Several years ago our family moved to Madison, Wisconsin. We were from the Chicago area originally and had moved to Texas for awhile, so returning to the upper midwest was a welcome return. Madison is one of those small cities that escape trend seekers. It’s a town of real people who are tolerant of diversity, at least when we lived there. Home to the University of Wisconsin and the state capitol, it has an vibrant energy–like Austin, Texas and Columbus, Ohio–born of intellectual and political discourse and a penchant for innovation. It has beautiful lakes and woods and countryside within minutes of any location in the area. It’s an idyll.
We have one friend who still lives there–a native New Yorker. His wife says he’ll never leave because he thinks he’s found heaven on earth. And in many ways, he’s right.
I was writing speculative screenplays at the time and I wanted to do a story set in Madison. Prior to the legalized gambling legislation in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the native American subculture was pretty low key. There would be occasional fishing and land use rights issues that would crop up but nothing so controversial as casinos. I thought there was something there that could be the basis for some intrigue–a casino property where people didn’t want one, driven by a out-of-state, sleazy developer.
But the real genesis of the story was I wanted to write about a man who was in the middle of something that he just didn’t understand–his confusion driven by his relationships with women–all the women in his life. Because I feel like that is the case for so many men. As I said in the preface of Feet First, I love women. I find them so much more multifaceted, strong, intuitive, aware and capable than men and I thought it would be funny to portray a highly successful, totally-in-control-of-his-world man suddenly in a tumbler being tossed about by all the women he knows.
So then I wondered, what would this successful man do for a living? What occupation would be different and slightly askew? What would have a sensual, alluring nature? And that’s when the foot connection occurred.
I had seen a podiatrist in Texas when I lived there and he fitted me for orthotics, which pretty much eliminated the lower back pain I’d been suffering for a dozen years. He was an excellent doctor and very generous with answers to my questions about his specialty and his interest in it. (In fact, I named a minor character in Feet First after him.) I drew on my experience with him and did much more research on the profession and foot disorders and treatments.
I also ventured into the sensual arena, reading books like The Sex Life of the Foot and Shoe by William A. Rossi. I was particularly taken with a photograph of actress Jayne Mansfield taken in the 1960s with some of her collection of 200 pairs of shoes displayed on the carpet of her living room before her. Of course, this led me into reflexology, which I studied a bit and even interrogated my massage therapist about since she practices it.
I quickly wrote a treatment for the screenplay (under a different title, by the way) after fleshing out the scenes on note cards, which I wrote after recording audio thoughts as I walked my baby daughter in her stroller through the oak savannah and rolling farms near our home outside Madison. I had to imagine what a high school age daughter would be like since my own daughter was years away even from kindergarten then. And I took the inspiration for her athletic characteristics from newspaper accounts of a couple top high school sportswomen in the Madison area, one of whom excelled at cross-country track, golf and curling, uniquely cold weather sport.
Then for some reason I can’t remember, I started writing it as a novel. I managed 22 chapters before I set it aside and eventually forgot about it. Until a few months ago. We were moving again and I was going through “the purge” when I came across those 22 chapters, read them and said to myself, I’m going to finish this. So, I got up early every morning and wrote for 60 to 90 minutes before the days began and eventually, produced the finished story you have hopefully read and enjoyed by now. It’s been a long, roundabout journey to get to this point but isn’t everything in this life?
Now, I just smile, imagining Valerie Vaughn getting her MBA from Stanford and starting the next Facebook. Thank you for reading Feet First. That makes me happy.