BEAUTIFUL BAD - Behind the Book
I was still in my twenties when I first set foot in the Balkans, a cluster of small Eastern European countries where BEAUTIFUL BAD’S three main characters - Maddie, Ian and Joanna - originally meet.
Full disclosure… I went to the Balkans for the man I loved at the time. He took a job in Sofia, Bulgaria and we moved there from Los Angeles together. The Balkans, and particularly the country Bulgaria, instantly held a dark fascination for me. Having been raised by sensible parents in a very safe small town in Kansas, I was enthralled by the lawlessness of the Balkans. People were raw, candid, mostly poor and unapologetically scrappy. Brutal regional wars were still a fresh memory as was Communism, and that feeling of “living on the edge” made me feel alive, young and ready to learn about and experience the world.
As an aspiring writer, there was one thing about Eastern Europe at that time that was particularly alluring. It was cheap. The apartment we rented was one hundred dollars a month and I knew plenty of Americans living in Sofia who paid even less. Yes, our washing machine drained into our kitchen sink and our bathroom was a small tiled room in which you sat on the toilet while you showered, but it didn’t bother us in the least. Once you walked out into the city, you could have anything you wanted and we wanted it all.
Most of us hung out with locals and ate and drank in Bulgarian “kurtchmas” or taverns. We feasted nightly on salads made from tomatoes so luscious I felt as if I’d never tasted one before. The food was amazing; peppers stuffed with aromatic spices and lamb, fried zucchini in yogurt sauce, spinach and feta pastries wrapped in buttery layers of phyllo dough--just to name a few of my favorites. The wine was excellent and inexpensive. We could dine as a huge group in a garden under the stars and pay next to nothing. I have to admit in retrospect I am ashamed of our excess, but at the time we thought we had discovered a secret paradise.
As the country careened ever closer to a revolution that would ultimately (and temporarily) overthrow the corrupt Soviet aligned and mafia-connected government, the man I moved to Bulgaria with decided it was best to go home.
Suffice it to say, I stayed. On my own. I was able to find lots of time to write in Sofia on a balcony overlooking the red roof-tops of the city villas. I traveled across much of the Balkans; Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Kosovo and Croatia and was absolutely stunned by the physical beauty of the area and the unusual collision of culture that resulted where Europe bled into the Middle East.
I wasn’t the only one fascinated by that often maligned little corner of Europe. The Balkans was teeming with intriguing people; writers, artists, arms dealers, aid workers, soldiers, teachers, filmmakers, you name it. I stayed in Bulgaria nearly four years and did something that would have been far more difficult to do anywhere else. I actually made a living as a writer, and enjoyed a nice quality of life. I took assignments from Fodor’s travel guides and wrote screenplays for an American/Israeli film production company. I reported for an English language newspaper and taught at the University of Sofia. I made a best friend there and
met and fell in love with my husband.
Eventually that chapter in my life wound down to a close and I moved home to the States. A few years later I found myself back in Kansas starting a family. It was time to accept the fact that though I missed that place and time terribly, there was no going back.
But I could write about it.
BEAUTIFUL BAD was born out of that unique experience of meeting others who were also living recklessly, joyfully and somewhat dangerously in “the wild east.” In the book, Maddie’s best friend is Joanna Jasinski. I based Jo’s character on an American woman I met by chance on New Year's Eve in a remote Bulgarian mountain village, dancing at midnight in the snow. We shared an obsession with language, travel and writing and it was like finding a sibling who’d been separated at birth. We became close friends and she introduced me to a British soldier in Macedonia who would become the basis for BEAUTIFUL BAD’S charismatic bad-boy, Ian. (He would also become my husband and the father of my two little boys.)
A life-time fan of psychological thriller films and books, I knew I wanted to challenge assumptions about the domestic genre, about who is trustworthy and what makes a monster. I also knew I wanted to write an international thriller about those fascinating and unique characters I’d encountered in the Balkans all those years ago. I wanted to explore their deep and immediate connection and loyalty as they orbited one another throughout their lives dealing with tragedy, jealousy, failure, fear and trauma. The love triangle that develops between Maddie, Ian, and Jo in the book is a major departure into complete fiction, but there was a period of time in real life when we were nearly inseparable. I think it's fair to say that the three of us truly loved one another and I couldn’t help but imagine the many different ways our intense friendship could have easily played out over the years.
The relationship between Maddie, Joanna and Ian evolves in a barbaric way, partially because of the twisted and dangerous lives they’ve led, but also because their feelings for one another are so ferocious. When one is wronged, there is literally hell to pay. BEAUTIFUL BAD is a story about human beings who have seen the worst the world has to offer and would do anything for the people they love. Even if it’s terribly bad.