Writing With Dogs Who Slobber: The Three Secrets to Awesome Characters

So, you’re probably looking at the blog post title up there and thinking, “What?”

Stay with me a second; I’ll explain, I swear. I’m going to boil down the basic elements of crafting a good story by using my rescue dog, Gabby.

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Gabby is the sort of dog who people love or hate.

Gabby is the sort of dog that lets children climb all over her and hug her and kiss her nose.

Gabby is also the sort of dog who judges people by smell.  If you have alcohol on your breath, she will sneeze and then bark at you. If you are male and have ever had a serious time taking cocaine and you are in my house? She’ll bark incessantly at you and never stop even if your cocaine use was over a decade ago.

So, why am I mentioning this? Gabby is a conflicted character. You want a character like Gabby in your story.

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A conflicted character is a dog or person with a goal. There is a motivation for that goal and a conflict.

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Gabby’s goal is to keep me safe. She is super focused on making sure nothing happens to me or her dog brother Sparty or her cat sister Marsie. Her motivation? Probably because I feed her or because she’s a Great Pyrenees, and that breed’s instinct and training is to keep her charges happy and safe. We are basically her sheep.

IMG_9899Marsie insists she is nobody’s sheep, but I have seen Gabby carry her around the house. She is totally a sheep. 

And it might be because Gabby was abused as a puppy and spent her first year chained to a tree, always chained to a tree, never off a tree. She came to us small, terrified, malformed and malnourished. This is her backstory. All characters have backstories, the what happened before we meet them, the what happened that made them who they are when the story begins.

When Em and I picked up Gabby in Cambridge, she was terrified. Every car was about to run her down. Every person was about to hit her. I sunk to her level and she pushed herself against me. Her ears were infected and full of pain. Everything about her was pain. But there was something else there. It was fear and want and need. She wanted to be loved so badly. She wanted to love back.1930658_10154095751489073_788625899982421964_n

The entire time we were in Cambridge she didn’t bark once.

The entire car ride back and the whole first week? She never barked.

“I have a miracle dog. It is a silent Great Pyrenees,” I told everyone.

The vet laughed.

The rescue organization people laughed.

I was so wrong.

Gabby started being able to sleep with both eyes closed. Gabby’s ears got better. We got her surgery on her hip. She took walks without being afraid that trees were going to fall on her, without thinking that every car held a monster inside of it that would hurt her.

She ate, but she would never fill out.

And she barked.

She barked at everyone who reminded her of where she used to be. She barked at dogs she didn’t know. She barked and jumped and tried to be as threatening looking as possible when she is easily the dog least likely to ever bite a human and most likely to snuggle. You know when experts say dogs hate hugs? Gabby would let you hug her all day.

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So, she’s got a lot of back story there?

What’s the conflict for Gabby or for your characters?

The conflict is the struggle. The conflict is how the reader engages with the character. It’s why the reader keeps reading. It’s how empathy is built. It’s how story is built.

So every character has this trifecta of things: 

Goal

Motivation

Conflict

As a writer, if you muck this up? You’re story will be flat.

As a dog friend/owner, if you don’t realize that your dog’s goal might conflict with a happy silence that comes with a life without barking? You’re going to have an unhappy dog.

So, Gabby’s trifecta of character is: Wants to stop threats by barking (goal) because she wants to keep her happy home and the creatures within it safe (motivation we all understand), but everyone gets a headache when she thinks squirrels are threats and barks too much at them (conflict).

Meg in Wrinkle in Time is: Wants to get her dad back (goal) because who doesn’t want to get someone awesome back (motivation that is pretty understandable if your dad rocks), but dude, she has to travel through time and deal with this great darkness, basically like all the evil in the universe because why not (conflict).

But what makes a character conflicted? Basically anything that stands in the way of her goal.

This can be herself (Gabby wonders if barking is her true calling and doubts herself – an internal conflict).

This can be others (The neighbors call the police because of Gabby’s barking – an external conflict).

This can be the environment (Gabby is in space and cannot bark because there is no sound. Horror! – a conflict caused by setting).

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Writing Tip – Make sure your  main character has that trifecta of conflict, motivation, goal.

Writing Prompts- 

Write about wanting to sing when you have to be quiet.

Write about wanting to tell a secret.

Write about being a zombie who is allergic to meat.

Do Good Wednesday – 

So, I wrote a lot about Gabby being a rescue dog. All my dogs have been. If you have the money, consider donating to a dog rescue. If you have the time and space and need and love, consider adopting. If you have the time, find a rescue near you and be a volunteer. I’ve done home visits and photos for rescues. If you don’t have any of these things, but have social media, share a rescue’s site or a post about a dog (or cat or gecko). You could be the step that helps bring a dog like Gabby to her forever home. Even the smallest things help.

Here are the rescues where I got Sparty the Dog and Gabby the Dog.

New England Lab Rescue

National Great Pyrenees Rescue

And this rescue is possibly my favorite one.

Big Fluffy Dog

 

Random Marketing Things – My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy,  is still coming out March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can preorder it. 

The Spy Who Played Baseball

And the podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, is getting closer and closer to real. I’m terrified. Here is a video about it. Sort of.

Three Ways To Create Characters W/ Epilepsy and Not Make Them Stereotypes

Don’t let one attribute define the character. An author can’t make a character’s one attribute be that she has seizures any more than the author can make that character’s one attribute be that she is only her race or only cranky or gay or hearing-impaired or short or really into ping-pong, so into ping-pong that she only refers to it as table tennis.

What did the nurse do when she saw that her patient was having a seizure in the bathtub?

She threw in the laundry.          

  -Common epilepsy joke on the Internet

Lovely, right?  Dehumanizing. Who cares if the patient drowns. The laundry is more important.

 

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Me being more than someone with epilepsy

 

  1. Don’t Let One Attribute Define an Entire Character

 It’s the same as creating any character. Don’t let one attribute define the character. An author can’t make a character’s one attribute be that she has seizures any more than the author can make that character’s one attribute be that she is only her race or only cranky or gay or hearing-impaired or short or really into ping-pong, so into ping-pong that she only refers to it as table tennis.

Some authors use sketches to create a full character, asking themselves questions such as: What does my character want? How old was she when she crawled? What was the worst thing that ever happened to her in kindergarten? Does she like hot dogs and if not, why?   

     

 Characters always need to be well rounded, whether they have epilepsy or not.

“A helpful concept to remember when developing characters for a story is that, as in real life, they should exhibit a mosaic of overlapping, sometimes contradictory traits.” (Epstein 56)

I was at my in-laws house and several teenage cousins were sitting in the living room watching television. Someone was dancing poorly on the sitcom they were watching.   

“Oh my God,” one of the girls said. “It’s like she’s having a freaking seizure… look at her.”   

“What a spaz,” another girl said.

She snorted.   

“Freaky.”   

“Super freak.”

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Me. The person they call freak. 

2. Be Aware of the Stereotypes

Writers can and should incorporate characters with epilepsy and disabilities into children’s fiction and they can do it without perpetuating negative biases against people with disabilities. To do so, authors must be aware of the stereotypes, write against the stereotypes, and create well-rounded characters.

Yeah, I’d like it if tv writers did it as well. But, right now, I’ll take what I can get.

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Em hugging a dog. She does that well. 

My daughter Emily snuggles into her bed. She stares at me, smiles, pulls me down into a hug and says, “Mommy, I wish you didn’t ever have seizures.”           

“Yeah, me too,” I say and smell her hair, which reminds me of bananas.           

“It’s not a big thing, though, right?”            

Her eyes are teddy bear sweet and her fingers twirl a piece of my hair.            

“Nope,” I say. “Not a big thing at all.”  

Do a web search on fictional children’s books dealing with epilepsy and you don’t come up with much. Even epilepsy foundations have meager resources for picture book fans. Epilepsy.com lists just eight books that deal with epilepsy in a fictional narrative. Yet, at least 300,000-plus American children with epilepsy have friends and schoolmates. Not many of those children connect with books that deal with the subject.            

A majority of books that do exist for children have their characters whose development comes from growing beyond a negative stereotype of someone with epilepsy.

What I’m wondering is why?

In her paper, “Portrayal of People with Disabilities in Children’s Literature: 1940s to 1980s” Maeleah Carlisle wrote, “Children’s literature often reflects the current society’s values and attitudes.” (1)           

That is true today.

It is no wonder that many authors use negative epileptic stereotypes for their protagonists. Most people have slight understanding of the disorder. Is this true about other conditions? Other disabilities?

In a paper about epilepsy and stigma printed in the Journal of Epilepsy and Clinical Neurophysiology, the scientist’s conclusion was, “Stigma not only coexists with lack of information, but also with inappropriate behaviors .” (Fernandes 213)

Children’s authors have been unintentionally perpetuating those stigmas. But the lack of literature itself is also perpetuating the silence around conditions and disorders.  This is troubling because “Children’s literature can inform and influence children’s images of people with disabilities.” (Carlisle 5)

 Colin Barnes and researchers Biklen and Bogdan illustrated multiple ways in which literature and the media stereotypes people with disabilities. Those stereotypes also exist in children’s literature .

Those stereotypes include: 

  1. Person with disabilities is pitiable.
  2. Person with disabilitiesis the helpless victim of violence.
  3. Person with disabilities is evil.
  4. Person with disabilities is saintly, godly, a superhero. Some sort of extraordinary trait occurs to make the reader love the epileptic champion/hero.
  5. Person with disabilities is worthy of ridicule.
  6. Person with disabilities is “own worst enemy.” They could get better if they would just take their medicine, not drink, etc…
  7. Person with disabilities is a burden. They are a drain on their parents’ emotions, money, time.
  8. Person with disabilitiescan’t live a regular life with normal activities. (Biklen and Bogdan 6-9; Barnes 2-7)

 In examining the existing children’s literature, I found that in most books the protagonists’ character development hinged on breaking free of the stereotypes of epilepsy. This is also somewhat true of other disabilities, but not always. It’s the “not always” that gives me hope.

While at Vermont College in January 2006, I told fellow students my thesis topic.            

“Wow,” they said.

Then they’d usually nod and something would shift behind their eyes. They would pause, maybe bite their lips, maybe look to the side and then almost every single one of them asked. “Why are you so interested in epilepsy?”          

 “Because I have seizures,” I said.           

“Oh,” said one.           

“Really,” said another.           

My favorite person? She just nodded and said, “That’s cool.” 

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Me hiding behind a gnome. 

3. Do Whatever You Can To Understand Epilepsy

If you are writing about an experience outside of yourself and that experience is often used to ‘other’ people in a really bad way, you need to put in the work so that you don’t reduce your characters, so you can get your head into a space that is close to empathy and understanding.

What’s it like having seizures? It’s not really like anything for me. It just is. But my experience with epilepsy isn’t everyone’s experience with epilepsy and that’s important to remember. There’s no one way to have epilepsy or autism or diabetes or anything. There is no one way to be.

I sort of hate referencing my own life and books when I post about things, because it always seems so self-serving, but when I wrote TIPS and the sequel, LOVE AND OTHER USES FOR DUCT TAPE, I wrote them because I wanted to have REAL characters with complicated problems and complicated thoughts and complicated personalities. My daughter, Em, was begging for this. But something inside of me was begging for this too. I wanted to write a book where someone had seizures, but it wasn’t the end of the world, it wasn’t what defined them, it was just something about them, just like it was something about me.

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Author Rick Riordan said in our correspondence, “As far as why is it important to have characters with differences, again I had a very personal reason. I wanted my son to relate to the hero and feel better about the learning problems that were causing him trouble in school. It’s also real life to have lots of different kinds of people, and it can make for richer writing.”

That’s so important.  It’s something we’re still learning in so many ways. All of us.

Sources: 

Barnes, Colin. “Disabling imagery and the media.” <www.ncpedp.org/comm/commresrch.htm>.  January 17, 2006

Biklen, D. and R. Bogdan. “Media portrayals of disabled people: a study in stereotypes.” Interracial Books for Children Bulletin. 8: 1977, 4-9.

Carlisle, Maeleah. “Portrayal of People with Disabilities in Children’s Literature; 1940s to 1980s.” Beta Phi Mu — Chi Chapter. 1997. Indiana State University. 24 Jan. 2006 1987

Fernandes, Paula. “Stigma Scale of Epilepsy:Conceptual Issues.” Journal of Epilepsy and Clinical Neurophysiology 3 Dec 2004. 21 Jan 2006 <http://www.epilepsia.org.br/epi2002/JEp213-218.pdf.

Jacoby, Ann. “Public Knowledge, Private Grief: A Study of Public Attitudes to Epilepsy in the United Kingdom and Implications for Stigma.” Epilepsia Nov 2004. 21 Jan 2006 <http://www.epilepsia.org.br/epi2002/JEp21http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.

Martin, Jenna. “Teens with Epilepsy: Living with Stigma.” Epilepsy.com. Epilepsy Therapy Development  Project.. 20 Jan. 2006 <http://www.epilepsy.com/articles/ar_1089388403.html>.

Mellon, C.A. “Evaluating the portrayal of disabled characters in juvenile fiction.” Journal of Youth Services in Libraries. 2(2): 1989, 143-150

 

Writing Prompt: 

What is it about you that you don’t feel like people don’t understand? That they make into a stereotype?

Life Prompt:

How can you show someone that you see them? What can you do to see them better?

 

Random Other Writing and Work News:

The pub date for THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID, is March? You can preorder it here or anywhere. It’s an anthology that I have a piece in.

9781942186342-THINGS HAVENT SAID-cover

 

I’m starting a podcast. The landing page will be here and also on my website and in all those typical podcast places, hopefully. It will be raw. It will be quirky because seriously… look at me… I don’t know how to be normal.

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I am incredibly terrified about this podcast. So, please leave a review once you check it out.

Also, on my website are the stories of how my books like the NEED series or TIME STOPPERS came into being, how I paint to get more into my stories, or more info about me and all that stuff that’s supposed to be on websites.

welcometomagic

 

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who was a spy,  is still coming out March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can preorder it. 

The Spy Who Played Baseball

And there you go, Friday’s blog post. Please let me know here if you can (and not just on Facebook) if you’ve checked it out. I hope you have an amazing, wonderful weekend where you shout out who you are to the world and the world loves you for it.

I am Afraid To Be Seen – Friday Writing Life

There are certain things you are supposed to be afraid of when you’re little – normal things, right?

            Spiders.

            Dead people.

            Spiders coming out of dead people.

            Dead people coming out of spiders.

           

But I was afraid of being – just being – being alive – being noticed. Being.

 

I first started hiding in my bedroom closet when I was four, I think.

It wasn’t my first hiding attempt. That began when I started to see. When I was born they thought I was completely blind. It wasn’t for months before they realized that I could sort of see, just in a blurry way in which there were four copies of everything, four versions of the same truth, I guess.

Before my eye operation, I’d push myself against walls, crawl behind the couch or toddle there, feeling the scratchy fabric behind my hands. It happened at night too. I’d get in my bed after Mom kissed me goodnight and I’d pile all my stuffed animals around me and then pull the covers tightly up over my head.

“I am a nothing girl,” I would whisper. “I am nothing. Nobody can find me. Nobody can find me.”

I thought that this was a genius hiding space when I was four, and that makes sense because I was young and stupid, but what doesn’t make sense is how I sometimes still hide there, sometimes.

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When I was four and murmuring

In the closet

Because it was darker than the bed

And safer

With walls around me.

 

My mother’s voice

Rattled through the house

Hysterical

Hysterical

Calling my name

 

Screaming it eventually

Panicked beyond belief

And I sat there behind the clothes

Dangling down

Hand me downs

Of other kids’ better lives.

 

She found me

Of course

I made a noise or something

Giving myself away

And she found me there

Huddled up and crying

 

“Why are you crying, honey,”

she screamed, no she sang, no

she whispered. “Why are you crying?”

 

“I’m a nothing girl,” I whispered,

no shouted, no spoke, no screamed.

“I’m a nothing.”

 

And she bundled

me into her

arms and said, “No,

no you’re not,”

which of course

was exactly the wrong

thing to say.

 

There are certain things you are supposed to be afraid of when you’re little – normal things, right?

Spiders.

Dead people.

Spiders coming out of dead people.

Dead people coming out of spiders.

 

But I was afraid of being – just being – being alive – being noticed. Being.

Jamie, one of the main characters in the TIME STOPPERS series is a lot like this, too. Albeit for different reasons – his fake family are trolls.

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I think a lot of us have to deal with trolls in one way or another. It can make us hide.

Almost every Wednesday, I go to my Rotary club’s meeting and then that night, I head to one of my friends’ houses where people gather to hang out. Some people play poker. Some people knit. Some people run around with their kids. Everyone eats.

This Wednesday, I wore a big orange necklace on top of my typical L.L. Bean navy crew sweater. Everyone mentioned it. And I decided to be honest and say, “Look. I realize that I like to blend in. I sit on the floor sometimes. I wear all dark clothes. I hide behind a camera and take pictures. This is my first step in trying to be brave. This necklace. I’m trying not to hide.”

And everyone was “cool.” Because if you’re even going to notice something like that, you’re probably going to be supportive.

There’s this weird thing about writers, we communicate through our stories, but we also can hide behind those stories. We put the words out there, hope someone notices because writing is a lot of effort and it is horrible when you create something, try to communicate something, and nobody responds.

But at the same time, you can’t control other people’s reactions to you, to your story. And I’ve spent my whole life so afraid of people’s reactions, of them hurting me, that I hide.

I’m pretty sure that’s got to stop one necklace, one blog post, one podcast at a time.

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This picture is a big deal for me because I’m actually not wearing a sweater. I have worn sweaters in Mexico in July. I wore a sweater while having a baby. Seriously. Issues here, people. 🙂

Writing Prompt: 

What do you try to hide?

Life Prompt:

How can you show someone that you see them? What can you do?

 

Random Other Writing and Work News:

Due to a glitch in distribution, I think – I honestly can’t remember – the pub date for THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID, has been moved back to March? You can preorder it here or anywhere. It’s an anthology that I have a piece in.

9781942186342-THINGS HAVENT SAID-cover

 

I’m starting a podcast. The landing page will be here and also on my website and in all those typical podcast places, hopefully. It will be raw. It will be quirky because seriously… look at me… I don’t know how to be normal.

13501976_10154349897204073_460166726311376845_n

What do you like about podcasts? What do you hate? I’ll try not to do the hate things.

Also, on my website are the stories of how my books like the NEED series or TIME STOPPERS came into being, how I paint to get more into my stories, or more info about me and all that stuff that’s supposed to be on websites.

welcometomagic

 

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who was a spy,  is still coming out March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can preorder it. 

The Spy Who Played Baseball

And there you go, Friday’s blog post, which runs counter to be impulse to be invisible. Please let me know if you’ve checked it out. I hope you have an amazing, wonderful weekend where you shout out who you are to the world and the world loves you for it.

How Harry Potter Made Me Believe in Writing

I wrote about this pretty recently, but I feel like I need to repost it here on this blog especially as I get ready to start a six-month class at the Writing Barn helping other authors believe in themselves.

Anyway, I hope you’ll forgive me for reposting. I also hope that you have an amazing weekend! You deserve it!

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Sparty says you also deserve bacon! He also says that he deserves more bacon. Bacon for everyone!

The Post

J.K. Rowlng made me believe in more than magic. She made me believe in myself and that I could be a writer.

I don’t usually talk much about my past because I prefer not to let the things that happened to me define me. I much prefer to define myself. I’m ornery like that. But some days I actually feel a little compelled to talk about that past. Not in sordid detail. Sorry if you are into that.

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So here it is: A while ago I was so afraid of my home that I would sleep in my car.

People didn’t know that when it was happening. Most people don’t know that now. I was a respected member of that little community. But I would sleep in the car, often with my dog when it was cold. Maine winters are really cold.

What does this have to do with Harry Potter? Did someone cast a spell and free me from my freezing cold car? In a weird way, yes.

I have the most amazing daughter and she loved the Harry Potter books when she was little.  She wanted me to make a magical world like Harry’s, but catered to her. She wanted the magic to be in Maine set in Acadia National Park near where we lived. She wanted the main character to be a girl who had a cool best friend that may or may not be a troll. She wanted the book to be about friendship and justice and have funny parts. I’d make up the story day after day, telling it to her as we drove to my newspaper reporting assignments that happened after school. And eventually I thought that writing this story, which eventually became the TIME STOPPERS books, was so much more interesting than writing and editing stories for newspapers about local planning board meeting and setback ordinances.

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I wrote it when I waited to pick Em up from school. I wrote it during down times during town meetings. I wrote it on napkins, in my car, everywhere.

I wanted that story so badly.

I wanted to be a writer so badly.

But I didn’t believe in myself. I couldn’t even admit to myself that I wanted to write.

I was a woman who was too afraid to sleep in her own bed.

I was a woman that bad things happened to.

I didn’t believe I could do something like writing stories about magic and heroes especially for a living, especially when I felt so far from a hero in my own life.

Then I read about J.K. Rowling and how she had all these struggles, about how she wrote and was rejected, but kept writing because she was compelled to make it happen. She persisted.

And I realized that I could persist too.

So, I took that story I was writing and submitted it to Vermont College’s Master of Fine Arts program and promptly forgot about submitting it because there was no chance I could ever get in. And if I did, how could I pay for it?

I got in. My sweet grandmother died and left me a bit of money in her will. I used that money to pay for my master’s.

And a year later I was published, not with TIME STOPPERS, the story I wrote for my daughter, but another story with less magic but still a lot of heroes.

There is so much to admire in the story of Harry Potter and his friends and in the person who is J.K. Rowling, but what I admire so much about her is her authenticity, that she never shied away from telling the world about her bad times. It was that authenticity that allowed me to find my own brave.

I know she will never see this. But what I wish she could know – that we all could know – is that we only have tiny glimpses of the world we create, tiny bits of knowledge of the good we do and the impact we make.

I owe a lot to J.K. Rowling. I became a successful writer who actually gets to write for a living. I have a daughter who graduated Harvard and is all around amazing as she heads out into the adult world ready to make an impact, to change it for good. I live in an adorable place and I never have to sleep in the car, and I’m hardly ever afraid any more.

And it’s because I heard her story and thought, “Maybe I can do this too. I can be brave.”

I hope everyone reading this gets to have that happen to them, and I hope that we can work together to make this world a place where everyone can have the opportunity to feel safe in their houses, in the street, in their country, a world where we can all have the security of space and belief in ourselves to make whatever magic it is that we want to make.

Writing Prompt

Over at Bustle there is a really adorable (and smart) article full of Harry Potter writing prompts. You should go check it out if you’re in that sort of magical mood!

Writing News

An entire box full of The Spy Who Played Baseball arrived at my house on New Year’s Day! It’s a nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg and I need to give a couple away because I’m just that excited about it. If you post a comment on here before Sunday at noon (Eastern Standard Time) and Sparty picks your number at random, I’ll send you a copy and also a copy of another one of my books – probably Time Stoppers. So, do it! I like to mail things.

Also, there’s more stuff about me on my website.

 

Thanks again for reading my blog. I really appreciate it and you so much!

xo

Carrie

The Spy Who Played Baseball

 

 

 

Wednesday Writing Wisdom & Being a Woman who is Not Ditzy

A few years ago, I attended the Poinsettia Ball, which was THE main social event in our community. I helped set up the Friday before the event, during which time I learned how to make sure all the flatware is aligned EXACTLY the right way.

It was actually kind of fun… the setting up part.

But, then, at the actual ball, this man comes up to me, and he’s vaguely familiar, but I can’t remember who he is. He’s got a red tie on. He’s a bit stooped over. But I smile anyway when he grabs my hand. I usually get hugged upon greeting instead of a handshake, so I figure it’s okay that I don’t know who he is right away. A handshake means we aren’t on hugging terms.

And he goes to me, “Hi, Carrie. Are you still –zy?”

I lean forward, although trying not to lean too far forward because of the whole breasts-in-gown thing, and I say, “Am I still busy? Yeah, I guess so.”

“No. Are you still –zy?”

He’s shaking his head at me.

I back up, he’s still clutching my hand so I can’t get free. People swarm around us, getting drinks, admiring each other. They are all loud talkers and it’s not easy to hear.

“Busy?” I ask.

“NO!” he yells. “Ditzy!”

Ditzy? Am I still ditzy?” I have finally evacuated my hand. What do I say? I have no idea. And because I just want to get away, I blurt, “Um. I guess so?”

I am immediately angry at myself for this answer, for being so shocked and surprised that I just let this random red-tie-wearing man define me.

Things like this always shock me. I had NO IDEA anyone perceived me as ditzy. Can newspaper editors (which is what I was then) be ditzy? Can former city councilors?

It’s amazing how many different perceptions people can have of you and how many different perceptions you can have of yourself.

Really.

So, after running away from HE WHO CALLS ME DITZY, I bump into a past teacher of the year, marathon runner,and told him the story. He actually gets angry on my behalf, which is SOOOO nice and says, “Carrie, do you want me to take him outside?”

“No,” I tell him. “I just want to know if I’m ditzy.”

“You are not ditzy,” he tells me.

“You swear?”

“Swear.”

Thank God for teachers of the year.

But there are two things that make me come back to this story as both a writer and a woman.

  1. As writers, we need to remember that not everyone always sees our character the same way – defines them the same way. And some people who define them are terribly wrong.  But that’s a good thing to remember when trying to give our characters depth and layers.
  2. As a woman, I keep thinking to myself, “WTF?”  Did I seriously let some random guy tell me I’m ditzy and agree? And then the immediate person I talked to was another man? Yes, second man was awesome. But why was I even so worried about how they defined me? What they thought of me? Why didn’t I go ask a woman instead? But more importantly, why did I ask anyone at all? The only person who should get to define you is you.  I say that to people all the time. Why couldn’t I have said that to me? Why didn’t I think, the only person who gets to define me is me?