Friday, March 17, 2017

Real characters: you love them and want to protect them, but you can't keep them safe!

Are you ever emotionally drained by writing certain scenes, and how real are your characters to you?           

Wow!  As usual we have a topic with a lot of meat on it.  
When I first began to write I heard crazy stories about a character “taking over a novel.”  Preposterous?  Maybe not.  My initial experience with this was in my first (unpublished) novel my character didn’t do what I wanted her to do; she did something else.  How is this even possible?  I’m the one sitting here keying away.
The thing is, I’m in the character’s head, not my head, and she’s doing this crazy stuff.  Can’t I stop her?  Not really.  Not if the crazy stuff is right for that character. 
How real are my characters?  Very real to me.  I get to know them from writing, that is, they don’t spring full blown into the head. But I did have novel where a character just perched on my should and started to tell me her story.  About a quarter of the way through the book, she (more or less) said, “Okay, that’s it.  Now you figure out the rest.”  Hey, wait a minute!  I had to figure out the rest.  That was dirty pool.
The thing is, we love our characters, even the bad ones, and we don’t want terrible things to happen to them. We want to keep them safe. This is not possible and not good for the story.  Stuff has to happen, frequently bad stuff.  Which gets us to being emotionally drained by writing certain scenes.
It can be hard.
In World of Mirrors, the main male character is T.K. Drummond. He is an interesting guy, mostly a decent fellow, but at one point he became a colleague and even a friend of a sadist.  Now the sadist wants T.K. to ditch his girlfriend (my main female character) and throw her to the wolves, figuratively.  T.K. is reluctant to do this. The sadist drives them to an isolated spot and starts beating the hell out of him. 
T.K. tossed the keys at Putnam, who caught them in his right hand. Putnam’s left hand still touched my neck, making me crazy with fear.

T.K. opened the car door, then he took off his glasses and handed them to me, but he looked at Putnam. "Leave her alone."

Putnam took his hand away and opened the door on his side.

I just didn't understand what was happening. "What's going on? Where are you guys going?"
T.K.’s answer was full of careless bravado. "Oh, Billy Boy is going to administer his brand of tough love."
"Can't we be civilized?" I asked as they got out of the car. "Bill, please, can't we talk? Let's talk it over. O.K.?"
The car doors slammed shut.
"No! Wait! Please!"
They disappeared into the blackness, Putnam behind T.K. Then I could only see the white pillars rising out of the greenery, and in the foreground, the gray statue of the woman pulling her dress over her head. Some insects were buzzing in the thick silent night. Then I heard the smacking sound of a fist battering flesh followed by a muffled groan.
This was hard to write, because, hey,T.K. was my guy and I didn’t like this one bit.  Seeing his bloody and bruised head was actually traumatic.  Fortunately, the girlfriend sneaked up and bashed the sadist on the head with a rock.  He didn’t die, but lived to cause trouble another day.  I was kind of sad when he did die (doing more bad stuff).    
Another scene that was hard to write is when the bad character (a woman) tried to drown my main character.  This went on for a few pages, and I felt that I was on that raft being conked on the head with a paddle during a ride through dangerous rapids.     

Up ahead the river looked quieter. I tried to shift my weight, preparing to flip over the side into the water. In the soft bottom of the raft, it took longer than I had estimated to get onto my knees.

Phyllis screamed, “Shit!” Instinct took over and I ducked. Her paddle missed my head and slapped me hard across the back, knocking the wind out of me and sending me sprawling across the bow of the raft.

“You bitch!”

 Prostrate, I clutched the lifeline rope. I felt us spinning out of control through the churning river. Phyllis grunted and swore as the raft failed to do her bidding. We were drenched by the cold spray and catapulted against a rock and held there by the river which defied its own force.
Phyllis slapped at me with her paddle again, catching the back of my head. I felt a sickening sharp pain. Saw a rainbow of colors. I clutched the lifeline in a death grip.  Cursing and grunting, she fought the water.  
When I glanced back at her, she had raised the paddle again. The river caught us in the force of its turbulence, agitating the raft in the chaotic waters. I didn’t see how I could survive much longer. 
Another emotionally draining scene.  We love our characters but we have to set them free to get into trouble. To us they are real. Pretty weird, huh?

Here are some  excellent bloggers who are discussing this topic,  Take a look!  
Victoria Chatham
Marci Baun
Margaret Fieland
A.J. Maguire
Connie Vines
Rachael Kosinski
Dr. Bob Rich htt 
Heather Haven
Beverley Bateman
Kay Sisk
Diane Bator
Helena Fairfax
Skye Taylor
Rhobin Courtright

Sunday, January 22, 2017

150,000 Strong! No, make that 175,000 Srong!

Washington, DC

Yesterday I became part of the Women's March in Boston.  
Like most days, yesterday had its trials, the first one being actually getting to the march.  I left from the suburbs, taking public transportation as advised.  Apparently the MBTA, the Boston area transit system, had expected  50,000 marchers.  Wow! Were they in epic fail. I was leaving early (I thought) but hundreds of people were stood in line for the train.  Which was coming.  I ran across the tracks and jumped on the last car, already jammed from the first stop! No one else could get on all the way into the city. And I  would have to stand, along with many others.    
I felt so bad for those we were leaving behind, because the prospect of boarding later trains looked grim.  On my train, we were a friendly bunch and I loved looking at all the pink hats and the protest signs.  After  twenty-five minutes my hand clutching the overhead bar began cramping up soon to be replaced by a worse problem.  At Kenmore Square, still some distance from the march, the train was "taken out of service."  An experienced Boston-area MBTA traveler learns to expect this, but not today, oh please, not today.  
Today.  We all scrambled off the train and I followed the huge crowd out of the station onto the street.  From Red Sox games, at least I knew where I was,  but still I followed the crowd. 
How would my bum knee and bad back get me through this unexpected second march? Looking up, on my left stood a huge sign:  BOSTON STRONG! So right away, pain be damned,  I knew I could do this.
Now we refugees from the subway had our own march,  on this warm, cloudy day with no wind, all the way down Commonwealth Avenue through Back Bay, seven double-long blocks (like fourteen) and that was only part of the hike.  
Now I would miss my friend whom I was supposed to meet up with a half hour earlier. While I trudged along, by myself but not alone, for this was the pre-march march, I thought back to my first ever event like this. 1969. On the morning of a huge Vietnam War protest in Chicago, I put on a good outfit, dressed my three year old son accordingly, and boarded a commuter train for downtown.  At the Civic Center in front of the new untitled Picasso statue, a huge crowd had massed. We chanted, "Peace Now!" and "Hell, no, we won't go!" Nothing I had to worry about being female and a mother. 

A young man heaved my son on his shoulders so he could see. We listened to the speeches and cheered.   Then some of the cast from Hair sang "Good Morning, Sunshine!"  We had tickets to Hair and this was beyond thrilling to leave my staid suburban neighborhood and be part of this event.
My first venture into marching for a cause was again, downtown Chicago,  maybe ten  years later, this time for the Equal Rights Amendment.  Summer.  A hot sunny day. I was with my friend Elaine, and all the women marching  wore white.  Again,  big crowd.  Very proud to be a part of this, although it failed, like the war protest. 
ERA March, Betty Frieden

In every failure is the germ of a later success. 
So here I was decades later, a grandmother, not a young mom, trekking through  Boston's Back Bay to meet up with 50,000 other like minded individuals.
Nearing the Public Garden, four brawny Boston cops marched down Commonwealth, shoulders touching, like maybe this peaceful crowd might attack them. I flashed the peace sign, and the African American cop nodded and grinned.  The white guys didn't.  Some young girls in the crowd had flowers to hand out.  The past came barrelling back. Shades of the summer of love! 
Summer of Love

When I reached Boston Common, where cattle used to graze, people filled the area, overflowing everywhere, and just like on the train, there was not enough room. In case anyone had ideas about driving a truck into this crowd, big trucks and snowplows blocked all the entrances.  I stood across the street at the entrance to the Public Garden, and I could hear the speakers over the mikes set up. I saw the American flag and the viewing stands and an ocean of people: women, men, kids, dogs.  People of all creeds and races, intent of making a statement that everyone should have equal rights and not face discrimination or harassment because of who they are: female, minority, immigrant, disabled, lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans.  I saw them all and I read the signs, many of which were clever puns, and they covered the spectrum of what was on out minds from the ACA  to free speech, a free press, and keeping government out of women's bodies.  And much more.  

Boston Women's March
Standing in the street waiting for the march to start, I smelled weed, and somehow that seemed right too, because if Jeff Sessions is confirmed, God only knows what will happen to the states who have voted to allow it.  We'll see how states rights count with the Southern Gentleman.  Surely he will have bigger fish to fry. Surely. 
 A few times I was moved to near tears, just thinking about all of us here and the people in Washington and Los Angeles.  I had no idea that Chicago and Austin drew such huge crowds along with Paris, Singapore, Amsterdam and Park City, Utah and other cities one did not imagine. Millions of people, all in solidarity, all with one goal:  to send a message to the man in the white house and all of congress that our concerns were real, that we must be heard.  
The speeches ended.  My back and my knees had tolerated being on my feet for over two hours, but my hip had not liked standing. Pain! I hobbled through a few blocks of the march, and the signs were so cool and the kids didn't cry, and the dogs didn't bark and I heard that with that many people, there was not a single arrest!     

The march (it seemed more of a shuffle in the early stages) turned into Arlington Street.  Still hobbling, I passed a church and the bells pealed "We Shall Overcome," and "Amazing Grace."  More tearing up. 
 I peeled off into the Arlington Street MBTA station. OMG!  Just like this morning!  Trains arrived, already too packed for anyone to board. Even with extra cars.  Did I mention there was NO WIFI at the speeches.  I think so many cell phone sucked it all up.  But underground, there was wifi, and I texted my husband to pick me up at the only stop where there was room on the trains:  Heath Street, not on our normal routes.  He finally arrived at the stop, and found me waiting at the bus stop at the VA hospital. 

I hope those naysayers, those not inclined to interest themselves in the rights of others,when they observed us, peaceful and sincere and not out to bust anyone's chops, reflected on what all this was about and the strength of our numbers, numbers multiplied in cities across the world.  
Women who manage jobs, families, housework, volunteer work, and endless complexities, are a force to be reckoned with when they come together in solidarity.  And we are on the move.  Don't let the pink hats and signs with cute puns fool you. Sisterhood is powerful.