Today in the Wednesday Women: Djuna Shellam is here to introduce us to the leading lady of her series, Em. Welcome!
The Em Suite Series
By Djuna Shellam
My name is Djuna Shellam, and I am the author of The Em Suite Series. It is a fictional series with lesbians as its main characters. Thus far, the series includes:
Book One—The Incredible Transformations of Alice Hollywood;
Book Two—Mackenna on the Edge; and,
Book Three—Prairie Fire.
I’m currently working on Book Four—Dot in the Weeds. Looking into the future, I’ve loosely mapped out at least two more installments following the fourth book: Eve of Destruction, and another as yet unnamed, but who knows? When I began this adventure of writing a novel, (after the initial story went from short story, to screenplay), I figured I had one story to write. That one story quickly became two, and then I thought I’d max out at three. Now I’m up to six, so I’m thinking taking a “wait and see” approach is best.
Because my series is titled The Em Suite, I thought I’d take this wonderful opportunity to focus on the star of the show, Em: Née Mary-Mackenna Martín, and known professionally as Mackenna Martín. After the second book, I realized I had a series going and it needed a name. Choosing just the right series title was a long process, but as I systematically dug through the pile of possibilities, I realized the entire series ultimately revolved around one character, and that was Em.
Mary-Mackenna Martín was given the nickname “Em” (technically “M”) in the military partly because all of her initials were “M.” In the military, your last name is your name—it’s what mostly everyone calls you. Period. Unless… you’re given a nickname. In Em’s case, her peers and superiors never seemed to get her last name right, pronouncing it MarTIN instead of MarTEEN, so she became Em, or “M,” and she liked it. A nickname made her feel normal.
An only child, Em is the daughter of a wealthy Spaniard businessman and diplomat, and a Boston debutante of Irish wealth and aristocracy. Her parents were strict Catholics and old-fashioned. She grew up in a world in which she never felt comfortable, mostly because of issues she had with her parents. Until their passing, she didn’t feel loved by them, or that she was anything like them. She realized she was gay at the age of seven, and so did they, which, as she tells it, is when she first felt distance between them. In addition to her thinking they loved each other more, and blamed her for ruining her mother’s womb, she was certain they didn’t love her because she wasn’t like them—she was different in too many ways. .
The Em Suite Series weaves and winds around Em Martín’s loves, her family and friends; her trials and tribulations, her struggles and triumphs. She is a complex character, with an unusual history. Though she was born into wealth and nobility, she only longed to be “normal.” At every turn, Em rebelled against their lifestyle and religion—as a teenager she proclaimed herself an Atheist, and at eighteen, going against her parents’ plan for her to marry someone chosen for her for their money and status, she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, alienating them for most of the rest of their lives.
Not fully realizing how important it was to keep her newfound fondness for other girls to herself, at the age of seven, Em was humiliated and chastised—an event that shaded and severely limited her social life until she met Alice “Hollywood” Hollywell. Because Em led a sheltered life, and was deeply hurt as a child, when confronted with larger than life or unfamiliar issues, she didn’t know how to handle them, burying them deep down in her psyche; and, sometimes, she would even turn to alcohol. For most of her young life and into her Thirties, Em never cared to share her feelings with anyone, especially feelings that might leave her vulnerable, so she would stuff them down until they would bubble to the surface demanding attention.
Loyal to a fault, Em is passionate to the extreme, and highly intelligent. She could have gone to any university in the world, but she chose not to in lieu of pursuing writing, her passion. She began journaling as a teenager, then she was a newspaper reporter in the Air Force. Later, she became a script reader for a Hollywood studio, eventually writing and editing scripts. She was a published author, a playwright with plays produced on Broadway, and a script doctor. Before her parents died in a plane crash, Em was successful at her vocation, needing nothing from her parents or anyone else. Once they died, they left her everything, upending the life she had built for herself.
Em Martín has known wealth due to the circumstances of her birth, but she’s also known what it’s like not to have money, barely scraping by during her script reading days. For a few years after her parents’ demise, she continued to work, choosing to donate her proceeds to charity, but her life changed again, causing her to rethink her priorities. Now, I won’t go any further than that because I don’t want to give too much away about my work in progress.
There’s so much I want to tell you about Em because she is a deliciously subtle, yet complex character; but to do that, I’m afraid I would ruin much of the series for you. I will, however, tell you as much as I can without giving away too much of the myriad series plots. Because I jump back in forth in time in order to tell The Em Suite women’s stories, in particular, Em’s, we can see how Em evolves as a character through her life, from a young child and into her forties (so far, anyway).
In Book One, The Incredible Transformations of Alice Hollywood (TITAH), Em is the shy, seemingly sheltered character, who plays second fiddle to the worldly and fickle Alice Hollywell. The story takes place in 1976 on an Air Force base in Texas, and at first glance, is primarily about Alice. As the story of first love progresses, through Alice’s own conflicts, she unwittingly shapes Em’s future, but it is Em who ultimately motivates Alice. We see as the series progresses that TITAH is a major, life-altering, turning point for Em.
In Book Two, Mackenna on the Edge (MOTE), occurs seventeen years after the conclusion of TITAH. Now living in Los Angeles as a successful writer, Em’s parents have recently perished in a plane crash, leaving her their unfathomable wealth. What she wanted most—her parents to love her, she would now never achieve; and what she wanted least—their money, is what she got. A letter from her father has caused issues in her past—issues she was able to successfully stuff deep down in her psyche for nearly twenty years—to bubble up, threatening to consume her. As a result, Em is teetering on the edge of depression, and is afraid she will completely succumb to it if she doesn’t do something to stop the progression. She decides to write about her life from the beginning as she remembers it, hoping it will help her find a way out of the darkness. In the midst of her process, Eve, Alice’s older sister shows up on Em’s doorstep, revealing a long-buried secret that changes Em’s life.
Prairie Fire (PF), Book Three of the series, introduces Em’s physical therapist, the red-headed, female Casanova, Prairie Fire Vaughn. Taking place in Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and San Francisco, California; England, and Missoula, Montana, the story begins shortly after the conclusion of TITAH. Em has been in a terrible automobile accident, but blaming herself, she refuses to aid in her own rehabilitation, choosing instead to waste away. Desperate to save her, Colonel Dot Baverstock enlists “Wonder Woman” Prairie to help Em, who previous therapists have labeled a monster.
This particular installment time shifts between 1976-1978, and 1996, after MOTE, weaving the story of how Prairie and her roommates, as well as Eve, Fiona, Dot and her adult son, Waverly impact Em’s life.
My work in progress, Book Four–Dot in the Weeds, features Dot, Em, Eve, Prairie, Waverly and Liam. It takes place in 1997, mostly in Palm Springs, but also Los Angeles, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi.
Em, Eve and Prairie rush to Palm Springs to Dot’s side at her son Waverly’s request when she suffers a terrible fall. They’ve been asked to help her with a serious, and rather mysterious situation while Waverly goes to serve with the California National Air Guard. This story features Dot, (a fan favorite), taking us back in time to Ivey, the love of her life; how they met and loved, and Dot’s struggle with grief after losing Ivey. It also explores a recent, shocking, development in Em’s life that has completely changed her world, and how Dot helps her navigate the waters. I’m very excited about this book and can’t wait to finish it.
Well, that’s a bit about Em Martín and The Em Suite Series. Thank you so much for the opportunity to share a little bit of Em and my work with you. I particularly love her, but I also adore my other characters and their stories so much. When I first began the writing process, I was living in England and decided to write a short story about a personal experience I’d had that encompassed all of but a few months in time. That story, over the course of decades, ultimately morphed into Book One. As the years churned by, that short story ended up being but a framework for the series; which, by the way, no longer resembles the original short story except perhaps the general feel of it. The characters and circumstances changed, and as I wrote, characters I never imagined seemed to appear from nowhere and began to tell me their stories, weaving themselves into the lives of my other characters. I love most of them dearly (because, of course, there are some villains), flaw and all, and I hope you will, too.
Here are some links: