Girls like her: Pam Stone’s novel explores family relationship
Published 9:00 pm Saturday, April 1, 2017
As a man over 50, I could give a copy of Pam Stone’s first novel, Girls Like Her, to my octogenarian mother-in-law and to my teenage daughter and have no qualms about dissecting the book’s interlaced family drama with them over a covered-dish lunch after church on Sunday.
My mother-in-law would relate to one of the story’s main characters, Lissie, who after a lifetime of hard work, self-sacrifice, and common decency has decided to sell the old homestead in the Carolina Foothills in order to revisit pastoral England, a place that has held special in her heart since she was a young and carefree woman.
My daughter might reluctantly relate to Lizzie’s granddaughter, Kirsten, a teenager with the usual growing pains of not being popular at school, having parents on the verge of divorce, and not getting invited to the senior prom.
And despite Stone’s best efforts to present life from the male point of view, I may or may not relate to the men in the novel: a dutiful but emotionally distant son/husband, a clinically depressed old man, a love-starved son-in-law, or a failed-to-launch best friend.
Oh, the drama of it all, but all’s well that ends well… well, for the most part.
Stone, a syndicated newspaper columnist, sitcom actress, standup comic, and now novelist, has self-published her first work of fiction and has accomplished what she set out to do — tell a story about an older woman that could be a “chick beach read.” That it might be, but it is more, tackling a slew of family problems and finding answers that leave a bit of sand in your sandwich.
For the most part, it is a slice-of-life story about the Merriman family that lives in and around Asheville, N.C. Actually, make that several slices of life. At the heart of the story is the emotional conflict Lissie unintentionally stirs up when she announces her plans to sell the house.
That announcement sends her middle-age daughter Leigh off the deep end in every way possible, making her unbearable to all… her daughter, her husband, her mother, her best friend. Unbeknownst to anyone until now, her childhood home literally means everything to Leigh and the very thought of not eventually inheriting it and living in it again sends her into a tailspin that sucks in everyone around her.
Meanwhile, her brother David, a photographer of moderate local success, is facing the end of his storybook marriage to a high-powered lawyer. He meets a new love interest, a feisty barmaid, when out of the blue, a horse bites and kicks him inflicting critical injury and pain. But out-of-the-blue pain and injury are part of life, and we all must deal with them as best we can — be it physical rehab or symbolically.
We must learn to endure the pain (of marriages ending), we must accept the pain (of having an estranged and mentally fragile father), we must accept help from others (feisty barmaids, failed-to-launch best friends, cool uncles) to get through the pain, and we must work hard at overcoming the pain (make peace with loved ones, accept what you cannot change, keep a positive attitude). And with a little serendipitous luck, you might just get that old house, find your true love, end a marriage on good terms, and feel the gentle sea breeze blow through your gray hair as you stand on the cliffs of English countryside.
Ah, but what about the years to come? Is there more story to tell? Anything is possible, and some things are probable.
The 359-page softcover book was first released in early February through Amazon, but was quickly pulled back because of too many typos that had escaped the copyeditors. But typos are like other bumps in the road of life: we get over them and look to find the deeper meaning. Just like Stone’s weekly column, Girls Like Her is an easy read that gives your mind a little something to chew on. It is relatable because we all have problems that are mostly solvable. It is insightful, humorous, touching, and solidly G rated.
Once again Stone has proven her worth when it comes to telling a good story. Girls Like Her is easy to enjoy by just about anyone. It has both well-rounded characters and depth of character that when combined are capable of overcoming life’s most challenging moments. In a real world that is often distasteful, this is a genteel soul, serving slices of life that are easy to digest.
Gobsmacked with success but still just horsing around
Like her writing, Pam Stone is simple and direct in setting her life’s priorities. Despite being an accomplished actor, comedian, talk radio host, and writer, she is first and foremost an equestrian. If her new novel — Girls Like Her — becomes a bestseller, she will undoubtedly use the money to feed her horse habit.
“I consider myself to be a horsewoman first, and a writer, a very distant second or third,” she said recently sitting at ease in a folding canvas chair in her three-stall barn. The big brown horse in the stall behind her was pawing at the shavings and trying to loop a rope over its head, something she found amazing, enchanting, charming, endearing.
“I would say that when I write for the public, especially with my column, I feel like I have very little to do with it. I just start typing and it comes quite quickly. I like my writing to be economical and succinct because that’s the sort of reading I enjoy. I don’t care to get bogged down in endless, descriptive narratives. The less adverbs, the better. Just get to the damn point!”
At 57 years old, Pam is at a good place in her life: Stone’s Throw Farm in Campobello. She spends as much time as possible on her 27.5-acre horse farm, doing what she loves most in the world: horsing around. More specifically, she favors competitive dressage with Dutch Warmblood horses. But her passion for horses comes at a price that she willingly pays with surprising ease and a bit of luck.
Her fame and fortune are the products of her natural comedic talent, which is probably very much related to her storytelling (writing and public speaking) ability. She is most well known for her role as the tall women’s basketball coach Judy Watkins on the television sitcom Coach, which ran from 1989 to 1997.
Originally, Pam got the role because, she admits with a bit of professional guilt, she was in the right place at the right time and fit the need for a tall (6 foot, 1.5 inches), funny woman. She “got really, really lucky.” Her one-time guest spot tuned into a seven-year gig.
Before she dropped out of college, she worked as a waitress in Atlanta at The Punchline, a comedy club. After several months of serving cocktails, girlfriends noticed her wit and encouraged her to take it on stage. She finally did, and her career in entertainment was born. People and the industry’s movers and shakers noticed, and she booked more and bigger stages. She started touring, and she finally moved from her native Georgia to Hollywood, Calif., where the real action was.
But her work before, during, and even after television has always been her means to support her equestrian passion. That “other stuff pays the bills,” she said jokingly and in regards to her new book, added, “I hope that is the new horse fund.” She admits she is rather lazy when it comes to working and early on in her life made decisions on how to make enough money with a career that would afford her the time to ride. Being a stand-up comic was a nearly perfect job description for her. She could make people laugh at night and ride horses during the day. And making people laugh is easy for her.
After 15 years in California, trying to balance her entertainment career with her equestrian activities, Pam moved to South Carolina in 1999 to be part of the well established horse lifestyle in the Carolina Foothills. Yet, still the limelight followed her. For five years she hosted a talk radio show — The Pam Stone Show— in Charlotte. She got her start in writing an award-winning newspaper column at the encouragement of former publisher/editor of The Tryon Daily Bulletin, Jeff Byrd. Since then, her column has been picked up by seven other newspapers and she is read by a half million people weekly. As evidence to her natural talent, a “difficult column” for her write will take as long as 20 minutes. She still does live comedy, but only for corporate events, (“piece of cake, fly in, fly out”) leaving the hectic days of clubs behind her.
The idea to write a novel about an older woman with family issues is something that had been haunting Pam for 10 years. From a marketing perspective, she saw the need to write for and about older women who still want to hold a real book in their hands. It took her only about six weeks to write the book and that’s counting having to rewrite the first seven chapters because of a computer failure.
“Funnily enough,” she said, “the hardest part was actually stopping. The story poured out, projectile, nonstop, and I was writing like a woman possessed. Every indoor moment was spent writing, some nights until 2 a.m. I was missing meals, writing through lunch, dinner, and when I finally went to bed, then a new idea would compel me to get back up and write it down. I told Paul (my other half), ‘Now I get why you hear about writers going on drunken binges or blowing their brains out.’ It was an all-consuming experience that wasn’t terribly pleasant. In fact, it was pretty draining. I was hugely relieved when it was finished.
“The funniest thing was that when I sat down to write this thing, my intention was just to knock out a fast-paced, summertime, chick beach-read. Light, fluffy, funny, with a page-turning romance in the middle of it. Within days it became very apparent that it was becoming far more substantial than that as the characters became fleshed out. Each character became faced with pretty challenging emotional obstacles that they had to address which would affect not only themselves, but their relationships with others, and, in the process, learn that what they had always perceived as their personal truths, perhaps weren’t true at all, which can be either devastating or tremendously freeing.
“And when I began receiving email from readers, I was gobsmacked as they seemed to be saying a very similar thing: that the book had affected them in such a way that they were beginning to reconsider relationships in their own lives, that perhaps the way they had thought about a parent, or sibling, or boyfriend, or ex spouse needed to be re-examined, and I just loved that. It’s exactly what I was hoping for.”
Her readers are hoping for more, and she is just might give it to them. •