What Your Character Reads

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You’ll remember reading some great stories in which the character is reading or recommended a book to read to another.

Authors do not peel off the list carelessly, especially if it’s a single book, author, or scene. These are chosen carefully to reveal something specific about the character, to complicate the story, or to foreshadow what is to come.

There are numerous books which mention other books or authors; however, I’ll example Charity, a short story by Charles Baxter.

In one scene a drug dealer has Othello open to Act 3. It’s unclear if the dealer is actually reading – he’s sitting in a dimly lit bar, running his finger down the page; however, the main character offers, “the handkerchief. And Iago” to identify the scene and illuminate the foreshadowing.

The story of Othello, and more specifically the scene, involves Iago as the master of a manipulation using the handkerchief as evidence of a betrayal.

This is not by some accident that Baxter chose the story and the scene. He didn’t grab at something out of the blue because he needed the dealer to be reading at a bar. He chose to use a scene from another classic text to complicate and foreshadow what is to come. However, the question becomes how does it layer the story of Charity?

I won’t tell you, but I highly recommend reading the story.

In one story, I had a character reading a book by Betty White. The book is fictional, but I wanted the character to be seeking an idea of normalcy as far from herself as I could get.

Presently, I’m working on a novel. One of the characters is rather shallow and cares about the appearance of things more than anything else. Another character is describing the home and I needed a coffee table book to reflect the first. I felt he would choose a book which matched the decor, but also shows him as worldly. I chose National Geographic’s Stunning Photography. He’s never even cracked the spine, he just wanted something beautiful to match the blue of his curtains and make him look good to his guests. I may change it, but right now I think it works.

Give thought to the choices in your work, even if it’s a book sitting on a table, passing from one character or another, or in a window. It’ll layer your work, giving more depth to your characters and the story.

 

Your Journal is Important, Especially Now

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Journaling allows us to process our daily lives. It helps us see patterns that we are taking part in physically and mentally, and most importantly it allows release.

 

Don’t hold back in journaling. These are your private thoughts and they need voicing and validation. No one ever needs to read them – or you can turn them into a creative efforts.  Some of my students have begun painting, writing, or even baking to express their creative outlets.

 

During this time, my writer friends and I are journaling to keep track of an important time in history. Maybe these will be records of human thoughts and feelings during a very difficult time in our society – much like The Diary of Anne Frank.

 

Some are doing dream journals as well.

 

In a few years, this will be forgotten, swept under the rug, or rebranded. Our society, our children, and our grandchildren’s grandchildren will need real life, first person examples of what was happening internally and externally.

 

I teach topics that deal with slavery, suffrage, native American relocation stories. We read first person accounts. These allow my students to understand critical happenings in our society not from our history books who are written by the victors or the historians recording political acts, but by the people who went through and dealt with racism, oppression, and death our history has reaped on individuals.

 

Journaling seems more important now than it ever has before.

 

It can be anything you want it to be, look like anything you want it to look like. Let it be private and burn it later. Or share it.

The Likability of Unlikable Characters

I wonder if the new fad to make unlikable characters because people like them a myth.

I like detective stories, mysteries, among the other things I read. But in the last six months, I think I’ve read far too many stories with these types of characters:

The bad guy who kills other bad guys. Hasn’t this become a cliche? Or have I stumbled upon a pile of similar motifs?

The good guy spends his nights in cheap motels with young prostitutes doing blow. But, you know, he has a heart of gold because he doesn’t actually sleep with the ho; he just talks to them. At one point, it seems, he’s up for three days strung out on coke and coffee and is still able to critically analyze a scene and glean more than the other officers.

My suspension of disbelief has been suspended.

Why am I reading this book?

It’s richly detailed – in parts. It had a good enough beginning to get me interested. Also, I like to finish a book.

But I’m at the point, now, that I’m considering abandoning it. Too many issues for me to keep reading.

The characters names are similar or the same to well known famous book-to-movie characters. It makes it hard for me to picture anyone else but Tom Hanks.

Writing is hard. Originality is challenging.

Some people believe there are only so many stories. They are just told in different ways. But they have to be told in fresh, believable, even likeable ways.

I will read some books with unlikeable characters. But I have to like someone!

Opinions welcomed, please.

 

 

 

 

 

At Home with Your Idea Farm

Here in Southern California, schools closed, businesses limited, no hugging, and it’s raining. The mood has been set:

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One newscaster is talking about cycling to work. Did he not get the memo?

STAY HOME. TOUCH NO ONE.

Schools have closed – or gone online. Starbucks is limiting in person ordering/seating, not allowing refillable cups, considering going with online ordering and pick up only. Restaurants are closing.

I saw my friends this week, and we didn’t hug. This makes me sad – but it’s completely understandable.

It fedemo manels like we’ve reached the point of all those 80’s sci-fi movies in which people stay inside, afraid to go out, and resist human contact.

In the Stallone/Snipes Sci-Fi flick, Demolition Man, (a genius move btw), people have sex through the use of computer attached to their temporal lobe. They don’t engage in physical contact.

 

I really want to say: keep calm

This, too, shall pass.

You don’t need 148 rolls of toilet paper or 37 boxes of cat litter.  At least, the average person doesn’t need this.  You’re going to wake up surrounded by bleach wipes for the next two years!

I guess this whole thing keeps me home, keeps me writing. Writers, at the very least, should be using this whole scenario to feed your idea farm. (More info on my idea farm on Monday).

 

The Popularity Contest

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I know some people are really nice, like super-duper, sticky sweet nice.  And I like these people. I used to be one of them.

I used to bend over backwards to accommodate friends and lovers. I would go out of my way for an acquaintance or a stranger.

But you know what happens – People like to take advantage. How people stay so nice, I’m not sure. For me, I needed boundaries.

Therefore, I won’t be winning any popularity contests.

I am a nice person. I do go out of my way for people. But I also have incorporated boundaries. I no longer overdo and run myself ragged, and I don’t contort unless I’m in yoga class.

The thing is though – I didn’t win any contests being sticky sweet. Sometimes people took advantage, sometimes people didn’t trust me, and sometimes people mistook my niceness (although that still occasionally happens).

When a person makes a change to incorporating boundaries, people react. I remember one particular person got angry, another tried to manipulate me. Some people, unable to push beyond those boundaries, left.

I’m good with that. I’m good with not winning any contests. I’m really happy to have found a good balance.

In Mirror People,a short story in my book Psychic Surprise Party, Jewel has found her sister much changed and doesn’t like it, doesn’t know how to react, and almost chooses to walk away.

Because a person changes and grows, the people around them have to change their perception and the way they interact. It makes some friends and family uncomfortable and might cause them to question their own behaviors and attitudes. In this insta-world, it’s easier to walk away.  It’s probably for the best.

 

Little Pieces of Me

photo-1570075842600-4fb332449e00In being more authentic, I want to be more open with readers.  This story is something I’ve been working on – off and on – for years.

At first, the event was difficult to write about. It’s easier now. After all these years. Sometimes you need years to find the balance between tone, authenticity, and creativity. When you’re under pressure and in a bad situation, a lot of things happen in your mind and your body.

Here’s an excerpt:

In the bathroom mirror, my eyes are raccooned; make-up smeared from tears. My once pretty pink slip dress is wrinkled and smudged.

This doesn’t happen to girls like me. I did everything right. I was careful. Just hours ago I was out with friends; how many hours ago? It’s easy to lose track of time in Vegas. It’s built into the plan. Into his plan.

“Don’t try nothing’.” His voice is on the other side of the door; his thick hand, I sense, on the door knob. The house is empty except for us. I don’t know where everyone else went. But, suddenly, we were alone and his long hair hung in my face as he leaned in and whispered, “lots of people pay lots of money for young girls like you in Vegas.”

Reason and tears are wasted on psychopaths. There’s he and I, and only a hollow door between us.

“Ju…”  The word sticks in a sob deep in my throat. I move closer to the door and put my fingers on the lock, turn it as I try again, “just washing my face.” I step back and flip the lever; the water rushes into the shell shaped porcelain filling the silence. I take the dampened towel and rub it around my eyes, lose some of the dark circles as I glance around.

Light pushes through the shower door and I slide it open slowly, quietly. There’s a small square window higher up, but I can reach if I stand on the edge of the tub. I don’t pause to remind myself I’m on the second floor of a two story house; all I can think is escape. My throat tightens, breath narrows.

“You’re stalling,” he growls.

My tears have dried, my adrenaline is pumping, and I can hear my heartbeat bounce off the porcelain. “I have to use the bathroom.” I toss the towel next to the door, push the window open and pull myself up.

*

It’s a work in progress – still a draft.

My books are on sale this week.  You can read or gift Eddy or Psychic Surprise Party for Valentine’s Day.

 

with love!

Authenticity

I think this is my word for 2020.

I feel I’m always authentic, being me, to the best of my abilities.

I reach for the positive in the majority of my interactions. (I admit sometimes I fall short – no one’s perfect.)

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That being said, some research seems to suggests positive people ignore the negative. So, when I said to someone today, I’m into the whole positive psychology movement, she stated, “I believe in being authentic.”

I thought about the statement, and her misconception that by being positive I’m ignoring some negative or darker emotions (uhm, have you read my work?) . However, I think of it differently. It’s a way to handle the negative, it’s not about ignoring it, (which is what I explained to her).

Last year, this blog was about writing. In looking at statistics, there were a great number of readers. Good. I hope you guys got some good advice. This year, however, I want it to be more about joy and authenticity.

I think my writing is authentic, sometimes raw, sometimes dark, but always with hope.