It's Wednesday -- hump day -- it's all downhill from here till the weekend! Since I finished my rewrite of All For Love, I decided I would sit down and write an actual blogpost. This one was inspired by something on FB. Someone had posted a picture that said "Bystanders Will Be Written into My Novel." Actually, it was much better than that, but you get the idea.
This little sign made me think about where I come up with some of my characters. Almost all of my YA characters are mashups of my former students and folks I knew as a child. I'm not averse to using real people at all. I do try to disguise them, though. Often, they are tied to specific incidents, or even places, from my past.
For instance, I just took a foray to the Sonic for a diet Coke. Along the way I passed a couple of places I hadn't even noticed in years. The first one was a small, neat, house with lovely barrels of flowers placed on each side of the wide front porch. It's a very inviting home. Yet, a dozen years ago, I intercepted a phone call from the teenaged boy who lived there with his parents. This boy was very distraught. His girlfriend had just told him she was breaking up with him because she wanted to date someone else. He called my house because the girl was an acquaintance of one of my children. The boy thought she might be there, but she wasn't. He ended our conversation by instructing me to tell her where to find his body.
Well, suffice it to say, I did not let him hang up on me. I am the child of a suicide. I don't take those statements lightly. In the end, I helped him calm down long enough to understand what he was thinking about doing. A couple days later he called me back and thanked me for talking to him. Of course I had already contacted his mom, with his reluctant approval, and so I felt that things really were under control. Now, when I need a conflicted male character, I think of this boy, this otherwise level-headed teen who had been laid low by his first real romantic break-up.
Further down the street we come to the store where I worked when I was a teen. I graduated a few months early from high school, so I had some time to kill while I figured out what I wanted to do. I went to work in retail and fell in love with being independent...until the day some creep walked in needing a few bucks for a fix. He grabbed me by the hair and demanded I open the register. At first, I was certain it was a set-up like you would see on Scare Tactics or Punk'd. I said, "You're joking, right?" He shoved something into the back of my neck and told me he was going to blow my effing brains out. Only he didn't mince the F word...didn't even stutter. I decided that was a bit too realistic for a set-up. I quickly opened the register.
He was caught within half an hour but didn't go to trial for three years. I wasn't afraid of testifying until the prosecutor told me the other woman he'd robbed--a few days before me--had refused to testify (I didn't even know there had been another). Apparently, she had also refused to open the cash register and that's when he split her head open with a tire iron. I think she kept it under the counter for protection or something.
The creep got ten years for robbery and assault. I got a memory that serves me well when I need to write an evil and/or desperate character. I also came away with a firm belief in intuition. I knew there was something not right about the guy the moment he walked into my store. He never took off his sunglasses. But I turned my back on him anyway. And that's when he grabbed me. I won't ever make that mistake again. Now, when my gut talks, I listen. My characters do, too. What I learn, they learn.
There are many other places in town that I think of when I'm writing. In The Shining, Dick Halloran explained to Danny that places could retain the remnants of evil that had occurred there. As I get older, I believe the remnants are retained solely in our memories. But that's okay, I just pull them out when I need an emotional point of reference or a trace flaw for one of my characters.
Next time I'll tell you about another place I passed recently. It was just a stop sign at a rural crossroads. No, there wasn't a wreck, someone had tied a Shetland pony there. But like I say, I'll tell you that one next time. It's too intense for one paragraph.
Afterthought: What would you want your name to be if you were in one of the Phantom novels? I think my favorite character name is Jelly Wardlow, the dispatcher.