Friday, March 26, 2010

Lessons Learned

It’s been almost a year since the last time I saw my Grandpa Martin. I had plans to see him the day he died, but didn’t make it in time. I suppose it goes without saying that I miss him. That spending time at the Lake of the Ozarks, something of a second home to me, doesn’t feel quite the same. A heaviness settles in the outskirts of my mind, and wisps of melancholy hover above the sparkling green water. I still love visiting. It holds happy memories for me, like years of trips with my best friend and my first love. My aunts, uncles, grandma, and various family members make it special. But no one can replace Gramps. I’d like to share a few of my favorite things about him.

1. I ran the trotline with Gramps every morning I spent in their house. He’d shake me awake just as dawn broke; I’d struggle into some clothes and meet him on the dock. We’d climb into the filthy little silver boat full of fish scales and stink, and putter off across the lake. The mornings were still and cool. The only sounds were the quiet splatter of water droplets as the slimy line pulled through Gramps’ strong, weathered hands. So we’re clear, I hate fishing. HATE. I feel bad for the fish. I went every time he invited me though. I treasured the time to be alone with him, and nature, and just breathe.

2. My family has frequented a live country music show in the Ozarks for over thirty years. The name and location of what is known to us as The Show changed, but much of the central cast remained. When two of the “stars” began letting their sons play a number the summer after I turned 12, I had my first real crush. His name was Matt, he played the drums, and it was the first but certainly not the last time I would experience that mysterious attraction girls have for musicians. The next summer, when Matt and I were 13, I still hadn’t gotten up the nerve to talk to him. After the show my entire family loitered around while people went to the bathroom, chatted, etc. I looked up to see my gramps dragging Matt over to meet me. He had him in a headlock. A HEADLOCK. My blood just flooded with embarrassment at the memory. I wanted to DIE. Gramps had no idea what he’d done wrong, but he felt bad afterward.

3. He went shopping and picked out a special outfit, all by himself, for each of his daughters every Christmas.

4. Every friend of mine who ever met him called him Grandpa and felt instantly comfortable in his home. I know all of my cousins, aunts, and uncles who have married into our family felt the same way. Gramps emanated warmth and good will. Everyone wanted to be his friend. Everyone was his friend.

5. Gramps toiled as an Iowa farmer for many years, then he built and ran a restaurant everyone said would fail. It didn’t. When he and my grams retired to the Ozarks he kept a huge garden. One summer a groundhog made its home inside the electrified fence. This did not sit well with Gramps. Grandma found him sitting on the roof of their back garage with a rifle. He didn’t come down for two days and he never shot that varmint. He did pour gasoline down its hole and light it on fire. Problem solved.

6. Gramps made it to every single one of his eight grandchildren’s graduations and weddings. My cousin Matt got married in 2003 (I think) and the rehearsal dinner took place at his parent’s home in Scottsdale. Tables littered their backyard, and the boisterous sounds of four generations of family filled the air. Gramps had gotten older and getting around was harder. He made his way among us, laughing and smiling. I got up and gave him a kiss on his wrinkled, rosy cheek and asked, “Whatcha doin, Gramps?” He replied, “Just admiring what I started.”

7. In high school I still had a crush on this Matt character. My friends and I would get all dolled up to go to the Show now; makeup, hair curled, cute outfits, the whole nine yards. One Saturday morning I stumbled to breakfast in boxer shorts, a ratty t-shirt, and my hair in a lopsided, messy ponytail. Gramps winked at me over our bowls of cereal and said “He’d think you were even more beautiful if he could see you right now.”

8. His humor. Gramps could get a grin out of anyone, anytime, anywhere. He wasn’t an easy man, nor did he possess much tact, but he treated people like they mattered even when he poked fun at them. If he didn’t poke fun at you, it sort of made you feel left out. In return, everyone went out of their way to please him. I’ve done things I never wanted to, just because it made him happy. Like eat a slice of bread slathered in homemade applesauce. I’m not the only one.

9. I have several first cousins and for how varied in age and how far apart we live, I’d say we are closer than we have any right to be. I love spending time with all of them, spouses and children included. At Gramps’ funeral last year we sat around talking and missing him all ready. At some point my cousins Aaron and Mark got in a good natured discussion about which one was Gramps’ favorite. They each had their reasons he liked them best. Mark and his pancake breakfasts with Gramps. Aaron and Gramps shared a love for baseball. He had pet names for all of us. I realized at that moment that we all thought we were Gramps’ favorite. I can’t think of a better illustration of what a good man, husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather he took the time to be.

The lessons I learned from watching him are too many to recount. Taking the time to be a good neighbor, a good friend, and a good person is never wasted. Sharing what you have brings people closer and nine times out of ten they will return the favor. Sometimes it’s okay to spend an entire day with your foot up on a table, talking with friends, and worry about the work to be done tomorrow. Doing what is right isn’t always easy. Work hard first, play after. Family, especially when they are as great as mine, is a treasure. Making a child feel important and special can change their life. Reveille over loud speakers is a great way to wake up a house full of people. Pulling on big toes is a great way to wake up one person at a time. Being able to laugh at yourself adds years of happiness to your life. You don’t have to say I love you in order for everyone in the room to know it’s true. In fact, it’s okay to sit in silence and watch a game of baseball. Silence isn’t scary. It’s comfortable.

These are just a few. He was my protector, my friend, my grandpa, my self-esteem, the reason I felt special. My euchre partner. My reason to laugh during prayers. The quiet force behind my bravery. When the minister at his funeral asked us to describe him in one word, I choked out, “anchor.” He was my anchor. He anchored our family firmly together in love and respect. He still does.

If you knew my gramps, or have a story of your own you’d like to share, post in the comments. I’d love to read them.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Putting the Villain in Her Place

I haven't posted in a while. My fingers are itching to write, but my new plot isn't quite ready to come out of my head and onto paper just yet. I'm hoping it will be soon. It could be any minute now.

In the meantime, I wanted to spew some thoughts on writing villains. My villain for this book is fully formed, even more so than the main characters. I know what she wants, why she's the way that she is, and exactly what she's up to. I confess: I sort of love her. Her name is Lydia and she's strong.

But could she be too strong?

Even before really getting started (I've written the first chapter plus some), Lydia is threatening to take over. There are two POV's for the novel and one of them is hers. One of them HAS to be hers. She's demanded to tell her story. And it's a good story, so I agree with her. Still...

Is there a danger in knowing her so well? Lydia is the book's paranormal element, she has lived since 19CE and my main story takes place in the present. That's thousands of years of history. I know her MUCH better than my 17 almost 18-year-old protagonist.

I talked out some issues with a fellow writer the other day and said, "I know I'm not ready to write it yet, because at this point all I can see is Lydia winning." Which means either my MC or love interest will have to die.

Who knows? Maybe one of them will die. I just can't say yet. But if I decide to go that route, it won't be because Lydia forced my hand. It will be because that's the way MY book ends. So stick it, two thousand year-old Greek Oracle.

What are your thoughts on villains? How much should your readers understand? Does knowing too much about them, or making them too sympathetic cause problems for the plot? I'm very curious as to your thoughts, because the novel I've finished editing has a ubiquitous group as the bad guys. They are quite scary, but not terribly complex. Lydia is complex, cunning, and freaky strong.

Help me deal with her.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

More Stuffs I Want to Win

Over at the Shooting Stars blog, they are running a contest. I decided to enter, because the prizes are pretty awesome. Grand prize is a 40 page critique from agent Suzie Townsend of Fine Print Literary Management (who I like because she reps my genre AND she talks to me on Twitter). Other prizes include signed books and other goodies. There are tons of ways to earn entries, and the blog itself is chock full of information and fun. Go check it out!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Nathan Bransford Stole My Thunder

I've been thinking about this post for a few days, put it off, and then bang - Nathan Bransford 
steals my idea. What the hell? How am I supposed to compete with his blog? It's the New York Yankees of the blogosphere. Good thing I know what being the Royals feels like. I'll just go ahead and say what I planned on saying. Sheesh, Nathan. Thanks. (PS. I totally have a crush on you)

I've been a liar storyteller my entire life. The first time I told a lie, it got my sister in trouble. I was about six and don't recall exactly what I did, but remember lying awake into the night thinking about it. In order to lose the guilt I got up, trudged into the living room, and confessed to my parents. They were so proud of me for doing the right thing I didn't get in much trouble. Lucky me. In all fairness, I still can't lie to my parents. They can see it coming a mile off. I make it a policy to not lie to friends. Because, well, they're friends.

Acquaintances, teachers, random folks - they were all fair game. Sometimes the lies stories worked out better than others. I slept through a final my freshman year of college and came up with an amazing story of how my roommate had an allergic reaction to medication and I was in the emergency room all night. Tears and all. I got to take the test later. I don't know if he believed me or he was so impressed with my ridiculous tale he let it slide. Good thing he didn't ask for the hospital paperwork. That would have been bad.

I lied to a guy I was dating about my, um, sexual experience. That one didn't work out so well. It ended up making my life twenty times harder than it had to be. The majority of the time, though, I didn't tell lies tales to accomplish anything. The stories were simply more interesting than the truth. I loved to think them up, spin them, making people believe something amazing. It didn't matter if it wasn't true. It was real to my listeners.

Now that I've (ahem) grown up, I've stopped lying. Nothing good comes from it. Absolutely nothing. I've embraced writing as the outlet for my creativity and it feels like coming home. I can weave stories, build worlds out of words, create people, change endings, enhance settings - and people don't get hurt. At least not real people. What I do to my characters is my business, and don't you forget it.

I am curious, dear readers. How many of you shared my penchant for storytelling, embellishing, and outright lying as a young person? Is it a facet of the writer personality, or am I a deeply disturbed individual? Wait, don't answer that last question. Anything else is fair game.