Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tip O'Day #427 - Fictional (?) Characters

Guest blogger Carolyn Wall on “Characters – Real and Not.”

Constantly, I am set-upon by fictional characters. It was a pure wonder I didn’t go into acting. As a writer, however, I can create my own folks. In the case of my second novel, Playing With Matches, I began with Harry. I have four kids of my own, and five grandchildren plus three, so I knew how devastated his mom, Clea, was when Harry stopped talking. And how she and Thomas fell in love, once-and-forever, with little Maria-Luz. In the book, Luz looks like my own beautiful teenaged granddaughter.

Other than working through characters -- their love, sex and family problems -- my favorite part of the writing of Matches was the setting, especially a block of scenes that I had to omit from the final copy.

I love Belize City, which is just as Clea describes it in the book – the fish market in the canal, children playing in ditch water, the ocean lapping at the ends of the streets. For Sale by Red Carpet signs fronting shanties. Staircases that lead nowhere. Lush lawns of government buildings, the mayor’s brick house along the highway. City Park where the grass is dead and the trees stripped of leaves, weedy Mortuary Lane, parlors promising fast funerals because of the heat, women sitting alone in upstairs windows.

Speaking of setting -- my apologies to the people of Lousiana for snatching up their False River – actually a lake – and plunking it down in Mississippi.

Clea loved teaching the incarcerated to write, just as I did. For several years, I exhausted some friends and worried others as I prattled on and on about how incredibly much offenders had to say.

Which brings me back to characters.

I was attending a conference recently when the speaker asked a roomful of writers to jot down a childhood memory. I remembered my mother calling me in from outside – I was eleven or twelve – to teach me about the birds and the bees. She told me young ladies carried a handkerchief at all times and said – “Here, read this book.” In Matches, as I wrote the character of Bitsy, my heart ached for her lack of knowing, so I gave her the soft pink memory of Felicia to hold onto.

Carolyn’s latest book, Playing With Matches (Random House, 2012) and her first novel, Sweeping Up Glass (Random House, 2009) are available in bookstores everywhere. You can learn more about her on Facebook or at www.Carolyndwall.com.

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