Sunday, April 27, 2014

How does your Mom stack up to fictional moms?

How often do you read books where the mom has any real part in the plot?  With all the Young Adult books out there, the general idea behind most stories seems to be that the main characters don’t have parents or the parents aren’t that involved in the story.   Harry Potter’s parents are dead, Katniss’ mom in the Hunger Games pretty much checked out after her husband passed away, and none of the characters in the Maze Runner even remember their parents, much less know if they are still alive or the walking diseased.

In many of the mystery books I read, the main character may have parents involved in the story, or they may not.  For the most part, parents really aren’t involved.  If it doesn’t move the story along, there’s really no reason to include parents other than to give the main character more depth or to give the readers something to relate to. 

In the mystery series I’m deep in the middle of, where I’m now writing my third novel, my main character has parents and they are warm, loving and always there for her when she needs them.  But Jorja learns in “No Mother of Mine” that there’s a secret behind her birth and who her parents really are and her world is changed in one moment when she learns the truth behind what actually occurred on the day she was born.  In “Best Kept Secrets” the story of Jorja’s past continues to unfold as she finally learns the truth about her father.  During the series, Jorja has to try to come to terms with what happened and what her birth mother was capable of but it’s a process and not something she’s likely to really understand until further in the series, if at all.  Even if Jorja never quite understands, my plan is to work it out for myself and the readers by eventually writing a prequel to the series to involve the story behind her birth parents.  It’s an idea in the works, anyway.

In “No Mother of Mine” we also met Kat, who hires Jorja to find the mother who abandoned her and her father when Kat was just a toddler.  The result of Jorja’s investigation shows us that the past is not always what it seems to be.  In “Best Kept Secrets” we not only get to know more about Jorja’s father, but we follow the stories involving two other families, with mothers who desperately act to save their children and fathers who only put shame to their titles of father and husband.  Not all parents are like the parents Jorja grew up with…many are like my other characters; full of rage, hate, greed, jealously, and fear.

Why did I decide to use parents in the series?  Because parents are the core of our being…it’s why we’re here, whether the parents we live with gave birth to us or not. 

Another reason my stories involve parents is that it’s usually family which propels us towards whatever future we finally etch out for ourselves.  How we are raised, who we live with, the experiences we’re involved with as children, who we look up to or who we fear…all these things eventually play a part in what we do with our lives, whether it can be easily explained or not.  Some grow up with a good family life and continue on in that tradition with their own families; while others are brought up in happy, healthy homes yet somehow turn into what the media will later label as a monster.  Those who knew only fear as children might vent their rage on others in an attempt to shed the anger buried deep inside them while others may face those fears with defiance and a determination not to force the same abuse on their own children or spouse.

Of course, there’s more to family than just our parents.  In my third novel family is still key, with one story involving brothers, another a stepson and stepmother and yet another is about an aunt who finds herself in hot water.  While I enjoy writing about Jorja as she investigates each case, it is the story behind the story involving what makes families tick that I also like to touch on and what I hope readers also enjoy. 

It all seems kind of heavy for just a mystery series but my books have never been just about a mystery series for me.  They are a way for me to express myself and to share with others the stories, characters and emotions I believe many can relate to or may have strong feelings about.  While as a writer I do hope others enjoy what I have to share, it’s also important to remember this quote to avoid the risk of losing the passion behind the reason:

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” 
~Cyril Connolly~

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter eggs, Easter pretties & just taking-it-easy on Easter

I love this time of year with spring colors and flowers popping up everywhere.  I thought I’d share a photo of some flowers that recently decorated my table and that remind me of one of the colors my boys would use to decorate their Easter eggs when they were little (from those packaged pill sets).  I fell in love with these roses and the vibrant color they offered the first time I saw them.

I’m taking a break today from blogging to spend time with family and I hope you enjoy this wonderful day with your family as well. 

I’ll be back next weekend.  Enjoy the day and have a great week!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Commitment: when you’re in it for the long haul

Quite a few years ago, when my youngest son was probably around six years old, we were at the pet store where we would often visit just to browse around.  On this particular day, he wanted a new pet.  We had already tried gold fish, which seemed to die much too quickly, and Betta Fish, which weren’t as much fun when you couldn’t even put two or more of them together, and we even made the mistake of adopting some dwarf hamsters after being led to believe all five of them were the same sex.  Note to self:  always verify that fact, especially when you’re dealing with a species that can reproduce at the speed of lightning. 

Eventually, though, during this visit at the pet store, my son was able to talk me into looking at other possibilities when it came to what sort of pet we could bring home with us.  As most of you who are parents are well aware, it isn’t usually the child who winds up caring for the pet.  Oh, the kids do their best at first…they willingly under or over-feed them, when they remember, and the first time they have to clean the tank or the cage, they pretend to be interested but quickly realize it’s more work than it’s worth. 

We try to teach our kids how to be responsible but what usually happens to the fish, hamster, turtle, lizard or frog the child talks the parents into buying?  It will either die, is given away to someone else or the parents take over the care of the animal to keep it alive as long as possible.

You might be wondering what happened on this day years ago when my son was able to talk me into buying another pet.  With some reluctance, I finally decided to venture into the land of amphibians…in the form of newts.  And not just any newt, but the Chinese Fire Belly Newt.  Before you comment with zeal at my lack of prudence, I realize a potentially poisonous pet was not likely the best option for my six-year son.  But, as with the pets before them, the newts were no exception when it came to how long they held my son’s interest.  I can’t blame him, really.  While the newts were cute, there wasn’t much my son could do with them.

So what’s the point of this story? 

When I purchased these newts, about ten years ago now, I had absolutely no idea how long they could survive.  While I did some research on the care, feeding and handling of the newts, I don’t recall ever reading about their life expectancy.  Only recently did I finally learn that their life span could likely be about 10 to 15 years but that they could also live to the age of 30!

I had no idea the amount of commitment, by way of years, these tiny little amphibians would require from me.  Are the newts still alive?  You bet they are.  The reason I finally read up on their life expectancy was because I couldn’t believe they were still alive after all this time.  After it became clear my son was too young to care for them properly, I took on the task of caring for them and they have been constant companions on top of my desk at home ever since.  They have their own tank, which is located on top of my desk hutch, and while they get natural light from the window in my office, their tank is also near a small desk lamp that is regularly turned on for them in the mornings and turned off in the evenings to give them a schedule.  Believe it or not, we actually call the desk lamp the “newt lamp.”

You might now be wondering if there’s a real point of this story…

There is and it’s all about commitment.  Sometimes we get ourselves involved with something without having any knowledge beforehand at the amount of commitment it might require of us.  It might begin to feel as if we’re doing to same thing, over and over, without much in return.  We might decide one day we just can’t give that much of ourselves to something else for so long.  Or, regardless of the time it takes, we stick it out because what we’re doing feels right and we can’t imagine the idea of quitting. 

Had I known the newts could live for 10, 20 or even 30 years, would I have actually decided to purchase them when I did? 

Not as a pet for son, I don’t think, and possibly not even for myself but had I learned that fun fact soon after buying them, it wouldn’t have changed a thing.  I would have cared for them the same, whether I thought they’d live 10 years or just 10 months, because it felt right to do so and I couldn’t imagine quitting on them.

The newts are a simple version of what true commitment might mean.  The complicated version of commitment has to do with what I’ve taken on as a writer.  I knew it wouldn’t be easy but it wasn’t until after I began my journey that I read about authors who have waited 10, 20 or even 30 years before they felt they had reached some level of success.  The definition of success can be very subjective but for me, I believe the definition of success has many levels and those levels take time. 

Had I known how long it could take to become a success as an author, would I have decided not to begin writing at all? 

Not a chance. 

While the commitment to the newts will end when they eventually pass away, my commitment to writing will remain until the day I pass away, regardless of whether I’ve reached what others might define as “success” because what I’m doing feels right and I can’t imagine the idea of quitting.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

When book characters have minds of their own

I put in a full afternoon on my book yesterday, but before I began to write from where I had left off, I decided to read over some of what I had written the week before.  I came to a certain point in the book when the stubborn attitude of one of the characters and what he said to Jorja made me laugh.  It struck me when I thought about the fact that this has happened before…when I’ve read over something I’ve written and when the words seem to be coming from someone else.  After that thought, I decided to post this on my Facebook page:

Sometimes, my characters just crack me up! I'm having a lot of fun with Jorja, Fritz and Brad today. It's very strange and not something I can easily put into words, but my characters do have minds of their own. It's very clear to me when I review the words I'm fully aware I wrote when it comes to what my characters do and say but which later surprise me, might even irritate me and oftentimes makes me laugh. It truly is a great feeling when characters lead a life of their own through your fingertips!

I still really can’t put this concept into words other than to say the characters do tend to have minds of their own.  I might think I know what’s going to happen in the story, but funny enough, the characters end up having their own ideas.

Case in point is the issue with Jorja, Brad and Fritz.  Jorja and Brad had a high school romance so they have some history and are now good friends; although it would seem Brad might prefer to have more to the relationship.  Fritz, on the other hand, is someone Jorja hasn’t known long but there is the idea that the two of them could possibly become a couple, if it weren’t for the fact that they tend to squabble about the type of work she deals with as a defense investigator. 

If Jorja were to finally get past her fears and actually form a romantic relationship with either man, who would be the best fit?  Both Brad and Fritz are good looking, they both have good jobs and they both have their good traits and bad traits.  The books aren’t written around whether Jorja will end up in a relationship or not; it’s just a possibility that’s always been there. 

At the very beginning, when I first began this series, I thought I had an idea of what might happen but it was just a thought…  I’m not writing a romance series but I do enjoy flirting with the idea of what romance might be like for Jorja, if she were to open herself up to the idea. 

While I am the creator of my characters, I don’t always get to tell them what to do.  And the characters don’t always let me know what the plan might be.  That fact became clear again to me yesterday when I was finally clued in to what one of the characters was up to.  It wasn’t what I was expecting but…I liked the idea so I went with it.

It might be odd to hear that the characters lead lives of their own through my fingertips, or that they have minds of their own.  Sometimes I even tend to forget this fact, but it isn’t long before the characters remind me about the truth in that statement.  What’s great about this whole concept?  It means that I can continue to claim my role as the creative artist but I also get to look forward to a few surprises here and there.  It’s what makes being a writer so much fun!