A blog about writing and all things story…
It’s been a weird couple of weeks for me. First, for her 80th birthday I took my mom to the Oregon Coast to see two of my brothers who we seldom see. Visiting them has always been a surreal experience because we live in distinct and separate universes. There’s a huge, sad story behind the alcoholism in our family and what it has done to family members. I’ll write it someday. For now it’s enough emotional energy to live it.
People have asked me how I wrote (in my novel, Return To Sender) about such red-neck characters like Toreck Sealy and others. What I’ll say is this; I believe most often the archetypes we create in our ‘fiction’ writing come from close to home.
Moving on from a couple days with mom, who refuses to see any possible connection what-so-ever between her hatred for vegetables, her love for sweeties and her handicapping diabetes. And her self-centeredness in dealing with the people in her retirement home–which to me seems like high school behavior the way all those narcissistic 80++++ year olds gossip and bicker–and then her attitudes (that’s the politest word I could come up with) about the different cultures invading her vanilla world; Russian cab drivers, Black or Hispanic maintenance guys, Vietnamese manicurists . . . well, you get the picture. I’ll stop my rant. My point is that I take my mom’s world and write humor. Humor is the only way of dealing without losing my mind.
Anyway, then I come home to Seattle where my other brother (who I see frequently) and my husband and me head out for Fremont (which claims to be the center of the universe, if you didn’t know) and join a bunch of hipsters for Hopscotch. It was like traveling through three different time zones, different planets, different consciousness’s (is that a word?) anyway, jarring enough to make me take notice that I’d traveled from the land of Lost-in-time, Rascally Elders, to Red-necks to Hipsters!
What’s the link in this rambling story? Why should writers care about my trials, tribs and travels? Creating realistic characters and character profiles, that’s why. When I return to Oregon or head out for a fun fest of activity like the Hopscotch event, I take notes and write down details of the people I encounter. They or a composite of ‘they’ will sooner or later end up in a story. This is real life stuff, we all have families–some entertaining, some not so much–either way writing down the details does two things; enriches your story life, and helps alleviate stress by moving what may be traumatic into your creative subconscious and acts like a valve that releases steam, like, mom (stress) = humor (release valve). At least that’s how it works for me. There is actual research that this is true, you can read some here.
And while at a party with a couple thousand people who came to taste the world’s finest invention, this writer couldn’t help but take copious notes, pictures and some video of the tattooed, handle-bar-mustached, flowers in their hair imbibers.
For example, while my husband was in line to buy our new found favorite scotch, Aberlour A’bunadh, we prepared to leave the festivities after having our fill of scotch ‘tasting’ and wanting nothing to do with the beer tasting for which we had tokens, we selected a group of twenty-somethings, all with a beer in their hands hanging out by a micro-brew booth, the girls all adorable in their pretty spring dresses and boots and the guys wearing fedoras. I went up to them and asked,
“Will you be drinking more beer?” They looked at me strange, as one would and said,
I held out my beer coupons and placed a few in each of their hands. My brother did the same. One of the girls said, “Oh my God, you’re beer fairies!”
My brother laughed as we left, said,
“Great, I’ve reached the point where I’m too old for this crowd and now I’m a beer fairy.”
I will write this scene into a story someday. It was adorable, and though it was a group of kids 30+ years our junior, I could imagine it as an age-relevant ‘meet-cute’ or ‘cute-meet’ (whatever) scene.
And there were other great story ideas from the ‘Scotch Master’ who told us how the original scotch came about. It sounded like the birth of a great swashbuckler story. He himself, was a boundless character; charismatic actor, orator, scotch enthusiast, traveler, hustler, possibly Scottish, possibly swashbuckler (in a past life) and definitely one heck of a merchant of magic elixirs. The kind of guy you want at a party, but for a woman, the kind of guy you do not want as a significant other. There’s trouble there, and at my age I can sit back, smile, observe and know what lies beneath that captivating smile and those good looks. Been there, done that. Still, fun to watch a ‘master’ at work.
I’ve no doubt the ’Scotch Master’ is a kindly business man who thrives in his world of travel and selling, He may even be a wonderful father and husband, but in my imagination he was a great character profile of a narcissistic manipulative antagonist, or at least a reluctant hero who gets taken in because of his own ego.
And yes, I see that in my ramblings here I’ve gone from alcoholism to the purveyor of alcohol. I’ll leave it at that. I think you get that I love to create characters and get my most intoxicating material from where I am in the moment–the details in everyday life–profoundly sad characters, crazy elders, cute-meets, and antagonists, they’re everywhere.
Oh, and Happy Easter!
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By Miri Elm
(re)Living History, with occasional attempts at humor and the rare pot-luck subject. Sorry, it's BYOB. All I have is Hamm's.
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