Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Change The Names

My first fiction effort consisted of a story about two kids that decorated a Christmas tree out in the country every year, and my narrator goes to the tree one year to find out her friend has died of spinal menigitis. Everyone was all poor in that story, covered with ringworm scars and freezing in "clothes not fit for the season, thin and frayed." Mind you, this was Texas and it almost never got cold and after years of living in Detroit, I can wear a halter dress in December in the great Lone Star State. So the setting didn't really hold up all that well. All of twelve years old when I started this masterwork, I based the narrator on me, the boy child on the boy I was madly in love with, a real hellion who would eventually break all sorts of laws, both social and moral, before becoming a cop. But I digress. I didn't want anyone to know about the boy I was in love with, didn't want my readers to know it was him, so I changed the names, changed the looks, but surprise, surprise, everyone knew. Is this S, my friends asked? S himself was flattered. Man, I died. That must be pretty fucking cool, he said.

And so began my career of working real life into fake life into something else entirely. I read a lot in those days, thank God, so I stole ideas from other writers and thank the Lord because given all the time I spent training as a gymnast, I didn't have a lot of experience with the affairs of the human heart. Gymnasts are notoriously nonverbal and stunted in many ways -- years of being yelled at by very mean coaches will do that to you. "If you so much as move after your routine, I will slap you," our coach warned us, making reference to the point deduction one would get if you got off the mat too quickly. She was a young, bitter woman with a complicated Russian last name (her married name -- she herself was not Russian) and had a troubled marriage which she'd speak about with her assistant in muted coded terms. I'd listen and listen hard -- this was an adult education, one that would serve me well when I hung up my leotard for good. When she wasn't bitching about her pregnancy fear (of being, that is) or her wretched sex life, she was yelling at us with such gems as, "Michelle, you have a loser mentality. Is that what you want? You are never going to win another red ribbon on floor again." Second place was as far as I'd ever been. And she was right -- I had a lot of fear in my heart, a lot of height that wasn't going to help, and a waning interest in doing the same thing over and over, the calling card of any great athlete. But I put her in a story, and I didn't change her name, not her first or her last, and damned if I didn't get from her what I wanted -- a troubled character, a set of complicated motives, a world I could understand if I wrote long enough.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"If I had a bad performance in a particular leotard, I threw it in the trash. "Mary Lou Retton

Cocktail Hour
Drinking journal suggestion: Bullet

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!


Pythia3 said...

Everyone always knows who the flesh and blood behind the characters are - maybe that's why I am so afraid to write fiction!
My first book - in 6th grade - was about a horse, "Living Wild, Living Free," or some similar cliche like that. I thought it was a brilliant title at the time. I even illustrated it because I was going through my "horse" period. (I think every wannabe artist goes through that phase! LOL)
In 7th grade I wrote, "We Will Never Know," a Science Fiction story - I ate that stuff up along with my bowl of Cap'n Crunch everyday in the early seventies. The plot was ahead of its time - two astronauts land on 'the moon' but they're really in the desert right here on Earth . . .
I have always been afraid to develop characters for fear of having to really take a look at my relationships and the people I know well, and expose all of that.
I have to get past that fear - how does one do it?
Happy Wednesday to you too!

the walking man said...

I think these last seven years of forced retirement have been the greatest education in character development. I don't think except for maybe some of my own personality traits I have to nodel a fictional charcter off of anyone. Why? Because I have so much time to sit and observe strangers and how they act in their own world, a mother berating a kid because she's stressed out or the kid did something really stupid like run out in the street. People getting pissed off at clerks and the clerks maintaining their cool or vice versa.

The human drama plays out all around us while we are mere dust specs floating by seeing moments in time of some strangers life and from that whole worlds can be extrapolated. simply answer the question of what led the situation to come about and then the story is told, of course in seeing seconds in a persons life you will never know what the truth of the story is but that is the best parts of fiction after all isn't it, using your imagination to make a story appeal to an audience you also don't know.

So just out of curiosity did the hard to pronounce Russian named woman who pretended to be a coach ever see or hear of this story? It might make an interesting addendum to Time Train which I have submitted to a critic but am still waiting to hear from. when I do I'll let you know.



Bart Cunher said...

You can play on my balance beam anytime, babbycakes.