Friday, July 10, 2009



Ain’t misbehavin’? Not in South Carolina.

If you haven’t heard about South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and his secret, six day trip to Argentina to meet with his mysterious lover….well, it’s probably because the news coverage switched abruptly to cover Michael Jackson. Which likely made Gov. Sanford quite relieved. But here in North Carolina, we’ve been reading the coverage on his tryst with amazement (yes, that’s me above, amazed. My children have had way too much fun taking pictures of me lately.)

Political sex scandals are frequent, but this case was especially remarkable: 1. He told his staff he’d be hiking the Appalachian Trail (which, last I saw, was nowhere near South America.) 2. He turned off his cell phone and no one could reach him; not a good thing in hurricane season. 3. He left the country and no one in SC knew anything about it. 4. He called his lover his “soul mate” during a news conference (!!!). 5. He said he was going to ‘try to fall back in love with his wife’ (!!$%^!). Soooo many no-nos if you’re wanting to make up with your wife, Governor.

My advice to the governor would be to high-tail it to the nearest florist and hit Godiva on the way back to the house. And maybe stop calling your lover your soul mate. In public and on TV.

This scandal and all the salacious emails he exchanged with his Argentinean friend would be a lot more entertaining if it were fictitious. Because in real life, you just can’t get a vicarious thrill from this type thing---he has a real wife and real children who are getting hurt.

Fiction is wonderful. We get to experience falls from grace, forbidden love, and illicit affairs. All the dirty laundry and none of the guilt.

Thoughts on scandals in books:

Mysteries are the perfect genre for writing scandals. After all, the desperate attempt to cover up a secret is one of the biggest motives for murder.

If the exposure of a secret or scandal can ruin your protagonist’s life, it better be good. As a society, we’re a whole lot more laid-back about things than we used to be. So if your character’s whole life is destroyed, it better not be because his mama found out he was living with his girlfriend. Nope. Not gonna fly.

If the scandal is something that’s fairly everyday (an extramarital affair), then you probably need to write your protagonist as a public figure of some kind. National-level politicians work well for this, but ministers, principals, school teachers, small town leaders, etc. have just as much to lose as the big guys.

If you want the public reaction to the scandal to be especially harsh, write a period piece. If it’s set in a place and time where folks were especially intolerant, you can even write in major uprisings or mob scenes. Salem witch trials, anyone?

Some of my favorite books that include scandals, secrets, and falls from grace: The Scarlet Letter, Pride and Prejudice (the younger sister…you remember), House of Mirth, and Atonement.