Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Measure of a Character

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

                                      Martin Luther King Jr.Strength to Love, 1963

This is a well known quote.  I thought it was appropriate for this month since we have just celebrated MLK day.  I believe this quote represents an idea that can be used in every day life...especially when creating a new fictional character.  What is the measure of this man, or this woman, or even this kid as in the characters of THE PHANTOM PILOT.  It's easy to judge the measure of Stevie-girl.  She goes into the haunted house in the very first scene even though she is terrified to do so.  Why? Because she feels it is a way of honoring the memory of her best friend--they'd always dared each other to go in, but never had the courage.  It was also a misguided attempt at "doing her part" for the war effort.  You'll just have to read the book to understand that statement.

What is the measure of Jase, Stevie's new friend?  That's not too difficult to figure out, but it doesn't become apparent in the first scene like with Stevie.  If you think you can tell me the measure of Jase, and give me an example of your reasoning, just leave me a comment.

Now, see if you recognize the following characters and their measure...and by all means, if you think I missed the mark, let me know!

Larry Underwood--The Stand--Larry's got a streak in him that's like "biting on tinfoil."  That's the measure of Larry.  All for one and one for...him!  But does he stay that way, or does his character undergo a major transformation?

Gus McCrae--Lonesome Dove--Gus is known for his laziness and his gambling.  But is that the true measure of Gus?  What about loyalty and integrity?  What about stubbornness?  I always think of Gus when I'm writing a new character because he is so multi-layered.

Okay, here's a more current character.
Katniss Everdeen--The Hunger Games--Katniss is also multi-layered.  What scene in the first book shows us her measure?  Would you say it is when she takes her little sister's place in the games?  That tells us everything we need to know about her in one sentence: she is self-sacrificing and tough.

Another of my favorite female characters is Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird.  What is the measure of Scout?  In the beginning of the book, she is an innocent tom-boy, but by the end, we learn the true measure of Scout in the way she views the racial injustice in her town. But is she perfect?  Not by a long shot; if that were the case, her measure would be cardboard rather than flesh and blood.

And remember, if you are an author, the next time you have an idea for a new character, ask yourself: What is the measure of this character?  And then sketch out your answer in detail.  That's the measure of a good writer.  At least in my humble opinion.

Till next time...cheers!

If you have a favorite fictional character, tell me about him/her.  Also, tell me what line or passage spelled out the measure of that character.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

No, I'm not eloping with the flying monkeys just yet. I heard the song on the radio and it made me think of all the things that happened in 2011.  Nope, it's not that kind of post either.  I'm not going to get all squishy and sentimental, heck, I had a GREAT year.  But I'm almost afraid to say that; don't wanna bring down the wrath of Fate.  Oh well, live dangerously, right?  And if you're reading this and that last sentence has been deleted, you'll know I chickened out...

Here's a rundown of 2011 highlights:

1. Got my first book published -- I know, I know, that's all I talk about, I'll stop now.

2. Set up a blog and website.  Pulled out most of my hair in the process, but got'er done.  Side note: I went in to add something as a link, and was reminded of Jon in the Garfield comic strip:
                    Jon: "Woo hoo! Got that knot out of my shoelace."
                    Garfield: "That was a day well spent."
Yep, that's me and technology.  I go to add a simple link and it takes all morning, three cups of coffee, and a lexicon of new swear words.  Day well spent? I reckon, if it's too late to sit and watch paint dry.

3. Won several awards in the Abilene Writer's Guild contest last March (AWG-- they are the folks who give me the inspiration to continue sending things out into the cold, cruel world of fiction).  Also won two awards for short-stories at other sites (WOW and Binnacle).  Sold three more short stories to Cool Well Press.

4. Got my first book published.  What? I already said that?  Oh,  yeah, heh heh was the Cool Well mention that reminded me *wink wink*

5. Cleaned out my sock drawer...wait, no, that one is still on my to-do list.

6. Signed the contract for the sequel to The Phantom Pilot...should be out by Halloween if I haven't already angered the Muse or Fate or any other random source of energy out there just looking for some place to land with claws outstretched and grasping...

7. Had fun traveling.  Yep.  Went all the way to  Colorado -- don't laugh!  Did you know there is an extinct volcano in New Mexico?  It's the Capulin volcano; Google it, I'm not lying.  As some crazy man used to say: "If I'm lyin' I'm dyin'."  I don't know who said that, someone on HeeHaw perhaps.  Which reminds me of another place we traveled: Austin! To see Marty Stuart at One World Theater; love that place it's just sooo, Austin.  Kinda weird and funky.  Oh, and another fave destination is Oklahoma to see the kids and grandkids (but I'll need two more blogs to tell you all about that--suffice it to say they were too young for the Haunted House at Six Flags--thank you Dude).  I will tell you just one little anecdote about my NoNo (yes, yes, that's his nickname, go figure).  The first week of preschool, he found a nice stick on the playground.  He told his teacher he was adopting it.  He named it Felix.

Okay, that's it for now.  No, that isn't all of the great stuff that happened in 2011...but I've got to stop somewhere.  And Felix is always a good place to stop.  Till next time, keep it between the navigational beacons as Jimmy Buffet says...

Afterthought: Next time I'll tell you what happened when NoNo's entire class forgot the words to the song that were supposed to sing for their MLK program.  You wanna hear it now?  Okay, I'll tell you...he drew himself up to his full five-year old height, stepped out in front of God and everyone, and belted out that song as if he had just won an audition for JLo, Randy, and Steven Tyler.  Knew every word!  And if some brave soul behind him decided they would join in now that he'd taken that bold step forward, he would just turn around, look at them, and they would immediately forget the words again.  Don't know if he got a standing O or not, but he sure got a lot of hoots and hollers...they were in Oklahoma, you know.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Auntie and the Wash Tub Rescue

Long, long week, boys and girls.  Lost an elderly Aunt this past week.  She was 90 and she had recently retired from her job as a Walmart Greeter.  Yep, you read that right.  So, if you are one of those people who look down on and make jokes about Walmart greeters, well . . . join the club.  I used to be one, too.  Until my Auntie became one, that is.  The pastor who spoke at her funeral said she was the only door greeter who was never at the door.  That doesn't surprise me.  She knew no strangers.  And if you wanted to remain a stranger to her, she took that as a challenge.  I'm pretty sure there are people all over Texas with permanent pinch-marks on their cheeks from my Aunt's loving, but strong, fingers.

I learned a couple of surprising things about her at her "going away", party.  The pastor said she made it a point to charge Sam Walton for a cup of coffee when he visited the store one day, and that she was a "Rosie the Riveter" at a plant in Fort Worth during WWII.  If you're too young to know what that is, it's time you Googled it.  After I heard that, I realized there were lots of things about my dear Auntie that I didn't know.

Like the time the creek rose and she had to get my dad and several of the younger children out of the house and across the creek by driving an old tractor.  She only had one trip, and several children, so she put the younger ones in a big wash tub and set it on the plow attachment and away they went.  Two of the older girls were straddling the hood of the tractor--it was a large family--so she couldn't see that one side of the road had completely washed out.  Into the water they went.  And away floated the wash tub full of toddlers.  Needless to say, she and the older girls dove in and hauled the wash tub back; but it was okay, Dad said they didn't even get wet.

I have a few more stories I could tell here, things I learned at the funeral that surprised me, but let me just close this by telling you something that didn't surprise me: the number of people who came to say goodbye.  Some folks said there were 500, some said it was more like 600.  I didn't count, but I know there were people of all ages, races, and economic incomes.  And they had all come to say goodbye to their favorite door greeter.  Nope, she never knew a stranger.  I would love to have been there when she met St. Peter.  Wonder if she pinched his cheeks the way she always did mine?

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year, Old Year, Last Year?

Well, 2012 is actually here.  It seems surreal to be writing that number.  We are well over a decade into the 21st Century, and I'm still in awe that we made it this far.

Speaking of surreal, my sweet little coming-of-age ghost story, The Phantom Pilot, was published at the end of December, and I couldn't be more pleased with the way it turned out...well, that's not entirely true.  I would like to have a print version to donate to our local library, but this volume wasn't long enough.  The sequel, The Phantom of the Schoolhouse, will be longer.  So there.  Will that be in 2013?  Maybe the end of 2012...we've got a couple or three anthologies to get out before the sequel.  Check out my website if you want to see what they are.  Oh, my.  This post is getting longer and longer.  As Stephen King once said about his own writing: "Sometimes it seems I just have diarrhea of the mouth."  That was a paraphrase, but you get the gross idea.  I think of that quote every time I find myself rambling, like now.

Okay, my book wasn't the only wonderful thing that happened in 2011.  I got a new grandbaby to go with the other four, his name is Bitters (or Jerry Jr. if you want to get technical), and my husband got a new great-grandbaby, her name is Jailynn (I say she's his ggb because no way I'm old enough for that--I'll just claim her as a regular grandbaby!).  To be honest, we had a truly blessed year.  I even had a song written for me!  Yep, my hubby again, but I shouldn't tell that in case someone from his work reads this; he's still catching flack about my gushy dedication in The Phantom Pilot.  I didn't intend that to happen, lol.  "Or did I?" as that old SNL character, The Liar, would say...
One more thing about this brave New Year and then I'll shut up: the Mayan calendar ends December 21, 2012.  Or as one cartoon Mayan said to another, "We ran out of room on this one.  Hope that doesn't foul people up somewhere down the line."  That's my belief.  They just ran out of room on that clay disk...maybe we'll find the sequel to that calendar pretty soon.  Hey, maybe it will be published about the same time as my sequel.  To quote another comedian (probably also from SNL), "It could happen!"

Afterthought:  Heartfelt thanks to all who have left Amazon reviews or comments on my book or even on The Warning.  I realize you are all family and friends so maybe the reviews are a little skewed, but that's okay!  Keep 'em coming lol.  To those few who said they couldn't stop reading once they started ... you really made my day.  And to Tonya, sorry I made you cry.  Love you's to a fine start to a funky New Year!

After-afterthought:  I just looked at the archive and it appears that The Warning is isn't.  You can still read it here, for free, if you just click on the archive title 2011.  Just be sure to start with Part One, then go to Part Two, and then Part Three is the end.  And you can comment at the end of any blog post, just click on the word Comments and the little box will pop up.  (Or you can go to the top of the blog and click on my FB page to leave me a message.)  Can you tell by my simplistic directions that I still have that elementary school teacher buried somewhere inside me???  She's being held hostage, actually.  She will probably never again see the light of day.  On the other hand, that sort of statement is like tempting Fate, isn't it?  Rats...I'd better stop now before I get myself in trouble.