The Waxwood series began in 2002 as a long, rambling novel in three different narrative voices. I wrote it at a particularly difficult time in my life. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was mining my own psychological reality, and even though the series isn’t the least bit autobiographical, it’s been one of the most emotionally challenging pieces I’ve written so far.
In the series, the three narrative voices of the original novel become three different stories that share the same location and similar psychological demons and torments. Certain characters come back in all three books, specifically members of the Alderdice family. The underlying theme of the series is the way hidden aspects of the past surface in the present and affect the future, especially the emotional and traumatic experiences. Growth comes with pain but also with hope for the characters in the series.
The story takes place in the fictional town of Waxwood, California. Waxwood is a small but exclusive seaside town a few hours outside San Francisco. It has two sides – the exclusive side and the seedier side, the side most Waxwood inhabitants prefer to forget. The majority of the series takes place on the exclusive side. Much of the action is set at The Waxwoodian, the most exclusive hotel in Waxwood, absurdly massive and ornate in its Victorian-style. It’s where the Alderdices stay every summer and where, in The Claustrophobic Heart, Book 2 of the series, Gina and her aunt Helen spend their summer.
The Main Players
Larissa Alderdice, the matriarch of the Alderdice family. She has a subtle controlling way about her, especially towards her children. She keeps a tight rein on them, making them financially dependent on her and crippling them psychologically so they are like children emotionally and can’t leave her. At the same time, she is cold and sometimes volatile towards them, a constant bomb ready to explode. She is demanding and manipulative, mainly because her children haven’t fulfilled the prescribed lives she mapped out for them and she is bitter in her disappointment. However, there are glimmers of tenderness and compassion towards them, a sign that not all the feeling has been beaten out of her.
Vivian Alderdice, Larissa’s daughter. She has always had a rebellious streak, though her mother has managed to temper it to a satisfactory degree. She is careful in choosing her battles based on how much Larissa will tolerate. She pushes the boundaries but never goes beyond them. Unlike Jake, she doesn’t retreat when faced with the possibility of her mother’s rage and viciousness but pursues her, pushing a few of her buttons before she retreats. She does this to hurt her mother, obviously, but also to make Larissa see her as a person rather than a marionette to be manipulated and directed. Ironically, because Vivian isn’t afraid to enter emotionally locked doors, Larissa respects her more than she does Jake. Emotionally, she is a child reaching towards independence and peace of mind.
Jake Alderdice, Larissa’s son and the heir to the Alderdice fortune. He is sensitive and quiet, keeping to himself most of the time, though he can get vicious when he is rattled beyond endurance. Larissa’s contempt for his “monstrous” father, who left her for a younger woman, is a big reason why she loathes him so much. He tries as much as possible (more than his sister) to comply with Larissa’s demands, understanding Larissa’s obsessive fear that he inherited his father’s prowess. He withstands her bullying and disapproval of his preference for artistic pursuits instead of running the family business and taking his place as the future heir and patriarch of the Alderdice family in San Francisco high society. Because of the conditioned passivity in him, he is apprehensive about moving on.
Gena Flax, the protagonist of Book 2. She has intelligence and insight but her claustrophobic relationship with her aunt has put a psychological glass cage around her, numbing her against other people’s friendship and affection. She is patient but distant, especially with her Aunt Helen’s attempts to absorb her in a symbiotic relationship. She is in desperate need of her own identity.
Harland Stevens, a guest of the hotel who befriends Jake in Book 1, The Order of Actaeon and becomes the protagonist of Book 3. He is about twenty years older than Jake and has a quiet nature but there is an underlying danger about him. He pictures himself as a leader, using his charm to mediate between others. He is a very dignified man but he also has an empathetic side to him. These two aspects of his nature fight it out to extremes without a clear picture of which one will win until it’s almost too late.
To see available and upcoming books in this series, click here.
To receive updates on the series, please sign up for my newsletter here.
For a chance to read advanced review copies of the series and all my other works, join my reading group, Tam’s Dreamers, here.