind her ears when feeling self-conscious.
She sees beauty in simple things…dappled sunlight, dew drops on a dark green clump elephant ears, the crack of acorns under her shoes in the fall, the fragrance of sweet olive and jasmine, the white gleam of an egret’s soaring wings. Jude is her rock. But she also loves pretty clothes, make-up, a new hair-style, romantic movies, and sometimes she envies the more glamorous beauty of her friend, Rebecca.
Inspiration for Amalise and Jude
You might recall that in the Moon in the Mango Tree, my grandmother’s story in the 1920’s, women had just won the right to vote. Doors were beginning to open for women then. Opportunity beckoned. But there was not yet a network of support for those who took the dare. My grandmother wanted to sing grand opera. But she was married and her desire to sing, in society’s eyes at the time, was secondary to her husband’s career. And if she’d taken off for a career on stage, there’s have been no one around to help—no web of friends and family urging her on, to be there for her if she failed, or became ill. So options were somewhat limited.
But today, women have reached the stars. And in 1974, when Dancing on Glass was set, women were already half-way there. Amalise is in law school at a time when the majority of students were still male. (The majority, but not all!) And the idea of hiring a woman as a lawyer was still fairly new. I entered law school in 1977 and even by that time things had changed. But Amalise is a woman right on the cusp—just at the breakthrough edge between my grandmother’s time and today, 2011. She’s a woman rising on the wave of what I see as a paradigm shift, not only in the world’s perception of us, but also in our relationships with men. I call this the ‘double bind—the two sides Amalise’s nature: her new-found strength and independence, coupled with her softer side, the tenderer, nurturing part of her personality. Women like Amalise are perfect targets for manipulative relationships, and I wanted to explore that because I think this is a new way to look at these relationships. This is not the burning bed. A woman like Amalise could leave anytime. But instead, to use an old term—she still stands by her man. Think of a woman like Elizabeth Edwards as an example today; but examples are everywhere, particularly in the celebrity and business worlds.
So Amalise personifies that women caught in the double-bind, fighting to survive in what is essentially still a man’s world, and preserving secrets as she fights to solve the problems at home, nurturing, rescuing…fixing. Understanding is the key. And knowledge is power.
I have to confess that the inspiration for Jude came from my own husband, Jimmy. We’ve been good friends practically all our lives, and like Jude with Amalise, he’s always been there for me in good times and bad. I wanted the character of Jude to have an interesting job that would somehow convey the history and charm of south Louisiana, and river pilots filled the bill. Piloting on the Mississippi is a unique career that runs in families through many generations, right back through history to protecting New Orleans from pirates, marauders, the French and Spanish, and even German U-boats during WWII. The research was fascinating and I made some great new friends along the way.
Background for the story
I wanted to explore that change in Western women’s place in the world as we’ve evolved since the early suffragette movement, and particularly how that’s affected our relationships with men—the paradigm shift that’s taking place, as described above. 1974 is about 50 years after my grandmother’s and I thought that would be an interesting place to start, particularly since I started law school myself in 1977. I hope that young women today find that part of the story interesting, given the changes today. Part of the drive behind writing this book came from past events in my own life, and part from observation.
Nine-teen seventy four was a time for young women to reap the rewards that our grandmother’s sowed. Although everything was still new and there was a lot to learn on our own, by Amalise’s time we had networks of friends to help, and for the most part, understanding families. This was also about the time that the business world began to wise up, to figure out that women were assets, not risks, for their companies. For the most part I think they wanted to help us make things work.
But the city of New Orleans is also big part of the story in my mind. More than a good setting, I see the city almost as a character in the book that adds some balance of light and whimsy to the story. I love this city–lived in New Orleans at the time of Amalise and consider it home. I still live in the New Orleans metro area, across the lake now, twenty miles away. So for readers, I also wanted to peel back the years and show you what the city was then, when it was really much like a small town. Jackson Square in particular was different. What someone sees today is full of ghosts of the past. For example, the Jackson Brewery, now a glitzy condominium and shopping place on the river, had just been closed as a brewery in 1974 and the entire area down to the docks was dark. There was no ‘Moonwalk’ on the levee across from the square, and no river walk. And streets weren’t blocked off at that time, so artists were on sidewalks up against the fence…hence the name fence artists today. It was a simpler place—and I wanted to strip back time and bring you all back to that wonderful place.
Thanks Pamela ~ the spotlight is fabulous. Thanks for the extra info on the city and social background of the times.